Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Carretera Austral Part 13: Volcán Osorno, Valdivia and the Return Home

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Days 21-22: Lago Llanquihue, Volcán Osorno, Petrohue, Valdivia and the long ride back to Santiago.

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Camilo and I had agreed to split up that morning, so he could make the best of his higher cruise speed on the highway, and perhaps stop to fish a while. We said goodbye, and I idled the 20 metres to the YPF petrol station near the main road down into Puerto Varas. I parked the bike, and went to the ATM to get some cash. 

> 20000 <

Unfortunately the requested amount is not available. Please try again with a different amount. 

> 10000 <

Unfortunately the requested amount is not available. Please try again with a different amount. 

> 5000 <

Unfortunately the requested amount is not available. Please try again with a different amount. 

> Balance Check <

Your balance is of 287 pesos.

Well, fuck.

Hola, Camilo? Have you left yet? Um.. Could you lend me some money? 

With that, our separation was postponed. 

It was a beautiful day, and I was surprised at how many restaurants and german tea houses there were at the side of the road around Lago Llanquihue. 

I decided I'd go up Volcán Osorno. Camilo carried on to the Saltos del Petrohué. 

On the way up, a forest, and after that, nothing but lava flows and volcanic sand. From the ski center I looked at the view for a few minutes, and then came back down. 

I had probably gone a few kilometres down the road to Saltos del Petrohué, when I ran into Camilo, on his way back. "What are they like?," I asked. "Hm, nothing spectacular. A few nice pics, that's about it".

I gave it some thought: would I skip the famous Saltos del Petrohué, lava formations that channel the crystal waters into beautiful rapids and waterfalls? Would I commit high sacrilege, and leave this place unvisited?

Pico en el ojo, as Camilo says (and no, that does not refer to a bird's beak, should you happen to speak some Spanish). If the view from the volcano did nothing for me, then another waterfall wouldn't either. Better leave it for another day. 

So our separation was pushed forward once more. We carried on around Lago Llanquihue, eerily riding together on a dirt road again, but this would be the last bit of dirt we'd see on the whole trip. 

Here, Camilo performs an interpretative dance for us called "I am the volcano. I am the volcano!".

We stopped at Osorno to refuel. Hundreds of kilometres ago I had put my earplugs in. These were indispensable when riding on the highway. Stuffed well into my head, even at 100 km/h the XR's obscene noise is no more than a purr, and your breathing dominates your aural landscape. Cut off and cocooned like an astronaut, I had entered into a semi-disconnected state. Alert and awake, but watching everything from behind a thick sheet of glass. The first time I used the ear plugs, on the long way down, the effect stayed with me even after stopping for a meal at a YPF petrol station. Camilo even asked me if something was wrong, such was my lost look. 

In this state we rolled in to Osorno, and loading fuel was a mechanical task, something you do impatient to get on the road again. And maybe that was the change that had come over us: we had switched, unknowingly, into return mode, highway mode; a mindset in which you attempt to cover as many kilometres in as little time as possible. I wondered if this was a reversible transformation. Everything indicated this was not the case. 

Valdivia seemed a good place to stop. It was off the main Ruta 5, and as we waited for a flagman to send us on our way again at some roadworks, we agreed that everyone who had ever mentioned the city to us had told us it was one of the most beautiful cities Chile has to offer. Well, then. 

Boredom. Still not moving.

We finally started moving. The street that took us into Valdivia was long, wide, industrialized and pretty horrible. That's ok; surely the nice things are up ahead. 

This blemish continued eternally, 'till we reached the costanera, the road following the sinuous curves of the Río Calle Calle. Ah, yes. River, moored ships, a bridge here and there, a malecón, a coastal footpath. Ok. We stopped at the end of the costanera, and Camilo, not being able to stand it a minute longer, ran off to pee behind a modern-looking building. He came back looking distinctly un-relieved. "I think it wouldn't be such a good idea to pee on the Courthouse Building" he said, as he ran off to find a bathroom somewhere. 

From there, we did several large tours of the city, all involuntary (read: we got lost), and finally found a room at the Hostal Prat, at 11000 a head per night. We put up with the high price because we were tired, and since we didn't feel like lodging in a dump like the one in Puerto Varas. At least it included breakfast, and there was a safe place for the bikes. 

We went out in search of food. A nihilistic feeling came over us both, and as if to re-affirm the difference between the Deep South and this city, we ate at a McDonalds. 

It was Friday. Let's see if we can end the trip with a bang, something interesting you can do in a city but not out in the wilderness, I said to myself. It was clear we had already passed the high water mark, possibly when we disembarked at Quellón. 

We left the McDonalds and began riding around, trying to find some sort of nightlife district. Our wanderings took us passed bits of the city that looked like areas of Viña del Mar, seventies-ish summer beach city, but the parts that are several blocks in from where the fun happens. Other areas reminded us of Barrio Brazil in Santiago, some reminded us of Av. Irarrázabal. Chile's most beautiful city? Las pelotas que es la ciudad más linda de Chile, like hell it is.

We asked a couple if there was some place we could go for a drink and perhaps a disco. We had already found one, but as we rolled up in front, a shady character had come up and said something to the effect of sup man you gotta be goin' to dat udder place, few blocks away yo, I look after da cars dere, I'll take care your nice bikies yo, you gotta go homz. And that had ruled out both places in one fell swoop. 

They suggested a certain Calle Esmeralda. Needless to say we got lost once more, and we saw more of Valdivia at night. The street turned out to be like a small Calle Suecia, a neon-lit street  in Santiago you traditionally take visiting gringo businessmen for expensive drinks, a rub of the elbows with poseurs and post-twenties skanks. And they love it.

We left the bikes on the sidewalk temporarily. Camilo still had all his kit on the bike, since he refused to have to re-pack the next morning. We strolled about, looked at the bars and discos. Nothing tickled our fancy. 

A Carabineros van rolled by, and simply pointed out that the bikes would be stolen if we didn't move them, not to mention that they were improperly parked.

We decided to leave them at the Hostal. We did, and walked back. 

Long story short, we went into a place, and it was full of 18 and 19 year old boys and girls. "Smells like milk in here" growled Camilo. Since we looked like fathers who'd come in to pick up their kids, we did all one can do in that situation, and drank. 

Bored and fed up we buggered off, and found a wallet on the ground. We swayed over to the nearest police station, and I handed it in, holding my breath. 

The walk back to the hostal was a long one, because we got lost again. 

The next day Camilo went off to Niebla, to have a look around, and to see if he found somewhere he could fish. I set off due North. I was now certain that the charm of the trip was over, and there was naught to be done but to return home. 

I don't remember when it happened, but at some point I decided to ride to Santiago that very same day. 

The 843 km I rode that day didn't offer anything interesting or noteworthy, except perhaps that I met Camilo in a petrol station bathroom (I recognized his boots and riding trousers visible under the stall door); that I miscalculated and had to get off the highway and into an arse of a town called Munchen to find gas, where a guy wanted money for having told me how to find the nearest Copec station; that I had a mote con huesillos at "El Rey del Mote Con Huesillos" which was slightly acid and made my stomach churn. 

I got home past midnight, my head abuzz, and that surreal feeling again, not just from the ear plugs, but from all that I had seen and lived. Was I really in Santiago? Is the trip over? 

* * *

I wake up. I open my eyes. Fresh air coming in the window. Sun! Sun is streaming in. That means today is a good day for riding. Good pictures. But where am I? This is my room. I'm in my room.

The trip's over. 


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