February 07, 2006 GMT
22nd Jan 2006 (or thereabouts) - Bajo Carocoles to Villa Cerro Castillo

After our great adventure on Ruta 40 we thought we were pretty safe going over to Chile....and we thought the roads couldn’t get worse...think again, think twice again !


Prehistoric Graffiti

We left Bajo Carocoles and took the first road pass over to Chile ´proper´, Paso Roballos. I say proper, hell, why do I. Hell of a track, I’ll drop road right away. The scenery was absolutely sublime, but the road! It was treacherous, would love a gop on asolo enduro on there, but two up heavyweight, treacherous as hell. There was gravel, ruts, sand, you name it. I ended up riding on the verge - which was sand - just to get off the flipping corrugations and deep gravel. You know my thoughts on sand so you know how desperate it was ! Truly awful and difficult and challenging as hell. But the views ! Quite sublime. Coloured rock the like of which I doubt we´ll ever see again. There was a cliff at one point, and rocks fell out onto the landscape in huge chunks or matt turquoise green, absolutely unreal against the ´normal´ colours.


The pass to Chile, Argentina side, looks better surface than it really is!

The middle section was a green idyll with more estancia´s (ranches) than we’ve seen anywhere.

The border crossing was a bit laborious as they only had 5 vehicles total that day I recon. Bit thorough and our onion was confiscated in Chile and a receipt given (not allowed to take fruit etc over border....strange bananas in both countries come from Equador, but best not question them. Anyway we got through. I dropped the bike again, again only stationary, but a pig to get upright again – you don’t want to loose petrol here, few and far apart and expensive, but Chile pricey are no joke, bout 920 Chilean to quid, and a litre over here can be nearly 700 :-0

Anyway on the Chile side the road got a bit better but the corrugations were horrendous, absolutely awful, at 30kph it felt like the bike would shake apart and it fishtailed around wildly. No verge to ride either. Our average speed for about 300kms recently has been 37kph We’re now on the Caretter Austral, and guess what...it got worse. It´s now beyond a joke, it is so hard to ride. I have shouted out loud at the bloody thing it’s that bad.

The views are absolutely to die for (and you might if you watch that rather than road) unbelievably beautiful. This road is better than anything we’ve seen to date and I’d never believe that was possible. It’s so bloody hard to ride though, treacherously so. Dropped bike another two times (one stationary, one turning on...you guessed...sand) Tarmac would be lovely, really it would !

The views of mountains, glaciers, woods, lakes of mesmerising colours...honestly simply stunning.


The Nr Cochrane, mountains and lake

We got as place in Cochrane for around nine quid for both with breakfast, and tonight it’s up to ten quid without breakfast, so still cheap. Gas is sooo expensive and in places only available from houses in 5 litre bottles. Banking is another prob. The ATM (only one for few hundred kms) wouldn’t take cards, luckily I had a Yorkshire Bank Maestro card that worked, otherwise we’d have 15 quid for the whole journey. tried unsuccessfully to wild camp, but Chile more keep on fences. Of course here in Villa Cerro Castillo there are plenty of options but we’ve a good room so forgo it. The name comes from the mountain behind that is simply fantastic (shame no pics eh !)

Anyway I have missed out loads and loads in this mail but you get the gist. Bev has been suffering with a bad cold that seems to be dying back, my shoulder is killing me (actually trapped nerve in neck) so we’re keeping well !! The bike has a slow puncture in front tyre, but better to pump up each day than fix for now, the brake reservoir is still slowly leaking so topped up rather than repaired so far.

But all that said, tarmac starts here !!!But, it only goes 250kms...oh well..thanks us off,


Posted by Simon McCarthy at 01:18 PM GMT
25th January 2006 - Villa Cerro Castillo - Coyhaique

94 kms

Another day, a quick wander around the village after a simple breakfast and it's another gorgeous start. The skies are stunningly clear and blue as can be, the smell of wood smoke in the air and a hint of fresh horse scent to remind us we're in a small very traditional village.


Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain)


Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain)


Villa of same name, all housing around here is wood, tin, or asbestos

The views of Cerro Castillo are truly amazing, hard to pull yourself away from such beauty, but we know not what lies ahead !


Lago Argentina / Gen Carrera (spans border)


Same lake further down


Cerro Castillo this am - hard to leave!

The coming weekend brings a fiesta / traditional folklore event, and had we arrived on say Thursday we would have stayed. as it is, it's a bit long to wait as it could just be a small disappointing affair, but then we could be missing something magnificent....but there might be another waiting up the road !


End of the road for this chap

So the surfacing starts here (but doesn't last), and from town was a perfect concrete carriageway heading over the hills. all very new and once we'd wound round the curves up to the mirador (view) at the top we had a fantastic view back down the sweeping curves and across the valley and too the far distant peaks, to say nothing of the ones surrounding us. The view could almost have been Swiss or similar, quite a contrast.

The land here is only about 100 miles or so as the condor flies to the open sea, and in fact much of what lies on the other side of the mountains is groups of small islands so it is a constant surprise to me that the peaks are so snow capped and there are so many glaciers. I can understand it on 7000m peaks or in a central area of a huge land mass, but so close to the sea seems wrong, especially as although we're so called 'far south' we are not much lower here than we are higher than the equator at home in the UK, if you see what I mean.

Another reason it was a shame to leave was the standard of the home cooking last night. for all of £7 for the pair of us we had great food. a hearty broth with home made bread followed by Asada and salad and then a 'flan', or blancmange to us, that had added coconut as a surprise. we were stuffed after that and it was so good to get a real taste of local cooking.

The village was kind, with most folk even children saying hello or waving as they drove past. The folk here have given us a little more opportunity to sample Chilean hospitality as at face value the Chileans are far less friendly than the Argentineans who are far more Latino I guess in outlook.

Back on the road the other startling thing was the armco barrier at the side of the carriageway. It was more buckled and twisted than any 100m strech I've ever seen in the UK. I'm putting this down to two reasons. One the better road leads to higher speeds, and two, the concrete will freeze like a disaster zone in winter and hence people skate off the road all over the place. I think it's the ice, as it must be hazardous compared to repio in winter....I can well imagine the locals saying "it was never like that with the old road". Well, these travellers are quite happy with the improvement I can assure you, and I could almost hear the bike sighing relief.


A real road, for a while

Some of the scenery was grand as we passed over the mountains, but hard to match that previous to it. What came next was as much a surprise....a green and pleasant land the likes of which we had not expected.

Rolling hills, pasture, and was that a trick of my mind ? No, those really were bales. What a change.

There were still the large snow capped peaks framing the view, but the foreground was much more rounded volcanic mounds and some fine cliffs that looked o offer excellent sport for the climber.

The verges were abundant with lupins and wild flowers of generous hue and it looked like a different country all together.

