This is what it looked like when I left home on the 27.12. (pic1),

when I left my airport-hotel room in Santiago to relax at the pool (pic2)

and  in the morning of the 29.12., ready to go on the first bike-stage (pic3):

29.12.2008: Day 1 on my bike  

STAY REALISTIC !

      No doubt this was a nice plan. Going to my first target location, to Pichilemu - the surfer hotspot at the Pacific Ocean some 230 km from my hotel at Santiago airport - within two days. Easy, so it seems  to me. At ten in the morning the thermometer already shows 32 °C, a sunny and nice and warm day that I appreciate a lot. Finally I have just escaped from the ugly German winter, so I would be stupid not to appreciate a bit of sunshine. I had a good breakfast at my luxurious 4-star hotel at the airport, plenty of people (tourists and locals) who were wishing me good luck for my journey and the highest aspirations for myself of course. My legs feel good now that I am finally pedaling my first few meters on a side walk. The bike feels very wishy-washy and unstable  though with all the panniers on the two carriers. It is also pretty hard to control, especially when I slow down too much. I have to erase the idea of cycling no-handed through the Chilean sun but at the same time I sense a feeling of total freedom which might be driven by the fact that indeed I am self sustainable with what I carry with me. Furthermore I do not have a clear plan or route mapped out nor any immediate time limitations that would contrain me. This truly is a great feeling. The great weather and pleasure of biking add to it. The first 15 km are rather messy, I follow the side road of one of the highways that surround and finally leave Santiago. There are no climbs at all in todays schedule which I feel appropriate for the first day and which should also help to get half way to Pichilemu easily. 40 kms  into my daytrip I have a longer break and do a first review of the data: The avg speed is at 16 km/h, the maximum temperature is at 48 °C!!! and my legs do not feel all so well like in the morning anymore…  I feel like it is time to abandon my original plan and to begin to really go with the flow. And if it does not flow so well in the beginning then so be it. I have indeed significantly underestimated the impact of the heat (>40°C most of the time), the additional weight (ca.35kg) on my bike, the difficulty of the terrain (especially in the city area) and the lacking fitness level of myself. This altogether helps me understand that I have to use different measures here compared to what I am used to. Ok, accepted, and ready to go with it. After being back on the bike it doesn’t take long for the news to appear. This is one I was definitely expecting though. Nevertheless it is always a new pleasure to enjoy this feeling when your body runs out of carbohydrates and cannot yet utilize its fat reserves good enough. I knew this would come as I haven’t done any bike ride that took me  longer than 1 hour for months now, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so intense. The legs do not really hurt, they just feel very empty and strange. And the whole body feels a bit wasted and just not prepared to work well anymore. It just doesn’t flow anymore, it takes a real effort to keep going properly, especially with this additional strong headwind that came up a while ago. The first 30 minutes of that feeling is always the worst. I know though that  this will be getting better day by day now. In a week or so that should be fine and I should be able to cover long distances without a problem again. In the end, why should my body have a better memory than my brain anyway? If my brain forgets things within seconds or minutes why should my body remember for months how to run on fat properly?  When I reach Melipilla at km 70 at 5 pm in the afternoon I decide to call it a day and to look for a hotel. My strategy is to mainly stay in hostels or hotels in the first few days or weeks while I am still in the more populated part closer to Santiago.  This is also because people told me that it would be safer. I find a policeman who tells me that there is only one acceptable hotel in town, it is closeby. I check into the best hotel in town for 30 € per night. The 3 course dinner is delicious and costs me additional 6€. A good deal only a few kilometers away from Santiago. Nice. The whole rest of the town does indeed look pretty low standard though. Of course I know that Iam not in Germany. But many parts of my tour today remind me of China much more than of the most developed Southern American country. Santiago was a blast (I had a nice ccity tour with the hotel taxi after he dropped me and picked me up again in town yesterday), very modern and fully developed. As soon as you leave the city boarders though it is very different, just one big road, loads of small shops, many “barrios” where people live in relatively poor conditions and everything is rather old and shabby. Lets see how this develops on my trip. I have the feeling that Melipilla is not one of the best addresses in Chile. The people I met today where very kind, communicative and interested though. Like the son of the shop owner where I had my lunch break, who wanted to know everything about my journey. Or the roadworker who I envied for the shade he was enjoying during his lunch break while he envied me for my GPS tool on my bike. All in all I had a fantastic first full day here. I am glad that I have received the right response to the temptation to follow my ingoing plan to do the first stage from Santiago to Pichilemu in two days only. Having said farewell to this plan also is a symbol for having said farewell to my “professional” attitude for a while. For now I will only go with the flow and decide on the spot. I will be in spontaneity- and take it easy - mode. I hope my brain will remember the “professional”way of working when I will be asking for it again back at work some day…  

