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

10 replies
  1. Jayson says:

    I’m very surprised NV is proving to be so unreliable. Equally, I’m very happy that it is – makes the reading must more exciting. Vamanos a Calama!

  2. Vic DePratti says:

    Remember San Pedro well. Spent a couple of early A.M. hours at Ron Raul’s “motel.” A memorable part of my “adventure” with Jim et al.

  3. Raphael says:

    I remember San Pedro as the town where we lost Vic overnight1?… and where a man beating a drum spit on me and it landed on my face shield. If that happens to you, do NOT try to wipe it off with your glove.
    Speed safely!

  4. Maria says:

    Hi Fred –
    Regarding a map recommendation -I checked with a client of mine who owns about 70 radio stations in Peru – this is his reply “I would use any one recent approved by “Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones” (MTC). Anyway, unfortunately (fortunately for your friends) we don’t have many roads. If they stay in Panamericana (the one that crosses the frontier in Tacna) they will arrive to Lima.”

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