Posts from Chile

South American Checker Cab. Many South American's can't afford a car and Tuk Tuks are the primary method for inner city transportation. They're a three wheeled version of a m/c with an enclosed (canvas) passenger compartment. Engine serves as heater as well.

Going to a foreign country, or in our case a foreign continent, gives one the chance to get an insight into how other people live.  South America was a perfect place to do this as its close enough to get to, yet far enough away to be different.   I was expecting to be impressed by the food, dress, architecture, art — the regular stuff of visiting foreign lands.  

But it was the nuts and bolts of their life that stuck with me most after our trip. We Americans live a charmed life in so many little ways.  Our trash is picked up every week, we always have enough electricity.  Paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper are in abundant supply.  We don’t have to memorize three different ways to dial a phone depending on what kind of phone we”re using and where we’re calling from/to.  We have street signs and good maps.  Money is available on every corner as banks and ATMs are ubiquitous.  Want to buy a TV that’s more than you can afford this week?  No problem, put down the MasterCard and pay it off next month or the one after that.

Need a washing machine or TV set? You can buy them in the same store in many towns in SA. Motorcycles are viewed in the same mode as a washing machine -- basic utility. Small m/cs (125ccs and less) are the primary method of personal transportation throughout SA. Probably more so than washing machines and ovens.

It’s these little things that make all the difference.  And so it was that over the 90+ days we were in SA, we became more familiar with the nuts and bolts of life, which gave us a better insight into how people in SA live than any of the regular stuff.

Let’s talk trash, for example. We pay a company/city to pick it up every week.  There’s a system of containers, times, recycling, etc. that happens as automatically as a dial tone on our phone.   It’s not so automatic in small towns in Bolivia or Peru.  Or, for that matter, in lots of places in Mexico.  There’s not much infrastructure to do this because there’s no… (1) tax base to pay for it  (2) no place to put it  (3) no money to pay for it  (4) no containers to use,  etc.

Here’s the rub:  most South American towns/cities that we visited were remarkably free of trash.  So, what do South American’s do?  They do it on a block by block basis;  pickup trucks come by and take the  trash piled on an agreed-to street corner every day.  I assume that these trash picker uppers make their money by selling the recyclable trash, but I don’t know.

Once outside bigger cities, you see dumps that collect trash in almost every village.  Can you imagine having to carry your trash to a dump every couple of days?  And if you don’t have a car, how likely are you to take the trash down the street to the dump?  Hence, many houses create their own mini dumps and eventually burn it.

The lack of high-volume trash processing infrastructure has other affects;  South Americans consume less and reuse more.  Toilet paper is a well-regulated commodity in hotels;  you get one small roll per day.  Napkins?  Paper thin and watched closely.  Plastic soda bottles?  Reused to carry everything from gasoline to water.  After a while, the idea of consuming less becomes a habit, and not a bad one at that.  You need smaller dump sites and Toyota pick ups can handle the neighborhood trash needs.

This house was a five hour drive from Copiapo, Chile. Located in the high Atacama, recent addition of solar panel allowed refrigeration, lights and ... an Internet satellite dish!

Technology is your friend, especially if you live high up in the Andes.   Living “off the grid” is the only alternative in many villages and towns in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  Laying electrical, telephone, water, sewage lines isn’t going to happen in our life time.  Remote villages in South America are discovering solar power.  We stayed with a family who had one panel on the roof of their house with a wire strung to a set of car batteries.  This single solar panel gave each room light via a single florescent bulb.  And for the first time, this family could read, or listen to a radio, or look at pictures from gringo tourists at night in their kitchen.

Much like the USA, solar power is made affordable by government grants in countries like Peru.  There are a lot worse uses of tax dollars (or Soles or Bolivianos) as it literally changes lives and living conditions.  Imagine what will happen when the cost of solar and other alternative sources becomes affordable on a large scale in South America?

South American kids aren’t suffering for lack of mobile phone connectivity. Whether in Seattle or Santiago, their attachment to all things mobile is the same.  Every kid had some kind of mobile phone or game and had their head buried in its screen.   Same thing goes for adults as mobile phone use on the road is widespread. Conservation of this critical resource (minutes) is top of mind.  Since there is no monthly billing for the most part in South America, everyone buys minutes from magazine stands and mini markets.  (I’m not sure whether mobile phones can be used as payment vehicles like they are in Asia)  Mobile phone reception was remarkable even in the most remote places.  My Blackberry rarely gave me the SOS indicator.

Even toll stations have Wi Fi connectivity in Argentina. This shot is in the middle of the Pampas at a toll booth, which has a 100 sq ft convenience store and one table. We used the one table to Skype Sam and Ryan to get advice on another road side repair.

We stayed with a family on a remote island in Lake Titicaca, Peru. The kitchen served as living room, dining room and itchen. Floresent lights allowed kids to show pictures from previous gringo guests.

Same thing goes for Internet connectivity; it’s everywhere in most of South America.  Only two hotels in 95 days of traveling didn’t offer Wi-Fi.   Many Argentine and Chile gas stations offer free Wi Fi.  Internet cafes are still going strong, tucked away in every nook and cranny of Cusco, or Arequipa, or Puno.  Everyone has an email address, or a  blog, or a FaceBook page.  Exchanging contact information with people we met along the way meant getting their email address, not their phone number.

Traveling in South America is an audio experience as much as a visual one.   There’s lots of noise.   Trucks grunt, cars  and m/c’s beep their horns, pickups with loudspeakers in their beds blast advertising messages, and even trash trucks play music as they move down the street.  Street musicians and bands can be heard on many city streets.  The Latin stereotype of being passionate people is to some degree accurate, as people in South America tend to speak louder with more gestures than we Norte Americanos.   And, they do it more often with a smile on their face.

On almost any day, but especially on the weekends, Tango dancers can be found on most parks in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. They dance for tips in the day and then perform formally in shows at night. Never a dull moment in BA.

Loading supplies onto the only train that goes through the Sacred Valley. This woman loaded as much, or more, than her husband during the few minutes that the trains was available

Women of all ages are beasts of burden in Peru and Bolivia. They carry wood, crops, food, kids, tools, clothes  and anything else you can imagine on their backs via a sack called Keperina.  It’s common in the Andes to see women and their children walking along a road with their Keperina’s stuffed full, far away from any apparent destination.  These women are strong, as I know I couldn’t carry all this stuff at altitudes of 12-15,000 feet.  What’s more, their faces mask any exertion, as they are  more likely to be smiling than grimacing. ( A side note to illustrate the point.  While we were staying with the family on the Lake Titicaca island, we decided to walk up to a nearby mountain top to take in the view.  OK, we’re not talking about K2 here, but I was huffing and puffing just taking one step at a time.  I look over at our guide — the mother of the family we were staying with — and she’s knitting while she walks.  Evidently, we were going so slow that she could catch up on her stitches;) ) We didn’t see many men carrying stuff as we women.  Karen wondered if the men worked at all.   If not, Peru is on my list of places to live 🙂

Yes, I”ll remember Machu Picchu, the snow packed peaks of the Andes, the thunderous sound of the Iguacu Falls, and the vastness of the Atacama forever.  But I’ve also come away with what I really wanted, which was to get a taste of how other people live.    I’ll never take trash removal for granted ever again.

Did I get it wrong or do you have something to add? We met a lot of people in South America who became our friends and now read TRT.  There’s no way the above can be anything other than a Gringo’s view, so I’d love to know if you think the above is “right” or not, or what else would you add ?

Comments are welcome from everyone, of course.  Karen and I look at TRT as just a place where we can talk with our friends along the way.

This isn't a posed picture. Everyday working people were quick to smile. This is a truck driver in the city of Ilo as he backs his truck up to the fish market.

My hero. This guy has two computers going in a cafe in Buenos Aires. He's using Skype to talk with a customer while using the second one for some other task, all the while sipping a beer. They do business differently in Latin America.

Typical South American dexterity of thought. Jam-packed Internet Cafe in San Pedro de Atacama is combined with a mountain bike rental agency. Makes sense if you think about who uses both services.

Grid or maze? Typical "infrastructure" in South America is not too scalable without access to a Ouija board. Puerto Vallarta has similar electrical spaghetti. Makes for happy workers with lots of job security.

Always time for a cold one. Group of women standing in the street in La Paz, celebrating.... Carnivale.

No mandatory retirement age. Or dental health care. Woman in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Merchandising in La Paz Mercados and food stalls was immaculate. Pricing of eggs reflects size. Based on the cartons, the customer can individually select which eggs they want.

Counter space? Next time The Little Woman wants to remodel the kitchen, show her this picture. This is a kitchen hut on a reed island in Lake Titicaca. Bucket has water from the lake that is boiled for eating/washing.

Well-used:  Now Voyager and us.

Tell me it isn’t so! How can our trip be over so soon? Just 95 days, 9000 miles, six countries, ten border crossings, four tip-overs, two flat bed truck tows, 45 different hotels and a gazillion bad meals later and we’re on our way back to Los Angeles.   Along the way, there were no accidents of note, no broken bones or other serious injuries, and no robberies.   And we’ll always  remember the help we received from so many kind people who must have felt sorry for two gringos lost on a motorcycle.

OK, maybe the word “just” isn’t quite right.   I knew it was time to go home when minutes after crossing the Brazilian border for the second time Karen walked out of a mini-Mercado with a serious, quizzical look on her face and asked, “What country are we in?” We have been on the road for a long time I thought and re-doubled my effort to get us home as quick as possible.

Here’s the Stat Package of our trip:

Bumps and peaks

This trip is a perfect example of how the best laid plans go awry and you just have to deal with the results in the here and now.  Two years in the planning didn’t prevent everything going wrong from almost the first day in Buenos Aires.  Now Voyager was more than two weeks late in arriving.  Misplaced passports prevented us crossing into Chile when originally planned.  And, of course,  Now Voyager developed serious and multiple over-heating episodes that literally changed the course of the trip.  We found ourselves on the Shit Happens Express and had no choice but to ride it out.

KR and I will always remember “riding it out” as we coasted through a mile-long tunnel, watching the headlights of approaching trucks getting bigger and bigger in the rear-view mirror, knowing if we couldn’t get the silent Now Voyager to the tunnel’s exit, we were probably toast.   “Crouch down!” I shouted to Karen, hoping that we’d make a smaller aerodynamic footprint.  Well, the travel gods were with us that afternoon as we made it out of The Tunnel and two tow trucks later we rolled into Santiago.  After this, the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” had a new sense of realism for us.

Slowly, our luck started to turn. When NV sprouted its leaking water hose, a fellow Brazilian biker staying in the same hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, helped fashion a fix that would last for hundreds of miles through the Atacama desert.  Then we met the manager of the Hotel El Mirador in Calama who advised me not to try to fix it there, but to go to a BMW expert in Iquique.  It was both excellent advice and a trip-turning encounter with Jorge, Ruben, and Beto in Iquique.  Once Ruben ripped out the thermostat and replaced it with a red Coke bottle cap, he declared, “The Chile Way. Forever.”  We never had a problem with NV after that.  In addition to fixing our motorcycle, Jorge literally drew out our trip plan that suddenly brought my foggy vision into clear focus.

We were lucky with the weather as well.   Yes, for weeks on end we had rain at least part of every day, and it rained often when we were riding.  But it never rained when it would have been disastrous.  Coming into La Paz at night it suddenly stopped raining (a greater power knew we already had too much to handle) and all we had to deal with was traffic, hills, drunks and a city-wide party.  We crossed Bolivia just after the rainy season had left the country soaked to its red mud core.  Somehow we rode the 40 kilometers of dirt in the middle of Bolivia during a two-day dry spell.  Even one hour’s worth of rain would have doomed our crossing as the road would have turned into thick red mud.  And what about seeing Machu Picchu in the mist, just clear and bright enough to give us a mystical experience?

We were lucky with our crashes and near-crashes as well.  My two beach tip-overs provided entertainment for beach goers, but caused no damage.  When we fell over in the middle of making a turn in Arequipa’s traffic, three guys sprinted out in the street to stop traffic, help get NV righted, and push us onto the sidewalk.  Despite KR’s new found fear of skip-loaders, our river crash was tame in damage to us and NV.  Biggest loss was our two cameras and KR’s confidence in my tackling less-than-stellar road conditions.

One of the things I will always remember fondly is South American gas stations. Yes, I said gas stations.  I will never forget sitting in an Argentinean station way out in the Pampas talking with Sam and Ryan via Skype as we tried to analyze and then fix NV’s first overheating episode.  All gas stations and toll booth mini-Mercado’s have Wi-Fi!  I can’t pass a YPD or Shell station in Argentina without wanting to stop and hang around.

Sometimes simple maneuvers can make a big impression.  You’d be surprised at the challenge of getting into and around South American gas stations as ruts, rocks, trucks, cars, dogs, cattle, kids, and any manner of “thing” might be in your way.  In one station a couple days out of Santiago I pulled in and made a perfect arc to the right side of the pump. I remember thinking, “Hey Walti, you’re starting to ride this thing OK.” Two days later, when I brought this episode up as an example of getting into The Groove, KR said, “Yes, I remember that one too and thinking you were really smooth.” This of course begs the question of what I was doing in the other 200 gas station  visits, but let’s not go there.

