Part 12. Chile down
Wednesday, 10 December, 2008 (continued)
At the Chile border--again a new building--we had a much more complex process to manage. We parked the bikes where we were directed by the customs inspectors, and then to the window they sent us to and filled out a form. That must have been the Immigration process, since they stamped our passports and gave us another stub. We then filled in another form at another window staffed by a very serious young woman. She needed our passports again and all the bike documents. She sent us with a mute wave to one of the inspectors in the traffic lanes.
We stopped the bikes there and learned that we needed to remove all luggage that could be removed (aside from the metal boxes) and walk them through a luggage scanner in the building. This was a process akin to what you do at an airport. We took turns running our bags through the conveyor-belt scanner and watching the bikes.
Once the luggage was scanned, one of the inspectors had me open the metal boxes for inspection, but he wasn't really interested. He sort of looked in the boxes, but he asked me if I had any plants or animal materials and stamped my forms when I told him that I had none. I started loading my bike back up, and another inspector just took Don's papers and stamped them without inspecting his boxes.
While we went through this process, an English backpacker tourist chatted with us. He told us that Chile and Peru were in conflict over a number of issues. According to our informant, Chile was suspected of planning an invasion of Peru to re-claim Cusco and Machupicchu. Chile was also claiming to have been the original inventors of Pisco, a regional liquor. This, apparently, was grounds for war to some people.
We weren't sure what else was needed, and the customs inspectors gave us confusing directions. We packed up and rode on, watching for anyone who objected. None did, so we rode across the parking lot and up to the man at the exit gate. He checked our paperwork and I think he kept a copy, but in any event we were waved through and we were done here.
We rode a short distance to Arica on the coast, where we noticed right away that the drivers were much more... I'll use the word civilized. They actually stayed in their lanes, they used turn signals, they stopped when necessary. It was weird. Something else was missing... what was it? Oh, yeah. They weren't honking constantly. In fact, it was a while before I heard the first honk, and that was Don alerting me to having seen a place where we could buy insurance. The quiet was odd, but I got used to it quickly. Wonderful.
Parking was a problem, too, since it wasn't allowed to just park anywhere as we had done up until now. We ended up parking on the sidewalk and no one seemed to mind.
The insurance office was closed for siesta, but two men came to the door to tell us what the insurance cost and that we could come back at 15:00. We rode to a nearby market street for something to eat and settled into a typical cafe right off the sidewalk. Don made a new girlfriend.
Back at the insurance office, we bought a year's worth of insurance (the minimal obligatory SOAT) for the equivalent of $46. Not bad, and worth it at almost any price, since we would be in Chile for a while. One of the guys from the insurance office talked to me to practice his English. He was interested in our trip, and about other countries. He told me that the police in Chile were very professional and very strict. He told me that it would be very bad to offer a bribe to the police in this country. I found that reassuring.
We learned that there were about 652 Chilean Pesos to the Dollar, so P1000 was worth about $1.53. I went to an ATM and withdrew some money, and again I felt empowered to withdraw 200,000 from the machine. A bit more than $300. I felt like waving ten-thousand Peso bills around to show off. They were only worth about $15, so that wouldn't have been impressive to anyone.
Gas was about $4 per gallon, but we noticed that it got cheaper as we went further south.
We also learned that we lost two hours upon entering Chile. One of those hours was from the time zone, and the other was probably an issue with daylight savings time. Anyway, it was now four hours later here than in Colorado. The sun was setting close to 21:00 now. The solstice was nearing, so the days were still getting longer (summer down here, remember).
On the way out of Arica, I saw a DHL office, so I sent home the package that I had already bundled up. Stuff that I wasn't using or wanted as mementos. Cost me $80, so that was expensive.
The PanAmerican Highway was a very good road everywhere. The desert was everywhere, too, as we headed back inland.
Eventually, we saw some greenery in some valleys.
In this valley (photo above), it got very cool as winds blew through from the ocean. We were near the coast again, and could smell it.
We had a snack at a small cafe, then went on, back inland. We rode as the sun set, since there was nowhere to stop.
We decided to leave the PanAmerican Highway and head for the coast again. The PanAm was good for zooming along, but it was desolate and nearly featureless. It was interesting, don't get me wrong--even beautiful in its way--but we were drawn to the coast. We took the road to Iquique, a large city.
The exit from the PanAm was well marked, but after that, it was unclear where we were going at some remote intersections. The GPS kept us going west to the coast, but we were tempted to take one road to the south that looked well traveled. That was probably a new route to Iquique, since the road we stayed on went over the coastal hills and through heavy fog. Then it got crazy. The road seemed to still be a two-way road, but it was only wide enough for one car. It still had the line down the middle, but there is no way two vehicle could pass. The road zig-zagged very tightly as it worked down the steep slope to the coast. In the daytime, it would have been careful going, and at night we were glad we were the only traffic on it. We could see Iquique below, between the mountain and the ocean.
Iquique (ee-KEE-kay) was a nice city, and we quickly found our way to the center of the city. It was a nice area, and there were a lot of people enjoying the evening. Some kids were playing soccer up and down the steps to one imposing (and very white) building.
After eating on the plaza, we checked out a small hotel near the center of the city then headed for the outskirts where we expected to find more options for parking the bikes. Disappointed, we returned to the small central hotel and stayed there. The price was nice and the place seemed like a small German gasthaus. It was the Costa Norte Hotel, and was very nice. Some of the guests seemed like permanent residents.
A problem was that we had to fit the bikes into the narrow, gated front patio. That took some work, but we managed. (A bigger bike than the KLR650 would not make the turn.) I had to take off the the right side box to get through the gate and spin the bike on the sidestand. The left box was badly bent up from the crash, so it couldn't be removed. It wasn't closing well, either. It will need to be repaired in Santiago.
The room had four beds, so we had lots of places to put stuff. Hot water. Toilet seat. Toilet paper. Breakfast was included. Very civilized indeed.
All the plugs we saw in Chile were round two- or three-prong plugs. We had adapters, so we were okay.
Thursday, 11 December, 2008
We rose too late for breakfast, really, but they already had it set out on a table for us, so we were lucky. Our body clocks still thought it was 09:00, but it was 11:00, too late for the kitchen. Cold cuts and bread were fine.
Don's phone wasn't working in Chile at all, so we would have to find out why when we could get to a Movistar store. Movistar and Claro were the two most common telephone services we've seen in South America. He had a Movistar SIM card in his phone at this point. Maybe it just needed to have more minutes charged onto the account.
We made phone calls on my phone and slowly got ready to ride. After easing the bikes out of their cage, we packed up. One passing motorcycle enthusiast could not convince his son to sit on my bike.
Onward, out of Iquique. The southern part was newer development. We would spend pretty much all day along the coast.
As we were riding out of Iquique, we were waved over by two policemen on the side of the road. Don's "good cop" only wanted to see his passport and mostly wanted to chat. My "serious cop" asked for my license, insurance (which I was proud to show), passport, bike title, US bike registration, and tourist paper (in the passport). He seemed disappointed that I had everything. He looked at my driver's license and became the first police officer to ask if I had an International Driver's License (IDL). I smugly said that I did, and I presented that to him. He must have ran out of things to ask from me, because he thumbed through the various pages of the IDL as if he had never seen one before. Maybe he hadn't.
