Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 16 Apr 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970416.rpt
Sunday April 13 72802
In the morning we rendezvoued for breakfast at another residencia run by a
young couple. He was just firing up the wood stove when we arrived, and
while we sat around the table and hashed out our strategy for the day, he ran
down the street to the local mercado for the supplies for our breakfast. It
was a typical Chileno breakfast of coffee, bread, cheese, and a fruit
preserve. I splurge and also had some scrambled eggs.
During the night Bernhard's arm had gotten worse. His wrist and hand, which
I would have guessed would have been the problem judging from their pale
color the night before, were more or less fine, but his elbow had a lot of
pain, he didn't have full range of motion with it, and he had very little
strength in that arm. We still had 100 km to Coihaique, most of it gravel,
and with the condition of the bike and his arm, both Bernhard and Elke agreed
it would be dangerous to try to ride there two-up on the bike. They decided
they would try to find a pickup locally they could pay to take them to
Claudio suggested the Automobile Club of Chile, since Bernhard was a member
of the German Automobile Club, but they wanted US$425 to come out and take
the bike back to Coihaique. We checked with several people in the village
with pickups, but wouldn't commit to doing it, so we sat out by the main road
in hopes of flagging down a passing northbound truck. Since there was very
little between Villa Castillo and Coihaique, chances were good that a passing
truck would be going to Coihaique. Before any could pass, one of the
villagers we had spoken with, drove by and said he would take the bike and
Bernhard and Elke to Coihaique for the agreed upon US$125.
By 2pm we had the GS loaded on the back of the pickup and they were on their
way, while Claudio packed up his gear, and then we rode down to the house at
the end of the street where he bought gas out of glass jugs to fill up his
tank. It was raining as we rode out of Cerro Castillo. I led, followed by
Claudio, since he had no mirrors, and though it was raining and cold, and the
road was wet, it was in good condition and we made good time. We shortly
caught up with the pickup, and passed it, since we had agreed to meet at a
residencia/campground in Coihaique.
The route between Coihaique and Balmacedo on the Argentine border was paved,
and the Carretera Austral joined this route 20 miles south of Coihaique.
Claudio and I waited for the truck there while we stretched our legs and
snacked on some bread. His Thor dual-sport gloves offered very little
protection from the cold and rain, and I offered him my lightweight BMW
Goretex gloves which at least would keep his hands somewhat dry.
Claudio was very colorful in his riding gear. He had heavy dual-sport boots,
knee-pads and elbow-pads, and for rain protection, he wore a plastic yellow
rain poncho under his jacket and it hung out the bottom like a little tutu.
It looked a bit comical, and I asked him if I could snap a photo of the
"typical Chilean motorcyclist." With a laugh he readily agreed.
Claudio and I arrived in Coihaique well ahead of the truck in a driving rain.
Once the truck arrived, given the heavy rain, we all decised to capitulate
and get rooms in a residencia, but since the rooms at the one where we met
were full, we went doen the street and got three rooms for P4000 per person,
including breakfast, at the Residencial Licarayan. After hot showere we met
across the street for dinner, accompanied by the daughter of the residencia's
owner, who was originally from Talca also. Claudio and she seemed to hit it
Monday April 14 72864
We all had some errands to do around town, primarily finding the appropriate
bank or exchange house, and after breakfast, that occupied most of the
morning. Bernhard, Elke, and Claudio were taking the ferry from Puerto
Chacabuco, 62 km west of Coihaique, directly north to Puerto Montt, so we
went by the Navimag office to buy their tickets, and then at the post office
I bought several Chilean stamps as souvenirs.
I said goodbye to my latest 3 new friends out front of the hotel in the
heaviest rain of the day, and headed north on the Carretera Austral about
1pm. Their boat didn't leave till 8pm that night. Claudio extended an
invitation to me to stay at his place in Talca should I pass through there on
my way north. 6 miles north of town the road turned back to gravel. The
weather alternated between rain, overcast, and sunny the rest of the day,
seemingly at 15 mile intervals, and again I was treated to several rainbows
along the way.
This stretch went through beautiful country. Initially the road followed
open valleys through the surrounding mountains. Small farms dotted the
landscape. Everything was lushly green and the area clearly received a lot
of rain. Eventually the mountains, more often than not dusted with snow at
their summits, closed in, and not long after I entered Parque Nacional
Queulat, perhaps best known for the beautiful Ventisquero Colgante (hanging
glacier). There was a campground near the glacier, which is where I planned
to spend the night, 130 miles north of Coihaique.