30.12.2008: Day 2:

La "6 en 6 formula" !

"Policia ? Bomberos ? Numero de telefono ?". I look into three blank faces at the reception of the best hotel in town when I ask for the emergency numbers of police and fire brigade in the morning before I leave for the 2nd stage of my journey. Finally after some consultation and consideration the receptionist fetches the phone book and finds the numbers there. Either police and fire department are not too popular in Chile or the three had a day of sick at school when these numbers where taught (and their parents too). Anyway, equipped with those numbers I start my day on the bike at 8.30 am and cool 22 degrees C. It won´t be getting as hot like yesterday today, the maximum temperature I will see is 41 today. Almost a bit chilly today. There is even some morning fog when I leave town and get into the surrounding rolling hills. Talking hills, if I would have known the topography of todays route I would have had some more drinks last night. To cut to the chase, today I have made some 80 km with 911 meters of altitude covered ! Just as a reminder, this is with about 35 kg of additional weight on my bike. And I can feel it now that I sit in this nice mini-Internet cafe with two beers already enjoyed. The screen seems to be a bit misadjusted, letters are not all that clear. Clearly the scientific insight of the day is one that proves that doing bike travelling with the full gear set has its own rules and gives distances a completely new dimension. Soon after I get into the first one of those rolling-hill-climbs I establish the "6 in 6 formula". This is based on the realisation that in a 6% incline my speed usually drops to 6 km/h.  The climbs are not too long and not incredibly steep but they come with a certain regularity that makes me sweat. Given this new insight and also considering my fitness experience from yesterday I decide after 2 hours to turn in for one of those famous empanadas del horno. Everybody seems to have a small earth-made oven to bake their own empanadas (dough filled with a mix of meat, onion and other vegies). I appreciate that and have already tested various versions. All of them were delicious. As is most food when you are biking and hungry though. The environment changes quite rapidly today, from very dry to more green, even some wineyards back to extremely dry and rocky. When I stopp to refill my bottles and have another bite to eat about 25 km before my aspired target town for my overnight stay (all preliminary of course, the flow and spontaneity rules of course) I have a nice chat with the shop owner. One of the things that I ask is why there are so many crosses with pictures of people at the side of the road. Of course these are remembrance symbols for people who did on the road, what I want to find out though is why there are so many. And if they were all cyclists maybe that have been hunted down by truck drivers. Luckily the answer includes that these were not cyclists and especially that these were mostly drunk people who were walking by the side and the middle of the road at night and were run over by sober (but surprised) or also drunk drivers. I decide not to start drinking before my bike is put aside for the day.  Now I am looking forward to my dinner in my hostel, I will try some Chilean wine and chat some more with my host, Checco. Then I will get up early tomorrow to cycle in the chilly morning air again. I will most likely be able to reach Pichilemu, the surfer hot spot in Chile. This is where I will spend new years eve and maybe a couple of more days at he beach, if I like it. I am sure there will be plenty of people there as I had lots of cars with surf boards passing me today. I will see. 