The police gave us our papers back, then they switched on us. The older "good cop" came to play with my tankbag map and he showed me where he was born, near Santiago. Then he played with my GPS a little bit. Now bored, they waved us on.
The coast road was very nice, more scenic and interesting than the PanAm. It wasn't a lot slower, so that was good.
We came to a mandatory customs checkpoint on the road (no way to avoid it), about 110 miles south of Iquique. We were waved to a window where a guy checked our customs papers, then were waved to the guy at the exit, then were waved onward along our journey.
We stopped at one point just to walk on the beach and touch the Pacific Ocean for a bit. There were few beaches in this area. Most of the coast was very rocky. It would have been very hard to have gotten the bikes to the water's edge here. We had to walk down a rocky slope.
Traffic was lighter than I expected on the coastal road. The absence of animals on the road was also good. We did see some donkeys near one town, so do continue to be careful. No odd vehicles (handcarts, bicycle carts, animal-drawn carts, jalopies barely moving...) also made the going smooth and easy.
The area was still desert, but the rocks, coastal mountains, beaches, and the ocean kept things more visually interesting. One tunnel.
The golf course on the desert was a laugh. Bring your sand wedge... and no other clubs. The "greens" looked like finer black sand--maybe pumice.
When we got to Tocopilla, we stopped for gas and seafood. We were still remembering the great fried shrimp we had eaten in Pimentel, Peru, so we kept looking for good shrimp. Must not get much shrimp here, though, since it was small and looked out of a can whenever we found it at all.
We were sent (by the guy at the gas station) to a seafood restaurant, but they had no shrimp and sent us to a couple seafood restaurants on the beach just south of Tocopilla. One of those restaurants wasn't open and the other had no shrimp. No matter, the fish was very good.
We knew the day would be long, so we kept riding.
I had been watching for it, so coming to the Tropic of Capricorn was no surprise.
That brought us to Antofagasta, another large city where we would stop for the night.
Before it got dark, we rode through the city and beyond, to see what the continuing coast road looked like. The PanAmerican Highway had curved back to the ocean here, so we had more choices for tomorrow. Some people had told us that we had to go inland from Antofagasta on the PanAm, but I wanted to avoid the pure desert riding if possible.
South of Antofagasta, the road basically ended into a rough dirt road. It didn't look like much traffic went that way, and the map showed no towns for a long while. Okay, back to the PanAm tomorrow for more inland desert.
I pulled into a parking lot where I adjusted my balancer doohickey. It's a KLR thing. I hoped that might help the bike, which was running rough, but it didn't.
We did our usual gig of finding the center of town, but had some trouble because of all the one-way streets and pedestrian-only streets. We did manage to find a nice hotel on a corner. Leaning up against the hotel was a local drunk guy. He was friendly. A bit too friendly. I was across the street as Don parked in front of the hotel, then I saw the guy touching Don's bike. I made my way across traffic to join him, just in case the guy was trouble. Don was about to smack the guy, but I distracted El Senor Dipshit long enough for Don to go check on the hotel.
While I played nice with the guy, he got more and more assertive. He started touching me and drumming his hands on my bike. I considered that it was an act, and he was testing us (with accomplices nearby, perhaps), but after getting real close to him and looking into his bleary eyes, I saw that he was just what he appeared to be: an over-friendly, completely drunk pain in the ass.
I took out my camera and that made the guy go frantic to stay out of the photo I tried to take of him. I got a few bad shots of him, and this was the best I could do, since he was jumping all around and ducking down. He almost hit his head on that fire hydrant once.
That happy grin of his stayed like that, but his actions became almost aggressive. When I put the camera away, he came to stand next to me (and leaned on me a bit). Then he made the mistake of touching me again, grabbing at my arm. I hate when drunk guys grab me. (Not nearly enough drunk women grab at me, I've noticed.) I had to hurt a drunk college kid in a bar in Vail once, but that was only after he had annoyed and touched just about everyone in the place. He had grabbed my hands, trying to make me clap along with the music, and that's when I rocked his world. He probably still tells the story about the guy who made him cry.
Back to the current story: I gently pulled free from this guy's grasp and took his arm in return and twisted it real good. Not quite a Nikyu technique, but close enough for the necessary amount of pain. His eyes bugged out and he got really scared for a moment after I let him go. He then stomped across the street to pee on whatever building that was (staring back at me the whole time). I figured that he was emptying his bladder before deciding to come back and fight me, but that was okay. Some taxi drivers were watching, and they seemed like they were taking bets. I'll take ten bucks on me winning this fight, please.
But, no, they guy kept staring at me as he staggered away, around a corner and gone. I watched for him to return, but I never saw him again. Don came back out of the hotel after this, and said that it was where we would stay. Parking was less than a block away, in a secure parking structure that was included in the cost of the hotel.
After getting the bikes parked and ourselves settled in, we walked around to see the city a while. Don was still looking to recharge the minutes on his phone, too. Several streets had been converted to pedestrian malls.
It was late, though, so most things were closed. A pharmacy that handled Movistar SIM cards tried to recharge Don's minutes, but the phone's battery was too low, and it was too late to call the central service office, anyway. We'll try again tomorrow.
We found a restaurant still open, a German restaurant that had some menus in English. I ordered the Bratwurst, but this is what I got:
Now, that pork was really good, and the mashed potatoes were nice, but I had gotten myself all wrapped around the thought of the bratwurst. Oh, well. I don't care to send good food back, so I enjoyed the pork. It was very tender. They got the beer order right.
There is a greater German influence in the southern parts of South America from all that I have been told. Some northern European influence, as well. We will likely see more as we continue.
In the hotel, we were able to pick up a Wi-Fi signal, but only in the 2nd floor dining room. We made Skype calls and I did some report updates. After managing some email, I was done at about 03:00.
Friday, 12 December, 2008
I slept too late for breakfast, so we went out to look for a place to eat. The pedestrian areas were nice, but had surprisingly few places to eat. We skipped McDonalds.
We wandered around until we found a nice small plaza with a diner that was still serving breakfast. We ordered eggs, but we got lost when she asked what else we wanted with them. She drew something on the tabletop with her finger that looked like the letter M, but she was talking about bread. With a roll of her eyes, she went away and came back with a small loaf of bread that had two humps on top--like the letter M. Well, that should have been easier. Yes, bread please.
My coffee came as instant, and the hot milk was so hot that I'm surprised it didn't come as steam. Yow.
I was interested in seeing the Hand of the Desert, a monument that many travelers along the PanAm have seen. I had thought that it was much further north and that we had missed it, but a gas station attendant had told me that it was not far north of Antofagasta. A clerk at the hotel told me that it was an hour north, so I gave up on it.
We brought the bikes back to the hotel and packed up. I took a photo of the damage to Don's side box, caused by the taxi that knocked him down in Puno. The taxi crumpled the box in and the bike spinning on the road did the rest. It it hadn't been a hard box, Don's leg might have paid the price.