Certain images leave a lasting impression as well. Talking with a Russian Mennonite, living in Bolivia was one of them.  Our conversation took place way out in the eastern part of Bolivia, at a gas station that was literally ringed with huge rocks and boards preventing any car from entering (remember, in Bolivia finding a gas station doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found gas as they’re often out of gas).  I swung NV between the rocks to see if there was gas because I saw this Mennonite farmer on a horse-driven flat bed wagon getting two 50 gallon drums filled with Bolivia’s finest.  Apparently, only Mennonites and motorcyclists get gas at that station!  It was good talking with him as he spoke perfect English and seemed to be as curious about us as we were about him.  Not surprisingly, his knowledge of road conditions on Ruta 4 turned out to be wrong, but  what was I thinking asking him in the first place. How far can you take a horse pulled wagon, anyway?

I could go on and on about my fondness for South American gas stations, but I’ll stop.  Full service. Wi-Fi.  Food.  Beer and wine.  Ice cream. And attendants eager to help a couple of lost motorcyclists will be missed.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

For those who would ask, “What would you do differently?  What did you learn?” I offer the Clint Eastwood version.

The Good

  • I would buy the same bike and configure it in the same way.  BMW has enough dealers that you can find someone to help.  Honda and Yamaha dealers are also plentiful enough.  But anything else, like a KTM, Kawasaki, Ducati, or  Suzuki and you better be able to repair it yourself with parts you’re carrying as there just aren’t that many dealers.   Now Voyager, a BMW F650GS,  is a good answer to our motorcycle challenges (height, weight, double-up, third-world travel destinations, etc.).  Those of you who want to talk more about this, just let me know.
  • I would run a knobby front tire and a on/off rear for a great combo of off-road directional help (the knobby) and highway endurance (the rear) again.
  • The spare gas tanks were heaven to have and to use.
  • We took the right stuff and had a pretty damn easy packing system.  For those who accused me of taking too much, I say: YOU travel with your wife for three months!  Parts and tools in the left pannier.  Electronics and admin stuff in the right.  Two Wolfman wet bags for our clothes and a top box as junk drawer.  Packing and unpacking was pretty much hassle-free even though we had to do it at least once a day.  KR bought a bunch of travel zip-up bags that we each used to organize our clothes and they made all the difference.  On reflection, I would probably get a bigger top box: )
  • My riding suit (Revitt) worked great.
  • The Starcom intercom worked flawlessly the whole trip.   I replaced two headsets and one connecting cord.  I would bring more spare parts for this next time.
  • The money strategy of ATM card, two credit cards, and a stash of cash is the only practical way of going.
  • Electronics were a go! A computer for each of us meant that KR used her computer to do travel research.  We started out with three cameras (a G12 for KR, a tiny Cannon for me, and a video camera for the bike).  Makes for some significant battery, charger and connector requirements, but it was worth it.
  • Footprint’s  South American Handbook was excellent.  Considering we only have one book for all of SA, it was terrific.
  • We were prepared paperwork wise:  copies of all necessary docs, fake wallets, fake registrations, etc., etc.  We never needed to make a photocopy or get a passport photo.
  • Finally, and definitely most importantly, we were connected to friends who helped us with all our problems along the way.  I had a Technical Team (Ryan, Bruce, Ron), a Map Team (Sam and Dan) and the All Around Figure Anything Out Man – Sam Hershfield.   Then there were the on-the-ground friends who helped locally: Jorge, Nacho, Fede, Jorge Hernandez, Edson too many more to mention.

The Bad

  • KR says she would do more pre-planning than we did.  Considering we did NONE, that wouldn’t be hard too do.  When you’re moving every day, it’s difficult to keep up with new destinations coming up in terms of hotels, what to see/do, etc.
  • Maps.   We needed more and better.  This goes 10X for the Garmin, which was actually useful when it had a map of the area.  Putting old maps into the GPS in South America is just inviting trouble as it made the Garmin a questionable resource for most of the trip.  Garmin’s MapSource software is one of the least intuitive applications that I’ve ever used, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given their website and product user interfaces.
  • Entering big cities (it’s relative again) at the end of a day is tough as we inevitably got to our hotel tired, stressed and cranky.  Our best strategy was to stop on the outskirts, grab a coke/beer, and plan our entrance.  When we did this, things turned out well.
  • Getting out of big cities is as challenging as figuring out how to get in, maybe even more so given that we needed to find our way to a certain highway.  Remember, no street signs, no highway numbers, dirt roads, etc.  The only solution we found was to ask local sources for directions prior to lift-off.
  • The Touratech panniers were both good and bad.  They may be ugly, but the things are sturdy after four tip-overs.  The locks and everything worked well enough.  Yet their mounting system is designed in such a way that the panniers tend to get loose and as a result one pannier fell off entirely because the system failed.  This forces a pannier check twice daily.  Also, they’re nowhere close to being water proof and necessitated wrapping everything in double plastic bags.
  • The concept of multilayered riding suits is hilarious.   Both our suits had inner layers designed to break the wind and keep the rain out.  Think about this for a moment, you’re riding along and you get hit by rain.  Quick – pull over, take your pants and jacket off (and boots), zip in the rain liner, and put them back on again!   All on the side of the road in the pouring rain?  Impractical.  We both tossed both inner layers (warmth and rain) and just layer our way to warmth/protection.
  • Rain suits generally don’t keep out the rain.  My two-piece BMW rain suit let rain in all the pockets and the crotch.  KR went through two suits (one by___ and the other by North Face) and still ended up wet at day’s end.
  • Nolan helmets.  Once again, great idea (flip up, built-in sun shade, comfortable) but poor execution.  My helmet was NOISY, pieces kept falling apart, and the mechanisms stopped working when sand got in via the wind.
  • I brought too much of the wrong clothes and not enough of the “right” stuff.  I basically wore one pair of shorts or one pair of pants the entire trip.  I had two shirts that I alternated.   But then I had way too many back-up shirts, t-shirts, long-underwear, etc.  We were close, but I’d rethink the specifics.
  • South American food was generally horrible.  Not in the sense of “be careful what you eat” (which you should) but in the taste and health sense.  Granted KR and I aren’t the most adventuresome people so it’s partly our fault we didn’t like the food.  But most of the food is from poor ingredients, with heavy use of fats, and either fried or grill-fried.  Now, before all our friends and hosts in South America email me with threats, there were lots of exceptions to the above generalization.  But the majority of the hundreds of meals we had were less than memorable.

The Ugly

  • The Spot Satellite locater is a piece of shit that never worked. Their support folks don’t understand that you might be calling in from a far-away place (“Mr. Walti, we’ll mail your warranty papers to you).  If life wasn’t too short, I would hassle this company no end.
  • BMW Service’s reliance on their computer diagnostic system.  While I understand its purpose and reason for being, ALL the BMW mechanics I encountered in South America relied exclusively on it to diagnose the problem. If the computer said “no problem,” then there was no problem.  Even if you’d just been towed 100 miles because of overheating.
  • BMW’s lack of a global, by-model knowledge base of technical issues that could be shared by BMW mechanics.  This is simply mind-blowing that ALL of BMW’s technical experience is held only in its local mechanic’s heads.   If you’re local mechanic happens to have experience with the same problem you’re having, you’re in luck.  If not, you’re out of luck.  Trying to get access to some of the technical brains within BMW corporate proved to be a joke.   And yes, I know there are a bunch of rider forums who do an excellent job of trading technical information, but try and search that info and get your local mechanic to act on it when his computer is saying “no problem” is just as much of a joke.  BMW should be ashamed.
  • I got educated on how to ship a motorcycle the hard way. I paid just about $4K all-in to ship my bike to BA and just under $1100 to ship it back.   What changed?  Just about everything, but the biggest difference was Federico Testa (email: normaduran@logistic-solution.com.ar) handled everything going back and therefore I wasn’t double charged by multiple forwarding agents.  We also used the roll-on, roll-off method which eliminates the need for crating (my crate cost $750 for the trip down).  As for timing, I would never, ever ship a m/c by sea if I needed to get it somewhere by a specific date (i.e. the Dakar) unless I targeted an arrival date  a FULL MONTH ahead of time.  Paying customs warehouse storage fees are a small price to pay to avoid the delays we experienced.  Finally, I opted for as little bike-prep as possible, which eliminated the air freight option (taking the front wheel and cases off, draining all fuels, etc.)  When NV finally arrived in BA and the crate was opened, all I had to do was stick the key in and start him up.

What’s Next?

Having not just fallen off the Turnip Truck, I haven’t broached the subject of our next trip to KR just yet.  I’ll be curious as to whether our “motorcycle around the world, one continent at a time” strategy is still operable given the soreness of KR’s butt and back.  I suspect she’ll try to modify it with a different vehicle or destination.    In the meantime, KR is anxious to get to PV to reunite with the love of her life (Lilly) and to prepare Corona and Little Big Sur for any of you folks who can find the time and means to get to Puerto Vallarta.  All are invited.

My immediate tasks include finding a more permanent place to stay in Los Angeles and getting back on the horse to help Neal at TPG.  There are some pretty exciting opportunities popping up and I have a feeling that TPG is about to reach a whole new level.

No matter where, when and how, I intend to chart our own course in life from now on.    I feel that we’re mid-stride in our Rewire Project to reconfigure our life for more control and fun, less restrictions and responsibilities.  I will let you know how the next step goes.

A Lesson from the Enterprise bus driver

Last night the driver of the  Enterprise Rental Car bus reinforced a message that we all know is true, but few of us really act on.  After chatting for a few minutes on the way to the lot, he said in response to our trip summary:  “You gotta enjoy your life! We only got one!” He said it with such conviction and enthusiasm that I thought he’d just come back from a 90 day m/c trip.   We then launched into a discussion of our favorite South American foods (few) and he responded by giving us a detailed blow-by-blow descriptions of his favorite Honduran dishes.  By the time we got to the Enterprise lot, all three of us were hungry!  I got off the bus and thought to myself, life is what each of us make it, whether we’re a bus driver or management consultant.

And so I resolved to enjoy whatever days we have left to the best of my ability.  Whether working or playing, I’m going to try and enjoy it.   I wish all of you the same.

Fred

If it’s a Fiat 600, we must be in Argentina. This has to be the world’s most tricked out Fiat

Quick, if a town has an impressive gate, what country are we in? Mail in your answers for a big prize

Technical innovations are the key to survival on the road. I bitched that KR bought a hair drier, but it was both a boot-drier and the primary therapy for my six weeks of hip problems.

Beef baby, and lots of it! If you want a great steak, Buenos Aires is your town.  Cows seems somewhat less than enthusiastic about participating, though.

How could you not love this woman? KR stuck it out for 9000 miles and countless “encounters.” Good looking glasses were a special present from me.

Devilish things seem to follow us no matter where we went. Here Jim Hyde goes with the flow in an all-out New Years street party in Palermo. We celebrated Carnival in both La Paz and Cochabamba on successive weekends. Then as soon as we cross the border into Brazil, we meet up with a bunch of guys celebrating their fishing accomplishments one night around the pool.

JH and FW await vehicle arrival news.

The Rented Iron Duke and KR outside our Buenos Aires apartment on the first day we get on a motorcycle. KR must be psychic as she's getting visions of what's ahead. We end up riding the RID for 1900 miles while we await Now Voyager's arrival.

Even the second time around, seeing the Dakar was breathtaking. I was thrilled that KR got to experience a couple of days of the race. She wasn't shy in getting close to the action to get her shot. She didn't believe me about the crowds until we were greeted by tens of thousands of people on our way to Purmamarca.

Famous Dakar racer signs autographs for fans

We met lots of nice people on this trip, none nicer than a group of Brazilians on a motorcycle vacation to Argentina and Chile. We tried to keep up, but NV wasn't up to the task (yet).

Argentina gas station: Wi Fi, a cold drink and a/c to get away from the 106 temperatures. I miss them already.

I quickly found my Inner Peruvian Self. KR refused to sit at the same table with me...

NV's overheating problems were a bummer in so many ways, but also a learning experience. I know more about cooling systems than I ever wanted. I feel much more confident in out-of-the-box road repairs having seen some pretty amazing fixes applied. And, of course, who's to say how often flatbed truck loading can come in handy.

Santiago was two-faced for us. One face was the fear, hassle and anxiety that goes with trying to figure out how to fix NV. Once we did that, we hit the reset button and spent a week exploring several alternative Santiago neighborhoods.

Valparaiso was drop-dead gorgeous during our couple of days there, though we never found our (its) groove. Physically, it was the most beautiful city we visited, yet we were never comfortable there as everyone we met warned us to be careful of getting robbed. Caution is a good thing, in moderation, and this place seemed to be too on edge.

Our spirits were on the upswing by the time we got to Lago Verde on the San Francisco Pass over the Andes. We spent an entire day exploring the Andes in a 4X4 and it was a wonderful experience. Lago Verde needs to be put on everyone's South American list.

Hey dude, nice hat. San Pedro de Atacama was like living in a time warp from the 60s. I felt right at home among the Reggae and dreadlocks. I could have warn a tank top too, but I didn't want to intimidate anyone...

Rescue crew. Beto, Jorge, and Ruben and fix NV "The Chile Way." It was indeed, forever. Thanks guys.