        Addition to day 2: 

        On my way to Litueche, when I stop by the road to have a look at a bigger water damm for energy production, I meet Che Guavara’s son and his girlfriend The two are going from Santiago to a coastal hot spot for the new years eve party. I think Che’s son didn’t even bother buying a new moto, it looks exactly like the one in the movie, not too big and very old. I wish them farewell as they do me and see them disappear behind one of the corners of the climb that welcomes me after the short break. I quickly find out that this is a long and tough climb, and it is midday, hot, sunny, perfect for a little exhaustion exercise. After about 2/3 I meet Che junior again. His girlfriend sits at the side of the road while he tries to sort something out on the moto. Strange enough they have a break cable torn. I wonder how he found out on the way up. Anyway though, we have a very nice chat again, they decide to get it fixed in the next town and I am unhappy because this means that the very welcome and unexpected break is over. In reflection of the encounter I feel extremely well that so far I had no defects yet at all. I hope it will stay this way.        In Litueche I find a room in the only local hostal. First they say they do not have rooms but when we talk a bit more and I explain my situation they find a way. I think they decided on the spot to make up one of the small rooms  they have upstairs. Real hospitality, very nice. For me this is worth celebrating with a cold Chilean beer on the front lawn of the restaurant. The mini-town doesn’t have much to offer but at least I can write an update for my homepage in an Internet café. When I return for dinner Checco offers various things from the kitchen. Having understood only half of what he explained I take the risk and go for one of the things he said. What I get then is just very delicious and extremely rich. It is called “umas”, contains (at least) maize, onion, egg and maybe potato. Great. The best thing of the day is what happens during the rest of the evening. I get in contact with the people on the neighbouring table to mine. They are local “businessman”, they own the supermarket of the village. The two together with their wifes, some kids and a baby have dinner and some drinks at Checcos place. First we talk the usual things (where do you come from ? what ? you want to go all the way south by bike ??? etc.) but when wine and other drinks begin to show effect, of course we begin to drift into the more interesting parts of the Spanisch and German language. I have a great time with them, entertaining company, get some free drinks and can only confirm again that getting drunk with the locals is the  best way to learn a language.

Day 3: 31.12.2008

Welcome to the Pacific Ocean

        Why is the sun never in the north here ? No, what I learned at school is indeed not correct. The sun does not “never appear in the north”. This rule is only applicable to the northern hemispshere. On the southern hemisphere, especially far south it is of course the other way round, a simple scientific reality but often forgotten (on the northern hemisphere. I hope I have spotted that well by now, I took me a bit of observation of the sun to be sure about it. But it confirms again that many things indeed are not so firm and unchangeable as we may think. Often just taking another viewpoint already helps to see things from a different angle and to accept different opinions and solutions for one topic.. But anyway, when I prepare to leave the hostel at 7 am I am a bit surprised to see that next to me at the bar somebody does drink his first beer of the day, or so I do think. He might have already had a few at home of course, which I can’t judge. The second surprise has been extremely positive. For the room, the dinner and drinks last night (including half a bottle of Chilean red wine) and the breakfast now I need to pay 15 Euro. Now that is a good deal I think ! At 7.30 am I hit the road. It is very foggy, has only 15 °C and on the bike I realize that I have early morning. The fog disappears miraculously when I leave the Litueche-valley at ca. 8.30, which is also the nicest time of the day for biking. The question I have asked in the morning (Will it rain today?)  got no clear answer, just astonishment, which I do understand better now. The second best part of my ride today was when I got over the peak of the little mountain range that I had to cross to get to the sea. The best part was clearly and by far when the blue colour of the sea appeared for the first time on my GPS screen. This conincided with the time when the long downhill and final kilometers towards Pichilemu began. I suddenly found myself rolling down the hill and singing “vamos a la playa” on my bike. I hope nobody has seen, heard or recognized me doing so. The feeling was great though. In Pichilemu I turn into a few hostels to find them all fully booked. Noo surprise, it is high season. People are so helpful though, I quickly find myself in the back of an old Suzuki Jeep climbing up a steep dirt road to an old hut which a surfer guy and his girlfriend have bought recently. They haven’t refurbished yet. This is also how it looks. Luckily I can use the reason of the place being too far off the pitch to turn the invitation down. Surprisingly they still help me to find a place. This time it is not old but brandnew and not even fully finished yet. I am the first guest in this guesthouse right at the beach. The landlord finishes quickly what is possible (fix the blinds, put linen on the bed etc.) and here we go. Perfecto.

Day 4: 1.01.2009

Good morning Mr Walter Krüger !