We rode out of Antofagasta over the costal mountains and went back inland. It was desert again. The Atacama Desert is the world's driest land. NASA has done training here, preparing for space exploration. It looked like Mars in many respects. No visible plant life of any kind, and no animals.
Chile produces much of the world's minerals, and we saw some processing plants out in the middle of nowhere.
We were well south of Antofagasta when I saw something off to the West. Aha.
We had the monument to ourselves for a while, but some other tourists in an SUV came by and we helped each other out by taking group photos of each other. I don't think it's a monument to anything in particular, just an artist's work. Someone might correct me about this.
We rode off into the eerie desolation.
There's a reason why I have a sunburn on my nose and cheeks.
Almost two hundred miles from Antofagasta, we were relieved to see a gas station. It was all by itself. We stopped for fuel and to check our tire pressure, since mine felt a little soft.
The service station had little else to offer. The air hose had long since had its nozzle torn off, so we used our bike-powered pumps. Mine decided to stop pumping air but to continue making the sounds of pumping air, so it was a while before I realized it wasn't doing anything. Everything fails. Depend on that.
As was often the case, it was a good thing we had our own toilet paper. They barely had plumbing, so paper or a toilet seat would have been asking too much.
We curved back to the coast, and it got cooler again. At Chañaral, we topped off the fuel and tried again for decent shrimp, only to be disappointed. The salad was very good.
I stopped before leaving the town for one photo of Chañaral.
Then it was more rocky coastline for a while. Better than the desert. We started seeing plant life along the road.
In Caldera, we decided to stop before it got too late. This and other cities along the coast showed signs of dealing with a lot of tourists. We skipped the first couple places we checked out, but found a nice hotel/hostel that was cheaper than the others (P24,000 = $36) and had an enclosed parking lot next door. Breakfast included, and they had a Wi-Fi signal. The place seemed oriented to tourists, and maybe they had some long-term residents as well. The interior courtyard was nice, providing air and light to the rooms. The place looked built from pre-fab sections.
Here, Don realized that he had left his cell phone at the last hotel in Antofagasta. He had put it on the bed after charging it overnight, and that's where it was when we left. Whoops. No way we were going back for it.
We found a small diner that was still open and I had a couple seafood empanadas. Don had crepes, which were good they but took a long time to get to him.
Back to the hotel to write and Skype.
Saturday, 13 December, 2008
Breakfast was a minimal continental affair with bread and jam, coffee and juice.
Using Skype, we called a friend in Santiago. We had met Raul in Colorado earlier this year, which you knew already (faithful reader). Raul said he would try to call the hotel in Antofagasta in search of Don's phone, but there was little to be expected. We let him know, too, that we were moving quickly to Santiago.
We hit the road, first along the coast again, then back inland.
We stopped at a construction site and several young men piled out of a truck ahead of us to come talk with us. It turned out that they were from a racing shop (motorcycles or cars, we couldn't tell) and they were interested in our bikes and our travels. Language was a bit of a problem, but we managed. They seemed impressed that we had come so far, and that we had so far to go. The construction barricade was lifted and we all went onward. The guys in the trucks became a bit of a pain by riding alongside us with video cameras, then getting in front of us, then behind us, filming all the while. It was all in good spirits, but they forced me onto the shoulder at one point. Somehow, we got separated and were able to enjoy the ride again.
I saw a large space observatory on a large hill off to the side of the highway, but didn't see the name of it. There were several large, vivid "dirt devil" dust storms that I wasn't able to manage photos of. One was very tall and looked exactly like a miniature tornado.
The ride inland was easier now, since there was a more varied terrain to enjoy and it wasn't as hot and dry. In one city, we crossed a river and the river valley was like a narrow orchard.
Even away from the river, it was evident that things were improving for vegetation.
We got back to the coast at La Serena. Very nice. Big beaches, lots of development for tourism. We ate on the beach after checking out the El Centro area. The food was okay, but prices were picking up.
We knew that it would stay light late, so we decided to try for Los Vilos. The sun wouldn't set until after 20:30, and there would be a long dusk-light period, so we might just make it before dark. The more we rode this evening, the sooner we would get to Santiago tomorrow and have time to look for a place to stay for a few days.
It got pretty cool as the evening wore on. We passed our first toll roads in Chile, and had to pay P700 per bike. A little over a Dollar.
It was windy, too. Windy enough for a small wind farm.
The sunset came, but the high clouds kept some light on us until after 21:00. We had ridden very fast, averaging about 70 mph to beat the night. The road was very good and traffic was light, so this was not a problem. It did get a bit cold, though.
As we pulled into Los Vilos, the first hotel I saw had a sign that read, "American Motel," and we later saw others that did the same. (I took this next photo the next morning, when it was light.)
We pulled through the gate and the manager came out to greet us. He didn't speak English, but I hadn't really expected him to, even at an American Motel. The rooms for rent were like duplex cabins, large rooms, nicely done with a separate sitting area. They had Wi-Fi also, but the price was too steep. When we declined and made ready to ride off, he lowered the price from P33,000 to P28,000 ($42) and I accepted. More tourist prices. The manager turned on the hot water for the room after I registered, and I got the key from him. We really wanted a snack, so we rode off before even unpacking the bikes. We saw lots of hotels beyond the first one that we had stopped at.
We rode into the center of Los Vilos but most places were closed this late. We stopped at a coffee shop that had several people sitting inside and out, but they had no food. Several of the customers and one of the employees spoke very good English. They directed us to another restaurant nearby that would be open late. There, we had very good desserts, but paid dearly for them.
After our snack, we rode to explore the waterfront area of the city, but the road was blocked by some kind of street party. Complete with a stage, band, and fire jugglers. Fire jugglers? In Hawaii they would be expected, but here?
We did Skype calls in our room, then did email. Raul had no luck finding Don's phone, and he sent me an email with his regrets. He asked that we call him once we were in Santiago. I wrote until about 01:00.
Sunday, 14 December, 2008
Don took a photo of our room, and showing the huge, odd tree that we had parked next to. The huge roots were very unusual. From one angle, it looked like the tree was sitting cross-legged.
I noticed that my chain was making a lot of noise last night, and when I looked at it now, it was really loose. It hadn't been that loose early yesterday when I had checked it, but I could see nothing to account for it. The chain and sprockets all looked good. Was the swingarm bent? Was the motor shifted in its mounts? The chain adjusters all looked fine. It was a mystery. I tightened the adjusters and decided to monitor it. It took a lot of tightening. Don's chain seemed fine.
We ate at a hotel restaurant next door, then headed south. It was a cool and hazy morning.
My bike was running badly. It was chugging at low RPMs and the motor was louder than it should have been. I had checked it and found nothing obviously wrong, so I was worried about damage inside the motor. When I had crashed my bike in Peru, it had gone from 15-20 mph to zero all at once without the clutch being pulled in, so I was concerned.
Nothing for it now, so we rode on.
We saw roadside vendors selling something along the highway. These were the first we had seen in quite a while. No idea what they were selling from their covered baskets. Orchards were now common, so fruits or vegetables, maybe.