Whilst on the country, the vehicles here are altogether far more modern and affluent than those across the border and the standard of driving is mixed. You can never be too sure not to find a 4x4 partly on your side of the road on corners the same as Argentina – these people plainly cannot drive on twisty roads ! In town it is better though with people stopping promptly at lights and for pedestrians which was not the case over the border. The one improvement I herald the most is the fact in Chile they don't speed up in town like they do in Argentina. that was the only thing that really got me there. People driving like Stirling Moss to get from street to street, very dangerous, and we had one or two altercations to reinforce our dissatisfaction with the dangerous maneuvers carried out around us.


Still a real road, for a while. Nr Coyhaique

And so to our destination Coyhaique, the fabled tourist honey pot of this area. My, what a shock after the village life, and we've had that for quite some time now. The population is 43,000 odd and it's considered expensive as hell.

What a nice surprise then that we have accommodation not 5 minutes from the centre for 5000 Chilian pesos (say £5.50 p/p p/n with breakfast). It comes as quite a surprise that petrol and beer and the likes are almost on European price base, but accommodation is so reasonable.

We keep wondering how folk in places like last nights can make money with rooms when they have to pay such high prices for goods they need everyday - they may get preferable prices in local shops etc, but not in supermarkets were the price is the same for us or them. It's hard to understand how the economy works here on that basis.

The price of food is much higher here, and though good, I would swap for the home cooking any day!

I'm sure this place has many redeeming qualities, but for us, we prefer the little places. We may however be able to do something about getting a replacement front tyre here, or not !

Thursday 26th January 2006

Coyhaique - Puyuguan

224 kms

Yet again our accommodation was good. The only quirk being the army barracks where just a few streets away and late night was singing en mass, and this morning Bev heard revalie (sp).

The breakfast was help yourself, but with ham and cheese and a welcome return to milk with coffee (or tea) which has been absent for a while, all powdered recently. All the coffee is powder too unfortunately, not like across the way real coffee, even though that wasn't always particularly great. The best coffee in SA is all exported apparently.

One of the fellow boarders last night was an American who has bought an Island up to create a resort - apart from Thunderbirds, how often can you say you met someone with an island to their name ? Sadly he was rather strange and from an economic or city trading background and somewhat odd. You realise from your travels the difference in nationalities, there is a huge difference between Europeans and American's (I'll not include Canadians in that as they are different to Yanks refreshingly). Strange what you pick up in travels. Anyway the guy was telling us rather than listening to us so it was a one way conversation in macro and micro economics which then naturally lead to politics which is a no-no as he was obviously on the Bush side of things and we didn't want to go there. His lot seemed an unhappy one in Chile, but I have no idea why he chose it other than to make a fast buck. Shame.

Our host was a lovely lady and made us most welcome, these strangers who understood little but smiled a lot and it was almost like staying with your gran or something.

I can't figure out how people charge so little for accommodation when the everyday essentials are so costly, our friend couldn't balance that one either, but then he was off on his thread again anyway !

The day was yet again glorious and we had two bits of business before leaving town.

We had to post home some more photo CDs that we'd burnt yesterday to free up card space - do not underestimate the requirements of a country as beautiful as this, you need lots of space. Of course it's important to look through your eyes as well as a camera lens which is something we all forget from time to time.

The other issue was the front tyre. Two very small splits that show canvas. I’m not too alarmed, but it we could get a decent replacement we would as the tyre has done us proud and is well worn. In the UK it would get replaced, here another few thousand miles, prefer the tubeless to tubes, especially on the front - tubeless is not available here without imp-t - costly

We found a shop who couldn't help, did motocross bikes and quads (repairs) but pointed us to another tyre place (Ruedamas ltd, Simpson 341), called there and they did have some decent m/c tyres, but naturally not the size we needed, would take several days to get anything. They did have a Czech made motocross tyre almost the right size, and at £33 I decided to buy it as insurance, hoping not to need it, and hoping I could offset it against the right tyre further down the road if unused. I'd picked up an inner tube for £6 earlier at a car hire place (Traeger, Avda Baquedano) that had some bikes (small) in and some motorcross bits. Amazing what you can turn up in a little place.

So with tyre strapped to back and parcel posted we were underway.

The concrete road continued through lovely but not spectacular scenery before all too soon turning back to repio. This was the 'fireworks' repio. When you watch fireworks it's all ohhs and ahhhs, but replace those with urghs and arghs and that's the score. New type, the stone made of peddles the size of hens eggs and larger with some dust and gravel thrown in. Where do they get the cunning variety ? Well of course it's whatever comes out of the ground locally of course.


Alpine scenery

The scenery was pastoral in an alpine sort of way. The pastures are full of large felled tree trunks that are odd. assume the trees outgrow themselves, fall, the trunks are all that's left and nothing regenerates due to grazing, think it's that rather than de-forestation by man.

One bridge we crossed was a right laugh, parapets half missing and a sheer gorge underneath...nice !


Nice bridge

Very, very surprisingly we came upon perfect tarmac again for a decent stretch and I was quite staggered, obviously it didn't last, say 100-150 kms, but it was a nice surprise to get a few kms on tarmac as a respite.

We came across a small settlement advertising telephone facilities so stopped so we could contact home and wish my Mum a happy birthday, great that you can even out here. Must have been a satelite phone as significant delay on line, but the cost for a few minutes wasn't prohibitive and worth it anyway.

We had lunch next door at Youssefs, yep your downtown Egyptian restaurant. Excellent too, fancy the Chile dish of Conger Eel ? Salmon perhaps, or maybe Swordfish ? All were available and more besides, and not only was it great value, it was great food.

By the time we'd eaten it was 4pm and we still had a long way to go - well, as we knew the repio would return, any distance over 100kms is a long way !

Sure enough the repio returned and we were once again to do battle. The bike at times sliding sideways - it felt - as we crossed paths in gravel, as oncoming vehicles appeared. There isn't much traffic (that'll change) and as we're in peak season it amazes us that it is so comparatively quiet...we're quite pleased of course.


Stones used for repio repair get ridiculous

If it was just for the paths through the gravel and the changes you have to make that would be hard enough (are you all as sick of hearing about repio as we are with riding it yet ? Well, I can assure you our relationship isn't over yet as the benefits still outway the negatives) What makes it more difficult is the potholes. It's like every junior school in Chile has been out playing marbles. remember marbles ? A dished hole was all you needed excepting the marbles themselves. Well the roads are full of large, and quite deep, but luckily round edged potholes as if some huge marble convention has taken place. Try as hard as you like, you'll guarantee hitting several an hour however hard you try not too.

The next..well come on you've seen the pattern so many times previous....change in the landscape was soon to appear, in this case the Parque national Queulat.

Some things you're half prepared for, some things not. This was one such. The park is mountains of a fairly generous proportion leading to steep sided valleys and little light penetration, combine that with high rainfall and what have you got ? Temperate jungle or primeval forest, or both !