      Aleman?  Ich heisse Walter Krüger, estoy ingeniero de physico nuclear. Mi padre era aleman i yo estudie en Frankfurt en Alemania. This is how the guy introduces himself to me after  I have been the centre of communication in the breakfast room of the neighbouring hostel (which was one of the fully booked ones, they offered me to use their breakfast buffet though).  When I ask him about his German skills he quickly declares  that I am in Chile to learn Spanish. Which is right so I am not too unhappy about his missing interest in speaking German. Now that I leave the breakfast room I have so much information in my head about where I could go next that I am concerned that I will mix it all up or forget half of it. People were so incredibly helpful and informative. I think I have heard a few key commonalities between the various opinions though. The lake and volcano region ca. 800 km further south seems to be by far the most beautiful place in Chile. On top of the wonderful nature I will be surprised to find so many German heritages and influences. Another common input is that I have a spanish accent in my Spanish. I take it as a compliment that people talk about an accent at all . In town I find a very very busy and huge beach. This is the biggest long holiday weekend of the year and everybody  seems to be here, including myself. I am lucky that even shops are open on the public holiday and buy a new prepaid mobile phone card. My mobile phone story is rather frustrating so far. I bought one of the provider “claro” in Santiago. Nothing is claro though, it doesn’t work here. So now I buy another one from “movistar”, which does work. Fine, well done, smile. Next I find out though that I can only do domestic calls with this card and/or phone. I seem to be able to send short messages to Germany but not make international phone calls. My German provider doesn’t seem to support international calls from my phone in Chile either. It is frustrating. I need to talk to somebody who knows about this sometime soon. Maybe in the bigger city of Talca which I will reach in a few days from now. After having a beer at one of the beach bars I make my way back to my hostel along the beach. It is nice to walk at the waterline and to feel the Pacific Ocean flowing around my naked feet. The enjoyment turns into pain when I have to walk in the dry sand for a few hundred meters because the beach is blocked by rocks. At first when the warm sand begins to become too hot I do not want to show a sign of weakness and just keep going. Next I begin to run lightly so that my feet are in the air for cooling down a bit between steps. Next I do run fast to reach the end of the rocks and when I find that this won’t work either I decide to jump onto the (black) rocks. Another mistake, they are even hotter than the sand. I jump back into the sand and fall  down on my knees to finally release my feet from the heat. This must have looked totally stupid but was the only way for me to get my feet out of the sand and my shoes back on as they are attached to my backpack. I am sure people around me are still having a great lough,I don’t dare checking though. Of course everybody else who walks in the dry sand does wear some kind of shoes, which is completely logical. As I will do as well as of now.

Addition to day 4:

      The professional surfer !

      What a blast. My landlord in Pichilemu is one of three Chilean professional surfers. And the only one of the three who does compete internationally, in fact globally. Incredible. I discover this when we meet in front of the house and begin a little chitchat. His name is Diego Medina. He won a big competition ( I think the world cup) a few years ago, keeps a record in something (biggest wave in in Chile or so) and does have a good living here as a professional surfer ever since. Very nice guy, he invites me in to a drink, shows me some cool surf videos and explains to me the life of a professional surfer. Interesting indeed. I am finally convinced that he is cool  when I discover that he feeds his three dogs Pedigree dry. Excellent. Does also give me a good link into explaining what I do for a living (when I am not busy cycling in Chile). On behalf of my colleagues in Chile I do reassure him that he has made the right choice. I also inform him that most of the other brands are really bad.  Life is full of nice surprises.

Day 5: 2.1.2009

Pichilemu – Lago Vichuquen

        Wo sind die Heringe ???