We went through two tunnels, one of them at least a mile long, and went through several more toll booths. We paid P700 per bike at the first, P1500 per bike at the second, and at the third they obviously charged me less than the posted rate. Maybe they realized that they had overcharged us at the second booth and called ahead to make up for it? Maybe. That would be very civilized indeed.
Police were parked along the highway with radar guns pointed at us, but we were lucky and had been slowed by other traffic.
The weather got warmer as the afternoon came, then it got hot as we entered the huge Santiago metropolitan area. We found the Plaza de Armas eventually and parked our bikes. It was posted as no parking, but our bikes only drew the attention of a few people. The many police who were walking around (some with police dogs) gave us no mind.
Don took a photo of me calling Raul, but I'm not really sure that I was his first intended target.
Raul tried to give me directions to his neighborhood, but my GPS was too limited to find the landmarks and roadways that he was giving me. He decided that he would come to us and lead us to his home. That was very nice. We had some time to kill.
We walked a ways looking for ice cream, but almost everything was closed on Sunday. We settled for cold drinks from a supermarket.
Back at the bikes, Don waited while I wandered around the Plaza for a while.
Interesting contrast. I walked around inside the Cathedral, too.
There were lots of paintings for sale on the Plaza. I suppose that it's an arty area.
When I got back to the bikes, Raul was there with Don, waiting for me.
We exchanged greetings and followed Raul out of the city. He lives in an Eastern suburb, Peña Lolen, and it took us about 40 minutes to get there. He was great at not losing us along the way. His home was unassuming from the outside.
Once at his house, he talked to neighbors who allowed us to park the bikes in their gated yard, and we left them there for a couple days with the dogs to guard them.
Raul then welcomed us to his home and gave us keys to his place and the neighbor's gate. He has a nice place with front and rear courtyards and lots of fruit trees and flowering plants.
We got to meet Lady, a 3-month old ball of terror and delight.
Raul and his lovely and wonderful wife Lucia treated us to take-out Chinese food for dinner (because it was late and we had arrived unexpectedly), then we looked at maps of Chile to talk about where Don and I would go next. They were strongly in favor of us going south through Chile where they most enjoyed vacationing. We talked about crossing from here to Mendoza, Argentina, too. We were undecided as to our route.
Raul and Lucia insisted that we stay with them, and we were pleased to do so. Lucia tactfully suggested that our clothes needed a break, too, and she did some laundry for us. She was very kind.
Raul walked us around his neighborhood showing us the area. He told us some stories about Pinochet and his terrible years in power, and showed us a military post where Pinochet's reign began.
Lots of plants I had never seen. One branch of a large cactus tree caught my eye.
Don and I had separate bedrooms, so that was different. A nice change.
Monday, 15 December, 2008
We slept later than we intended, but Lucia kept breakfast waiting for us. Raul went out for fresh bread every day, only moments away in the neighborhood. Raul showed us a video (on his PC) of two guys speeding on their motorcycles over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina. Because of the low-mounted camera on one of the bikes, we didn't really get to see what the area was like. We knew that we would not be riding that road like that, even if we went that way.
When Raul backed his car out of his garage, the wild dogs in the neighborhood came and just got in the way. They were apparently friendly enough, but I'm surprised that a modern city like Santiago allows them to wander all over the place. They are always in the roadway. There is no active animal control effort.
Raul drove us into Santiago (a 45-minute trip from his suburb), and we found the DHL office that Laurie had sent my packages to. We learned that because Laurie had hand-written some items on the invoices, they were unacceptable and would have to be re-done. How we were to do this was not clearly explained. You would think that since we were in their office, it could be done there, but no... I had to go elsewhere and send new invoices (available on their website) back to their office. That didn't seem much like customer service to me. They gave me the email address of the DHL guy at the customs office, Rodrigo Barria.
While we were downtown, we shopped for new motorcycle tires in an area filled with motorcycle-oriented stores.
There was a film crew outside one of the shops, and it appeared that they were either filming a commercial or candid reactions to a guy in a chicken suit that would run up to people and basically heckle them. When I played like I was going to toss a tire on the chicken's head, he didn't think that was funny. He was only zany when the cameras were rolling. At other times, he just seemed like a pissed-off teenager.
We found a couple types of tires that would do. Most of the tires that were the right size were soft knobbies, more suitable for dirt or sand. There were two tires that were better choices, since we would be on a lot of pavement and a lot of gravel roads. After wandering around several shops, we settled on Pirelli Scorpion MT90's for the fronts, and I got an MT60 for the rear. Don's Continental TKC80 was still in good shape. We also picked up new motor oil.
We took a beverage break. I tried a German-style bock beer made in southern Chile, in Valdivia. It was very good. If we decide to go south from here, we might pass through that area. Raul assured me that brewery tours were worth it. (He's retired from Coors in Colorado, so he knows his breweries.)
Don needed to get a new cell phone, so we went shopping. Unlike all the other countries in Latin America, Chile didn't have cell phone stores on every corner, and we later learned that the cell phone service in Chile is quite a bit more restricted. More on that later. After going to a few shops and a couple of malls, there was no joy. Most phones were locked with contracts, and the few that were unlocked phones were either not quad-band (for use all over the world) or were unsuitable for reasons such as price or style. We decided to look more at a later time.
Raul then took us home for dinner. The appetizer was tuna-stuffed avocado, and that was followed by wonderful salmon with mussels in a creamy sauce. Salad and potatoes finished the meal, and a nice dessert finished us. Lucia is a wonderful cook, and Raul assured us that his wife is self-taught. More credit to her.
Don and I walked to a neighborhood Internet cafe, but they wouldn't let me hook my laptop to their cables. Don used one of their computers while I had the misfortune of selecting their oldest and slowest machine. I filled out the DHL pro forma invoices and saved them, then sent Rodrigo Barria an email as I had been instructed, attaching the invoices. That should be that, right?
I gave up on trying to do anything else on their computers. There were other Internet cafes in the area, so we would use another next time. I walked around a bit while Don finished dealing with email.
When we got back to Raul's house, I used his computer to check other email. I was surprised to see a response from Rodrigo Barria, but he was only telling me (in Spanish) that my attached invoices were blank. Sure enough, I checked the ones that I had cc'd to myself and they were blank .pdf forms. I remember Laurie telling me that all she was able to do with the DHL online forms was print them. You'd think that they would allow you to save a copy, wouldn't you? But, no.
I wrote a long email to Senor Barria, listing the package tracking numbers and the full list of contents. Raul also allowed me to send his phone number to Senor Barria, so that they could communicate and help speed things along. That should make things better, right?
Just to be sure, Raul called Senor Barria's office, but the Senor was gone for the day. We could reach him in the morning at 08:30, according to the person we spoke with.
The evening snack was watermelon, and Raul showed us a toasted wheat flour that the chunks of watermelon were dipped into. It was a nice contrast of flavor and texture. All the fruit we enjoyed was fresh and very, very tasty.
Lucia kept us plied with more fruit juice mixtures into the evening.
