Concepcion is the second largest city in Chile, situated on the coast about five hours south of Santiago. Concepcion gets a blog of its own because the most incredible thing happened on our arrival in this big city and we had so much fun the three nights we stayed.
The Pack Track had a late departure from Malalcahuello on Monday, 23 March 2015. It was 300km to our next destination, Concepcion, so we decided to have a lazy last morning at our friends place. The ride was quick, we were on good roads, so we stopped along the way and arrived in Concepcion at 5pm. We rode directly to the main Plaza to find wifi and look for accomodation online.
The motorbikes were parked in a designated motorbike parking area beside a restaurant in the Plaza. We had not even removed out helmets when we were swamped by high school students asking questions and wanting photos. We tried to tell them we weren't famous but they didn't care. The crowd grew and three gentlemen who had been sitting at the restaurant wandered over to see what all the fuss was about. Their English was very good and we talked to them for a while. Eventually we asked their advice on a cheap pet-friendly hotel. They made a few calls for us but the best they could find was $80 a night. We wanted to stay in Concepcion for three nights so we couldn't afford to pay that. Meanwhile, two ladies, who also had been sitting at the restaurant, approached the motorbikes but only to see Negrita. They were dog lovers and thought Negrita was very sweet. One of the ladies, Jimena, spoke English and joined in the conversation. When Jimena realised we were looking for accommodation she offered for us to stay at her home. Just like that, without knowing anything about us, she opened her home to two complete strangers with their massive dirty motorbikes and their dog. The gentlemen said goodbye and we followed Jimena to her home.
The prospect of staying in a home is always really exciting. With being on the road for such a long time now we miss being around friends and family. Mostly we try to stay in hostels, campgrounds or book a room on airbnb because we are able to interact with more people. As nice as hotels are they can be very sterile, impersonal and even lonely places to stay. We felt very welcome in Jimena's home, actually its her mum, Sylvia's, apartment. In the past, Sylvia often had students staying in the apartment from many different countries so she was used to travellers and had set up a bed for us in the lounge room which we commandeered for the next few days.
Over the next few days we got to know Jimena really well as she showed us around her city. Jimena spoke fluent English so we were able to ask her lots of questions not only about Concepcion and Chile but also her time working overseas in Europe and Africa as an international chef. Getting to know people from different countries and different cultures is really what travelling is all about. You can learn an awful lot from other peoples experiences, it opens your mind and teaches you to appreciate every little thing you once took for granted.
Good food is one thing we learnt early on in this adventure to appreciate and a chef will always know the best places to eat in town. On our first night we visited the university district for pizza and margaritas. Yum! We woke to glorious sunshine the next morning and all bundled on to a bus headed for the seaside. Jimena's cousin, Angela, met us at the seaside markets and drove us to a fishing village for a local seafood lunch. Angela, like Janell, loves coffee and she knew the best cafes in town. Between the two of them we gained about 2kg of joy. But during the drive, Jimena and Angela told us all about the big earthquake that hit Concepcion in February, 2010 and all the devastation it caused. The Chilean Government declared the earthquake a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale; that is a big earthquake. Angela was able to describe first hand the terrible conditions that followed the natural disaster. Her home and many others were without water, sewerage and electricity for a month. She was fortunate that her home was situated on the hillside and well-built, other homes at the base of the hill were not so lucky and felt the full force of the earthquake tremors and the impeding seas which carried boats, ships, cars, buildings and other debris several blocks in to the town.
Earthquakes and tsunami's are not the only natural disasters Chile suffers from. During our time in Chile there were bushfires (forest fires) in the south, flooding in the north, minor earthquakes and volcano eruptions. We saw updates on the news everyday we were in Chile and those disasters which made it home to Australian news prompted family and friends to check in on us. But we managed to skate through Chile unscathed.