        Ohje, das wird ja nun endlich dann der erste Tag mit schlechtem Wetter…Als ich um 9 zum Frühstück gehe sieht es eher unschön aus, neblig, auch wolkig, irgendwie dunkel halt. Naja, muss wohl auch mal sein. Die Route für heute geht meistens an der Küste entlang und sieht auf der Karte eigentlich recht flach aus, keine Erhebung geht über 250 Meter, das sollte eine nette Flach-Roller-Etappe werden. Mit diesen beiden Annahmen starte ich in den Tag auf dem Rad. Beide erweisen sich allerdings bereits nach nur einer Stunde als falsch. Ich befinde mich jetzt um 10 Uhr schon wieder in recht ordentlicher und sonniger Hitze. Und nun auch zum ersten Mal auf einer Piste aus festgefahrenem Erdboden, von Asphalt keine Spur mehr. Und wie extra für mich bestellt kommen mir auch prompt drei Gringos auf Pferden entgegen. Wahrscheinlich reiten sie gerade zum Einkaufen ins Dorf. Flach ist es übrigens auch nicht. Zwar sind die Anstiege nicht so wahnsinnig lang, dafür aber viele und steil. Aber was solls denn, ich habe doch ein Mountain Bike. Wenn da nur nicht so viel Gepäck dran hängen würde. Ich überlege schon täglich, was ich denn alles nach Hause schicken könnte um Gepäck abzuwerfen, finde aber wirklich nur Kleinigkeiten, nichts besonders schweres. Schade.  Mittags esse ich meine bereits zur Gewohnheit gewordenen empanadas. Die gibt es wirklich überall. Sie sind immer in diesen Öfen aus einer Erd/Stein Mischung vor Ort gebacken. Und immer ist mal was anderes drin. Heute habe ich mir zwei mit nur Käse drin bestellt. Auch sehr lecker. Und die haben natürlich viel Energie. Am Nachmittag sollte es dann trotz empanadas aber wirklich geschehen: Ich steige ab und schiebe mein Rad zum ersten Mal einen Berg hoch. Dieser Schotter/Sand/Erdanstieg ist allerdings so steil, dass ich sogar schiebend fast nicht hoch komme. Wegen der Packtaschen muss ich das Rad beim Schieben leider etwas schräg halten (die hintere Packtasche verhindert, dass ich näher ans rad komme)  und wenn es zu steil oder der Boden zu lose wird rutscht das Rad mehr nach rechts als das es bergan rollt. Das kostet dann natürlich noch mal extra Kraft. Diese 200 Höhenmeter, die ich da fast geradeaus diesen Berg hochschiebe, haben konservativ geschätzte 15% durchschnittliche Steigung. Oben angekommen werde ich jedoch mit einem tollen Blick belohnt. Rechts zu Fuße des Hügels der Pazifik, nach links ein toller Blick ins hügelige Inland. Super. Mein heutiges Ziel, den Lago Vichuquen, erreiche ich irgendwann am Nachmittag. Ich beschliesse einen Campingplatz am Seeufer für die Nacht zu nutzen. Eine klasse Idee !!! Das Schwimmen im recht warmen See  in der Nachmittags- und Abendsonne (die Sonne geht hier so um 20.30 unter) ist einfach super. Dieser See hier ist ein wenig vergleichbar mit dem Starnberger oder Tegernsee. Luxuriöse Bebauung auf der einen Seite (nicht die wo ich bin..), hügeliges Umland, tolles Wetter. Allerdings sind hier Motorboote erlaubt. Als mich ein netter älterer Herr mit rot gefärbtem Vollbart auf deutsch anspricht sind meine Heimatgefühle vollendet. Da man mich inzwischen auf dem Campingplatz als „der mit dem Rad“ identifiziert hat und auch weiss dass ich aus Deutschland komme, ist diese Info auch schon zu ihm vorgedrungen. Er hat 34 Jahre in Deutschland gelebt und an Museen in diversen Städten (u.a. Bremen) gearbeitet. Lustig. Er hat eine Schwester am Lago Villarica, wo ich mich auch noch aufhalten möchte. Die möchte er mal anrufen und informieren. Ich solle mich dann bei ihr melden und könnte vielleicht bei ihr wohnen, sie habe ein grosses Haus. Es ist wirklich nett wie schnell man hier mit netten  Menschen in Kontakt kommt. Eine Gruppe auf dem Campingplatz z.B. hat mich vor zwei Tagen auf der Landstrasse überholt und hier wiedererkannt. Toll. Der Kumpel von dem älteren Herr mit rotem Vollbart und sein Schwiegersohn (der war es der mich gesehen und wiedererkannt hat)  machen am 18.1. in Pucon bei einem grossen internationalen Triathlon mit (ein Lauf des Triathlon Weltcups). Da Pucon durchaus auf meinem Weg liegt und als Station geplant ist, und das auch vom timing her nicht so schlecht in meinen groben Routenplan passt, werde ich vielleicht zuschauen gehen. Da soll dann irre was los sein. Dieser Schwiegersohn ist auch schon mal mit dem Rad die carretera austral im Süden Chiles durch Patagonien gefahren. Genau die Strecke, die ein zentraler Teil meiner Tour werden soll. Wieder sehr lustig So haben wir die Gelegenheit ein wenig über Material am Rad fachzusimpeln. So weit mein Spanisch das eben  zulässt. Er bewundert meine superstabil aussehenden Gepäckträger und ich bin voller Hoffnung, dass ich da in meiner zeitintensiven Internet-Recherche wirklich das stabilste aufgetrieben habe, was es so gibt.  Inzwischen da ich im Zelt sitze und diese Zeilen schreibe bin ich auch über meinen bisher grössten fauxpas auf diesem trip hinweggekommen. Als ich nämlich mein Zelt aufbauen wollte musste ich feststellen, dass ich meine Zeltheringe gar nicht dabei habe.  Sehr dumm gelaufen. Die müssen in der Tüte mit der Zeltunterleg-Plane sein, die ich bei meiner letzten Gewichtsreduktionsaktion zu Hause als Weicheier-Ausrüstung aussortiert habe. Nun ja, macht aber nichts. Hier wird einem ja schnell und gut geholfen. Der Helfer des Campingplatzes kommt mir mit grossen Stahlnägeln zu Hilfe. Die funktionieren so gut, damit könnte ich glatt die ganze Tour hier klarkommen. Mal schauen, vielleicht werde ich wirklich gar nicht erst versuchen, mir neue Heringe aufzutreiben. Die Kochausrüstung ist zu meinem Glück aber  komplett. Und alles funktioniert, der Reis al pesto schmeckt gut und macht satt und ich mache mir nun im Zelt noch nen schönen Abend. Ein bisschen report schreiben, was Musik hören, schlafen. Bis morgen !