How can you not love the people of Peru? This lady was proud of her daily fish offerings, taken off the boat just behind that wall. Fresh, you want fresh?

We were repeatedly warned about protests and work stoppages in Peru and Bolivia. Didn't see any of that, but we did see a lot of street marches supporting candidates or complaining about some issue. Seemed to me that the people of Peru and Bolivia were really into their newly functional democracies. We all could learn something from this type of street level involvement in government.

The Atacama. We spent weeks riding through this ever-present, but constantly changing desert in Argentina, Chile and Peru. During much of this time we were unsure of NV's ability to withstand the heat, thus focusing my mind on "what if" rescue scenarios.

Yet we came across valleys like this one in the middle of the Atacama. Fed by a river carrying snow runoff, these valleys were a lush green that's hard to capture unless you're there.

On our way to Cusco in the Andes, Karen finds some new firends. It's hard not to have a good time among the people of Peru. Always quick to smile at two crazy motorclyists.

Dinner anyone? Guinea pigs are fattened in the kitchen of a restaurant high up in the Peruvian Andes. KR and I could not bring ourselves to sample the delicacy...

We spent two days exploring the Colca Valley in the Peruvian Andes just east of Arequipa. Valley is 70+ miles long and famous for its terraced fields that are a thousand years old. It was a great place to see, but two days in a bus is about 1 3/4 too many.

Real Men (and Women). We met a number of fellow bike adventurers along the way. None were more adventurous than Q & Shu who were on a nine month journey from the Middle East, through Europe, South America, Central America and North America. We met them in Cusco and had a great dinner and shared lots of tips. Their bike, a BMW F800GS, had just suffured a broken yoke and they were about to put it on a truck for the two day trip to the BMW dealer in Lima. They made it and continued north. Last we heard, they were thinking about extending their trip...

Why? Time and time again a complete stranger stepped in to save our bacon. This is the local Cusco family's VW bus that we followed to find our way out of Cusco. Sounds easy, does it? You try and find a particular road in a town of no stop signs and numerous road closures. Anyway, we were helped by the kindness of complete strangers in La Paz, Santa Cruz, a small town in Bolivia (whose name I forget) which is notorius for its bad traffic, Santiago, and Mendoza. See, there are advantages to appearing to be clueless.

There is simply nothing like it. Machu Picchu was BY FAR our most stunning excperience. Even in rain. With lots of other people around. It was worth the 20 year wait. GO!

Recycling. I was often surprised at how inventive South American's are in meeting their transportation needs. We American's are totally spoiled in this manner. This is a VW Bus reconfigured as a train repair/parts carrier.

This will not make CNN's headlines: we went into more than our fair share of bars and restaurants that might be classified as "Iffy". This was probably the most bizarre and coolest one. Located in Ollantaytambo, Peru, it was housed in a thousand year old Inca structure featuring Bob Marley motif and a pole for quick escape from the second floor. Oh, and how could I forget the fireplace coming out of the Mermaid's womb?

The Incas were unbelievable craftsman, especially when it comes to their stone work. It's no wonder that the Spaniards built their houses/churches/palaces on foundations created by the Incas whenever possible. Here's what's most amazing to me: their buildings were architectural, engineering and craftsmanship marvels that even today make us wonder, "How did they do that?" Yet, they had no written language and left behind a legacy of mystery and guesses about who they were and what they did. Strange.

One of the reasons we liked Peru so much was that many of their people dressed in traditional "costumes." It was nice being in a country in which of its citizens still valued a way of life their ancestors enjoyed. Bolivia was very similar. Not so Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

We spent almost a month in the Altiplano at elevations of 10,000 feet and above. It was beautiful, especially in Peru, as much of the Andes were in a Sound of Music green. It was difficult to adjust to the altitude despite having all the drugs and a lot of time to do so. We never got sick nor really encountered bad headaches. Rather, we had trouble sleeping, physically doing things, and most importantly -- it was COLD, especially on the bike when it rained. For a two weeks stretch KR and I never felt warm. We finally wimped out and beat a retreat to the tropics of Bolivia and Brazil.

KR found her styling groove on an island made of reeds in Lake Titicaca

The evening we spent with a family on an island in Lake Titicaca was by far our most memorable personal encounter with Peruvians. Our family seemed pretty damn happy to us despite not having what most American's would describe as basics.

Beautiful children. Even an old grouch like me was charmed by them.

Unknowlinglhy, we rode right into the middle of Carnival celebrations in La Paz on one Saturday night. What's more, we somehow found ourselves in THE neighborhood celebrating the hardest. I think Karen an I will always wonder how we survived that night without a crash. Next morning we awoke to this as the party just continued...

We encountered remarkably few dirt roads, but the ones we did were challenging for two-up riding. This stretch of dirt road lasted two hours and occurred in the middle of the Bolivian tropics.

The Iguacu Falls were scary powerful when viewed up close. The day after we visited two Americans were killed when their tourist boat capcized upon hitting some rocks.

There are some real advantages to riding a motorcycle versus a car. Motos were always allowed through toll stations for free. We were always ushered to the front of a border/inspection station line. And, in the case of long lines caused by a huge truck accident (above), we rode past miles and miles of waiting cars and trucks to the point of the accident. We quickly figrued a way around and were on our way while the rest of the four+ wheelers sat and waited in ignorance.

Blue on blue. 9000 miles later and we're back in Buenos Aires at La Casita de San Telmo. Two days later we're on the plane home.

The customs guy in BA rides Now Voyager onto the ship for the trip back to LA

They're not shiny new anymore, nor might I add are we. But we'll all be ready to go when the gun fires at the next start line.

Follow their trail using the Google Earth. You will need to have the Google Earth Plugin installed in your browser for this to work! See the system requirements below….

Here are some directions about using this map:

  1. Use your mouse to click and drag anywhere on the globe
  2. Drag to the middle of South America to start following them
  3. Zoom in, either by double clicking your mouse, using your mouse wheel if you have one or using the vertical slider on the screen’s top right
  4. Look at all the legs and places where they stayed each night
  5. Click on any leg to see date and length in Kms and Hrs
  6. Zoom in all the way in with the slider or holding down your wheel and moving your mouse forward or backward the angle will change so you can see altitude and terrain
  7. Use the  “compass” on top right to rotate around a place, city or route

Need the plugin? Go here
If you are having trouble with the plugin, uninstall the plugin completely. Return to this page and follow the directions that appear within the Google Earth View below.

More Information on Machu Picchu
3D Modeling of the site
Wiki

System Requirements from Google:
While Google Maps may work for other browsers, we recommend using one of the following for the best experience:

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The last photo: we dont' make this crossing rubber side down. Both cameras are lost to water damage

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The Stars of Iquique: Beto, Jorge and Ruben do a reboot of NV and Jorge does a reboot of KR and me.

Sometimes you just have to get lucky

I admit that several times during this trip I secretly hoped that the Shit Happens Express would somehow become the Shit Happens to Someone Else Express Today (SHEET).  Not very adventuresome or neighborly, I admit, but both KR and I were becoming a bit weary of the mechanical travails that sometimes translated to downright scary repercussions and always translated to travel delays and hassles.   This is on top of the two plus weeks and thousands of dollars lost waiting  for NV. And while I kept a stiff-upper lip on the latest mechanical glitch to hit NV’s cooling system, I was wondering if we were ever going to catch a break.

Well, we did in the form of Jorge Hernandez and his team at SamMOTOS.   Our string of good fortune  really began with Ruben Santorino, a passionate biker from Argentina that fashioned the temporary fix on NV’s leaking radiator hose in San Pedro de Atacama.  This temporary fix was so good that we made the 300 miles from SPdA to Iquique without a hint of a problem.   Then I met Mauricio Mitre, the proprietor of the El Mirador Hotel, who is also a passionate biker and recommended that I postpone any fixes until I got to Iquique so I could look up Jorge.  By the time I got to Iquique, I was convinced that all systems were a “go,”  but, I wanted to stop by and meet Jorge anyway.

That’s when our good fortune really took a turn for the better.  It’s difficult to explain Jorge and his SamMOTOS facility as he claims that repairing motorcycles is not his business, but his passion as he is an avid adventure rider.  You certainly couldn’t find it without the escort that he provides.  His real business has something to do with supplying parts and field services to Chile’s armed services.   He has tank tracks and various military-looking stuff stacked around.  It looked professional grade to me.

SamMotos facility and Ruben and Beto are hard at it. Before I could say "How's it going?" they had mounted a new rear tire, changed oil/filter, and lubed the chain. They left the best for last

Well, before I could say “I need some help” Jorge and his chief technician, Ruben, were making a series of recommendations that needed to be done post-with:  (1) Replace the hose of course  (2) Check the cooling system  (3) Replace the rear tire which was on the verge of being worn out;  (4) Change the oil and filter, and  (5) Lube the chain.  Sometimes you just know that the person(s) you’re talking to knows what they’re doing, and I immediately sensed that with Jorge.  I of course pleaded very thankful and sat down to watch the unfolding mechanical activities…

“The Chile Way.  Forever!”

I won’t bore you with the all-day details, but one sequence of events was instructive and wonderful to watch.  First, Ruben and  his First Mate, Beto, changed the faulty hose.  This was no easy endeavor and I shutter to think  about doing this on the road.  I made an important contribution as one of the three hoses I bought in Calama was actually the right size.   Then the important part came:  putting it back together and filling the radiator with coolant and making sure there was no air in the system.  Sounds simple, but a BMW technician and myself had failed to do this several times before.    Quicker than you can say “wimp gringo” in Spanish, the system was put back together and we turned on NV for a test.

Safety was only skin deep. Under the temporary fix lay a disaster waiting to happen

Then my worst fear happened:  within a few minutes, NV overheated to the point of flashing warning lights and shut down.  Shit! Now what?  Ruben was convinced it was the thermostat as they’d seen three 650s recently with bad thermostats.  I told him that we’d just replaced the thermostat at the Santiago BMW dealer.  He said he’d do a test.  BYW, this entire conversation was done on my computer via Google Translator. Long live technology!

Ruben yanked the thermostat out and replaced it with the plastic cap from a 2 liter Coke bottle.  “Chile Way!” says Ruben. But this is my Bavarian Baby I’m thinking.  Back goes the thermostat housing with said red Coke bottle cap.   We test the bike for 3-4 heat cycles.  No problems.  Ruben sums it up with, “Chile Way.  Forever!”  I nod agreement and NV runs with the Chile Way installed.

A couple of notes to my Technical Advisory Team (Ryan, Bruce and Ron )

  • Ryan – you’ve been yelling “take the thermostat out!”  for 6 weeks now.  Better late than never.  And now that I’ve actually watched someone do it, I might be able to do it the next time.  I replaced the rear knobby with a more pavement-oriented one as the knobby was 500 miles away from being bald.
  • Bruce – I would have given it the all college try to repair that hose, but it would have been a very, very iffy situation.  Ruben and Beto had to remove several hoses/lines to get to the problem child and they had a bunch of the right tools.  Took them more than two hours.  I would have done it, but only just barely.
  • Ron – they insisted that we put the radiator guard back on.  I tried to explain to them your idea of drilling holes in the thing, but they either didn’t get what I was saying or they said it was not needed.   Personally, I think you’re right.  The guard does inhibit NV’s cooling especially at low speed (the difference is now he’s able to manage it).  While I doubt finding someone who could/would drill it, I’m thinking of taking it off while I”m on the pavement and putting it back on when we get to Bolivia.

Jorge’s Way

"No, please Karen listen, you must not miss..."

Perhaps as important as the mechanical freshening that Ruben and Beto were doing to NV, was the trip freshening that Jorge provided KR and I.   We both needed a little freshening (OK more than a little.  We were both tired, irritable, and low on energy.)  Jorge came over to our hotel and we spread our maps out on a table and Jorge gave us his impressions/suggestions/rules to follow on our trip.  What a source of knowledge!  We mapped out alternatives, talked about route alternatives, what to see, when to leave the bike and take a bus, what hotels to stay at.

We sketched out the next 50 days (yes, that’s how long we have left) broadly like this:  up the coast of Peru to Nazca, then through the mountains to Cuzco and eventually Machu-Picchu, then southeast to La Paz, further south to the great Salar de Uyuni.   Then we turn our GPS fully east and cross the Andes heading toward Brazil.  We slash across Brazil in a northeasterly direction all the way to the Atlantic coastal town of Salvador.  Then its all downhill from there — we follow the coast south all the way to Buenos Aires, where we put NV on a boat and ourselves on a plane.   Can we do it?  Will we do it? Hell if I know.


Jorge has a very close relationship with the BMW factory. We were given a sneak preview of BMW's new adventure bike, which comes with a top for those cold nights when you're broken down in the Atacama.

NEW BMW ADVENTURE KIT. I purchased BMW's new Atacama Desert Survival Kit to make sure we get from Calama to Iquique. The kit includes two jugs of antifreeze, three (count'm 3) different size radiator hoses, an assortment of glues to attached new make-shift rubber patches in case the current patch blows. I'm planning on not using any of this, but we BMW owners need to be prepared to take care of ourselves when "adventuring." Let me know if you need the Part No.