About 5 miles from the campground, I spent a bit too much time looking at the
scenery, and not enough time at the road, drifted a bit wide on a corner and
hit the loose gravel on the road shoulder, and went down, ending up in the
ditch on the side of the road. I hadn't been going that fast so no damage
was done to the bike, other than a small crack in the windscreen. My right
foot was initially caught under the bike, but a good shove got it off me, and
then I just had to drag the bike a bit so that when I uprighted it, the
wheels would be in the ditch rather than on the far bank of the ditch. Once
that was done, getting the bike up and out of the ditch was a snap. But as
usual in such situations, I was highly annoyed at myself for my lapse in
The last part of the road wound along the river and then along the shore of
the Golfo Corcovado. The surrounding mountains had their peaks shrouded in
clouds. At the campground, the entrance booth was unmanned so I didn't have
to pay the posted P1000 entrance fee and P6000 camping fee. It was a very
nice campground, with flush toilets and showers, and wind shelters,
fireplaces, and picnic tables at each site. I was the only person staying
there as far as I could tell, and picked the prime spot with a direct view
from my tent of the hanging glacier, with two waterfalls cascading down from
it. Throughout the night I could hear the cracks and groans of the ice as
the glacier inched it's way along. The evening was overcast, with the moon
and stars occasionally poking through the clouds, and the wind picked up
towards 9pm when I crawled into my tent.
Tuesday April 15 72995
If the day had been sunny I probably would have just hung out there another
day as the campsite was beautiful in a beautiful setting. However it
continued to be overcast, cloudy, and cold, so I resolved to continue north.
I only had another 130 or so miles to Chaiten where I was to catch the ferry,
hopefully to the island of Chiloe, so I didn't need to get an early start,
and I spent the morning eating a leisurely breakfast while looking up at the
glacier, reading, and writing in my journal. There was one little bird,
about the size of a large sparrow, with sort of a stubby tail which jutted up
into the air. It was very unafraid, and at one point hopped inside my tent
in search of crumbs. When I shook the tent to chase it out, it shit on my
sleeping pad before flying out. I guess that't what they mean by having the
shit scared out of you. I packed up and left by 1pm.
My ride again was accompanied by intermittent rain, and the whole area was
lush green forests and mountains. The mountainsides had countless waterfalls
cascading down their sides into the rivers below. At one place I could see
more than 10 waterfalls at once. Cattle and horses grazed in lush, bright
green pastures, among fallen trees and large rocks.
25 km south of Chaiten, as I passed through the small village of El Amarillo,
I spot a new, bright red, BMW R850R parked alongside the road, out front of a
small A-frame cabin, set back from the road 50 yards or so. I stop to look
at it and see where its plates are from - New Jersey, but it doesn't look as
if it's been ridden all the way from there to here. As I'm looking at it, a
guy comes out the front door of the A-frame, waves, and walks out.
Alex was in his late 40s and worked in the residencial construction business
in New Jersey. He was an avid fisherman and this was his 7th or 8th trip to
Chile. He had been here a couple of months now. As for the Beemer, he had
bought it new before the trip and had crated it up and shipped it by boat to
Santiago. On previous trips he had brought his BMW R65LS, but since his wife
joined him for part of this trip he wanted something a bit larger. The cabin
was owned by a friend of his, Mitchel, who he had met on one of his previous
trips to Chile. Mitchel, who was not staying at the cabin at the moment,
lived on the large island of Chiloe, and was also a bike nut. That was
actually how he and Alex had met, waiting for the ferry with their bikes.
Mitchel had, among other bikes an '81 BMW R100CS (??) and a KTM. Alex was of
Russian descent while Mitchel was of Yugoslav descent, which Alex said,
helped them hit it off.
Alex invites me inside for a drink, but he is getting ready to go out and do
a bit of fishing with the last rays of sun that day. In fact he said,
normally he pulls the bike around back of the cabin, but he had been a bit
lazy and since he was going out fishing later, had just parked the bike by
the road. If not for that, I would never have spotted the bike and stopped.
He has more up to date information on the ferry schedules out of Chaiten,
since he was planning to leave in the next couple of days for Santiago where
he was going to get his entry papers extended another 30 days. The
information I had about the ferry leaving at 8AM tomorrow morning for Quellon
on Chiloe was out of date. The next departure for Quellon was not until
Saturday. However there was a departure tomorrow evening at 8PM directly to
I had hoped to go to Puerto Montt via Chiloe, but did not want to wait until
Saturday to do so, so it looked like I'd catch tomorrow evenings boat to
Puerto Montt. Alex said I could sleep on the couch downstairs if I wanted,
and since I now didn't need to be in Chaiten early in the morning to catch a
ferry I accepted, and Alex went out to get some fishing in while there was
still some light left. He came back an hour later with a nice 14" brown
trout, his 3rd of the day. Most of the fish he caught he released, though
the bigger ones he kept and gave to the older couple next door who ran a
residencia. In exchange he often ate over there, helping with the cooking,
and he invited me along for dinner. I contributed my pasta to the evenings
We knock on the rear door to the kitchen, and are greeted by Don Marcelo.
Inside is like a sauna, heated by an old wood-fired stove where Senora Laura
is stirring a huge vat of red syrup-like liquid with a huge wooden paddle.
She is making preserves out of the red berries one sees all along the
roadside in southern Chile.
