One of the reasons I am doing this trip solo is the freedom. Freedom to go where I want, stop where I want, change plans at the drop of hat and generally run to my own sketchy schedule.
One major advantage of travelling solo is that people seem to be more comfortable with wandering up and saying hello. They ask about the bike and where I’m from and where I’m going. Next thing, we’ve been yakking for 20 minutes, exchanged contact details, and I’ve made a new friend. It happens a lot.
I pulled into Turismo Las Brujas about 5pm. It’s on the Maule River near Colbun reservoir in Chile, about 300km south of Satiago. I thought it was a camping ground. At least, that’s what the iOverlander app said. Turns out it’s not. They used to have camping, but now it’s just for day-trippers who come to picnic in the grounds and enjoy the swimming pool. They also have a couple of cabins, but I didn’t find that out until later.
With all the forward planning that exemplifies this somewhat haphazard journey, I’d just rocked up. The owner Manuel was friendly, but it wasn’t looking good for an overnight stay. He grabbed his son José, who speaks decent English. I explained my predicament, father and son had a quick conference, and I got the nod. They showed me to a great little spot with shade and a table and chairs, pointed out where the bathroom and showers were, and left me to set up.
A little while later, Manuel’s wife wandered down to my campsite with a big chunk of home-made bread, still warm and wrapped in a paper towel. ‘For your dinner”, she says. What else could I respond with but ‘Muchas gracias!”. It went perfectly with the soup I was making, and there was plenty left for the next day.
Speaking of next day, it was warm and sunny. I’d slept well and Las Brujas was getting busy with picnickers arriving to enjoy the weekend. As my departure from Valparaiso had been hasty, I was spending some time sorting and repacking the panniers on the bike, trying to get things a little better organised. José sidled up with a bottle of red wine in hand and asked if I’d like one. Affirmative. He poured, we toasted and then sat contentedly chatting about this and that: my trip, his work, the property (which his dad Manuel had developed). Manuel joined us and we had a friendly debate about the merits of Chilean versus Australian wine. They were kinda surprised Australia had a wine industry, but there you go.
The afternoon rolled on. One bottle became two, and between lulls in the conversation, I pondered how lucky you can be to just turn up unannounced at a place as a scruffy stranger and be welcomed into the family with bread, wine and conversation.
As Manuel, José and I were sipping our cabernets, a sparkling new BMW R 1250 GS rolled down the driveway carrying Patricio and his girlfriend Shanda from Santiago. They were there to stay in one of the cabins that José had recently built. A round of greetings and handshakes, then Patricio spots my tent and bike. “We must talk!” he bellows. I find myself invited to dinner once they are settled.
A gregarious, generous fellow, Patricio is a former Chilean karate champion and successful businessmen. He must be – those GS BMWs are bloody expensive in Chile. A rider for many years, his new BMW is, I think, bike number 14 or 15. Amazingly, he recently had a double hip replacement and was back in the saddle just six or seven weeks after the operation. I don’t think much gets in Patricio’s way.
Shanda is Venezuelan, gorgeous and half Patricio’s age. He grinned like a Cheshire cat when telling me this.
I wandered over to their cabin a couple of hours later and was immediately greeted with a beer and more handshakes. The charcoal barbie was fired up with a selection of sausages grilling merrily away. Well, the ones that Patricio didn’t manage to drop into the coals. “Eat, eat!”, I was told and the sun went down to Patricio and I discussing motorcycles, travel, his family history, Chilean politics and all the places I simply must go to, while the more dextrous Shanda took over the barbie, keeping us both well fed and watered and sharing some of her background and life in Venezuela.
When it got too cold to sit outside, we moved into the cabin and continued yarning. The Jagermeister came out and the next thing I knew it was 3.30am. I left with a bunch of places to see on the way through Chile, a great bearhug from Patricio and a promise that I would keep in touch with him on the road.
The next day was fuzzy and very slow. I asked Manuel if I could stay another night, not quite feeling up to packing and riding. He agreed readily, with a cheeky grin at my explanation. Patricio and Shanda surfaced some time later. Before they left in the evening there was time for more talk, more bearhugs and more promises to stay in touch. If his schedule allows, we may even get a chance to ride together while I am in Chile.
A couple of days after Las Brujas, I followed another iOverlander recommendation for El Rincon, near Los Angeles. I made contact ahead this time – all good. El Rincon is 10ha owned by Carla and Don. Carla is Argentinean-born, but spent most of her life in the US. Don is from California. With their two kids, they moved to Chile about five years ago and bought El Rincon to host travellers and overlanders.
It was another perfect place to stay, and again I was embraced by a family. Nothing was too much. They offered fresh coffee in the morning, let me use the kitchen and washing machine, and invited me to dinner. I meant to stay just one night, but it ended up being two. Don also gave me a recommendation for a brilliant ride to Volcan Atucho, which I did while I was in the neighbourhood.
El Rincon is for sale. Carla and Don have an old Brazilian Mercedes bus on the property that they are planning to fit out as a motorhome for overlanding through South America. They have a few other plans as well. Whichever of those comes to fruition, I wish them well. They are quality people who treated this Australian motorcyclist with great kindness. In the end, I Carla was reluctant to accept any pesos for my stay. She said they love taking in overlanders and are happy just to help. I said they need to make a living and asked her to please take some money.
Down the road a ways is Pucon. On the shores of Lago Villarica, it’s a slightly glam holiday town overlooked by the active Volcan Villarica. The lake and surrounding country is magnificent, and it was one of the places recommended by Patricio.
I booked three nights in a tiny house cabin through AirBnB, hoping to see some sights and get some writing done. Mission accomplished there, but what I didn’t expect (although I probably should have) was more generosity and hospitality. The cabin is situated on a few acres on Pucon’s outskirts, up a decently steep hill with breathtaking views.
The owner is an American, Jon, and his Chilean partner Martha. Jon’s been down here for about 10 years and is well established, teaching rafting at the local high school. I soon found myself invited to join them and their friends for an American-Chilean Thanksgiving feast.
It was a great night: there was Jon and Martha and their kids; the neighbours from up the back and their kids; some other neighbours; Josh, an American friend of Jon’s who takes rich Yanks and Europeans on “experiences” at a lodge in Patagonia; and Sam and Madison, an American couple who had recently moved to Chile for six months to work and explore. They stayed in the tiny house for a month when they first arrived, and had become firm friends with Jon and Martha.
Jon and I talked bikes, travel and a bunch of other stuff. Sam and I particularly hit it off. He was super curious about my motorcycle trip plans, and I learned you can be a veterinarian and work remotely from Chile delivering consultations online to US pet owners.
The food was amazing. There was no turkey, which the US folk seemed rather happy about. It’s traditional, but takes ages to cook and they all complained that it usually ends up dry. Instead we had slow-cooked beef Chilean-style (amazing!), chicken with a spicy, smoky sauce and an enormous selection of veggie dishes and salads. Plus dessert. There was American touch football with the kids and Josh and Sam too. I was too full to play.
The party was still going when I said my goodbyes and headed back to the cabin. Another night basking in the warm glow of the kindness of strangers. They say travels broadens the mind. It does, and it also expands your waistline and – more importantly – your circle of friends.