The woods are dense to the roadside, and there are Gunerra (sp) like people grow at home with leaves large enough to hide child (and not a small one either) everywhere. It's almost a spooky place. And yet you have huge hanging glaciers just a short distance higher up the densely wooded mountainsides, not seen anything like it. From pictures I've seen I can only imagine New Zealand is something like this on South island. Extraordinary, and stunning. how often have we used that word ? (answers on a postcard).

This whole road is being upgraded, and there were some impressive examples of civil engineering taking place (if you chose to ignore the small details like health and safety and tolerances in construction anyway) There was cutting and blasting (rope access at one point which I was marvelling at til I realised the shrubbery falling by the bike was coming from workers above...hmmmm....time to move). An independently standing viaduct section above a huge racing river, and miles and miles of widening that showed the construction methods in use, See, this sabbatical has brought me further knowledge in my field.....honest !


Impressive engineering improvements

The danger of oncoming vehicles was ever present and one or two were really quite dangerous. As mentioned previously on roads like the Ruta 40 there is an acknowledged respect for oncoming vehicles with slowing of speed and a wave as moving over, whereas in Chile it's often a friendly wave as they blast past without slowing or moving over which is bloody annoying and very dangerous and arrogant in my book, Rant over.

Anyway, the road wound up mountain, and plummeted down the other side with all the time the vegetation leaning ever inwards to the road and yet above those enticing views of hanging glaciers and huge snow capped peaks, the contrast just mind-blowing.

We eventually reached near our destination and the sea was once more to our side in the form of fjords.

At long last we saw the welcoming sign for the village and stopped to check out the options in the guide book. As we set off I thought, hello, this repio is either suddenly changed, or we have a flat. Bugger, we had a front flat! The 'Sod's law' bit of carrying a tyre hadn't worked, but at least we had a spare of sorts I suppose. I would say it was a case of amphibian ovulation....ie spawn...to have that happen right at the end of the day. We were that close that Bev went ahead on foot as it was now nearly 8. I got out the MTB pump in hope of getting enough air in to get to the hostelry. I managed it and met Bev indicating we had a room and to pull round the back

I decided to set about the repair as quick as possible as why not while still in road mode. The tyre plugger didn't quite work, but there are options here before we have to go as far as the other tyre. It was at least nice to work with a cold beer in my hand !

Bev had sorted a room, and the people had even offered to come and get me when the mixture of Spanish and hand gestures had been understood, very hospitable

So we have a room in a very small place of which more later, but even though in a minor difficulty, we'll see it through one way or another.

The owner of the hostel says it is planned to have the bulk of the Careterra Austral fully surface buy 2010 - that will certainly improve tourist access, and change things for sure, I think it will spoil things in some ways, and be a fantastic improvement in other ways. Those that have rode it like this will of course bemoan it's demise....we look forward to being in that position...at present I'd like them to speed up the works to complete by tomorrow please !

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 01:20 PM GMT
27th January 2006 - Puyuguan

0 kms

Checking the tyre in the morning it had lost a third of its pressure so clearly not easily fixed.

Unfortunately that wasn't the only of our worries. I noticed a gaping slash in the right hand pannier. The left hand one developed a crack in the weld in one place a little while ago, but not too concerning, something to be fixed as and when, but the right hand one had a 6 inch long opening about 5mm wide in centre on a joint. Oh dear !

I have to say I was expecting some problems as it's asking a lot of hard luggage, never mind the bike and riders, to survive the rigours of the repio and all the previously documented hardships. We have seen plenty of folks who have had their panniers repaired and welded not due to crashing, but due to fatigue on the mounting points etc. I don't hold this against the panniers as they would never suffer these problems in anything like normal conditions...this is exceptional wear.

So, not only a puncture still needing fixing, but also a pannier in need of tender loving care, bugger.

I re-plugged the tyre and the seal was better though not fully sorted. Still better to use that than change to a slightly mismatched and not road biased motocross tyre we have as spare. If worst comes to worst we can attempt a change at roadside, but putting some more air in at roadside is easier in short term.

The pannier was more of an issue. There are some mechanics in town (well village) but realistically not much hope of an aluminium welder here. We chased up an option but it was clear it was a no go so emergency measures required.

There are about enough small stores to be one for each ten residents it would seem, but they all look like nothing from outside, you have to investigate inside.

One we went in was an Aladdin’s cave of bits and pieces other than the standard fare. This is a very small place, only 500 folk, and has a fairly modern history as set up by four German families in late thirties (common thread) and descendants still run a world-wide successful carpet weaving business here (very small of course). Anyway, my hope of finding any useful repair materials were surprisingly better than expected. They had duct tape, and some puncture repair glue. I bought both.

The glue was for the other cracks i had seen developing (that pannier is the one the bike has fallen on three times, not crashed, but the weight of a fall alone would not be inconsiderable) and the tape for an attempt at reinforcement and temporary (unless very lucky) patching up.


Pannier repairs

We spent some time making the best we could of that and using some of the extra straps I had brought for just such an instance to try and secure everything as much as possible.

Wing and a prayer I guess. We both want to at least get to the end of the Careterra Austral as it has taken it's toll on us and we feel we can't give up before seeing the job done. After that we could avoid off-road if necessary I guess.

Puerto Mont is not too far away (who are we kidding on these roads) and we may be able to get a repair with some doubling up of material or something, else we are likely to have to give up on the repio options as they will surely destroy what we have left. That would be a very sad day, because though we bemoan the repio, it has taken us to the most wondrous locations, and we've had the best of adventures that you wouldn't get on easy access. It will be a real shame to have to change our plans so substantially. It may become a reality we can not escape.

We had a fair bit of time on our hands so now know the village fairly well. Once again everyone speaks...well, with 500 people that's not a surprise, but even children pass greetings. These places we love, you aren't lost in crowds ever. Anyway we outdid the possibilities on the walk front, but the one to the village panorama was especially nice.

We followed a marked path (coloured posts) for 45 minutes and gained enough height to get a great view over the village and surrounding scenery, it really is small. There were some interesting birds on route, one with the most incredibly loud voice, making you think it was some monster of size. When we eventually saw it in the scrubs it was like a giant wren - if that isn't a daft thing to say. It looked just like a wren in overall proportion excepting being the size of a thrush. It had a red breast with vivid striped blue bars below and the voice was simply startling in loudness for something so small. Another small finch type bird had a white Mohican with black either side, quite nice too.


Puyuhaupi from village viewpoint

The walk was well worthwhile, and surprisingly warm and muggy. It's a strange old area all round, giant plants, bamboo and snow capped peaks.

We opted for food at the place and weren't disappointed. Same food as family had later, only we had four times as much meat! As these places are so isolated the bread is often home made, and that's a treat! Obviously Chile is famed for its wines, and that is another pleasure we can endure.

Before finally crashing out we had a quick peak outside and the night sky was exceptional, so clear, and stars more than we've seen for years, probably since being in the Himalaya's a few years ago, outstanding..very little light pollution, and high mountains on all sides bar that to sea.