Raul told us how he had moved to the USA as a young man, had worked at a variety of jobs before he and Lucia made an arbitrary decision to move to Colorado (if only to get out of New York City, which they didn't like). They literally pointed blindly at a map, and that got them to Colorado. Raul met people who got him a job at Coors as a maintenance worker. He eventually put himself through four years of college and earned a variety of mechanical and technical certifications--all made harder because he didn't speak much English. His children were all raised in the U.S., where they still live. His story of finding his American Dream was quite nice to hear. He had retired a few years ago and they returned to Chile for their retirement. They bought the house that Lucia had grown up in from her family, and they have fixed it up the way they wanted it. Raul is still a U.S. citizen, but now has full citizen rights in Chile as well.
Lucia had spent many years as a nurse, so we had much respect for her, too. She worked various jobs in the U.S. while raising her family, and worked in a nursing home for a long time. Her medical training made her the most qualified non-nurse there.
Don and I were eager to work on the bikes but we hated to disrupt Raul and Lucia. Raul seemed sincerely disappointed when we told him that we might look for a hotel tomorrow that had a parking area where we could work. He insisted that we could work in his garage--he would be happy to park his car in the neighbor's yard. He told us that he had plenty of tools, too.
I'm sure that everyone reading this can understand that as visitors, we didn't want to be pests but didn't want to give even the slightest impression if ingratitude. We told Raul that we would decide tomorrow.
I wrote until about 23:30, which was as late as I could stay up.
Tuesday, 16 December, 2008
I had asked Raul what their regular schedule was, so I was ready to get up earlier. After breakfast, Raul called Senor Barria, but the Senor wasn't at work yet, as we had been promised. We called again at 09:00, but he still wasn't there. I hadn't gotten a new email from him, either. I called Laurie and she sent a new email to Senor Barria that had new completed invoices that she had captured as images. That should help, right?
Twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, there was a market that operated on the street right in front of Raul's house. Now that is convenient.
There was every kind of fruit and vegetable, some seafood and meats, and a variety of other necessities. Don is dressed in his coveralls in the above photo because we had decided to accept Raul's offer to stay longer at his home and we had started working on the bikes this morning. Raul put his car in the yard next door, and we backed the bikes down the steep slope of the garage to the small flat area at the bottom where only one bike at a time could be parked level.
We were a little over 10,000 miles at this point, and our tires had some life left in them, but not much.
Don's bike was running okay, so all he needed was an oil change. His left fork tube was leaking again. Since it was slightly bent, there was nothing we could do to stop the leak, so we will monitor the fluid level and add more as needed. He spent most of the day reorganizing and repacking his stuff.
I checked my valves, which were all okay, looked again at the chain, sprockets, motor mounts, swingarm, etc. I still could not account for why my chain had gone very slack a few days ago. I started to fear that there was some damage to the counter sprocket shaft, but there was no oil leak (which is usually the first sign of trouble there). It's still a mystery. I have another chain and sprocket set if needed.
I was also worried about the motor running so weak at low RPMs, and so rough at all speeds. I feared that there might be some damage inside the motor, a result of my crash in Peru. I drained the oil and the magnetic oil drain plug (an aftermarket accessory) had a lot of metal shavings on it. It looked downright fuzzy. That wasn't a good sign.
It took over an hour to remove the tool tube, highway footrests, bash plate, and the motor's left side cover. Everything I could see in the motor looked good. I had anticipated that there might be a broken tooth on one of the balancer gears or the cam chain gears, but nothing was obvious. The next step was a problem because I had not brought a rotor holding wrench. You KLR650 guys and gals know what I mean. I have a few of these wrenches at home (I host an occasional KLR tech day, so I have extras), but I deliberately decided not to bring one of the big things. How likely was it that I would be pulling the motor apart in South America... I mean, really?
Raul didn't have tools big enough, and the angle that was needed for the rotor wrench was not typical. Time to improvise. And no, a big crescent wrench won't work. Neither will a big monkey wrench. It was a specific tool that was needed.
Raul went to his neighbors and came back with a 1 1/4" open end wrench that would work, except it wasn't bent at the necessary angles. I went back with him to his neighbor's workshop and got the guy to agree to sell me his wrench. Raul then took it to another guy he knows to heat it up and bend it the way that I showed him. I went back to the garage.
I started working on other things. I used some hammers and blocks of wood to batter the Jesse box back into serviceable shape, although it will never lock securely or seal tightly again. It was good enough. The banging on the aluminum box sent Lady into fits and she couldn't find a place to hide that was far enough away.
I also used Raul's drill and Dremel tool to work on the windshield. I drill small holes at the terminus of several cracks so that they wouldn't go any further (I hope). I also trimmed the edges of the windshield where the mirrors and Ram-Mount arms were hitting it. I hadn't had a chance to do these modifications since Laurie had brought me this windshield in Panama.
My Ram-Mount camera cup had fallen off again, another victim of the relentless vibrations. Luckily, my camera had been tethered to the bike when the cup fell off, so nothing was damaged or lost. Fixing the cup and (hopefully) preventing it from being able to happen again didn't take long.
I checked the accessory power cord on the side of my bike, but it seemed to work fine now. I suspect that my air pump might be a goner.
Meanwhile, Don discovered that both of the nuts were missing from his faring bracket mount. The bolts were still in place, but only just. These hold the whole faring-headlight-windshield assembly in place, so he was lucky. He had extra 8mm nuts and some Locktite.
Raul came back with a bent and still very hot wrench. It was later when I took this photo of it, so my hands really aren't made of asbestos.
As the wrench cooled down, we took a dinner break for slow-cooked beef with mushrooms, tomato and onion salad, and pineapple chunks in cream for dessert.
Back to work. I cleaned up the over-cooked wrench on Raul's grinder (fitted with a wire wheel), and we removed the bike's rotor. The big wrench just barely fit inside the rotor, but it worked. Everything under the rotor looked fine. In a way, that was a disappointment. The bike certainly hadn't been running well, and I had sort of hoped to see an obvious problem that could be solved. Seeing nothing wrong didn't help anything. A problem deeper in the motor?
I considered pulling the right side engine cover off to check the clutch an balancer weight there, but I didn't want to dump all the coolant. The clutch seemed to work fine, and looking at it through the oil fill hole showed me nothing that I was worried about. What to do?
I decided that it was all I was going to do for now. We took a couple hours putting it all back together and filling it with new oil. It started fine and maybe sounded better, but I guess we would find out later. Don's oil change went faster. We noticed that we each drained out less than the expected amount of oil. We each had a small leak (both near the oil filler cap or filter cap), so we must have lost more than we thought. We had been checking the oil level, but will now check it more often.
I was an oily, dirty mess, but Don's coveralls proved a benefit again. I hadn't brought mine, thinking them unnecessary, but this was now twice that I wished I had brought mine.
Don picked up his riding pants from the guy Raul had taken them to for repairs. The leather seat that the guy had put on looked nice, but there were still a couple areas where his crash had left the nylon material very thin and surely no longer waterproof. They were better than they had been, so that was okay.
Lucia made us banana and cream juice, so that was another nice refreshment.
I took a shower--a cold one, since they hadn't turned the hot water on yet--and we sat around and talked for a long while. Don's shower was much warmer than mine. He thought that was funny. We still needed the tires mounted and the front tires balanced, needed to check with DHL again, and needed to find a phone for Don. Only a few simple things left to do.
