We knew things were going to be different right from the border. A beautiful, Chilean policewoman beckoned us to park our bikes near the administration building and promptly brought us the forms to complete for our immigration which we accomplished in record time.
Staying on the Pan American Highway, we rode down through the continuing coastal desert, similar to Peru but right away noticed the changes. The drivers were more courteous, the roadsides cleaner and there were road and street signs. Even the roadside shrines were more elaborate with staircases and pavilions covering them. A Swiss national we had met in Columbia had said he thought Chile felt more like Europe and we found that too. Our guide book claims this sense of discipline and order is a left over from the regimentation of the past dictatorships. Whatever, we're glad to find clean, well stocked rest rooms, modern accommodations and great restaurants.
Our first big adventure was crossing the Atacama Desert. This is one of the driest places on earth with one area not having received rain in over 400 years! It has a beauty all its own with its incredible vistas as far as the eye can see of only sand. Just south of Antofagasta, we came to “The Hand of the Desert”, a giant sculpture 11 meters high done by a Chilean sculptor in the 1980s. An obvious photo op! The topography includes rolling hills and distant mountains rich in copper which has protected this country from the economic downturn affecting the rest of the world. We passed through Copiapo where the 33 miners had been trapped for over a month but they were visiting the US and we didn't see any sign of the recent notoriety. With long stretches of barren land and not carrying extra fuel, planning our food and fuel stops was vital. It also resulted in some short days when accommodations were too far apart. Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, the road turned west to the coast and we encountered foggy mornings and cooler temperatures but spectacular scenery!
Santiago, the capital, was our destination for major servicing of the bikes. We spent three days getting fresh rubber, oil, new chain and sprockets for me, speedo cable for Ross, valve checks for all, etc. An added bonus was bike baths all around thrown in by both the Kawi and BMW dealers. It was probably because they didn't want to touch them in their filthy condition. All of this plus a great afternoon in a pub was facilitated by Rick Stephan, one of Mo's far-flung relatives who got things set up and made our life easy.
You probably remember there was a huge earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Chile, earlier this year and we stayed just north of the area in a place called Talca. They are still working on replacing some bridges and road surfaces but other than that, there is not much sign of the recent devastation. We enjoyed a lovely evening, dinner on a patio, retired to our room, the bed started shaking and then the earth moved! No not that, at 5:30AM, we awoke to two different tremors. Steve and RuthAnn had plaster falling around them so they dressed and went outside. Ross rolled over and went back to sleep.
We've just spent a day off relaxing in a lovely country hostel on the bank of a river, reading books and sampling the local Chilean vino and cerveza. It's a tough ride but we're managing!