Saturday 28th January 2006


24 kms (and a few by car !)

Well a day of contrasts for sure, whether wanted or not.

Twas a bit of a grey day, but looked like rain might stay at bay so the plan was to go for a walk. There were two (or more) reasonably local, one was 24kms away and one 12. As I wasn't too sure about the tyre repair we went for the closer one, the further one was to a hanging glacier that would have been spectacular, but decided on one though woods as the forests here are quite well known for their temperate jungle nature and would be worth seeing from a perspective other than the verge.

On the way out of town the bicycle speedo mount fractured and fell apart, another victim of the repio. I brought a spare as the BMW speedo failed years ago and is a problem area so I always rely on a cycle speedo now.

We rode out to the start point and were able to leave the bike parked at the park guards house while we went walking. The walk was described as 5000m and 3 hrs to Lago de Pumas. Couldn't figure out if that was 5hrs return or one way, and couldn't get an answer there- saw a map, but nothing available to take, the one of the wall was hopeless anyway.

A car had pulled up and the lad had tried to explain a motorcyclist had had an accident and were we his friends? Obviously not, but we thought we better go and have a look, at the point we were to leave, a New Zealander appeared, he who had crashed, flipped the bike but little damage to him or the bike luckily so we could continue as he was well, grateful that we were concerned enough to be about to leave to seek him out.

The walk was a cleared trail that ascended quite sharply from the outset. There were steps created to ease the ascent, but still it was pretty hard going and the air was fair claggy in the dense trees and undergrowth. The main plant species were large possibly Alecia trees and gunnera and bamboo and ferns. You would be completely lost and disorientated if you were to hack off through with a machete, not a hope of knowing were you were. Strange to be in zone like that here.




Jungle Shrew


Temporate jungle and Glory Vine

As we climbed it cooled a little, but was still very enclosed. We saw a Humming bird, which are quite common, a Little Owl, and one or two bright little things that were so unaccustomed to humans they would hop along branches and boughs towards us. The trees were thick with moss and occasional flowers such as the aptly (here at least) named Chilean Glory Vine and some type of jasmine. There were insects aplenty from brightly coloured metallic beetles to some butterflies and dragonflies. Obviously nothing to compare to real jungle, but impressive none the less

We were obviously never going to get to a point that would be the end of the trail so after three hours turned. It must have been three hours each way and we were slow, but no problem, we had seen the inside of the amazing forest that otherwise we would not have seen.

Unfortunately as we were returning the weather changed and it started to rain which was a bit uncalled for. We returned to the bike, and though the front tyre was a little low, no worse than previous, we set off back carefully.

We had got to within about 4kms of the village when I noticed, even in the rain and slime, that the bike was a bit loose. One of the unavoidable potholes had knocked a fair bit of air out of the tyre, it was flat.

Oh well, could inflate and continue, but oh no, it was off the bead, and as I tried to turn it, you guessed, the bike went over again! Without Bev on fortunately, but that's about the forth time....stationary.....bummer

The tyre was well down and it was fairly obvious it was time for the replacement and tube. We had taken it with us just in case. Oh well.

It was still raining and I wasn't looking forward to dealing with the difficulties of fitting the tube to a tubeless rim, well known for difficulties.

So there as nothing for it, rain or no rain, we may as well get on with the task whatever. Could possibly have pushed the 4kms to town but seeing as tyre was off the bead there was no way of getting air into it hence not really an option.

Managed to get the old tyre off OK just using the 6" BMW tyre levers. The new tyre went on OK with them too for the first side, but the problem is getting it beaded anyway, had to get tube etc in. That was enough of a difficulty to start with, once in there was the challenge of getting the rest of the tyre on. Now that was a struggle, a major one. Had to break out the 18" lever that was stowed in the spine of the frame. Even though that was much easier, it was still a hell of a job to get the last bit on. And once that was achieved there was the matter of the fact about a quarter of the perimeter of the bead on one side wasn't seated in the right place on the rim.


Oh bugger!

That's where a compressor comes in handy, but not the sort of thing you carry on a bike, or a car, maybe a truck, but basically a garage job.

As it was we had to try with the small bicycle pump I brought which was simply not up to the task. Tried all sorts but without success.

Knew there was a mechanic in town so had to flag down a vehicle to get a lift there. In the time we'd been there 4 or 5 vehicles passed, but the only one to stop was a French Landie and at that stage we were just starting the job so said they may as well carry on.

We were in luck with the vehicle we flagged down, a local pickup with a nice guy in who was on his way to town to drop his wife and kids off. I had to leave Bev with the bike, and I jumped in the back with the wheel in hope I could blag a lift with someone else back in a relatively short time.

Our rescuer knew the mechanic, the one round the corner from our spot in town, and it turned out he was the local Gomeria (tyre repair shop)

After some completely hopeless discussions on my part we got it understood that I had a tube in but not fitted well. All this time the guy with the pickup stayed around to give me a lift back which was so kind. The mechanic wisely decided to check the tyre and tube and of course with good reason.

Though I had tried my best I had twisted the tube and nipped it too, so it was punctured. I'd tried so hard not to damage the tube, but it's very difficult - think I’ll stick to my pushbike puncture repairs, much simpler.

Anyway it became quite obvious I had done a completely lousy job as more punctures, caused by nipping tube I imagine, were revealed. Four in all so quite a disaster. Lucky we weren't really in the middle of no-where. The guy soon had them all patched and the tyre and tube on again without all the errors I had so easily compiled (I guess he's done it a few times before mind). A bit of air from the compressor and the bead popped onto the rim properly and we were in business.

All this took probably an hour, our rescuer hung around to return me with no complaint, and the mechanic charged 3000 say £3. Bev had the money though so he was trusting enough that I'd return in a bit.

Off we set back up the road and back to Bev who had been having a rather dull time waiting for our return. No one had stopped whilst she'd been there by herself either (all of three vehicles anyway). Our rescuer refused all offers of some cash for a beer or similar but did accept one of Bevs cigarettes. What a really nice guy. I guess he was of Mapuche origin as different features and colour to the more western general Chileans. The Mapuche were one of the few indigeous tribes to hold out against the Spanish originally, and their culture is still a proud one today with many celebrations of their handiwork, particularly timber buildings etc still prevalent.

So it was now 9pm and we were a bit damp and in need of food. By the time we got back to the Hosteleria it was late and we asked if there was any possibility of food and they said they could do spaghetti or similar. Here folk eat later than Britain, but earlier than Argentina, we'd have just been in time for food there at 10pm!

So a hot shower and a huge portion of food was just what we needed. With a couple of bottles of excellent Chilean wine we were soon sorted and completely knackered.