Calama, sweet Calama

We rolled out of San Pedro de Atacama so early that the Rastafarians were still asleep and the mud was still thick in the streets of this desert town where it never rains.  Even our hotel manager, the Chilean version of  Norman Bates, wasn’t awake to give us a morning grunt and a rock-hard biscuit.   We were putting San Pedro de Atacama in the rear view mirror so early because we wanted to give ourselves plenty of spare time to slow-crawl our way up the mountains and down the valley to Calama, the next “city” 65 miles away.  For those of you who only occasionally tune in to the Shit Happens Express (shame on you), we were trying to get to Calama to find a way to “really” fix the leaking radiator hose that Ruben and I had gerry-rigged a temporary fix.  We were assured by the locals that Calama had two things:  (1) a motorcycle mechanic or some  semblance thereof ; and (2) lots of copper and little else.

Then  a bunch of surprising things happened:

  • We made it to Calama with no problems.  The Ruben-designed temporary fix did not leak one, single, solitary drop.  NV ran like a champ.  Lindsay you’re a good kid, way deep down.
  • Lady Garmin (our GPS) took us right to the front door of Hotel El Mirador, our targeted establishment for the evening.   The El Mirador is the finest hotel we’ve been in since sometime in Argentina.  It even has a real lobby for god sakes.  And people who smile and are happy to help you.   And this in the city which the Lonely Planet called a “shit hole.”  As I write this there’s the unfamiliar, but oh so welcome, sound of a TV in the background.
  • I was able to find the aforementioned BMW Atacama Desert Survival Kit without needing a BMW dealer. Each of  the half-dozen small hole-in-the-wall auto parts stores I visited each couldn’t have been more helpful to the dumb-looking Gringo couldn’t buy just one size hose,
  • Instead of spending the day tearing NV apart and putting him back together, I made the executive decision (another unfamiliar operating mode)  that we were going straight to Iquique without attempting open-heart surgery in the desert.  This left us time to catch a tour of the world’s largest open pit mine, the Chuquicamata copper mine, which makes one slack-jawed  by its scope.

The situation as of 10:00 PM on Monday, February 7 2011

We are off to Iquique on the northern coast of Chile tomorrow AM, with new adventure kit in hand.  If we arrive, then I’m going to find me a real motorcycle mechanic to fix NV.  Once that is accomplished, KR and I will contemplate the decision that’s weighing heaviest on our shoulders:  Peru and then Bolivia.  Or Bolivia and then Peru.  Thoughts?

We've seen a lot of highway signs -- most of them we don't understand by the way -- but few have been as welcome as this one.

This photo doesn't do the mighty Hotel El Mirador justice, but it gives a sense of its charm. In a city that (admittedly) doesn't have much charm.

Gee, look, it's a real lobby!

No picture will capture the scale of the Chuquicamata copper mine. It's five kilometers long (3.0 miles) and they've been taking dirt out of this hole for 100 years. Proudly, we Norte Americanos were the first to start mining this area for copper (the Guggenheims). Copper exports represent 40% of Chile's GNP. And from the new mines that they're starting on in/around this site, this will be operational for decades to come.

The obligatory miner statue in front of a museum piece -- a relatively small 20 ton shovel that need 12 guys to drive it. Today's version are in the 100 ton range, but take only one driver.

Trucks at the mine are big, very big. There's nothing in this picture to give it scale, but the driver has to climb stairs to his cab that are more than a story tall. I think they come in three sizes of load capacity: 20, 30 and 40. Tons

Right next to the mine is the epitome of a "company town," which is was an entire town including houses, markets, gyms, movie house, etc. a few hundred yards away from the mine. Only one problem, they discovered copper underneath the town and quicker than you can say "you're moving", they closed the town and moved everyone into Calama.

Good advice, especially if you're trying to convince people to move to a new town so you can get the copper under their old one. I think the sign says, "Live better" from your caring "Welfare Department."

San Pedro de Atacama. I discover Chile's future in this six hundred year old city high up in the Andes

My kind of place: full of people just like us

Chileans who live in Santiago and Valparaiso will think I’m crazy and probably hate me for denigrating their country since I’ve seen their future and its full of people just like us.  Well, people just like we were fifty years ago.   If you want to relive the 60’s and 70’s, and who of our generation doesn’t, come to San Pedro de Atacama and see people exactly like you were 40 or 50 years ago.   The future of Chile will be in the hands of  the hippies and trekkers and Rastafarian’s and shaggy haired youth that have flooded SPdA.  Before coming here, we were told this was a weird place but we didn’t understand why.  Now we do.

I know many of you think of me as a fashion-forward kind of guy anyway, so it won’t be shocking  that I’m a trend-leader here.  I’m getting my Andean cap, my blue long-johns, dirty crumpled t-shirt and flip-flops unpacked as we speak.  I’m even thinking of opening a Back to the Future kind of clothes boutique in which I’ll just keep updating the merchandise to what we were wearing 40, 39, 38,37 years ago.  Yellow power tie anyone?  This is a slam dunk business idea.  I’m accepting investments now.

I’m not sure this bodes well for Chile’s future, however. They seem to be doing pretty well now.   If our generation is a good predictor of what’s in store for Chile, they’re on their way to financial crisis after financial crisis, lots of debt, and a series of go-go years that will make their heads spin followed by low-go years that will make them weep.

Chileans are already on their way to enjoying my generation’s greatest inventions:  sex, drugs, rock & roll (and technology).  Both KR and I were stunned by the number of young mothers this country has.  My ad-hoc poll shows that 4 out of 5 young women seen on the street are mothers of young children.   This was especially true of Antofagasta.  Maybe there’s something in the mines that make men especially horny?

Any country that uses coca-leaves for both high altitude and digging mines has their share of drugs.   Unlike my generation though, the streets of SPdA don’t smell like pot.  And it doesn’t seem to be a widespread problem as it is in the US.

Good old (meant literally) US of A rock & roll has taken over this country’s radio, iTunes, videos and TV shows.   Want to see that wonderful video of Madonna or Duran Duran or Prince, just turn on the tube or listen to radio from the car next to you.  This is great  for us too as its the only time we get to listen to something in a language we can understand: )

Chile’s grasp and use of technology is still a work in progress. Hold off on throwing the tomatoes as I”ll explain.  Chilean’s use of cell phones, GPS, and the Internet is second only to Argentina’s.   What’s missing is the technical infrastructure necessary to run some of these things.  Like wall sockets.  It’s useful to have more than one in a room.  Like telephone pole wiring, which makes Puerto Vallarta’s spaghetti’s wiring plan look well organized.    And while Chilean’s drive some fast, pretty trick automobiles (especially muscular pick-ups), most are in need of a Drivers Ed course or two.

My final observation on Chile will get me more hate mail from our Chilean friends:  what’s up with the language? I know that I’m not speaking from a position of strength here as KR and I haven’t quite come to grips with Spanish yet.  But we’re trying: we have the electronic translator, the Garmin GPS translator, the two printed dictionaries and the flash cards that KR studies while riding NV.  Our Chilean guide, Ercio even told Karen that she spoke good Spanish.  So, what’s the problem?   Chilean’s speak a version of Spanish that must be used on the moon.   Their diction is so sensitive to pronunciation that if you’re off by just a tiny, tiny bit, they’ll look at you like you’re from the moon.  Come on guys, we’d guess what you’re trying to say if the tables were turned!

This is a motorcycle trip and you're going to see lots of m/c pics. This one is as we descend to San Pedro de Atacama from 11,500 feet. The face of the Atacama changes pretty dramatically as one goes north, changing from a schrub covered Mojave-like desert to a moonscape with jagged rocks and NO vegetation.

Way out there. In the Atacama somewhere between Calama and SPdA.

KR likes this picture because you can't see much of me and you can see lots of 20,000+ foot Lincancabur volcano.

The entrance to SPdA isn't very imrpressive. At first sight, it appears to be a maze of mud-packed street lined with Adobe buildings. No street signs to guide the way.

Late Friday afternoon and the streets start to get crowded. Try riding a bike down this street looking for a hostel.

What's a Chilean town without an art mart? They could use something like this in Copiapo to spicen it up a little.

Trekking over hills and dale can be tiring. Especially when

You're carrying a small house on your back

I hope she's waiting for friends who have a car

This young lady couldn't wait to get out in the rain, late on a Saturday afternoon. She was worried about getting mud on her pants. What about the thousands of dollars in back surgery you'll need?

It rained every afternoon for a couple of hours. What's with the driest desert in the world moniker?

Surprisingly, SPdA is packed with very interesting restaurants-- architecturally, cuisine-wise, and art-wise.

The two gentlemen in this picture are brothers from Germany riding their BMW motorcycles south from Bolivia to Valparaiso. One's a doctor who confirmed my hip problem: arthritis.

Cross selling. Bike rental shop is a full fledged Internet cafe. Or is it an Internet Cafe that offers ground transportation to its customers. Whatever, there are lots of these in SPdA.

Can I interest you in a pair of blue long-johns to wear under those shorts?

Just like me. Bicep wise, almost an exact duplicate.

Commerce Rastafarian style, making jewelry on the "sidewalk." Bob Marley is big up here as well.

Just like in the US, hats are a big thing in Chile. This stylish couple look as lost as we were.

Come on, you gotta give this guy lots of style points. The Robin Hood hat with a feather is unusual even in this town. The blue clogs are a nice touch as well. Guy gave us a recommendation to a terrific restaurant.

A look back on the first 42 days…

We’ve now been on the road for forty-two days, yet it seems that we’re just getting started.   This feeling is borne out by the statistics, which I know you Quant Jocks out there have been waiting for.  This table is just for you:

So, only 17 days of 42 have been riding a motorcycle.  Most of the others have been waiting for a motorcycle to arrive or be repaired.  But, once we’re on board, we cover 225 every day.    This number is weighed down by two purposely short days.   Overall, this trip has been hugely expensive and way-over what I forecasted.   Getting screwed  by the shippers, having to rent a m/c to go on the Dakar, and having to spend a lot of money staying in big cities all made this expensive.

DOWNGRADED AND DOWNSIZED. The days of wine and roses are over, and our accommodations show it. Upper row is the palacial Estancia La Paz in Cordoba and our wonderful Cabana in Punta de Ghoros. Next row down is the worst of our crew, the Hotel Costa Mirabel. It's large and spacious room at the right served as a laundry room for us. Current abode in San Pedro is Hotel Tambillo with prison-like hallway and staff with an attitude to match.

Things that have worked well along the way

  • My Blackberry. Long live Blackberries!  It’s worked almost everywhere.  Many a night the only way to get to the Internet has been through this magical device.  iPhones are for wimps.  International unlimited data plan make it affordable.
  • Two computers.  Many of you laughed when I said I was taking one computer, let alone two.  Well having a ThinkPad (me) and a MacAir (KR) has been terrific.  The Internet is THE planning tool whether before or during the trip.  So many places have Wi-Fi, we do most of our planning in a cafe with Wi-Fi.
  • The Garmin GPS.  I’m not a huge fan of using GPS’s plan your trip primarily because we don’t do much trip planning:)  But, having the Garmin has really helped when in a large city and we’re trying to find our way around.  While it too often doesn’t contain the street/city we’re looking for, the Garmin Zumo 660 has really come in handy.  I”m going to buy maps of Peru and Bolivia.  If anyone has experience with maps of these two countries, please let me know.
  • The Starcom intercom.  The intercom has worked flawlessly, which is the first time ever event.  Long live Starcom!
  • The Wolfman water bags and Touratech panniers.   Because we had to carry enough stuff for two people for three months, we needed some space.  The two Wolfman bags are used for KR and my clothes and are  strapped to each pannier.   At night, it’s relatively easy to unstrap and carry to room.  The left pannier carries tools and spares.  The right pannier carries the computers, electrical connectors, and all paperwork.  The fact that all panniers are lockable with one key is really useful as well.
  • All the nylon clothing that Zigy told us to use.  Washes easily, dries quickly.  The only way to go.
  • The Rotopax extra gas tanks.  These are terrific.  One gallon each side, easy on/off/filling, and they’re light weight.  Full up and riding conservatively, my range increases to 280 miles.
  • Having a top box serve as junk drawer.   The top box is the most useful space:  spare water, maps, purse, hats, guidebooks, KR’s computer, you name it.
  • The Wunderlich tank bag works really well in two ways:  (1)  Most importantly, it goes on/off really quickly a.nd (2) Its side pockets are very useful and appear to be waterproof

Things that have worked out less-well along the way.

  • BMW’s engine cooling system for the F650GS.  It’s inadequate.
  • BMW’s service along the way.  South American dealers have been well meaning, but not totally together.  US Corporate service has been even less helpful.  The only saving grace has Ryan Reza’s personal support out of Hollywood BMW.
  • Some accessories were not needed or useful.  Top of  this list would be the Touratech radiator guard that is highly suspected of restricting NV’s radiator’s cooling.  That’s off.  The Touratech windscreen extender was a stupid thing to buy and fell off.
  • The Wunderlich throttle control is very trick looking, but back asswards in operation.  Instead of turning the locking mechanism counter-clockwise (ie, the same direction that you’d twist the throttle to open it) to lock the speed, the folks at Wunderlich decided to do the opposite.  This makes locking the mechanism nearly impossible to do so smoothly.  No one there has used the product, obviously.
  • KR’s BMW Riding Suit has been a pain in the ass from moment one.  The jacket is great, the pants were too big and heavy for KR.  We ended up taking out all the armour to give her enough flexibility to get on/off the bike.
  • The Wolfman Soft Tank Panniers are still a work in progress.  I’ve now figured out how to secure them to various NV bars/frame rails, so they’re no longer in the habit of coming loose.  But, in order to get them to stay on, they have to be mounted far back on the tank, which doesn’t leave enough room for yours truly.