Alex and Don Marcelo clean the latest fish, which is fat with roe. The
entrails serve as dinner for their large gray cat. While Senora Laura and
Don Marcelo take care of the preserves, Alex and I prepare the pasta, and an
esparragus/mushroom sauce to go over it. Several shots of pisco help all
four chefs with their duties. When all is ready we all sit down to enjoy the
feast, accompanied by a beef broth soup and some vino tinto (red wine).
Don Marcelo is a retired senior officer in the Carabineros, Chile's
equivalent of the Highway Patrol. Both he and Senora have a wry sense of
humor, which becomes more evident as they get to know you. Alex's Spanish is
better than mine, and I have to ask for translations on many of the more
subtle jokes. Alex actually was born in Chile and spent his first 8 years
here. His parents had immigrated from Russia, and then when he was 8,
immigrated to the US. When I learned this, I didn't feel as bad about my
poor Spanish compared to his.
Later, after dinner, the lights suddenly go out. We continue with the aid of
candlelight, but sense that Senora Laura and Don Marcelo are ready to call it
a night, and we say our goodbyes and leave. Alex had said I should offer 1
to 2 thousand pesos or so, since it was my first visit, and it was their
business. It seemed a bit wierd since we had provided most of the food and
did much of the preparation, but I offered P1500, half hoping they would
refuse, not because it was a hardship for me to pay, but out of principal.
They made an initial small protest, but when I offered it again they
accepted. Oh well.
Walking back to the A-frame we notice that all the other houses have light,
and we wonder if maybe that was an engineered, subtle way of them saying it
was time to go. However the next morning when Alex stopped by, he found them
still without light and after a bit of searching found where a bit of water
from the previous evenings rain had shorted out two wires. So they hadn't
kicked us out after all.
Wednesday April 16 73114
In the morning I walk down the road to the elementary school where the
children raise chickens and sell eggs. I buy a half dozen. Fresh eggs here
are unlike what you buy in the big supermarkets in the States. The yokes are
a deep yellow color and of a very thick consistency. They make great
The A-frame is a study in contrasts. Mitchel is well-to-do by Chileno
standards, and the living room has a nice TV, VCR, and stereo system. The
kitchen has a wood-fired stove, which also provides the heat for the house.
The upstairs bathroom has problems with it's water supply, a result of its
previous owner, and the toilet has to be flushed the old-fashioned way, by
carrying a bucket of water upstairs. A large pile of motorcycle magazines,
including the Spanish SoloMoto, sits on the floor by the bar.
We learn that the ferry is running late. It was coming from Coihaique, in the
south, via Quellon on Chiloe. Between Coihaique and Chiloe it had to cross a
stretch of water which was open to the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the
recent bad weather had made it too rough for the small ferry to cross. It
was, for now, holed up in Melinka, on a small island to the south of that
open water crossing. They'd know by 5pm tonight what the latest status was
and when it might be expected to arrive in Chaiten.
In the afternoon Alex and I ride into Chaiten, 15 miles away, to buy some
groceries and beer for the evenings ferry ride, assuming it arrives. The
ferry office says the boat is expected to arrive between 2 and 3 AM in the
morning, but to check back after 5PM. We had also brought along his fishing
tackle, and on the way back to El Amarillo, park alongside the road, hop the
fence, and walk the 30 yards to the river running alongside the road. We
have a one beer bet on who lands the first fish, I think the odds are with
Alex, given that it's been more than 4 years since I last cast a line, I
think it was during my Alaska trip of '92. I don't have a licence, but Alex
assures me it won't be a problem, especially now in the off-tourist season.
Alex swears by the Rapalla lures, which any avid fisherman will be familiar
with, and tells of stripping to his BVDs numerous times to wade out and save
a lure snagged on a rock or branch in the river. I use a Mepps spinner,
partly for variety to see what the fish might be going after, but also I
think because Alex doesn't trust me with his prized Rapallas. I don't blame
Within 15 minutes Alex hooks a beautiful 16 inch rainbow trout, and it does 3
leaps out of the water, in the process of landing it. One beer for Alex. 10
minutes later I land a nice 12 inch rainbow, though mine doesn't do any
aerial aerobatics. The two make a beautiful pair and we snap a number of
photos. I don't have my camara with me and ask Alex to send a copy to my
parent's address. We had exchanged addresses earlier in the afternoon. We
try one more spot farther down the road before it got dark, but no luck, and
ride back to the cabin in the dark.
Dinner that night at Don Marcelos is fried trout and salmon, rice with
mushroom sauce, cabbage salad, and stewed cabbage. A veritable feast.
After dinner, Senora Laura calls the ferry office and learns the boat left
Quellon at 8pm which means it should arrive in Chaiten at 1AM. At 11:30 we
say our goodbyes to Senora Laura and Don Marcelo, and thank them for their
hospitality, return to the cabin, pack the bikes, and leave at around 12:45.
It's raining lightly, and my battery has been drained too low by my use of
the PIAAs riding back from fishing after dark earlier that evening, and
refuses to start. I try kickstarting it a couple of times to no avail, and
we finally push it out to the road, which has a small grade to it, and get it
started that way.