Come 11.30 at night, as last night, would you believe some people have just arrive looking for a room. Bloody typical another night with folks arriving creating noise until some godforsaken hour just when you thought you'd get a nice quiet night. The rooms here are all assembled out of hardboard etc and there isn't too much noise insulation. Double bugger. that’s the price you pay for having a room a quarter the price of the other posher places hereabouts I guess, we can accept that.

Sunday 29th January 2006


0 kms

Well after all yesterdays crises we thought we'd stay put today and chill out.

Had to glue my cycle computer back together in hope it'll last, last ditch before replacement with other one. Marvellous thing the humble cycle computer.

Tyre seems OK so should be off tomorrow, will take the old one with us too just in case, it would probably go back on with a tube in it easier than the MX one on at moment. It'll be an interesting ride with that tyre on as it's slightly narrower than what's come off, and much more knobbly. It'll be interesting on the repio, never mind the roads. The plan will be to change it ASAP anyway, hopefully in a few days maximum.

Would be nice to bump into some fellow bikers now for a bit of social, I wonder where Peter and Martina, Andy and Maya, and Martin and Silvia are now. They could be just down the road from here for all we know.

Bev carried out the exciting task of hand washing half our gear in a bowl and out to dry it out. The forecast I heard was not too good today, but better Monday, so let's hope that's true.

There are two computers in the tourist information, but not connected to internet, and nowhere we asked (couple of hotels) were willing to let us pay to use theirs which is a shame too.

Monday 30th January 2006

Puyuhaupi - Chaiten

220 kms

The weather was glorious, the road not. I’m a bit tired of ranting about the diabolical state of the Careterra Austral, and it was as bad as ever so I'll keep the rant short. Today’s highlight was the re-graded section that allowed cars to speed gloriously and characteristically arrogantly towards us, but left us at a miserable 20kph maximum, and I mean maximum.

So that was more of the same. The motocross tyre never really came into it's 'stone-eater' mode as emblazoned on the sidewall. It was akin to riding with one of the wheeled serrated edged pizza cutters in place of the front wheel, not entirely inspiring my confidence, but on the occasions we wandered towards the verge where the loose stuff was the knobbles on the outside edge brought us back were the worn tire would have ploughed off further and I guess had us off.

Another ***** days riding I'm afraid, truly grim, the views were of course good, though we are getting a little overloaded on glaciers, forests, stunning coloured rivers and magnificent peaks. Sad state of affairs isn't it, but I'm honest.


Hanging glacier by road

The contrast from the Ruta 40 to the Careterra Austral couldn't be more opposed driver wise. It’s also interesting the more affluent the country and therefore the vehicles, the more arrogant the driving. Not enjoying this section really, the scenery is stunning the people (locally) very nice, the Chilean tourists nice once the ice is broken, breakfast seems better than dinner for some reason.

We met Uli a German biker on the road and stopped for half an hours chat, the vehicles passing by even slowed by 1mph occasionally. He was widely travelled and a really nice guy. On a similar machine, same year, but a bit more tricked out. He, like so many others, was very respectful for the fact we are ridding two up. There's no two ways about it, it is far more than twice as hard...not that I'd swap it for anything of course. It's nice to meet people on the road, and we always try to stop and catch up if we can, occasionally the opportunity doesn't arise, but generally both parties slow and pull up to chat.

So now we are in the (surprisingly small) town of Chaiten were there are ferry possibilities to Chiloe Island or Puerto Mont, or you can continue the road to its finish (or start)

Naturally enough, you'd expect us to jump ship (inversely) and take the ferry. The truth is this bloody road has been so flaming difficult we both want to finish what we started. Sort of a shame we didn't go to the opposite end at O'Higgins, but it was at a bad time after a difficult crossing to Cochrane, so at least we should continue the route rather than abandon now.

Our thoughts for the future are a little confused.

We wanted to see Peru and Bolivia, but not in a ‘this is Wednesday so this must be La Paz’ manner, but it's so far away we're not sure we can do either country justice. The other issue is we have to return to BA for our return flight and shipping and if you look at a map it's a long way south from either of those countries. To add to it, that area for return is not the best passage as Bolivia has very little sealed roads.

At the same time I don't think we want to spend a huge amount of time in Chile as it hasn't grown on us like Argentina, or even Uruguay or Paraguay did.

One option would be to head back into Argentina, then return to Paraguay and Uruguay and some of Brazil. There are many considerations, it's going to be hot hot hot in those countries if it weren't hot enough in northern Chile and Peru now, we're close to mid-summer here I guess.

Still, you're all close to mid-winter so won't be so concerned by our difficulties. Watch this space.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 01:22 PM GMT
31st January 2006 - Chaiten - Park Pumalin

60 kms

Went into town and bought ferry tickets for the 5 hr crossing as we didn't want to get stuck in the arse end of nowhere for two days. Tourist info very helpful.

We left town and hit the....you guessed it....awful repio again and after a short while detoured a couple of kms to Santa Barbara to look at the black sand beach. The beach was beautiful with an almost tropical feel with the vegetation being jungle like and stretching right to the sand. The sand so warm that the water from the exiting waves was evaporating in waves of steam. Definitely hat weather, as ever, for me to prevent serious head burn, not welcome with putting on and off helmets.



This was our first introduction to the 'whoppa' horseflies of this area. There have been horseflies like we get in UK for a while, and as per UK their bite is strong, but they are quite slow and easy to kill. The new type was altogether different. Huge in proportion, about an inch, and black with orange on and persistent as hell. Also keen fliers and not easy to let settle and swipe.

We continued on our way and met very very little traffic. The reason being the ferry from Park Pumalin is shown on the map as Caleta Gonzalez, suggesting a town or village. In fact, it's bugger all. An expensive cafe, info, and a campsite and very expensive cabins. The park is a huge area and bought by an American billionaire for conservation. It's a much heralded thing, but it looks very like the other huge areas of woodland either side stretching for miles in my book. Better done that not done though. So other than people going into the park, going for the ferry, there is not much else. The oncoming traffic only increases when the ferry has docked, at 8pm. So, very little traffic. And very little good road as you would by now expect us to say.

We met a pair of NZers on a BMW 650 and stopped for a while to chat, as you do on these occasions, before hitting one of the most dangerous and hideous 12kms of the route. Hideous indeed, even car drivers considered it ridiculous. Still, we made it, after an hour, and went to the cafe. It's set up on high principles (with which we agree) but that makes it very pricey as well as good. Pity the poor traveler who arrives here with no supplies and expects to find lodgings.

The campsite was 100m from the road...on foot ! So we had to porter the gear back and forth over a little wooden suspension bridge before we could even sort out the tent. Don't like leaving the bike alone, but little traffic, still don't see the point in not allowing parking nearer though.

We wandered off to ferry area and sat for a few hours watching the abundant wildlife in the bay. There were Sea lions aplenty, able to watch their antics through the binocs easily, Vultures, a huge Kingfisher, a small pod of dolphins and one or two other things. Very peaceful and tranquil I have to say. Even the Hebrides couldn't offer a more tranquil ferry port.