Now Voyager’s Status

Forgiveness is a hard thing to achieve in life, especially if you’re trying to forgive a child who is repeatedly getting into trouble.  What must Lindsay Lohan’s mom think?  What pain?  Same thing with Now Voyager as he’s been a troubled child from the very beginning of this trip.  Then, after major surgery, he’s been trouble free for 1200+ miles.  All’s right in the world!

Now Voyager standing proud in the Atacama desert.

Lindsay, say it isn't so! How could you? Yes folks, we have another heating system problem. This one is a leaking hose.

I must have a kind (or dumb) face as nice people keep helping me out. A fellow motorcyclist staying at the same hotel, Ruben Sebastion Santonino, helped fashion this temporary fix: epoxy, wrapped by a sheet of rubber, secured with nylon ties. Looks pretty good to me 🙂

The situation as of Sunday, April 6th in San Pedro de Atacama

The newly discovered leak will force yet another repair detour.  Since SPdA is no place to be making repairs, we’re going to try and nurse NV”s leaking hose the 65 miles to Calama, the next biggest town.  KR is happy as the Lonely Planet  has this to say about Calama, “there’s no other way to say it, Calama is a shit hole.”    If and when we make Calama, I’ll attempt open-heart surgery to replace the patient’s water hose.

Keep all body parts crossed.

Fred

We spend a day exploring the Andes at the San Francisco pass, which reaches 15,000+ feet. Ercio and his trusty 4X4 provide the guidance, instruction and mode of exploration for a wonderful day. The sign here gives the passerby two alternatives: the frontier ahead or the tallest volcano in South America to the right

Where upon we opt for a day of 4×4 exploration

Only reporters covering the 33 trapped miners have spent more time in Copiapo as we spent- three full days in this nondescript mining town.  As with most things on this trip, we didn’t mean to spend so much time here, but things have a way of moving s…l…0…w… here and our hotel was cheap.   Anyway, we took the opportunity to get some things done,  recharge our batteries and to spend a marvelous day exploring the Andes in a 4×4 hosted by our guide, Ercio.

The Events Since Our Last Report

My wife is telling me in her-cut-to-the-bone  way that nobody wants to read all the verbiage, they just want the pictures.  So, here’s the recap of what’s happened followed by the pictures.  It’s OK if you all write in and tell KR she’s wrong.

  • Sunday-Tuesday in Copiapo, the last day of which we spent riding high in the Andes with Ercio and his 4×4.  One of the most wonderful days of any trip.
  • Yesterday we rode from Copiapo to Antofagasta, a trip of 350 miles, and arrived in Antofagasta in early evening.  This was a (another) great motorcycle day in which we cruised the Chilean coast, tested Now Voyager in altitude and heat, and and made the trip with no problems.
  • The highlight of arriving in Antofagasta was riding around the town center (population of Antofagasta is around 500k, compared with Copiapo”s 125K) and having the entire left pannier, tool chest, spare gas tank and wet bag fall off into the street behind us.  Seems that the Touratech locking mechanism is subject to getting loose…
  • We’ll spend today in Antofagasta in the worst hotel we’ve come across yet and then push North/East to San Pedro de Atacama tomorrow.

COPIAPO. While Copiapo is a mining town not a tourist town, and thus very, very plain, I could spend quite a bit of time talking about it. For me, its a city of contrasts: old houses like the one pictured on the left still stand from the 1850's and are the predominant personal structure, yet there are a fair number of newer structures like the one above, which overlooks the town square. There are lots of gold and copper mines in the mountains surrounding it, thus its full of miners and those who do business with them. Yet, Copiapo has received little direct, lasting benefit from its commerce as it didn't have the power/foresight to force the mining companies to invest locally. As a result, most labor is temporary and living outside of Copiapo and most of the mining companies have no permanent presence here. There were a couple of "cool" cafes which we tended to visit often, but we spent most of our time at the hotel on the Internet. On the right, KR surfs the Internet while sitting in our hotel's courtyard.

THE ANDES. We spent a spectacular day exploring Tres Cruces National Park in the Andes with the amazing Ercio. We decided to temporarily trade NV for Ercio's 4x4 and we're glad we did. We covered more than 300 miles, climbed to more than 15,000 feet, and spent 12 hours driving around the upper regions of the Andes by the San Francisco Pass. Not only is Ercio a knowledgeable guide about the region, but we learned a lot from him about photography as well (second from left). We had our first lunch at 10,000 feet in a meadow covered in tall pampa grass. I'm sure Ercio was as excited to be with us and we were him.

ANIMALS. Lately it seems that all of our adventures are started because KR wants to see some animal in a far off place. This was no different. Not satisfied seeing the little ______ penguins, we go to 15,000 feet in search of flamingos. We also see lots of vicunas in packs. I guess there's no privacy even in the middle of nowhere.

People live up here, apparently. While housing leaves a little to be desired, the view, and (absence) of neighbors probably goes a long way toward "happy."

10,000 feet up and there's a lush meadow fueled by a half-dozen streams. Ericio says they can be a result of glacier melting, underground springs, snow melting.

The view inside can be pretty spectacular as well

Last year I saw this yellow grass on the other side of the Pass. They stretch as far as one can see.

KR takes a look at Laguna Santa Rosa, home to many a flamingo.

The birds are over there! Pretty nice place to get photography lessons.

It actually wasn't too cold at the high altitudes, though short sleeves isn't the gear to have.

Many will think of this as visual clutter -- why put us in this picture of Lago Verde? This picture is for us, to remind us that we were actually in this stunning place.

This is NOT a photoshopped image. KR and I take warm mineral bath at 15,000 feet, overlooking Lago Verde.

By this time, KR's starting to get excited. Flamingos, screwing vicunas, emerald lakes, mineral baths...

This is a hut that passes for a refugio at Lago Verde. I really want to go back someday and spend the night there.

Inside, it's something less than cozy. Here Ercio prepares some soup while talking with another guide. This guide is leading an "expedition" of Russians to the tallest peak, 22,000. They spend 3-5 days at each altitude getting acclimated. BTW, this place is a whole lot more inviting than the hotel we're stayinga at in Antofagasta.

Most of the 300+ miles we did were on roads like this.

The next day we ride the 350 miles from Copiapo to Antofagasta. About 100 of those miles were along this coast north of Taltal.

The road was an excellent m/c road. Here KR opens her eyes long enough to get this shot

ADVENTURE MACHINE AGAIN? NV had a really good day: lots of trouble free miles, up to 7000 feet, heavily loaded with extra gas, and running steady in 85 degree heat. The next test will be 10,000+ feet and the Atacama on our way to San Pedro de Atacama.

This is our plan: we're going this way until we decide to go that way ...

We end the day at a fantastic restaurant named for the little town we're going to next. Food, atmosphere and people were great.

Are penguins really worth 27 miles of this?

We go 500 miles over land and sea up the Chilean coast

Little on this trip is going as expected, which I guess, should be expected.  I spent two years building the ultimate around-the-world motorcycle only to get less than 100 miles out of Buenos Aires before hitting mechanical trouble.   I thought KR would love Mendoza only to hear her decry it ugly.  I thought we’d zip through the big cities like BA, Mendoza, Santiago and Valparaiso, only to spend the majority of our time there.  And, most surprising, I thought we’d be into Bolivia by now and we’re still more a 1,000 miles south.

So much for expectations.

Expectations come and gone

  • Relative to other parts of the world, this is going to be an inexpensive trip.  Aside from all the added expenses due to NV’s late arrival and the series of mini-disasters this caused, Argentina and Chile have been expensive.  Hotels can easily range from $75-$150/night unless you get lucky and downgrade to a B&B.  Then you’re looking at $40-60.  Gas?  Somewhere around $6/gallon.  Food?  Yesterday we spent $55 at lunch for a very mediocre meal.  We’ve found few things to be consistently cheap, and Chilean and Argentinean wines for less than $5/bottle for something very decent is one of them.  Clothing made in Chile and Argentina is less expensive as well as ismost labor.
  • Why so expensive? A number of things conspire to make it expensive for tourists like us.  Its high season in Chile/Argentina and prices can double/triple from low season .  There are huge import taxes aimed at keeping cheaply made foreign goods out of these countries.  Electronics, cars (not produced in country), motorcycles, and imported clothes are 25-50% higher because of taxes.  One of the motorcyclists that we met paid $75,000 for his high end BMW motorcycle in Brazil, a bike that would cost $20K in the US.
  • Chile and Argentina are developing countries. Not in the macro economic sense and certainly not in the cultural/civilization sense either.  These countries have cities that would easily compete with modern cities anywhere in the world.  Argentina is the most Internet-connected country I’ve visited.  The sense of style, art, and fashion in Santiago or Buenos Aires is far ahead of most US cities.  This is not to say that there aren’t really poor areas of both countries, which there are, but I’m not sure their poor are any more poor or widespread than in the US.
  • The US Dollar is still mighty. Not so, especially in Chile where the dollar has sunk from being worth about 6 Chilean pesos to slightly less than 4 in the last several years.  While we could easily pay with the dollar in Buenos Aires, people in Chile won’t accept it unless there is no other alternative.  It makes one wonder what the future will bring given our growing, immense debt and the habit of printing more money to meet its demand.
  • We can travel fast and easy. Geez, how wrong can one be?  We’re more than 30 days into this adventure and we’re at our original 10 day mark.  We’ve already written that the easy part hasn’t arrived just yet.
  • The roads will be horrible. Most of the main roads are as good as any in the US.  Even the non main roads are good pavement and well maintained.  As one gets into the more remote places, the road can turn into gravel pretty quickly, but that would be the case in the Southwest as well.  Yet, we still expect the roads to get a lot worse in Bolivia and Peru, two of South America’s poorest countries and the next two on our target list.
  • This is perhaps the most obvious:  BMW motorcycles are rock solid. This is the subject of posts in the past and I’m sure in the future, so I’ll just cut to the chase here.  I expected to have bike problems with everything from flat tires to fuel pumps gone awry.  I didn’t expect to question one of the bike’s most basic systems and capabilities:  can the thing run without overheating in anything other than a pleasant spring day?  We’ll find out.

Norte Chico

I’d been waiting for more than a year to show KR the coast immediately above Valparaiso (called Norte Chico), as I remembered it to be some of the most dramatic I’ve seen; long, long beach’s with huge breakers curving far into the distance.  Driving along the Pan-American Highway one might think they were in one of Northern California, Oregon or Washington’s remote beaches.

We stopped often, looking for that perfect charming town that I could show KR.  We didn’t find it, of course.  Perhaps it was out there, but it was at the end of a dirt road and KR (and admittedly me) weren’t in the mood for too much adventure just yet.

Our destination this day was Chile’s second oldest city and  major vacation destination for Chilenos with money -La Serena.  I’d been there before on the 2010 Dakar Chase and remember it as a seaside resort in the most brazen way; miles and miles of beach populated with semi-modern two star hotels/motels.  I remember its El Centro as being quaint, old and interesting. I was convinced that KR would love it.

So much for expectations.

La Serena

We get to the edge of La Serena and KR comes over the intercom, “It shouldn’t be too hard to find a place to stay, there’s not much there.  Let’s find a coffee shop with Wi-Fi and look for a place…”  Sound familiar?  An hour later we’re still crunched in by La Serena’s traffic and there are no (1) coffee shops in sight (2) no  Wi-Fi; and (3) we didn’t have the foggiest idea of where to stay. All three of us were getting cranky.  A friend, Bruce Conrad, comes to our rescue as he had earlier emailed a suggested hotel in case we needed one.  We decided to cut to the chase and find Hotel Del Cid, which we did after a couple of tries.  The Del Cid lacks charm, is way over-priced, but is in a great location, had a charming Irishman for a proprietor, and was available.  We paid our $80, unpacked quicker than you can say beer in Spanish, and hit the streets. We had a drink or two (of course), ate at La Serena’s finest restaurant, and called it a night. The next day we packed with surprising efficiency, had one of the worst (but not THE) breakfasts, and made a hasty exit from La Serena.   I expected to continue going north into the Atacama, but KR had other ideas.

So much for expectations.

Into the valley of the Pisco grape

Instead, we went 65 miles east into the Elqui Valley to explore Chile’s main Pisco grape growing region.  The Pisco grape is the basis for Chile’s favorite drink, the Pisco Sour, and is certainly popular if judged by the number of vineyards.  I’d never heard of this place (no expectations) which turns out to be one of the prettiest places we’ve been to.  The valley descends from the higher altitude Atacama mountains in a contrast of colors.  Because it’s so narrow, the barren, brown mountains butt up against the green vineyards of the Pisco growers.  Add the Chilean taste for painting houses bright colors and the mineral laden Elqui River into the mix and the valley is full of vibrant images. As we wind up the valley, and eventually one of its off-shoots, we pass through small villages clinging to the hillside.   Each one has a couple of stores, perhaps a hostel or two, and a mini town square.  We make it to the village of Pisco Elqui for the night.  Not willing to deviate from our successful strategy, we pull into Pisco Elqui without a place to stay.  This time we get lucky and find the Hotel Elqui right in the middle of town.  For $20/person we get a room, no bathroom and (THE worst) breakfast.   We spend another night walking its few streets, shopping in the tourist shops, and having dinner.  With no TV, one reading-light, and no electrical outlets, we’re asleep early in preparation for our push north into the Atacama.

