Bienvenido a Chile
Saturday march 25th. After a 24 hour low budget flight I arrive at Santiago airport… Exhausted! Just to be sure I have taken my riding gear, helmet and some other important stuff in hand luggage. It wouldn’t be the first time luggage just dissappears. I feel loaded like a mule and I smell like a pig, but the gorgeous smile of Susana, my customer service agent, makes me forget all the fatigue. I hop on the bus to Valparaiso, ready for a nerve cracking day at the harbour.
The help of Ricardo makes that the next day at around 15.00h, I am riding. It has costed me a lot of sweat and patience to get all the paperwork done but the first ride through the city center of Valparaiso makes me forget about all that. Lovely, as I open up the throttle and the front wheel goes up! Woohoo, showtime! My crate is being delivered at the B&B I stay in and all I have to do is thank Ricardo and the lovely Daria for their moral and pysical support. It’s going to be a very nice night in Valparaiso!
Across the Andes
In the morning I say goodbye to my friends in Valparaiso and off I go. Excitement is all mine! The first stretch is regular motorway until past Santiago, where I stop by to buy an insurance for the bike. I decide not to buy full synthetic oil though as it is extremely expensive in Chile. Along the twisties I work my way up till Los Andes and I decide to stay there as it is already pretty late. I meet Brad and Jola, who are on the road since more than a year on an Africa Twin and a Suzuki 250. A little bit of shopping for food supplies and then I head for the Paso de los Libertadores, along the Aconcagua, the highest peak of the Andes mountains, into Argentina. Despite the many warnings along the road, I decide not to Throw away the food I just bought. No problem at the border crossing… I am lucky. The twisties of the pass are lovely and the views magnificent. A small stretch of off road leads me to the statue of Cristo Redentor.
Along the Cordillera, heading north
I further head for Uspaillata, just before Mendoza, which is the start of a section of fast off road. The bigger front wheel performs great and compared to my Morocco trip of last year, everything is just a tad more stable on loose surface.
The Pampa the Leoncite, makes up a great scenery for pictures and crazy stuff without the risk of hitting anything. Adrenaline rushes through my vains! This is great fun. I go further north to Barreal, a deserted holiday village where not much is going on at that time of the year. Even my classic socializing trick does not work here: putting the bike on the side stand as I arrive and ordering a beer usually attracts loads of people which of course means social contact. That is not the case this time 🙁 so I decide to buy some supplies and go to sleep pretty early after an ice cold shrimping 🙂 shower.
The next day both weather and roads are great but a strike in the province of Mendoza makes all petrol stations are empty. It takes half a day to get some petrol and the only thing I can do is sit back and drink a nice cold beer with some music in my ears waiting for the truck. That can be nice as well but it makes me lose quite a bit of time as I promised Daria I would be in San Pedro 4 days later. That means I have to open the throttle a bit more on the loose surface and despite the rough terrain, the bike performs great and goes through the deepest of potholes. My Ohlins shocks have proven to be the right mod to the bike. Lovely…
Along the road I bump into Roberto, an Italian biker on an Africa Twin and then I head for Villa Union as it starts raining cats and dogs. The track is partly road and off road and I am drowning as I arrive in the B&B of an old lady. At least here, showers are bloody hot. Then I continue along the legendary Ruta 40, 5500 kms long, to the North of Argentina (http://www.turismo.gov.ar/esp/atra/ruta/mruta.htm). As a bit further along the road I meet a group of American bikers I can’t but conclude that the concept of bike traveling has another meaning to all of ust. They ride nicely, the one after the other at a constant speed of 90 kms/h, escorted by a French tour operator in a 4×4 all the way to Machu Picchu. Now where’s all the fun? I cannot resist to fly by at 160 kms/h, stretch a leg and go for the edges of my tyres in the next bend.
Cafayate is the place where I plan to sleep but first I stop at the ruinas de Quilmes, a pre Colombian fortress that has been destroyed by the conquistadores. Cafayate is definitely a more social environment than Barreal and Villa Union. In an internet cafe I meet Severine and Nicole who promptly offer me a place to sleep in a chique hotel where the manager offers a cheap unfinished room for little money. I enjoy the great steak and the lovely wine and despite the high level of alcohol in my blood and the late hour, I am on my bike at 5.45h in the morning heading for San Pedro de Atacama in one go. It’s going to be a tough day, that’s for sure.
My legs are a bit loose
Just north of Cafayate the sealed road ends and just as the sun rises I start the section of off road twisties. The tyres and the suspension feel great and I drift myself a way along the Ruta 40. It goes wrong for the first time as I make a little miscalculation when taking a 90 degree corner and the bike breaks out a bit too violently. The first damage to the Touratech panniers is a fact and it won’t be the last for that day. Then the road takes me from 1600 m altitude to 5000 m altitude in one go. Talking about a bit of a steep climb! This can’t but go wrong. My breath is cut off and my balance is all gone. I will drop the bike three times more on the most silly obstacles and I can tell you: picking up that heavy beast at that altitude is fucking hard work! A diamox and a ball of coca leaves behind my teeth should spare me a bit but as I arrive on the Abra de Acay, I can barely stand on my legs. I waggle and my bike rides like a drunken pig. I hurry back down to San Antonio de los Cobres, a shithole somewhere in the burning sun. For a whileI hesitate whether I would spend the night there or not but the place is so unattractive that I decide to make the trip to San Pedro de Atacama that day.
Off road in the dark
At high speed I ride till the Argentinan border, past the salars (salt lakes) and across the Paso de Sico. The border crossing is quick and efficient and it looks like I will be able to ride the pass before the dark, but a flat rear tyre just 50 m past the borderpost just ruins it all. Goddamned… of all moments, of all places! Soldiers at the borderpost offer me a bed and food but just now as I already start to smell San Pedro, I decide to put an inner tube in the tyre ASAP and ride the pass in the dark. While taking out the rear wheel I drop the bike on a little concrete wall which leaves a big dent in my tank. I even forget my brand new army knife in the dust as I hop on the bike and leave. Bloody hell, this ain’t normal stuff. Off road with nothing but darkness around me. And what seems a little trip of about an hour or so, takes more than 2,5 hours and takes me to altitudes over 4500m and temperatures far below zero. I can’t find a torch to replace the screen on my goggles, which lies on the bottom of my panniers. The old one is extremely dusted and I canot see through it anymore. I ride with unprotected eyes and about an hour later I can barely see due to the dehydration of the cornea. My face is all dehydrated skin and my joints hurt due to the cold. This is horriible. At higher altitudes I again have difficulties finding my balance and I am more than happy as I ride sealed road again. Just a little push until San Pedro now, complete customs paperwork and at 23.30h, almost 18 hours of off road later, Daria picks me up. I am a wreck, but she took good care of me…
The next day I got the tyre fixed at the local tyre shop, well in fact you could’t call that a real tyre shop, and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of San Pedro. It is pretty expensive but very cosy with lots of adventurous young people around, like Tom and Jemina, a Belgian couple on their way from Alaska to Ushuaia on a tandem bike. I did a bit of sight seeing around the Salar de Atacama, went for some skinny dipping at the Tatio geisers and had some good food and drinks. The off road sections around San Pedro are a great ride and my level of adrenaline has been way above average constantly.
After 3 nights it got time to move on. Bolivia here I come.