We watched CNN and got caught up on the world's most important and pressing issues. Unimpressed, I did some email and retired to my room to write for a couple hours.
Wednesday, 17 December, 2008
Before breakfast, I essentially fed myself to Lady, so the puppy was satisfied. I had small bite marks all over my feet.
Our own breakfast was strawberries in a light juice, fresh bread and cheese, apricot jam, avocado spread, yogurt and coffee. Lucia added scrambled eggs as well, just for us. What a gal.
Raul made more calls to DHL, found that Senor Barria had done nothing since yesterday. Raul called customer service and spoke with Christian Roco, who said that he would take care of things. That should help, right?
I sent the new invoices in an email to Senor Roco, and that was all we could do about that today. We took the front wheels off our bikes and put them and the new front tires into Raul's car, along with Don's punctured front tube. We dropped the tube off at a vulcanizer who Raul said was a relative of his. We then headed downtown, a 45-minute drive. He took us to the street that was lined with motorcycle-oriented shops and we quickly found one that would mount and balance our tires for about $15. We took turns wandering around buying a few things here and there.
Back to the vulcanizer, we had to continue waiting because he was very busy and hadn't gotten to our tube yet. I think that the customer who is standing right there gets preference, and I suppose that makes sense. We walked to the corner and had ice cream, so that made the waiting easier. Repaired tube in hand, we headed back home to another fruit juice treat.
Later, we took a bus downtown. Raul explained that the buses and subways use the same fare card, called Bip. It has a chip in it that you can recharge for more credit, and you hold it to the sensor in the bus (or subway) to pay the fare. A green light and a BIP! noise means you are good to go. The fare was probably about seventy cents each ride, regardless where you got off.
He also showed us one of the subway stations.
We went down to the center of Santiago and looked for a phone for Don. Several tries later, still no luck. Most phones were tied to contracts. Raul took us to a flea-market area that had a lot of shady businesses. Most phones here were probably stolen. Don went to an Internet cafe across the street to research the two phones that might work. This was necessary, you see, since the sellers had no documentation for the phones. Ahem.
As it turned out, a phone shop (just as shady) next to the Internet cafe had a decent phone for about $30, and although it was only a tri-band phone, it was cheap enough that Don bought it. We then went to another mall where Don spent a long time trying to buy a SIM card for the phone that would work in Chile. After a lot of time, it was discovered that a new phone subscriber in Chile had to wait six months before any roaming service was available to his phone. He could make local calls only. That was a surprise. Chile was a very advanced country, but this advancement was not good. Their cell phone system is very restrictive. So, basically, Don bought a $30 pocketwatch. Oh, and it has an alarm function, too. Okay, it has a crummy camera as well. Happy now?
We wandered around a while on a pedestrian mall and I saw a DHL office. We popped inside to check on my packages, and the clerk there did some checking. He advised me that I needed to send another email to Senor Barria with new invoices. That made me very upset and I snapped at the guy that between my wife and I, we had already sent three emails and invoices. I stepped away to let Raul do the rest of the talking, which was better. The clerk made more phone calls and talked again with Christian Roco and Rodrigo Barria. He assured me that one of the packages could be cleared later today, but the other was still a problem. He asked me if the oil in one of the packages was for cooking or if it was motor oil.
Oil? What oil?
I suspect that the problem was that Laurie had listed one of the items as "oil filter cap" on the invoice, and they didn't see anything but the word oil. I explained that there was no oil in either package, and no food or anything else they were concerned about. I told the clerk that the customs people were welcome to open the packages---anything to get it taken care of. The clerk assured us that all would be well, and that we could get at least one package tomorrow afternoon and the other one the next day. Why, I don't know. That should taken care of things, right?
I'm convinced that they have done nothing to help at all. They make noises and motions whenever we call or visit, but nothing happens. Twice, they took Raul's phone number and said they would call if they had any problems or questions, but they never called.
So, we spent most of the day to get Don a phone that he can't use and to reassure myself that my packages might never get to me.
I needed more ice cream, and Don did too. We took care of that frozen therapy, then tried a dessert beverage that was very unusual. It was a light, fruity liquid with a big scoop of large cooked wheat kernels (kind of like barley or corn, but very tender) and a candied apricot. It was an odd combination of textures and flavors. Very nice and not too sweet. You needed a spoon to eat it and several minutes to enjoy it properly.
We took the bus back to Raul's neighborhood and walked the last couple of blocks. Lucia had dinner ready. An appetizer of light sardines on a salad, then a bean and squash soup that was special for Don. Raul had explained the seasonal fresh bean to Don yesterday, so Lucia went to the trouble to shell a bunch of them and make a soup that Don could manage. His jaw is getting a lot better, but Lucia is taking care to feed him well.
More ice cream for dessert. Nothing wrong with that.
I mounted my new rear tire after dinner. The tube had a long crease in it, but it looked in good shape. Raul's air compressor made short work of seating the bead. My rear brake caliper was very dry and the brake piston fell out. I greased it up (I carry a small tube of grease) and put the pads back in. They were wearing a little unevenly, but they had a lot of life left in them. The rotor was looking better too, but I'm glad that Laurie had sent another one to me (assuming I ever get it from DHL...).
While working on the rear caliper, the bike fell over off the center stand. We got it back up and I looked at the rear brake line. In Whitehorse, Yukon, this had happened and it snapped my brake line apart at the banjo joint. What I saw this time gave me a flashback. The banjo connector was bent. I carefully bent it back and it looked fine. No obvious leak. Should be fine. No problem. Right?
Remember this moment later as you read the next part of our journey into Argentina.
I took another shower (a warm one this time), and we sat outside again talking. Lucia brought us more fresh juices. We are having no trouble staying well hydrated.
Thursday, 18 December, 2008
I went with Raul this morning to get the bread because I wanted to see where he got it. A block away, in a small gathering of shops, he went into one shop that had various soft drinks and snacks on display. He chatted with the guy behind the counter a bit, then he asked for bread and some cheese. The man fetched the bread from the back of the shop and it was still quite hot when Raul handed the bag to me. It turns out that there is a bakery back there. Mmmmm...
I barely noticed the guy slice the cheese because I had a bag of fresh bread mashed against my face. Mmmmmm...
Breakfast this morning included manjar, which is a very sweet, caramel-like pudding. Lucia explained that it's made by boiling an unopened can of condensed milk for three hours. That's it. It caramelizes the condensed milk and it comes out like that. Something to try at home. It's called Dulce de Leche in many places and is served with breakfast.
Raul gave us a tour of the many knick-knacks and collectible items in their home. Many brass animals, glass animals, wood and stone as well. They were from lots of places they have been, and from places that their friends and family have visited.
Raul made calls to the DHL office for me, but after speaking with Senor Barria and perhaps with Senor Roco, he told me that I had to fax copies of my passport and visa stamp to DHL. After another call, he said that the fax wasn't necessary anymore, but that the packages might not be ready for pickup until later today or tomorrow. Well, duh, I could have predicted that. Senor Barria promised to call back later. He never did, of course.
I spent a while on their computer and did some email.