Not so fast, says my dearest.  “I want to go see the penguins.”  Penguins?  You might be surprised to know that I’m something of a penguin expert having seen the Little Guys in their Patagonia habitat and actually paid to see a penguin movie.  I know that penguins are in Antarctica and Patagonia, not northern Chile.  “Not true,” says mi epousa, “there are penguins on a little island off the coast of Punta de Choros, about 45 miles north of La Serena.

So much for expectations.

Over land and sea searching for penguins and porpoises

After a beautiful ride down the Elqui Valley, a gas/cash/water stop in La Serena, and a 45 mile ride up Ruta 5, we come to a sign that points off into the distance toward Punta de Choros.  We are now in the foothills of the lower Atacama.  We have long since left the seaside behind and we’ve been slowly climbing inland.  There is nothing around but the sign: “Punta de Choros 42 kilometers” pointing down the gravel road.  What to do?

We’re unsure whether our appetite for adventure has reached the level of 42 kilometers of riding on a gravel road to a place we’re not sure that there’s anything except a couple of fishing boats to an island that we can see the ______ penguins.  We go back and forth on what to do and finally KR says, “Let’s go!” and off we go.

Twenty-seven miles of gravel road later, we roll into Punta de Choros with huge smiles of relief under our helmets:  we made it! It’s sunny, and there’s a beautiful ocean right in front of us.  It’s kind of a cute little town, in a wind-blown South American way.   Moreover, we quickly score a cabana overlooking the beach that becomes our favorite place to stay so far.  To make up for its cost ($110/night), we cook dinner in and chill for the night.  Actually, I’m ready to chill tomorrow as well but I know there’s no chance of that happening. We’re going to look for the _____ penguins.

I like my planes and boats the same way:  big.  I’m sitting on the porch of our cabana and watching all the tourists boats push through the waves, loaded with happy penguin hunters.  These boats could be described in lots of ways, but big isn’t one of them.  These craft make the water taxi from Boca to Little Big Sur look like a cruise liner.  I’m searching for any excuse to beg off this expedition, but no opening presents itself.

The next afternoon we board one of these vessels with a dozen other penguin hunters, then slowly (thank god) putt-putt our way out toward two islands, about five miles away.  Our two-hour trip (120 minutes and counting) includes a cruise by both islands looking for assorted wildlife.  We join a small armada of other puny little boats with lots of penguin hunters as we hug each island’s rocky coast.  For the first hour we see lots of different kinds of birds, but no penguins.  Then onto Island Two the action picks up.  There!  Up there!  Yes, folks, it’s a tiny, brown totally bored penguin.  A dozen cameras go click-click and I feel a sense of relief: there’s no chance we’d have to come back out here again if we hadn’t found the little guy.  Soon he is joined by a dozen other dirty, brown, small penguins and I know we’re AOK to go back to terra firma.

Not so fast.  We’re going to look for seals and sea lions, and maybe some dolphins or porpoises later on if we’re lucky.  I hope they’re close by.  Sixty minutes and counting.  The seals and sea lions come fast and our pretty damn amazing.  I’ve never been that close to them in their “natural habitat” and it’s engrossing.  They don’t seem to mind the three boats floating just feet away from their rocky perches.  Comes with the territory, I guess.

Trouble on the dolphin front emerges.  To find the dolphins, we need to go out and around the islands and into the open sea.  Because there are lots of rocks around, there are huge breakers even this far out.  We’re going “out there” our captain says (OK, he’s pointing in that direction and my fellow penguin hunters gasp is shock.  I don’t’ have the slightest idea what he’s saying).  We start the plowing up and down the waves and the guy next to me is getting sick.  I synch up my life-saver and think if this thing sinks, we can probably back-paddle to the rocky shores.  But then what?

We get out past the breakers and the ______ dolphins are no-where to be seen.  Geez, give me a break!  Who cares?  Go to Sea World, you can see whales too!  The guy next to me has his head between his knees, not wanting to look up.  Then someone shouts pointing in that direction over there.  Before you can say “there she blows!” two other puny little boats chocked full of penguin hunters emerge from the waves and there’s a race to something off in the distance.  Look!  Over there!  There is a god as we see a gaggle of fins bob up and down.  All three boats chase the dolphins for about twenty minutes before we’ve all had our fill and agree to head back to the pier.   Thirty minutes later I’m in our cabana tossing down pain killers and thinking I survived the puny little boat full of penguin hunters.  The 27 miles of gravel road back out tomorrow will be a piece of cake.

But I’m thinking, “be careful of expectations.”

Going up the Elqui Valley was gorgeous. Pisco grapes are used to make Brandy and Chile's favorite drink, the Pisco Sour.

The road through the valley was glass smooth, fast and curvy. Great road, great views, special place.

This shot gives a sense of the speed and beauty along Hwy 41 in the Equi Valley

Pisco Equi is the village we ended up staying at. It's about 4000 feet and 65 miles from La Serena.

My version of an art shot...

No reason to include this shot other than I liked it.

We stayed at the Hotel Eiqui. It's been run by the same family for 50 years. They have some unique thoughts on inn keeping

Capital investment in technology isn't high on the Hotel Equi's priority

This is the lock to our room. It works, and for $20/night per person, no one's thinking there's anything in these rooms worth stealing.

The Hotel Equi has a unique perspective on food as well. KR and I are both in agreement that we don't have the slightest idea of what' in/on this chicken. Not caring, I think it tasted great, but KR decided to pass. Cost of dinner? $8.00

I slept better knowing that NV was parked outside our door in the hotel's patio.

Sheep herders aren't too concerned with how close to the road their flocks get.

It's hard to explain the juxtoposition of "now" and "then" in these remote villages in Chile. This restaurant/bar was immaculate and would feel right in Laguna or Malibu (providing they had the Andes at their doorstep). Yet, right outside this restauant's door is the village square which looks like its been relatively untouched by gringo tourists.

This picture makes me mad. Whenever one gets on a road that goes up the Andes --whether on the Chilean or Argentinean side, you can count on it being full of very young trekkes intent on hiking over it carrying huge back packs. How can they do that and still be smiling?

Checking the map twice. 45 miles north of La Serena is the turn off for Punta de Choros, home to penguin and porpoise tourist boats among other things. The problem is what you see in this picture -- 27 miles of dirt/gravel road between the desert mountains and the desert coast. After much soul searching and talking quietly to Now Voyager, we launch down this gravel road to search for penguins.

Here's the problem with something like this: not knowing what lies ahead. Will the "road" get better, stay the same, or get worse? Because NV and FW have limited capabilities on the dirt, we're very concerned that what lies ahead is something we can handle. Makes for a long ride

We arrive safey in lovely downtown Punta de Ghoros with little drama only to...

We arrive safey in lovely downtown Punta de Ghoros with little drama only to ...

Only for FW to drop NV twice in the sand, trying to get lunch.  Each time requires a crew of Three to right NV.  Right after this picture, I make another successful (but ohh so wild) escape from the sand with the Matri'd of the beach bar giving blow by blows over the loudspeaker...

to have FW drop NV twice in the sand, trying to get lunch. Each time requires a crew of three to right it. Right after this picture, I make another successful escape from the sand with the "hawker"of the beach bar giving blow by blows over the loudspeaker...

Happy camper. We get lucky and find a beach cabana with a great view, kitchen, two bedrooms and a dining room feet from the beach. We decide to stay two nights.

Every cowboy's first responsibility is his horse. I check that nothing has come loose nor have we sustained any damage from my two tip-overs. All systems go!

The next day we sign up for a penguin hunting expedition to two islands five miles out. I like my boats and planes big. Our craft doesn't quite measure up.

Everyone (but me) is in a party mood on our way out to the islands, five miles off shore. It gets decidedly more quiet accented with grasps when they see the breakers we have to go over/through to get to dolphin territory.

Look closely for the object of our lust. These penguins were less than impressive, but they probably thought the same of us.

The sea lions and seals were an unexpected treat. I'd never seen them in their "natural" habitat and it was fun being a few feet away as they played and fought.

KR accuses me of being as gouchy as this guy...

AFter a chase that included going over the breakes, our armada of puny boats loaded with penguin hunters get to see dolphins up close and personal.

Just an old truck? No, this is a advertisement that the fine gentlemen inside sells gasoline. He can afford a better sign as our 2 litres cost roughly $14.00.

KR keeps telling me to put in more pictures of the people we meet along the way. This mother and child are in a mini mercado in Punta de Choros. I think the kid's expression captures KR's surprise that we made it down the dirt road in one piece:)

The situation as of 10:30AM on Sunday, January 30th in Copiapo, Chile. Much to our relief we made it back down the gravel road and the 150 miles of the Pan-American Highway to this mining town.  Some of you might remember it as the location where the 33 Chilean miners survived more than three months in a mine nearby.  We’re staying an extra day in order to catch up on things and then we’ll head north into the heart of the Atacama on our way towards Antofagasta.

We’ll keep you informed as things unfold.

Valparaiso is not only Chile's biggest port, but probably its most picturesque city. This shot of the harbor was taken from the neighborhood where we're staying -- close to the Naval Museum.

Valparaiso:  how a poet with a pig’s head really makes us want to learn Spanish

We had planned to make Valparaiso just a day trip from Santiago to test Now Voyager’s reliability until we learned that our hotel in Santiago was actually costing twice what we thought (Gee, they don’t post prices in US Dollars, but Pesos?).  KR said, “I’m done with Santiago anyway, let’s just go to Valparaiso and start the trip from there.”   Oh well, so much for the series of “safe” test rides in and around Santiago…

Valparaiso is about 120 kilometers (80 miles) west of Santiago, though the Casablanca valley which grows some of Chile’s best wines.  The road is freeway-like, which is the reason that its a tollway.   We leave relatively early Sunday, make one stop for coffee, and pull into Valparaiso shortly before noon.  I’m happy, but still skeptical, that we had no overheating problems with Now Voyager, although admittedly this has not been much of a test.

As is our habit, we don’t have the foggiest idea of where we’re staying.   Our itinerary planning intelligence is spot on as we approach Valparaiso, KR says, “It won’t be hard to find something, I don’t think there’s much there…”  So much for our one guide book.

The first pleasant surprise about Valparaiso comes almost immediately:  the first Starbucks I visit in almost 30 days.  We get a latte and ID some alternatives for a hotel.  After being burned by stupidity in Santiago, we’re focused on budget B&B’s.  KR pinpoints one called “The Yellow House” located somewhere in the hills.  I put the address into the Garmin and it says “no such street.”  How difficult could a yellow house be to spot, so off we go to the complete other side of town.

Almost six miles later, after winding up several Valparaiso streets that make Puerto Vallarta’s streets look well-maintained, we find The Yellow House nestled in the hills immediately above the harbor.  Great views, nice people, good price.  We move in and for the next 36 hours explore Valparaiso.

The situation as of 6:30PM on Monday, January 24th in Valparaiso

This has been a really good stop.  No problems with NV,  rather just a fun time playing tourists.  We plan on heading north along the coast tomorrow shooting for La Serena as our next destination.   While we are still not sure of NV’s health, we are set to venture north with our newly found good karma.  My hip is still hurting, but I’m able to hop along when required.   We plan on “eating in” tonight as we get ready for what feels like the start of our trip tomorrow.

We were surpised by the amount of activity in the Bellavista neighborhood we stayed in Part 2 of our Santiago stay. There were sure a lot of coffee houses, bars, restaurants -- most of them filled with young(er) people. I was probably too busy dancing on the roof deck to notice that there were not one, but two, universities across the street.

KR couldn't wait to start attaching various stickers to Now Voyagers rear boxes. Typically, she has bought antique decals of Juan Manual Fangio (Argentina's five time world grand prix champion) to go with our location stickers. This dirt lot is also where I removed the rock guard from NV's radiator in the hope that it would improve his ability to keep cool.

A little tit for the guys. I had dinner right underneath her left breast.

Blue babe is blue no more. KR and NV take a break in a town called Casablanca. I don't think the movie was shot here.

Told you it would be easy to find. The Yellow House is about 100 years old and set in the hills toward the southern tip of the bay. Martin and his wife Lisette do a wonderful job and make one feel at home. Great place, great price, interesting people.

The epitome of efficiency.  Man and clothes get washed at the same time.  This system works amazingly well, but Zigy is right — cotton sucks!

The Yellow House is down this street, to the right.

Even on a Sunday, the port goes 24/7

As does the rest of the city.

After unpacking, we walk down the hill. From blocks away we can hear what sounds like to me as heavy-metal music. Sure enough, in a part of town that is deserted and free of "normal people," we come upon a little square that has attracted the neighborhood's heavy metal fans and every assorted drunk around. We sit down and listen to a series of bands, of which this fellow was the lead singer of one. He won't be making the cross-over to the US

After a series of god-awful heavy metal bands play, the MC introduces this fine fellow. He goes to the microphone, then drapes it with the Chilean flag, puts on yellow rubber gloves, opens up a suitcase and pulls out a.... severed pigs head! He then begins to read a poem that excites SOME in the crowd. Here' our poet in mid stream., obviously not impressing grandma, but the guy next to the pigs head seems to be hanging on each word. Only when we were stranded on Ruta G115 did I want to understand Spanish more.