Day 6: 3.1.2009

Lago Vichuquen - Iloca

        When dreams come true ! Thanks to Raimundo and his family !

      Oh how nice would that be to be sitting in one of those boats on the lake rather than being eaten up by the dust of the hilly dirt road that surrounds this lake ! These are my thoughts during my first 12 kilometers today. I cycle the road along the lakeside, going up and down all the time  and passing one “privado” sign after the other. There is enough distance between the entrance gates of the summer holiday house terrains of the top 5% of Santiago and the lake itself to make it really difficult to get a view of the lake. To my disgrace I am being passed by one big 4WD pick up truck after the  other, left in the dust as the road  is not paved. Anyway, a little while later this has all changed and I find myself in the reality of my morning-dream, sitting in a boat on Lago Vichuquen, enjoying the view from the water. This all developed still in the morning when I took a break in a small pastelleria at the lakeside to prepare myself for a pretty steep and long climb. I needed to pass that one to get to the Pacific coastline again. While I am sitting there, enjoying my cake, a pick-up truck with a KTM Enduro (cross motorbike) turns into the lot to pick up something from the pastelleria. Raimundo (the guy’s name) and myself quickly find ourselves in a conversation, about the best way to the coast, the bike, the lake etc. Also his wife and mother appear and join into our talks. When finally it is time for all of us to leave, Raimundo offers to me to show me the lake in his boat.  How nice people are in Chile ! It is fascinating. Of course I happily accept the invitation, go to his house at the lakeside with him and within minutes we go off in his boat for a tour on the lake. His wife is also with us and we spend about 2 hours on the lake. We do a complete lake- tour (this lake is pretty big), have a bathing stop, pick up his son, his daughter and her boyfriend for another bathing loop and finally come back to his house. The overwhelming hospitality has no end yet. I am invited for lunch and we keep going with good and interesting conversations until well into the afternoon. Raimundo and myself find a similarity in our jobs. Both of us work in development, me in the petfood business and himself in the financial banking sector though. Gonzalo (the daughter’s boyfriend) gets my phone ready for international phone calls by talking to my Chilean provider and finally Raimundo offers  to drive me up the coming steep and long climb by car so  I can continue my tour today with a downhill. How nice. This day could not have been a better surprise for me. I have met wonderful people and had a great, enjoyable experience in a wonderful environment. Simply perfect. Also this way I send my best regards to Raimundo and his family again (I hope you read this) and of course reconfirm my offer to return the favour might there ever be the time and opportunity in Germany. The day ends in a (basic) hotel at the beachfront with a glass of Chilean red wine, a sun set over the ocean and a male singer who has failed in choosing a job in line with his talents. Life is a treat !