After a juice snack, we went for a drive. Raul drove us to the south-west, through mountains and valleys that looked just like Colorado. We stopped for a while near a river that people come to just to relax and splash around.
We got some drinks from a snack shop there. I tried to get a photo of the shop gal's impressive breasts, but Don got in the way. Sorry, guys.
The towns we had driven through were nice, and there seemed to be some tourist interest in the area. Some of the rivers looked good for rafting and kayaking. Lots of hotels and guest ranches.
After getting back to Santiago, Raul detoured to a place where he knew we could get the best empanadas in Chile. They don't make them until you place your order, so they were very fresh. It was a popular business, with a recently-added dining lawn next door. Raul got an empanada with cheese and sausage, Don got cheese and mushrooms, and I got cheese and shrimp. I had no idea when we were going to eat them, since we knew that Lucia had dinner waiting for us.
We finally talked Raul into letting us fill his gas tank, so that was a nice thing that we could do for him. He doesn't actually drive much, so this was a lot of driving just for us.
Dinner was egg/olive/lettuce/chicken salad appetizer, tender zucchini (boiled? roasted? baked?) stuffed with beef and rice, Chilean salad (tomatoes and onions, with just tomatoes on the side for Don), and ice cream on fresh strawberries. I think I'm putting on weight, and I know Don is looking less gaunt.
Don and I walked a few blocks and found an Internet cafe that allowed me to plug their cable into my laptop, so I was able to get a ride report update uploaded. The photos took quite a while. We Skyped our wives, then Don went wandering off on his own. I checked in to a few user forums where I usually hang out, and there had been some worry on some of them because I hadn't posted anything for a while. I spent a couple hours online, finishing with a lot of email and sending my brother a happy birthday message.
I hadn't seen Don for at least an hour, so I walked around the neighborhood before returning to Raul's house to see if he was there. He wasn't. I dropped off the laptop and went out again. I walked a loop around the area, but he had probably gone to one of the shopping centers. I went back to Raul's.
Don returned a while later. He had bought some supplies for our continuing journey, and told us that he had gone to another cell phone shop that had managed to get his phone working. Yay! He had charged some more minutes onto his Claro SIM card, and one of the clerks had written down the numbers that he needed to dial first before making a call to the U.S. (Of course, the clerk wrote the numbers down wrong, so it wasn't until the next day that Don was able to figure that out.)
We all sat and talked while Lady chewed our shoes. She also had an odd habit of chewing on the ceramic tiles on the landscaping.
Cake and more fresh juice (strawberry with a hint of cinnamon) for a late snack. It was another nice night.
Friday, 19 December, 2008
There was a light earthquake during the night that shook my bed, and we later learned there had been several aftershocks. The epicenter was well north of us, so we only felt the first tremor. Raul said that there were usually several earthquakes each summer, and they were rarely serious.
I copied a lot of songs from my laptop computer to Raul's computer (so sue me), happy to able to do something for him. He and Lucia really like American oldies, and Raul likes Country and Western music. I didn't have much in the way of C&W music, but I had lots of oldies that I hope they like.
Raul again made calls to DHL, but nothing new was learned. I called my wife in the U.S., and set her on the job (she's good at that stuff). She called back later to give me the name and phone number of a woman in the central Santiago DHL office who could help and who spoke good English. I called Marcela Catalan and spoke with her. She checked and said that the packages had cleared customs last night and should be in the DHL office this afternoon. She took my cell phone number and said that she would call me back in one hour to confirm what time I could come and get the packages.
Now, folks, let me ask you a simple question. Have you any confidence at all that anyone at DHL will ever return a phone call? Have you learned nothing?
The hour came and went, but no call. I called her number again and got a recorded voicemail menu that I couldn't understand. I called a half hour later and got the same results.
Raul and Lucia showed us some video and photos from various areas of Chile. We had decided to ride south through Chile to Osorno, then go east into Argentina (rather than go east from here to Mendoza, Argentina). That pleased Raul, who said that the south of Chile was the most beautiful place to go.
It was 14:30, and we decided to just go downtown and see if the packages were there. Raul got the car out again.
He dropped me off at the DHL office then went looking for a place to park. I had the clerk there check on my packages and Lo and Behold, there they were! She pulled out the paperwork and handed me the list of final fees. I had expected to have to pay duty on the imported items, but the list of charges on both packages was over $210. What the hell?!
Raul walked in and asked about the charges, but the calm clerk assured us that these were common Chilean customs fees. I confirmed that there were no fees for storage or anything like that (which would have really set me off), but there were none. They took credit cards, so there was that small convenience.
So folks, learn from me. Don't ship anything unless it's vital, and don't expect that Express shipping is anything of the sort. And don't even think that anyone from DHL will ever call you. Ever.
Once home, we had the empanadas for a starter, then Lucia fed us a very nice white fish filet and mashed potatoes, followed by watermelon. Salad this time was tomatoes and cucumbers. Joining us for dinner was a nephew of Raul's who had been kicked out of his own house because of some kind of spat with his wife. Carlos needed some counseling, and Lucia came to his rescue after dinner.
I went to work on my bike, replacing the non-functioning HID highway light with the new one that Laurie had sent. I had to remove my front fender to get the the wiring, so that took a while. I also replaced my oil filter cover with the one that had been engraved in a memorial to Cary Aspy, one of the men who had gotten me the 685 engine kit and made this trip possible. It's nice to know that the piece with his name on it will make it to Ushuaia on this bike.
I also used the other parts that Laurie had sent me to replace the Chatterbox headset in Don's helmet and repair the broken hinge on my own helmet. Those should be better now. The other things she sent me went into various storage spaces on the bike.
If those items had been available in Santiago, it would have been a lot cheaper to buy them here, but they were all going to be special-order items. With new experience, I will in the future try to call ahead and have a shop order the items prior to my arrival. The thing is, I would have no idea how long it would take to get a part sent to anywhere or when exactly I would be there. Eveything works out eventually.
Before we lost the last of the day's light, we all posed for a photo in Raul's and Lucia's front yard. We will always remember these wonderful people in this nice place. Lady is chewing my shoe. That, too, is typical.
In the photo above, the tree on the left is loaded with lemons, the tree just visible on the top-right is already dropping ripe apricots (very tasty), and the caged area in the back is a small garden with various vegetables. The cage is to protect it from birds (and Lady, who is a new addition).
We talked until dark, then I lounged in my room to write until about midnight. We planned on leaving in the morning.
Saturday, 20 December, 2008
We lingered over breakfast so that we could talk more with our hosts. We took turns talking about places we have each been and the places we each wanted to go some day. The road, however, was calling. Raul open the garage and released our eager steeds. There was another market on the street outside, so it was a colorful departure.
We packed up and hugged Raul and Lucia with good-byes. I am so happy to have gotten to know them fairly well.
It took us half an hour to get out of Santiago, partly because we opted to stay off the toll road and partly because traffic was really heavy. We hadn't ridden in several days, so our instincts needed to be re-awakened. We weren't killed, so that was a good way to start the day.