I have to say this is the first time during the trip when I have thought what are we doing, and questioned whether I was actually enjoying the adventure. At that point, the Careterra Austral was winning and knocking the enjoyment out of the trip. We had nearly broken its back though (and fortunately not it ours) so we could suspend such negativity soon.

We heard a couple of bikes turn up and wondered if it was anyone we knew. When we got to the campsite we discovered indeed it was as it was Thomas and Thomas the Germans we last saw at Torres del Paine.


The Thomases

We hadn't spent a lot of time together there as we were quite a large bunch, but they had been very nice and were here for only 3 months and had seen and done a lot so it was very fortuitous that we met up again. They too were happy to see us and brought news of our other traveler’s adventures that was good. We spent late into the evening chatting and really getting to know each other, great company. They were also planning to get the ferry in a.m. but had no tickets

Wednesday 1st February 2006

Park Pumalin - Conta

50 kms

We were up early for ferry, at least allowing us to return the favor for our neighbors who were putting their tent up too bloody close at near 1am.

It was cool that early as the valleys are steep sided and the tent was drenched in condensation, a problem - maybe the only one - of this model.

We all rode down to the ferry and were pleased to see it not packed so we could all board, in fact it was half empty. The other way, packed, as the capital, Santiago, empties for the hols.



We lashed the bikes down as heard of others who had been damaged, but the crossing was in truth like a millpond for virtually the whole way. The views from the fjords of the steep sided densely wooded hillsides with cloud and mist burning off were terrific, worth the money for that alone almost. Some nature sightings, but they decreased the further away we got. Absolutely idyllic.



Lots and lots of sun so we enjoyed a good long chat outside and the crew were very friendly too, many cups of coffee, and Bev provided sandwiches, and it was like being island hoping with Caledonian MacBrien ferries in the Hebrides. Lots of time to chat and gather travel hints from the 2Ts.

We left half hour late and arrived after around five hours. Were mobbed by touts....dinner lady touts! Selling their seafood restaurant for lunch. We went to have lunch together before parting. Salmon and chips with sliced tomato's for 2,500 - under £3 and wonderful. Most Salmon farmed here as in Scotland and Norway. Damned good though, delicious, as was the lemon meringue as afters.

Left town together and soon after said our good byes as we would go separate ways down the road. We got all of about 3kms down the road before I noticed a strange rubbing sound from the front wheel...what the...

We pulled in and I was a bit perplexed. The tyre bead had popped off the rim for about 12 inches and the inner tube was bulging out! Oh my gawd!



We were of course very lucky as within a very short period the 2Ts arrived. With one bike, even with two people, you're limited to your rescue options.

Needless to say with so many hands the job of removing the tyre was small, and the old TKC that we were still carrying was put back on with the tube. So, the MX tyre had done very little miles and was buggered. Thank goodness we'd kept the TKC as well. Being older it was more pliable and went on easier, though still with difficulty on the tubeless rim, The biggest problem was it didn’t seat properly, the bead was not seated fully in two places,. The Vaseline the 2Ts had was a good trick but the pressure we were getting in with a cycle pump wasn't enough. Thomas decided to return to the garage in town and get a compressor on it while the three of us played swat the horsefly. He returned with the job done and we were able to continue.

They said perhaps we should stick together and find somewhere to camp for the night. We heartily agreed as it would be good to spend another night together and be able to thank them for the days work properly with more Piscola and some food.

We were not in the best place to find camping but at one village a store owner suggested either by the river or on the seafront. The seafront was the best option but as we were putting the tents up a local carabineer pulled up on his bike and suggested we didn't. Not in an authoritarian way, but in a 'young people drink here and make trouble way' and the street lights are therefore bright and on all night. He said there was a place down the road we could go and so we did.

We couldn't find the campsite so asked some folk and they suggested a place opposite that had building work going on and two tents up. Thomas enquired and we went in.

There was little in way of facilities, a shower - cold - in middle of field, and a shed with a toilet in, and water from the river. It would suit purposes now though and so we set up a comfortable camp. It seemed the tents belonged to the owners and weren't campers. In fact if seemed the campsite wasn't, but was someone doing up their house!

We had a great night talking further and we all agreed it was actually fortune that allowed us to spend another night together. Think we had quite a merry time!

Thursday 2nd February 2006

Conta - Puerto Montt

55 kms

As yesterday the weather looked grey and cloudy at waking but after a few hours, same as yesterday it was glorious blue skies. Not quick enough at first though

Had to wait a few hours to dry the tents before packing. The one serious drawback of the Hilliberg Nallo is the condensation which builds up overnight under the flysheet. If you don't get enough sun early, or breeze, you are packing up one very wet tent, and when you unpack, as when we did last night the whole inner tent is soaking, to point of needing toweling out on groundsheet. If you arrive early enough in good weather it will dry quickly. I wouldn't fancy several consecutive days of rain packing and unpacking. We separated the inner and outer today and I guess that would be one way to avoid some of it. The 2006 model has more vents, and needs it.

So we had a slow and peaceful start to the day and had a leisurely breakfast and plenty of time to talk with the 2Ts. we are lucky we bumped into each other again as we have shared a couple of good days together at the right time

There was no charge for camping, maybe not a site in planning at all, maybe just someone’s house, very nice folk all the same, we gave them one or two laughs the evening before so I think they were happy

The ferry was just down road, all of five kms, and this meant almost the conclusion of our ruta 7 journey. One had just gone when we all arrived to we had coffee and biscuits together before we said our goodbye. It really has been great sharing company, and just at the right time too.

Slightly rougher crossing, but not bad, no tying down, two cars and us only, Other way busier again as folk migrate.

The road was finally improving and we got towards Puerto Montt through sections of improvement fairly quickly. The scenery was changing quickly and remind me of Denmark, or maybe even more so, the north of Ireland. Farming country once again, not forestry, and many fishing ports.

Before entering town we diverted along a minor road for a sarnie and ended up watched a pod of 10 or so Dolphins fishing in a bay, magic!

The end of Careterra Austral was a whimper not a bang as being improved and finally tarmac....hurrah.

Big place, biggest for an age, found a spot overlooking bay for 12,000 a double.

Into town, slow internet, not too many of the hoped for delicacies we have been missing, but some great cakes, and meals at ridiculous prices, as in cheap. The cakes come courtesy of the German heritage I think, and they are welcome for sure.

Friday 3rd February 2006

Puerto Montt, fixing and seeing

nominal kms by car and bike

The lady in the accommodation said she would take us at 11 to try and get a welder to fix the damaged boxes. We did the usual laundry thing first and returned to demount a box to take with us. It was obviously very kind of her to run us around as the warren of shops and businesses tucked away in the business zone would have been impossible for us to navigate never mind discover the right ones (but of course we would have had to without her help).