Day 7: 4.1.2009

Iloca – Talca

        My personal  bike-guards

        “Permiso senior, hemos olvidado una cosa anoche”. Sir, we have forgotten one thing last night when we talked…the “hotel boy for everything” approaches me again this morning when I go for breakfast. Just like he did last night when I had my sunset beer on the terrace. He was standing there, right between myself and the wonderful sunset into the ocean and kept talking to me about great historic German people, like Hermann Hesse and Nietzsche, to name only two. He did also explain to me in detail Chilean history and included the second world war and hitler straight away, once we (or rather he) were talking anyway.  Now in the morning he does complete his explanations by talking to me about Beethoven and the best ever German national soccer team, the one from 1974. I am stunned again, wondering where he does have this knowledge from. And why does he not apply his obvious brainpower to do a different job rather than doing the lowest paid job (as I guess) in the whole hotel? Or is he maybe  some kind of “Autist” who is ill in a way that he does know everything he reads or hears once but does not have the social skills to live a normal live at a higher level. Clearly he did not recognize that he was blocking my sunset view last night…Anyway, this will have to remain a mystery for me as I am already on my way further south. In the sunshine, with blue sky, a slight supporting wind in my back and a flat, paved road under my tires while I roll along the coast at a decent speed of 20 km/h. The temperature at the coast is much better then in the more central areas, even a bit chilly early in the morning and in the evenings. Good for biking. Then it happens: First I see a group of 6 road bikers passing by into the opposite direction. Then I see other road bikers sat on the side of the road while one of them does fix a flat tire. I stop by and we begin to talk. Their names are Christian, Daniel and Princessa, who is  the youngest one of the three, still school age  I guess. The other two do not even know his real name, only his nick name. We are all headed for the next bigger city, constitution, so the three decide to accompany me for a while. After a while it  is obvious that they belong to the poorer part of the population here. They really like biking but cannot go for competitions because  it costs an entry fee of ca. 3-4 Euro and they do not know how to get there either. Also they keep asking about prices for my bike, the equipment, the flight etc., which makes me feel quite uncomfortable. They do not mean it to offend me, they are just interested and overwhelmed. Of course I lie as much as possible within ranges that I believe will not make them suspicious because I from my side do not want to make them feel uncomfortable either. I am not sure though if I succeed in doing so. They tax my bike in Chile about 3x the price that I have told them it would cost in Germany. They will go home with the believe that bikes and equipment are damn cheap in Germany. The last discussion we have about money before I finally move the subject of conversation away from that is when Christian gives his best guess about what my whole journey would probably cost. His best estimate is that the 3-4 months will cost me  around 1 Million Pesos (ca. 1.300 Euro).  “Yes, seems about right. I actually hope to come in a bit below that budget.”, is my response in line with my strategy before.  What I take away from the encounter is that I should never take the financial framework I am working in for granted. How well situated am I  in this world ! Our ways part when I do need to stop for a break and a bite to eat in a village. We take a picture, I share with them my webpage address and off they are. That was a nice encounter. Really nice people, enthusiastic for our sport, the biking, and very interested and open in their personality. I am glad we met.