Don's new Chatterbox headset worked great when we tested it out last night and this morning, but the first time he tried to use it to talk to me, it squealed again badly. I don't understand what's wrong with it. The Chatterbox units worked great for Laurie and I for a couple years, and worked fine when we started this trip, but soon started acting up in ways that I can't diagnose. We tried swapping the X1 units between bikes and between headsets, tried different cables, tried them with and without the audio input cables and power cords. Sometimes they work, usually they don't. Fortunately, we can still play music through them into our helmets, so that's what is most important on a long ride. We don't need to chat between us much. Still, it's frustrating, especially when navigating in cities.
Just to keep our sense of irony intact, my Chatterbox headset started to fail as we left Santiago, and the left speaker never worked again. The microphone also seemed to be ailing. Dang. Should have had Laurie bring us two sets, just to satisfy the Department of Redundancy Department.
We paid P/500 each at the toll booths on the highway, and after a while, we realized that maybe we didn't need to pay at each one. We saw a sign that said something about our receipts being good for 24 hours. We had not been keeping (or even reading) all the receipts, so we hadn't even considered it. By the time we thought to show a receipt at the next toll booth, we were past the last toll booth, so we never got to test the theory. I suppose that we made nice contributions to Chile's highway department.
It was cloudy and cool south of Santiago and we saw lots of orchards. Raul had assured us that it would not rain today, so of course it did. We need to stop asking people if they think it will rain.
The rain started lightly but got heavier and colder for the next 200 miles. Just to keep us on our toes, it hailed and sleeted a bit, too. That was certainly not expected. We stopped at a truckstop and after getting gas, we went in to a coffee shop where we saw a couple other adventure riders were warming up. That's how we got to meet Frank and Wolker.
Frank (pronounce it like Fronk) was from Germany and was riding a big KTM. He was completely soaked, totally unprepared for the rain. His combat-style boots were full of water and when he walked, water came gooshing out of the eyelets. It was funny to us, but not so funny to the gal with the mop that kept following him around cursing under her breath.
Wolker (pronounce the W like a V) was from Switzerland and was riding a nice Honda Transalp. That's the second Transalp we've seen this trip. Nice bikes. Too bad they were only imported into the USA for a couple years. Wolker seemed the more experienced rider, and had better wet weather gear. He, too, thought that Frank's water-filled boots was funny.
They had shipped their bikes from Germany to somewhere in northern Chile, so they have only been here for a few days. After the Atacama desert, they are casually continuing south on the PanAm, heading for Ushuaia with no planned arrival date. They will ship themselves and their bikes back to Germany from there (or maybe from Buenas Aires, I forget).
They had ridden in no rain at all until today, and when we told them that have been rained on for most of our trip, they looked at each other and then told us that we were welcome to ride on ahead if we would please take our rain with us. We did ride on ahead, but mainly because they were still lingering and we were ready to move on.
The rain let up mostly, but drizzled a while before finally giving up on us. It was still mostly cool and cloudy into Victoria, where we quickly found a hotel for P/24,000. The clerk seemed a nice enough guy. That he was (apparently) raving gay didn't bother me. What bothered me about him was that he had a bad cold and sneezed all over himself, me, everything he touched and pretty much the whole hotel. He apologized a lot from behind his scented napkins. After getting checked in, Don sprayed everything he might have touched with disinfectant. (As I write this, several days later, neither of us have caught a cold, so that's good). When we left the office after registering, Don accidentally let the door slam behind him and the clerk actually shrieked in fright. It seems that he is easily startled.
We parked the bikes under a patio covering, and there were several neighborhood dogs who watched our bikes for us.
The room had a small electric heater that was very nice. Not so much because it was cold, but because we strung a cord over it and hung our laundry there to dry. Very nice.
We walked a short distance to a restaurant and had a nice meal. They had Wi-Fi there, so we planned to come back later and get online. We asked the waiter where it was best to cross the Andes into Argentina and he suggested we go further south. He then brought over another guy (customer? employee?) who propped a big, framed map on our table, and he gave us a Professor-like lecture about the various roads across the Andes. We understood little of it, but it was entertaining. According to their map, the pass just east of Victoria was only 1884 meters, so we decided to do that. Going south was sure to be a nice ride in Chile, but crossing the Andes might be colder further south. Don was very interested in avoiding the cold.
They advised us that we would have to clear Immigration and Customs in the town of Liucura, which was well before the actual border. The border, in case you didn't know, was along the continental divide that runs through the middle of the Andes. We had no idea what to expect at any of the passes between countries.
Back in our room, I tried to figure out what was wrong with my headset. I took apart the speaker and did some continuity checking on the pins and wires, and even compared the wiring to Don's new headset, but I could find nothing wrong with it. Except that it didn't work, that is. I listened to music in my right ear from then on. Fark.
We went back to the restaurant for dessert and to spend time online. While online, we took a gander at Google Earth, but we didn't learn anything about the border crossings that caused us to change our minds. We would ride into Argentina from here in the morning. I'll come back some other time to see the southern lake district of Chile, I promise.
The nervous clerk had snuffled and told us that we needed to be up and checked out of the hotel by 09:00, because everyone was taking tomorrow off and the hotel would be closed. Well, okay then. We'll call it a night.
Sunday, 21 December, 2008
After packing up, we had the basic Continental breakfast and rode east. It was sunny and clear, but we were hesitant to be optimistic since it was almost cold. The road was nice and scenic and it was easy to enjoy.
We stopped in Lonquimay for gas. We didn't know if we would be able to exchange money at this border, so we bought some food to try to spend as much Chilean Pesos as was reasonable without being wasteful. I bought a 2-liter box of wine and some large chocolate bars, just in case a party broke out. (In the end, the wine was too bulky to carry so I left it behind in a hotel later, and I managed to eat some of the chocolate before it melted in my luggage boxes in Argentina.)
Continuing up toward the border, the road got even better. Great views. We had been advised to turn away from the road that leads to the volcanoes and the ski areas, since those are dead-end roads. We were told to turn instead to the tunnel. The tunnel was hard to miss.
We found a nice restaurant that was open and served some good sandwiches. Don had trouble with his, but it was tasty.
The tunnel was very narrow and was controlled for one-way traffic at a time. We had a green light, so we went in. It reminded me of the tunnel to Whittier, Alaska, except this tunnel didn't have a narrow gauge railway track down the middle. It was longer than the Whittier tunnel, maybe. This one was at least a couple miles long and well lit.
At the east end of the tunnel was the toll booth. We paid P/400 each, then got out of the way of those waiting to go back the other way. We headed on to the Paso de Pino Hachado and Argentina.
Don and I got to the border control offices at Liucura behind two large buses. I gave some candy to the others in line with us and we chatted a bit, but one of the border agents soon directed us to move to another line since we weren't with the bus groups. That sped things up a lot. We were stamped out of Chile in no time. We did pause to change our Chilean money to Argentinian Pesos. We learned that there were 3.4 Argentinian Pesos to the U.S. Dollar.
Moving on toward the actual border at the pass, we saw some fallen rocks on the road. They were almost as hazardous as the goats all over the road. The crest of the pass itself was without much interest. It was flat, barren, dull.
We were leaving Chile, but I turned around just get get a photo at the sign.
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Part 12 - Chile Down
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