We met Panny & his gal, Simon (Krad-Vagabunden) at the hostel in Santiago de Chile and we spent each evening enjoying beer, pisco, and whatever else might have passed by our glasses loving their stories of world travel. They had already been on the road with their matching Trans Alps for almost 2 years. They knew many people we had met on the road as is always the case, it seems, with this moto-travelling crowd and it is always a bit more interesting when the stories you share involve people you know.
The closest (and possibly craziest) story they told us involved our friends Miles & Tracey (smilesandmiles.com). Panny was stung by a bee and, because he is highly allergic to bee stings, had a bad reaction and Miles basically saved his life. (Miles might say I’m exaggerating, but I don’t think Panny would)
Panny’s & Simon’s South American adventure was winding down and they were off to New Zealand, shipping out from the Chilean port town of Valparaiso. It was a town on our must-see list and when Panny told us about the overland hostel, Villa Kunterbunt, we made plans to see them again there.
One of the tag lines for Villa Kunterbunt is that it is ‘a backpacker-free hostel’ since they specialise in helping out DIY overland-travellers who tend to have a few unique requirements like vehicle storage and possible maintenance. More specifically, they are the go-to team if you need to ship or receive your vehicle from / to Chile.
The ride to Valparaiso takes you through dozens of vineyards and wineries of the major Chilean brands. We watched as fields of grape vines behind grand gates passed us by…we could’t afford the hefty price tags for the luxury of a taste & tour, but we sure could afford the wine, itself! Happily, great Chilean reds were available everywhere and usually for less than $5 CAD!
With no warning, the road takes you down a winding hill and pops you out into the city’s main centre and the bustling port area – Valparaiso “Val Po” is one of Chile’s most important ports… international cruise ships make it their temporary home for many months of the year and some of Chile’s most important exports (wine, copper, fruit) leave via Valparaiso.
Valparaiso is culturally significant as well. It was declared a UNESCO site due to its ‘improvised urban design’. The city is built on numerous hills that overlook the Pacific and with so many neighbourhoods so high up on steep hills, the city resorted to funiculars (escalatores, in Spanish), which are highly inclined cable cars to transport people to & from the main centre since 1889. Many of the funiculars are still in use today and are an integral part of the public transportation in the city, if not a tourist attraction in their own right.
We settled into Villa Kunterbunt very quickly and immediately felt at home in the old Victorian mansion on the hill. Quirky collections of trolls, painted wall murals and post cards affixed to any stable surface made Kunterbunt feel like a combination between your weird Aunty’s house and a museum. We loved it!
At one point, we were in our room on the 2nd floor just after having breakfast, getting sorted for the day. Everyone else was up doing the same. The house shuddered once, then again – like when someone slams the front door really hard. I had muttered something like, ‘what the hell is going on down there?’. When we casually made our way downstairs a short while later Martina, our host, asked if we had felt the earthquake. I’ve always said I would like to feel a small earthquake – you know – just feel it… a small one where no one would be hurt but I didn’t expect it to feel like a door slamming. Cool nonetheless.
While Panny & Simon scrubbed their bikes and camping gear with toothbrushes in order to comply with New Zealand’s bio-security, we took to the streets of Valparaiso, riding various funiculars and walking through authentic bohemian neighbourhoods – debating the definition of ‘authentic’ and whether the new B&B’s, hipster shops, and funky restaurants could be still considered authentically bohemian. Regardless of the answer, the culturally significant parts of town are a joy to tour with lots to see.
Once we said our good-byes to the Kunterbunt clan we found a beautiful and small country road that led us into another sea side town, Isla Negra. Isla Negra is really just a small beach town filled with cabańa (cottage) rentals for vacationing Santiaguans – but the draw for us was Pablo Neruda’s 3rd (and his most loved) home – Casa Isla Negra.
This is the home where he and Matilde spent most of their time and it is where they were buried, facing the sea which he loved so much. Like all of his houses, he had Casa Isla Negra built to resemble a ship in some way. This one with creaking floor boards, narrow hallways and low ceilings. His collections of full-size, antique ship figureheads dominates the living room which also looks out on to the sea as if it were the bow of a ship. He was an intense collector and in each room shelves are dedicated to ships in bottles, glass jars, pipes, hats, art sea shells, butterflies, etc. Another fascinating tour – one which we happily waited on a stand-by waiting list to attend.
He invited visitors to his house every day. EVERY day. For lunch, dinner or drinks, Neruda loved to be around people and share his happiness with them. He would love to know that visitors still come to his house every day and continue to be inspired by his life and his collections.
And as a side note: In 1939, working for Spanish Emigration in France, Neruda helped to ship 2,000 Spanish refugees from French squalid camps to Chile on a boat called the SS Winnipeg (for those reading from Winnipeg, Canada).
Other than Neruda’s inspiring home and a nice beach, Isla Negra did not have much more to keep us there – so as quickly as we came, we were off.
We had been enjoying warm and dry weather for so many weeks, that when it clouded over on our way to Villarrica (Vee-ya-RREE-ca) in the Chilean lake district we put off reaching for our rain gear… until, that is, it actually started to rain.
We pulled of into a roadside rest area which, in Chile, is complete with showers and a lady who makes hot drinks and sandwiches for you! After putting on the water-proofs we hopped on our bikes and mine felt exceptionally low. I asked Jordan to wait while I took a look and, yes, my tire was flat. After 35,000 kms in 9 months, we had our first puncture. I think it’s appropriate that it was my bike, don’t you?
Then the Gong Show began. Jordan proceeded to remove my tire and I got the spare tube I’d been carrying just as a crew of Brazilian riders showed up to put on their rain gear. They offered to help and we thought it rude to say ‘no’. Of course, all of these men rode bikes with tubeless tires.
To cut a long story short, one of the more eager Brazilian men punctured the replacement tube – a perfect ‘snake bite’. When they saw it, they shrugged their shoulders and left. So we pulled out our stove, made soup and bought a delicious sandwich from the lady with the cooler. Serenity, now.
I patched both tubes, Jordan fixed my tire and it wasn’t too long before we were back on the road.
So… Villarrica. A cute little town surrounded by lakes, volcanoes, and hotsprings. We were anxious about climbing Villarrica Volcano, so we signed up to do so the following day. You are able to climb up to and peak into the crater on clear days when there is low activity (Villarrica is one of the most active volcanoes in Chile). But, as I mentioned, the weather was rather cloudy and it was rained most nights.
Climbs are not permitted when it has rained due to the muddy (read: slippery) slopes and possible snow in the higher altitudes. So we waited… we toured the lakeside town extensively, rode up to some fairly remote (and natural) hot pools, and did a bit of blog catch-up.
After 3 days of waiting for approved weather conditions, we realized we would not climb this volcano. Access denied yet again.
Next: How to deal with growing protests and the gas shortages, road barricades, and bridge closures that come with it
Another Post Script: Ode to the Sea by: Pablo Neruda
Surrounding the island
But what sea?
It’s always overflowing.
Then no again,
In sea spray
And no again.
It can’t be still.
My name is sea.
It slaps the rocks
And when they aren’t convinced,
And soaks them
And smothers them with kisses.
With seven green tongues
Of seven green dogs
Or seven green tigers
Or seven green seas,
Beating its chest,
Stammering its name,
This is your name.
Oh comrade ocean,
Don’t waste time
Getting so upset
Help us instead.
We are meager fishermen,
Men from the shore
Who are hungry and cold
And you’re our foe.
Don’t beat so hard,
Don’t shout so loud,
Open your green coffers,
Place gifts of silver in our hands.
Give us this day
our daily fish.