The difficulty lay in the fact that it was aluminum welding not steel. In Britain we'd had difficulty finding someone to do some modification work so were not surprised it wasn't easy here either. We went from suggestion to suggestion and got as far as a place offering to plate and screw them but I'd rather hold out for somewhere else in another place and only do that as a last resort. Eventually we were given a marine place that listed all welding etc, Soldaduras especiales Novak, Berlin No 824 on an industrial estate overlooking town. (I put these references in for other travelers for future reference in case you're wondering). Over here welding is called 'solder' so it's another easy word to remember. There are many ones similar, often just adding an 'o' or an 'a' at end of word does the trick. I had to find some door magnets a while back (don't ask) and struggled for the word until the guy said 'ahhh magnetico'. Great when the language is like that, it's like the ‘scorchio sketch’ on the Fast Show !

So anyway the shop was the typical little business overrun with jobs of all variety from aluminum engine blocks to stainless steel boat parts and lots of busy folk welding all over the spot. A guy assessed the work, thought it could be done, asked if we wanted it that day, and estimated 28 quid for the pannier we had that had the bad split and several areas of fracture around mounting points. Not cheap, but not ridiculous, and we needed it doing, and to get it done that day would be excellent. Said the other pannier needed a little repio to and said we'd come back with that one within half and hour which we did.

To cut to the quick we returned at 18.30 and the job had been done. The welding not up to the artisan standard of the original boxes, but they had done a fairly thorough job and it looked like it would hold up (hopefully not famous last words) and that's all we need at this point. As we had two panniers in I expected the price to rise, but not as much as nearly twice so the 48 quid was a surprise, but this is not a cheap country, and they did do the job quick. In fact before we left they gave us a fiver back so not bad I guess, but would have been cheaper else where, shame damage doesn't happen at convenient times. We were duty bound to repay our hosts kindness to buy her some flowers that she was chuffed with, so all in the job cost about 45 quid.


Soldaduras especiales

As we were on a R & R break we had more laundry done, aired the sleeping bags, and found a small place to repair the broken zip on Bev's bum bag, so reacquainting her with an old friend, she's had the bag years and feels lost without it strapped around her waist. At least that was only three quid so value for money.

A brief bit on Puerto Montt and Chile. This place is way bigger than anywhere we've been for weeks and you can see the contrasts. We are staying nearer the poor end of town so we see all aspects of life, the other end has the Holiday Inn and MacDonald’s so we're losing nothing being this end. The centre of town is very European in aspect with shopping malls and most of the things you'd associate. As there are many parts of Chile under German influence as first settled by them there are an abundance of German links and as mentioned some fine breads and cakes, and of course the beers.

There are quite a few people having a hard time here, and we've come across a few drunks out sparko on the verges or pavements and yesterday even a guy (not young) glue sniffing as he was walking along.

The food opportunities in Chile generally, and here particularly in the cheaper end of town, are great. Food is cheap and good and it's easy to find as most of the restaurants are packed with locals so a safe option. Chile is rightly famed for fish and seafood and it's widely available...well it would be with a narrow country bordered by the sea along one side wouldn't it. Hang on a minute isn't Britain an island surrounded by sea? How do we get it so wrong?

Until only a few years ago I was allergic to fish, but no longer, and boy what an improvement that is,. Bev loves her fish and so we can now both share that passion. We have had Salmon, Hake, Swordfish and now Conger Eel - the national dish apparently. The fish is excellent and usually served with chips! It’s almost like being at home baring the lack of vinegar. Prices vary, but it's easy enough to get fish and chips for under £3 which is not achievable in the UK when you're talking Swordfish or more interesting fare. Anyway, there is much choice and we are slowly working our way through it, Bev's eyes keep following the large bowls of mixed food that families share that include lots of mussels and the like.

For an affluent country the internet varies considerably, in some places it's slow as anywhere we've been, and in a mall yesterday it was as fast as broadband at home, and both were the same price! There is an abundance of laptops in use everywhere which is quite surprising, as many as in UK. The people are very polite here, they will always speak on entrance and exit at breakfast and always say the equivalent of excuse me when they leave or ask for something. You can walk onto a pedestrian crossing and would only be run down 1 times out of 100 which is quite amazing; they also stop at red lights.

We have failed on the tyre front but either Orsorno or Tucuman should bring what we need. Think we'll hang on to the old tyre though too just in case!

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 01:26 PM GMT
February 12, 2006 GMT
4th February 2006 - Puerto Montt

0 kms

Well today loomed with grey and leaden skies so our plans were scuppered even before started. No beach option, and no ride out to see the scenery options, in fact, a further 'in town' day.

It could have been an uneventful day, but it wasn't ! We spent most of time wandering around seeing the place, not museums and stuff, just streets and people.

In 43 years I've hardly been a victim of crime, couple of minor incidents in past, a bike nicked, but otherwise nothing. In all the years traveling there has never been an incident, a few sharp folks, or 'errors' but no direct street crime or other incidents. Today that changed....or nearly did I guess!

We got toward hungry o'clock and aimed for a small place not too far away that was quite busy, in fact only two tables free, guess thirty people in. We choose one table for two that was a bit on its own and between two doorways, the entrance to each toilet as it turned out. But as quite a small place it was a good table.

The staff were great and we continued our quest for good cheap local food with Pastel de Choclo for me and a seafood soup for Bev. The Pastel should not confuse you, although it's Spanish for cake, in this case it's a pie with meats and egg and olive with a puree of sweet corn on top....a strange Sheppard’s pie type thing. The waitress asked it I wanted sugar with it which must be habit, but not for me. Bev's seafood soup was wonderful for her, but although I'm enjoying the fish I'm afraid shellfish does nothing other than disgust me so the soup was far from my idea of a good meal, Bev of course loved it though as it was everything she likes in one bowl.

So moving apace to the crux of the matter, we had Bev's small daypack with my Palms and card reader and like in, but nothing else of value, sat against the wall at my feet, safe enough we thought. Out of sight in a quiet spot.

The first thing I noticed was a guy in a grey suit come in behind Bev and talk to a waitress, I eyed him and there was just something not right, his suit was too threadbare for the way he was trying to wear it, sounds strange, but he wanted to give the air of someone in a suit, but the suit didn’t match. I didn't think too much of it, but did clock him.

Meanwhile Bev saw a guy come in and ask to use the bathroom.

Bev looked over my shoulder and thought the guy had fallen as she could see his arm on the floor, and was about to say to me 'see if that guys OK'.

Then she noticed her rucksack moving through the door !

Bev leapt up and opened the door and the guy was rolling up his sleeves to open it and Bev snatched it back and quickly told me what had happened.

In all this time the staff and customers hadn't noticed anything other than wonder why Bev had leapt to the Gents bog suddenly.

The guy had left and I sprinted out of the cafe and grabbed him virtually by the throat, pulling his buttons off his shirt and his sunglasses and somehow his jacket into the process.