For his finale, our poet crunches up his poem and tosses it into the fountain followed shortly by the pigs head. Both crumpled poem and pigs head were retrieved by one of his fans. You can't make this kind of stuff up 'ause no one would believe you

I guess this is family-style entertianment in a Valparaiso barrio?

The next day KR and I hit the public transportation of Valparaiso. Bus, metro and cab get us around town surprisingly well.

Now I don't feel so bad about Now Voyager's troubles. Horse-driven cab's engine needed some new shoes.

The many faces of Chile.. We're just beginning to discover them. Here's some "wall art" that KR shot on garage doors, walls and fences in and around Santiago and Valparaiso

That’s it for now.  We’re going to have our first “night in” since we have kitchen privileges: A $2 bottle of white and some roasted chicken.  I’ll get out the Garmin and KR the Frommer’s and we’ll do some planning Walti style…

Bad habits are (thankfully) returning. The often-used refrain, "well it seemed like a good idea at the time," is applied to FW's singing and swinging on the roof deck of our hotel. He couldn't resist the sounds from the Beatles tribute band that's rock'n this neighborhood of Santiago. It's good to get back to normal: )

We chill in Santiago before hitting the road again

In the last episode, we’d just made an escape from the clutches of an Andes tunnel and were safely ensconced in a luxurious Santiago hotel after depositing our not-so-trusty steed at the repair shop.  That was “only” three nights ago, but gladly seems like a year.  KR and I have decided to hit the reset button on all fronts:  our  karma (KR just bought me a Chilean “keep the negative energy away” rune, travel (all forward motion has stopped), reliability (we’re going to prove NV’s reliable before venturing out in the Atacama), and tension (we’re getting into the swing of Santiago).

Before the full report, here’s the headlines:

  • The Santiago BMW dealer had Now Voyage for two days. It still checked out OK on their hi-tech computer diagnostic tool, so I insisted they change the thermostat, check whether the water pump was working, and then put him back together.   Always agreeable, the folks did just that and NV has passed his first test — rush hour traffic through the heart of Santiago.  Being a total wimp, I’m most excited about the wash job.
  • Our plan now is to take at least one day trip out of Santiago to test NV’s reliability. I’m skeptical whether NV is fixed to say the very least.  Many of you have offered good ideas on what the problem could be, but as of this writing, there is no solid proof on any one hypothesis.  Thus the test.
  • We keep meeting the small group of people who are “adventure riding” around South America.  We’ve told you about the wonderful group from Brazil we (tried) to tag along with, well we met two guys from DC twice as well and finally had dinner with them the other night.  It was terrific hearing their story and getting info on the road ahead.  It’s a small world when it comes to BMW motorad riders it would seem.
  • After staying for two nights in the incredibly luxurious Radisson hotel (I assure you its a Radisson like no other one you’ve seen in the states) on the chic-chic east side of Santiago, we’ve moved to a hotel/hostel on the Western side of town.  The differences in hotel and surroundings could not be more pronounced, but each is great in their own way.
  • We’ve formed some early impressions of Argentina and Chile after only three weeks. Most of us Norte Americanos view South America as one big, poor, third world country and that couldn’tbe farther from the truth when talking about Argentina and Chile.  These are wonderful countries that are modern, incredibly stylish (from life-style to art to architecture to fashion)
  • We’re having a great time just barely scratching the surface of Santiago and Chile.  If Now Voyager would just cooperate a little, we’d be ready to get out groove back.

The situation as of 5:00PM on Friday in Santiago. KR and I are planning on a test ride tomorrow somewhere south of Santiago.  If all goes well (i.e. NV doesn’t overheat), we’re set to head west to Valparaiso and then north along the Chilean coast.  Right now we’re having a great time in a neighborhood somewhere on the west side of Santiago.  Keep all body parts crossed that we’ve solved NV’s overheating problem.  If we haven’t, then I”m pretty much out of answers…

Williamson Balfour BMW dealer in Santiago. WB is one of the largest BMW dealers I've seen anywhere. Everything is perfectly laid out and clean. This is the motorad service department, about 5 miles from the huge car and moto showrooms. All our hopes are pinned on Pedro's deft hand at overheating repairs. Luis, the Service Manager posing with the "fixed" (again) Now Voyager hopes to never see me again. Many people feel that way of course, but we both hope never to have to cross paths again.

The Radisson on the east side. Ohhh, how we loved the Radisson! But at $160/night, we couldn't afford to stay long. The east side is reflective of a bigger phenom in Chile -- the place is economically rocking and rolling. Down the street from the Radisson were Porsche, Aston Martin, and Jaguar dealers. Santiago looks like its a 5 million strong economic powerhouse. There's a much bigger story here -- how and why -- that I don't quite get yet. Argentina has more resources and is much larger, but the most common car in BA is a 1960 Ford Falcon replica. I can't wait to visit the 800 lb. Gorilla of South America, Brazil.

Sophisticated hotel selection and navigation method. KR's process starts about an hour before we need a hotel. From a combo of our ONE guide book and a quick Internet search, she locates some cheap and "interesting" hotels/hostels. She then gives me some general directions and we get on the bike and start our ride. Navigation equipment includes page ripped from said guidebook and on-the-go directions. It can be a touch stressful, especially since we've never been to any of these neighborhoods. First two hostels were either torn down or full.

We finally arrive here, the Hotel Del Patio in the Bellavista section of Santiago. Rather plain on the outside, the lobby has a funky modern style to it. What's really weird (as in really good and how can we get so lucky kinda weird) is the place is located above a plaza full of shops, restaurants and nightclubs. Walk down the stairs and you're in the middle of a Thursday night party. My kind of place.

Our hotel is the barn-like structure above the courtyard.

Brotherhood of the Wanderers. I first met Vadim (left) and Gintaras at the Mendoza BMW dealer. They live in DC and have ridden their GS's from DC all the way to Mendoza. They're planning on going to Ushusaia on the tip of SA,before going home. They've been on the road for about four months. Vadim is a financial consultant and Gintaras works in renewable energy. Anyway, we next spot Gintaras at the infamous toll station we're stranded at. He pulls over and helps as an interpreter with one of our various rescuers. The next day we bump into him at the Santiago BMW dealer and decide to have dinner. The restaurant is one of Santiago's most famous and expensive. Great conversation and food make for a memorable evening.

Just another house in the Bellavista neighborhood. This one has been converted into a bunch of shops. Bellavista use to be a rundown, high crime area before being renovated into a very stylish place chock-full of interesting restaurants and houses.

Searchng the skies for an answer... FW tries to find a satelite for his FindMeSpot satelite tracker. It's been lost lately as well.

Party animal. KR would argue this is more of a return to "normal."

We’ll, of course, keep you informed as things unfold.

Fifteen hours after starting for Santiago, NV arrives at the Santiago BMW dealership after two (2) flatbed tow truck rides.

The Shit Happens Express accelerates as we attempt an Andes crossing and fail

Of all the skills that I had hoped to acquire in my life, being an expert at loading and unloading Now Voyager from a flatbed truck didn’t even make the list.   I can now take a quick glance at the flatbed’s surface, its winching system, the eyes of the driver, and determine how NV should be hoisted on — and off– any flatbed.   You too would be an expert if you’d loaded/unloaded on a flatbed twice in a four hour period.   Moreover, what does it say about the BMW “ultimate driving machine” experience when I felt relatively safe for the first time in 15 hours sitting in said tow truck rumbling down the road  toward a city, snug in its warm comfort.   No more engine quits at the side of the road, no more semis bearing down on us in a tunnel as we coast out, no more pushing NV along to save its overheated engine, no more being pushed around as truck after truck hurl by inches from where NV has quit running.

Yet, there is something to be said about the feeling of accomplishment in having somehow, with no understanding of Spanish and dwindling resources to rely on, KR and I get us down the mountains and into a BMW dealership without getting hit, killed or robbed or hurt.  There were no Wi Fi networks, across the globe links to experts, gas stations with air conditioning and food, nor much in the way of “civilization” as we know it to rely on.   We got here because we had to, we had no other choice other than the prospect of spending another night alongside the road.

For those of you with a life, here’s a short version of what happened:

  • We spent two days in Mendoza getting Now Voyager “fixed” from the local, authorized BMW dealer.  Their analysis says basically that my road side repairs of the previous day’s journey were inadequate and that now they’d put the cooling system right.  All systems are a go!
  • We reconnect with the wonderful group of Brazilians and ride with them over the nearest Andes pass, which will deposit us close to Chile’s capital, Santiago.  The first part of the day goes well as the road and scenery are spectacular.   I catch myself thinking that we’re on the verge of our first good motorcycle day in the three weeks we’ve been in South America.  We reach the Chilian border, about 10,000 ft up, and get all of our paperwork done and through in slightly more than an hour.  KR does a great job in ushering us through the administration and I keep the Steed moving along.
  • Shortly before the top, NV begins to overheat a little.   Whenever I slow up — even in high, cold altitude with no engine load — he starts to get hot.  Always being the optimist, I hope its just a little thing caused by the altitude.  I start the emergency drill immediately:  never come to a stop without shutting him down, push him along rather than the stop and start that everyone else can execute, don’t push him in terms of speed or stress.
  • None the less, we make it over the top and descend the wonderful switchbacks coming off the Andes on the Chilean side.  I have great video which I will upload once I figure how to.   Then it happens without much warning.  We slow for some traffic, he gets hot, strews coolant all over, and a couple of miles later the red warning light is flashing and we come to a dead rest along side the road.
  • We’re about 70 miles from Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes with no town near.   One of the Brazilians driving the chase car stops and offers assistance.  He attempts to call the BMW dealer that Sam has supplied (thank you Sam about a dozen times!) and eventually goes on his way.
  • Three hours later, after concluding no help will come, we fire NV up and attempt to limp toward Santiago.  We are on a highway that winds through the hills (they would be mountains in any other part of the world except perhaps the Alps) and we’ve made another 17 miles.   We find ourselves behind a slow moving pickup truck when we enter a tunnel.  This tunnel turns out to be very long, very narrow, and because of the pickup, very slow.  Now Voyager is having none of it and all alarms blast off again.  I shut it down and start coasting down the tunnel.  If we come to a stop, KR and I know we’re toast as there’s just no place to go.  I can see the headlights of the semis coming closer and closer.  I tell KR to lean down to get the best aerodynamic position possible.  We make it out of the tunnel and coast another 2-4 miles down the mountain to a toll booth.
  • This turns out to be a crucial piece of luck.  While there is nothing close to the toll booth — no store, houses, town, etc. — one of the guards calls an emergency vehicle.  He explains to us that they can get a truck out here, but it has a 20 km limit.  Go back 20kms to the town of Los Andes or go 20 km forward and get deposited somewhere alongside the road, but closer to Santiago.   We pick the latter option.   Both KR and I know if we hadn’t made the toll booth, we’d be camping alongside NV tonight as there is just nothing else around.
  • Tow truck #1 promptly arrives and after a fair amount of discussion (of which I only understand 20%), we figure out how to get NV onto his flatbed and proceed down the highway toward Santiago.  Neither KR nor I really understand how far he will take us nor will ultimately he will deposit us.  He goes more than his allotted 20 kms and drops us off in a gas station about 18 miles from Santiago according to the Garmin.   He calls tow truck #2, a commercial outfit ( amazingly, tow truck #1 is free), and 10 minutes later a big red Mercedes flatbed arrives.  After a similar amount of discussion, we figure out how to load NV and start the slow, but oh so comfortable ride to the BWW dealership somewhere in Santiago.
  • We arrive at the Santiago BMW dealer around 10PM.  Our driver convinces the security guards to find someone in “authority,” which they do and eventually we are let inside the gated and guarded car lot.  We unload, ask if there’s a hotel nearby, and are given a ride to the Radison two miles down the road.
  • This is not your ordinary Radison, but one of the most sleek and luxuriously hotels we’ve been in (certainly lately:).   It’s great.  We dump everything in the room and rush downstairs to the restaurant before the 11:00PM close time.  Screwdriver please!

The situation as of 11:00 AM on Wednesday in Santiago, Chile. I write this in the lobby of the local BMW dealer awaiting the removal of NV from their new car parking lot to the their motorcycle service department some miles down the road.  Everyone has been very nice, but no action has taken place yet.  I am in a mean, no bull-shit mood.  If one more person tells me that all 800s have overheating problems in the mountains, I’m going to whip out my pepper spray and dust them.   I have applied every account-guy fiber ever developed over 30 years of client service to not to rip someone — anyone  — a new asshole .  I am so totally disgusted with the BMW over-promise that I could choke someone.  But, I know that won’t accomplish anything and probably will just piss off someone that might be able to help me.

Despite its many statues and parks (this one of San Martin taken as he swipes at the moon), Mendoza isn't our favorite city. The primary redeeming visual characteristic is the thousands of trees (there are more trees than people) planted a hundred years ago and are fed by an elaborate underground irrigation system. The real attraction of Mendoza -- its wines -- are to be found in the wineries surrounding the city. Not surprisingly, the cheapest thing in this town are great Malbecs.

