In Part 10 of her Ride to be one series, Maral traverses through warm(ish) and pictureseque Chile before heading to Antarctica
When I was planning my ride way back in 2016, my plan was always to ride solo. However, Pankaj and I teamed up for ‘Ride to Be One’ and it was a wonderful experience. I would now journey on alone. It was time for me to experience the ride from a different perspective – as a one-woman army, capable of overcoming any challenge. And I was looking forward to the challenge.
While Pankaj headed from Mendoza to Buenos Aires and onward to India, I headed towards Santiago in Chile. One of my primary objectives for visiting Santiago was to meet with – Abdullah Omidvar. The Omidvar Brothers, Eesa and Abdullah are legends in the biking world. 60 years ago they undertook a world bike ride that spanned 10 years! And they studied world cultures and tribes.
I met Eesa Omidvar in Iran and I promised him that once my ride was completed, I would return to Iran and proudly hoist the Iranian flag there. An Iranian female biker would create history. The procedures at the Chile border were the same as in previous South American countries. Chilean customs prohibit travellers from carrying fruits, meat, plants and seeds. And here I was at the border, after having carried my wedding bouquet through three countries, it had completely wilted and dried. When the officer saw the bouquet he told me I could not carry it into Chile with me. Thoughts started racing through my mind. ‘Why was I carrying the bouquet from my wedding?
Where was I going to take it? To the end of this world?’ My reason suddenly became clear – it was to remind me of my wedding! It symbolised all my hopes and promises, with which I was going to build a future with my husband! I explained to him that it was my wedding bouquet and it meant a lot to me. I saw a puzzled look on his face. I don’t think he had ever encountered a situation like this before! A woman on a motorcycle, overloaded with luggage, covered in dust, trying to save a spray of dried flowers!
He asked me to wait while he went to his boss to see what he could do. He returned with a big smile on his face and told me I could carry my bouquet with me into Chile. It may seem like a very small thing, but I was overjoyed. While I was waiting for the officer to return, I met another BMW rider from Chile and we decided to ride together from the Chilean border. The road was nice and curvy – my favourite, but these curves were lined back-to-back with huge trucks! I tried to be a rule-abiding rider, but I could not survive for more than 15 minutes. I put my Indian skills in motion and overtook 3 trucks together, then another 3, then another 2, then another 4… until I got a clear road ahead of me. (Disclaimer: I do not encourage riders to speed or break any rules!)
The road to Santiago was really beautiful. There was something about this place, at first sight it reminded me of Tehran. As it was Sunday, it took me 45 minutes to reach my destination. I rang the doorbell and Mr Abdullah Omidvar himself opened the door, greeted me with a hug and said, “Happy to see the First Lady of my kind.” He then looked at my bike and exclaimed, “That’s a huge bike, my girl!” I proudly pointed to my number plate that indicated Maharashtra, India.
He invited me into his home and introduced me to his lovely wife. About 10 minutes later, his friend Zohreh stepped in too. I felt like I was home with people who spoke Farsi, plates of sweets (dates), dry fruit and many more delicious snacks.It was such a pleasure to spend time with Mr Omidvar. What an awesome guy, so many interesting anecdotes and mind-blowing experiences, which I could completely relate to.
The hours flew past and it was time to leave. That is when Zohreh asked me where I was staying. When I told her that I hadn’t booked anywhere yet, she insisted that I stay at her home! The next two days were really great. I woke up to a typical Iranian breakfast that was followed by a tour of the city. Later we stopped by Mr Omidvar’s home once again – an evening with plenty of laughter and many more exciting stories!
On Monday morning, I took my bike to the Metzeler showroom in Santiago and after they changed both tyres, Nutella and I were ready to get back on the road. I took Routa5 – beautiful and an easy ride. All the petrol pumps had Wi-Fi, plenty of restaurants and supermarkets. Soon it was sunset and I found a place on the outskirts to set up my tent. There was a guard who started asking me very weird questions – ‘Are you alone? Is anyone else joining you? What time will they be here? How many people in your group? Where are they from?’
His line of questioning and demeanour made me very uncomfortable, but I tried to brush off my apprehensions. To make matters worse, there were two guys roaming around my tent shirtless. Fortunately, there was a very hyper and happy dog that kept running around my tent and kept me company. I used my torch to read for a while, did some knitting and wrote in my diary. After a couple of hours I heard some people pass by my tent. It was pitch dark outside and extremely cold. I kept my knife and pepper spray ready – one weapon in each hand.
It was not that either weapon would be of any help in a difficult situation, but it gave me a sense of security. Then I broke into laughter, because if I fell asleep and rolled over my pepper spray, it would be a disaster! That night, no one really got close to my tent and I was safe. However at around 2am I woke up and I needed to use the restroom. It was extremely cold and dark. I gathered every ounce of courage that I had and ran around the closest tree – my best possible option that night! As my tent grew warmer, I knew that the sun had risen. I basked in its warmth for a bit, made my morning coffee and was grateful to be alive and safe.
I spent a few more days in Chile, visiting some more beautiful places. About 100km from the Chile-Argentina border, the views were spectacular – a combination of lakes, greenery, mountains and snow-capped peaks. There were a few times I went off-road towards these mountains, got lost and found myself in the middle of nowhere! None of the roads took me to those elusive mountains – but wound around all over the place. That night I stayed in a hostel room – a day that I called my ‘luxury day’.
I had an actual bed to sleep on and access to a hot shower. I got a room beside the lake, cooked a tasty meal for myself, enjoyed a nice shower and then the bed with a comfortable mattress awaited me. I was now ready to get back to Argentina and enjoy Patagonia. This journey would mark the end of the Second Leg of my world ride and there was a boat waiting for me in Ushuaia that would take me onward to Antarctica!