      The second part of todays journey is the train ride in the old train between constitucion on the coast to Talca in the central valley. I do take this train because it is supposed to lead through a wonderful valley along the Maule River. Even though it does take the chance away for me to cross the coastal cordillera again. Pity. The train ride takes about 3 hours. Here are my thoughts before I get on the train: What will I do those three hours? Should I write a bit more on my reports? Or should I sleep? Or just watch the outside all the time? I was not sure. As soon as I am on the train though I am sure that neither of those options is available to me anymore, because I in quickly involved in conversations with the other passengers. It is amazing how quickly you get to know people when you are open minded for it. And it is scary to see that the rural Chilean people do also use the train window as their garbage bin, just as people in China and other developing countries do as well. Well, there have to be some obvious commonalities in the developing world. I do begin to think that development in a country does definitely need to begin with the people, their education and mindset first. People here might expect it to happen the other way round though. They might expect the government to deliver the development for them. To build a modern  infrastructure and to supply them with all the goods of the modern world, plus to ensure steadily increasing salaries. The latter is easily recognizable by people, and can be done relatively quickly, the first one is not, and takes much longer to show effect. By then the politician who started it off  has certainly been kicked out of office  and been replaced by somebody who delivers visible (infrastructure) change quicker. And the train window remains a public garbage bin.

Day 8: 5.1.2009

Talca

       The saddle lotterie

        Why do these hostels have so ridiculously pushy breakfast times ? I have to get my butt out of bed at 9.30 to ensure I get the breakfast before it closes at 10 am. And what I get is a piece of white bread with half a slice of cheese, a pastel sweet from Nestle and a cup of tea. Tomorrow I should stay in bed and eat my own cereals. Today has three objectives. Maintain my bike after the first week of riding, cure my sore butt and buy a new saddle. The bike maintenance part works well at the beginning. I clean all the dust away with water. I notice that not a single screw has become lose and I put lubricant on the chain. With pride I think about the zero-defect line in my tour dashboard when I notice that the rear tire is losing some air. What a pity. The zero has fallen ! I am surprised to see how little air it loses when I see that two big stings have gone through the tire and do still stick through into the tube. Fantastic tubes. What a great choice I have taken. Or was it more luck? Anyway, I put patches on the two holes and rebuild the bike. The other significant change I apply is to fix the new saddle that I have bought in a shop round the corner for 10 Euros. It was the best one I could find and I sincerely hope it will be better than the current one, which has truly disappointed me. I think a combination of not being used to long hours in the saddle anymore and the bad saddle itself (which I should have known of course) have led to a completely  unacceptable situation. The last two days I really could hardly sit anymore, it was really painful. And the hardest part now in my test ride in the hostal courtyard is that the new saddle does not seem to make a big difference ! Shit. Lets see if I can find another, better one. Off I go into town again to buy another one in another bike shop. This one costs only 7 Euro but seems to have a much better shape. I will fix it tomorrow morning and decide after the test ride which one to use. I have the choice between three now. And I will only take one (the original one) as spare with me just in case I want to change back.  And not for long, this is too much weight. And talking weight. Another action I take today is to prepare a parcel with stuff that I will send back home to save some weight tomorrow. All rather small things but together they make up for more than one kilo. Things like the laptop bag (it is safe in my pannier between clothes anyway), a hip bag (will have to take no bag or the backpack for small hikes), some rechargeable batteries (have to find electricity more often then), one cooking pot (leaves one only), my wristwatch, scissors (use the one from the swiss Army knife), one packing bag, petroleum lighter. The equipment optimisation  has gone through another loop. While being in Talca today I can observe a few interesting things. E.g that there are almost exclusively one way streets in the city. This is similar to many other cities in Chile. And they are laid out in square blocks. Plus people do actually obey traffic rules, including traffic lights. Together with the ever apparent carabineros this does give the city a relatively high level or organization and order, which is a positive surprise. I can also see that the cities in the central valley are much more developed from an infrastructure point of view than the cities in the coastal regions This is in line with what people told me here before. Another nice thing is that every street / block has at least one parking aide. These guys do park the cars for people, or simply drive it around the block a few times if no open space exists. And do of course get a bit of money for it. This is something that should be (re-) invented in bigger cities in Germany.  Maybe as a measure against the coming higher level of unemployment…