A thin patina of safety. NV sits in the service bay of Genco BMW in Mendoza. I can't really blame the folks at Genco as they tried their best. One m/c technician, about a dozen bikes awaiting attention, and here comes this gringo who obviously performed road side repairs in a less-than-stellar fashion. Conclusion: its my fault as the thermostat, fan, radiator cap, and water pump all work. They top it off with coolant and send me on my way. I ride NV around Mendoza all day, making sure not to baby it in traffic and all things do seem right. I'm optimistic.

Calm before the storm (again). NV sits in front of the maligned Alcor hotel in Mendoza. Perhaps I've been too tough on the Alcor whose staff have been extremely gracious and nice. Yet, it's located in a gritty part of the city and the room doesn't even have an electrical socket. And for $65 DOLLARs a night, I feel a little ripped.

KR and Edson celebrate what will surely be a wonderful day of riding in the Andes. The night before we had dinner with Edson, his family and some friends. We like them alot and decided to hang with them over the Andes and into the Atacama.

And the roads were terrific. Going up, they're fast and sweeping curves. Going down, it was another story.

Road construction delays are expected and common. I guess a short summer makes for little progress as they seemed to be working on the same places as when I passed last year: )

We approach the Chilean border crossing at 10,000 ft. Cars and motos are directed to the large lot in the lower right.

Surprisingly, I was most apprehensive about our first border crossing, this one from Argentina to Chile. Here KR took over the filling out of a dozen forms and shuttling them between offices. We were done in a little more than an hour with no problems.

And DOWN we go! Switch-backs on the Chilean side make for great, but ohhh so careful riding.

Taking pictures with your eyes closed: ) We lean in and KR snaps a pic

Then the S.H.E. kicks in for real. We're in the foothills of the Andes along side Ruta 60. KR and Francisco take shelter in the shade of a small house. We make phone calls for assistance, to no avail.

We were helped all along the way by total strangers. Two workers from the Colbun Central Chacabuquito hydro electric plant drive by and stop. None of the four of us can speak the other's language, but they convince us it will be safer to move us and bike down the road to their plant. Which we do... In this shot, one of the guys stands in the shade while the other "explains" to me about safety with the guard looking on. Later, he heated water for our tea 🙂

For a while we relax hoping to be rescued by Santiago BMW. We soon come to the realization that we're on our own. Now than NV has cooled down, we chance another madly-slow-dash to Santiago

This is definitely NOT the light at the end of the tunnel. We catch a slow truck entering a narrow tunnel and NV goes bonkers again. I shut him down and we silently coast down and out of this mile-long disaster waiting to happen. Somehow its downhill enough that we're able to keep our speed up sufficiently to get out of the tunnel and down the mountain to...

The toll booth located somewhere on G115. Here the "rescue tow truck driver" and I try and understand what a passerby motorcyclist is saying. We finally get his message, " You're shit out of luck."

All I'm thinking is how appropriate it would have been to drop NV on a tow truck 🙂 Not this time, I manned-up and made it happen. Right after this picture, KR took over the operation of the winch and tow truck driver #1 rushed to help me get NV all the way up.

This is the BMW experience they don't advertise, but it was welcomed.

Not knowing the language is just an inconvenience when ordering a drink, a great deal more serious when you're in trouble. This is an example of what occurred a dozen times. FW speaks only english. Tow truck driver #2 speaks only Spanish. We find a 3rd person -- this time a guy who's walking out of McDonalds-- who has a slight grasp of both languages. The three of us collaborate sufficiently well to get the job done.

The Happy Ending for this episode 🙂 Best hotel we've stayed in for quite sometime. KR is still purring. I may not get her to leave. Can't really blame her...

.

10:00 PM on an increasingly deserted street in Mendoza.  The bike is broken as its overheating severely.   I’m attempting yet another road-side fix. We’re lost and have no place to stay.   And more and more people with the “are you crazy” look in their eyes come up and warn us that shortly the street will be too dangerous to stay.  I’m (no kidding) thinking that we’re sleeping on the sidewalk with pepper spray in hand to defend our fallen steed.

This is as close to disaster as we’ve been in a very, very long time

For the rest of our lives one word will mean fear, confusion, bone-deep weariness, despair, desperation, and, ultimately, survival to Karen and I:  “Mendoza.”   The past twenty-four hours have brought much of why we like to travel ‘freestyle” and much of what we pray doesn’t ever happen to us.  It’s the kind of experience that reinforces to some of you that we’re crazy.  Somehow, through the help of friends, the harnessing of technology, the never-never-give-up-always-on-the-case attitude that emergencies require, the kindness of strangers and pure, unadulterated luck I’m writing you in the stark comfort of a small hotel in downtown Mendoza.  I still don’t know where we are, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.

The headlines…

  • Over 15 hours we nurse an overheating motorcycle 300 miles through 106F degree heat, making two 2-hour road side repairs by the least able mechanic I know (me).  We arrive in Mendoza and literally coast off the highway as Now Voyager has expired at the city’s edge.
  • Blackberry, Skype, email and Internet literally link a friend in Florida, an expert technician in Los Angeles, and me somewhere in the Western pampas of Argentina, together to brainstorm and fix Now Voyager.  Sam searches for similar problems by other bikers, looks for the nearest BMW dealer, and generally acts as communications hub.  My friend Ryan who happens to be an expert BMW technician, gives me blow-by-blow instructions over Skype on how to fix NV.  I take pictures with the Blackberry and send to Sam/Ryan for collective analysis.
  • It just keeps getting hotter and hotter.  For much of the day, it’s near 100, but then it jumps to 106.  I’m riding with one eye on the road and the other monitoring the temperature gauge.  I’m silently praying that the needle doesn’t move, or if it does, it does just a little.  This prayer isn’t answered as I’m forced to make one repair in a gas station 150 miles from Mendoza and the next under a tree at a toll booth a couple of hours later.
  • We would be up shit’s creek if every gas station, toll booth, “convenience” store in Argentina didn’t have high horsepower and FREE wi-fi.  I’ve never been to a country as connected as Argentina.
  • We avert another kind of disaster as KR awakens from her nap (yes she sleeps on the bike) to discover the bag tied on one of the panniers has loosened and the straps are beginning to get spooled in the rear wheel.  She warns me in time to come to a stop just as the rear wheel is locking up.
  • We arrive in Mendoza at Sunset.  We let NV cool off as we try to find a B&B or hostel to stay in.  We’re both disoriented, but have two potentials highlighted.  We ride less than a mile and NV severely overheats again, forcing a stop in a less-than-stellar neighborhood.  It’s now somewhere close to 10 as I decide to make another repair of the heating system and KR wanders off to try and find a hotel.  For the third time, I take the fairing off, open the system, and bleed the water pump.  This time its not going well and I don’t seem to be making much progress.
  • The street is now almost totally deserted — its maybe 11.  More than a couple of nice people walk up and warn me about getting robbed.  They have a seriousness of expression that makes me believe them.  I’m  a little unnerved.  But, I can’t go because NV isn’t buttoned up.  And if he was, would he run more than the few blocks he made last time?
  • Finally  I button him up and go looking for KR, who went off down the street looking for help. I’m cursing my stupid decision to let her wander off by herself when she reappears with vague directions to a garage that a hotel uses.  We slowly creep along, running red lights and dodging buses, as the last thing I want to do is be stationery.  We stop where the parking garage is suppose to be:  small, narrow street.  Not much lighting.  No one on the street.  Where’s the f___king garage!  KR goes looking for the hotel as I stand near NV.
  • Instead of going straight down the street, she hangs a left,  totally disoriented and lost.  I run after, trying to stop her, but lose sight of her.  I look back and some guy’s standing next to NV so I run back prepared to use my pepper spray in our defense.  It turns out he’s the garage attendant.  I run back around the corner yelling at the top of my lungs, “Karen!!!”  Five minutes later, she appears.
  • We store NV in the basement of a building that’s either being torn down or built, but its a ruins none the less.  We walk two blocks and find a hotel.  We sit in the lobby totally whipped and know that we’ve skated past total disaster.

The situation as of 6:00PM, Sunday in Mendoza, Argentina. Everything’s closed today, so I’ve spent the day working.  Tomorrow we tackle trying to figure out what NV’s base problem is. It might take a few days, but we’ll figure it out somehow.  Next, we’re going over the Andes and then up the Atacama desert.  If NV’s problem continues there, we’ll be toast.

The best part of traveling freestyle on a m/c are the people you meet. This is Dolf, a dairyman in this small village about 100 miles west of Buenos Aires. He tells us his story: he's from Scandinavia and was attending Ohio State to learn more about milking cows (I'm not making this up) and he meets his future wife there. They get married, and move back to his wife's home town and now Dolf works for her father who is a ... dairyman. Dolf and dad assure us the road west is fast and wide. No speed limits required. I don't need encouragement...

The trouble begins. NV starts spitting out its coolant. We're a couple of hundred miles west of BA, 20 east of a little town called Rufino. We ride to Rufino.

We find a cafe, with wi-fi of course. Here, I'm skyping Sam or Ryan while showing them video of the problem from my computer's camera.

Another serendipity occurs. We arrive at Rufino's only hotel (which Sam has guided me in via Google Earth/Skype) to find the hotel full of Brazilians on their m/c vacation. We have a truly wonderful evening of refreshments, talking bikes, learning about Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil. We have such a good time that we decide to tag along with them to Mendoza, which we do until the first stop. NV is overheating so we have to stop and make repairs, and they continue onward. We bump into them 14 hours later as we ride down a street in Mendoza.

Overheating repairs along side a toll station that had free wi-fi. We trace part of the problem to a malfunctioning radiator cap, which I replace with a spare (Thank you Ryan!). Then fill the system up again, bleed the water pump, put all the skin back, and repeat as necessary. It works well for a while...

Sitting at a Mendoza sidewalk cafe where NV expired. We're estatic at this point because we think we've "made it." Our plans and composure quickly go haywire when we get on NV and realize we can't go more than a couple of blocks without it overheating.

Which leaves us here. Shot with my Blackberry as I continue working on NV on Avenida San Martin. "You better go now, Mister!" I'm advisded by more than one person

Come on, would you have thought this was a hotel's garage? And this was shot during the day.

This is where NV sits now.

“Working the Problem”

You know something has changed inside when you really believe that riding a motorcycle around the world is no big deal.  You begin working the problem rather than being overwhelmed by the complexity and risk.  A scene from the movie, Apollo 13, comes to mind when the Flight Commander demands of his team, “work the problem people, work the problem!”  Riding a motorcycle around the world is no moon-shot, but most people view them with equal survivability.

Once we crossed into the “work the problem” mode, relating to other people became harder for all concerned.   The poor souls from Jonestown probably felt similar before drinking the Cool Aide, “What’s everyone worried about?” I suspect that friends quietly wonder, Are Fred and Karen OK? As our ”disease” progressed, we found ourselves seeking out a different type of friend, much as a cancer victim might seek out survivors to gain knowledge and empathy.  In our case, we wanted to talk to  people about the best way to ship a motorcycle around the Darien Gap, or what countries were safe to camp and which were not, how much should you pack, what types of clothing to take for three months rather than three days.  Talking tools, spares, and gizmos all night long is a good thing.

We crossed our personal Rubicon in the summer of 2008 when we attended our first Horizons Unlimited (HU) meeting in Colorado.  HU members are the real deal when it comes to motorcycle adventurists, made up of hard-core travel types who ride to far-away places, regularly.   Rugged and independent, most HU members gather around a tire-changing seminar with the same joy and concentration as a fantasy footballer studies the injury report.   No pretences here and no need to hide; we’re among friends.

After three days of “seminars” on how to travel to faraway places on a motorcycle, KR and I came to the same conclusion.  Like most important things in our life, KR was the first to voice our collective thought, “We can do this.  We’ve done a lot of this kind of traveling already.  We know more than most people here.  We can figure this out.  We can survive!  This is no big deal.”

To be honest, it was a lot more than three days of seminars that got us to this point.  No, it was a couple of decades worth of trips to Alaska, Mexico, every state in the US but one, Nepal, Argentina, Chile, India, a few places in Europe, Puerto Rico and some others I can’t remember.   Not all of these were by motorcycle, of course, but they contained enough “shit happens, we dealt with it” episodes that we’re comfortable with the unknowns of what lies around the next blind corner.

The Modified Plan

I knew the likelihood of getting KR to go around the world on a motorcycle at one time was less likely than the aforementioned moon-shot.  So our first modifier was “one continent at a time.”  We were both up to traveling for an extended period of time – say a continent — but then coming back to a home base for some period before heading out again.  Through a series of back and forth discussions, we generally agreed that the sequence of continents would be South America, Europe, and Africa.  Somehow we’d also find time to explore Mexico and probably dip down to Central America as well.  Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand are not sequenced yet.

So, in the summer of 2008 we made the decision to start making this idea a reality, causing a two-year series of consequences chronicled in Rewired, Journey to a New Life.

We have relatively low expectations for this trip; survival, go to some far- away places, meet interesting people, experience! as much of the world as we can, and share it all with our friends.

We’ll keep in touch.