The owner came out and shouted thief (in Spanish) as I was chucking his jacket and glasses at him with him doing the 'what me' bit.

Thinking back I'm amazed of two things. One that I didn't keep hold of him and suggest the police - the staff would have happily done that, and two, that I didn't lay into him. Probably luckily all round.

The guy in the suit was outside too with I think a lady so it was a well planned action and but for Bev's good sight and reaction would have all happened with us not being aware for a few moments at least.

The staff were quite supportive but there was nothing more to do than enjoy the rest of our meal as we ran it over and over in our heads like you do in such circumstances. Bev had heard the guy in the suit click which must have been a message to the other one.

Invariably these people are slippery customers and generally not violent, certainly not in the context of a cafe environment, but the slight of hand if you can call it that was amazing really. You have to be criminally minded to be able to think how easy it is to do.

With hindsight you can see several things to avoid, but of course these folk are one step ahead anyway. We are I would say pretty vigilant to theft and pick pockets etc but they are fast and smooth operators pit against the best of foes.

Obviously after that everyone looks like a criminal, but this is such a rare occurrence you can't judge everyone the same. It might be the first time, but I wager it won't be the last time during this trip we have such an incident. This time we were lucky! There are so many variables in all these incidents that could have happened that would have made the crime perfect, but very few that would prevent it realistically.

We returned to the accommodation and retuned the items of any value before returning to town to enjoy the rest of our day. We rarely carry stuff with us for just such a reason. If you were too vigilant you wouldn't go anywhere or see anything. Then your stuff would be nicked in your room!

Sunday 5th February 2006

Puerto Montt - Osorno

239 kms

Well a very welcome return to tarmac for the majority of the day, and in fact for part an acquaintance with a road that will become our companion for many a mile from this point onwards, the Pan America, Ruta 5.

We left Puerto Montt on another grey cloudy threatening day. The views seaward for our first two days were exquisite. If you overlooked the tower crane (rather a feat) across the bay stretch the high and lengthy run of hills stretching far south that we had followed for days. In the far distance you could see a few snowy summits that must have been a 100kms away. Off left were two volcanoes some 40 or 50kms distant to the east. One was fractured and less picturesque, the other a perfect snow cap so reminiscent of Fuji, or of course Lanin the volcano north of Bariloche that we visited oh so long ago. This peak though was Osorno, and was to be our close companion most of the day until we reached the town bearing the same name.


Osorno Volcano

We rode off out of town on Ruta 5 (henceforth to be called Pan Am) and diverted east towards Ensenada on the coast of Lago Lanquihde which we would circumnavigate during our travels.

It is a popular route as it is one, and a very scenic one at that, route to get to Argentina and bariloche involving ferry crossings and some apparently stunning views. However we weren’t going that whole way so only know the initial stretch..

As the weather was a bit of a disappointment first thing, though we shouldn't complain as the threatened rain didn't materialise, the views of the looming peak of Volcano Osorno were late coming.


Volcano and road

The first we knew of it was when the cloud broke to show the upper slopes of snow even with the bottom and top still concealed. And my, what a sight even that was in it's self. The area is very touristy due to this presence and that's no surprise. Photogenic is not the word.

We had a brief return to repio as we passed through a national park, but it wasn't too bad and there was light traffic.

Once on the far side we were in for quite a surprise! The scenery and everything turned not so much a 'little like Germany', so much as like 'a little Germany'

Like Puerto Montt, this area was largely colonised by the Germans way back in the 1850's and there are Germanic names everywhere and obvious stylistic references.

What was a surprise was the sudden emergence of pastoral scenes that would have you believe you were in Europe and amongst the Tyrol’s of Germany or Austria. The sight of Friesian cows and large timber barns would fool you into believing you had had be teleported away from were you where.....except. All the time there was that huge snow capped volcano looming above the landscape. I can honestly say it's like nothing we've seen before, as if someone had created a montage of views of two separate countries.


Germany or Japan? Niether!

Some of the buildings were absolutely specifically German and it was hard to believe you were actually in Chile I had to keep taking photographs as the contrasts were sublime.

The road is such a shock too, I can almost feel the bike sighing. At one point I changed down and accelerated past a car and was horrified to see over 120kph appear on the speedo. Bloody hell, not that it's that fast, but I can assure you it is warp factor (how many Star Trek references can you get in one report?). After what we've had in the last few weeks (or lifetime as we call it!)

We continued on round the lake to Puerto Octay, which had been circled on the map after discussions in BA with a German couple who came this way a couple of years ago, and we called by for a look to remember why it was so circles. Angela and Axel had - I think - said it was a remarkable German village. And it was, so much German architecture including the church and convent and several other building some of which were sadly in decline

We were a bit peckish by this stage so were looking for somewhere to eat. A small Hospedaje (Hostelry rather than hostel) appeared that looked nice and traditional so we pulled up. Yet again another good choice. Though the meals were just salmon and chicken they were very good indeed and cheap too. We were thinking, and in all the time we've been over here we reckon we can only remember two crap meals which is quite an achievement when you think about it, afraid the UK couldn't match that level of satisfaction.

Once more unto the round we continued to Frutillar which sits serenely by the lake side with black sand lakeside beaches and a stunning view of Osorno. There is a famous musical festival annually here - we saw it on the TV the other day - and it's here now so was very busy!

We had completed our round and so hit the Pan Am for our onwards journey to Osorno the town. We wouldn't choose to run into another large place, but as we are tyre hunting it was the most likely place. There is a tour company runs out of here on BMW F650's at the least, so we guessed we might be able to get a tyre.

The other unwelcome surprise in Chile is that bikes pay on the toll roads, it came as a very unwelcome addition to the expensive costs of the juice. It's only a small fee, but it all adds up. The road is very good of course, not too exciting, but well presented and in excellent shape, which is good for mileage crunching spells which we will need to get up north with good time.

We reached Osorno in good time, say 5pm, but were grateful it was Sunday as this is a large place, population around 114,000, and not somewhere you want to jostle with traffic while trying to find accommodation. At least leaving is easier.

We aimed for the bus station as the cheaper accommodation is often in that area and true enough it was. The ones in the book didn't sound too promising - i.e. the ones in scrooge bracket - so we were happy to look around. The other thing with the guides is they seldom include anything on secure parking, which is a must with the bike as we don't want to unload everything every time we stop. We found a place with an elderly guy who understood Spanish perfectly and so Bev was struggling but we eventually found the parking was off street in their yard and ideal. The room too was large and reasonable with the one draw back on facing the road. The same one all the buses use all night. Ah well!

A brief walk into the centre confirmed several things, one that we have returned to having three heads! The thing that surprises people particularly it appears is our footwear. You can see them look at our boots and wonder, maybe they think we're retired skin heads or something, whatever, it's very strange. What makes it stranger is there are so many obvious descendants of the German colonisers so more people of blond or European looking stock. We can't figure out what it is that's so unusual about us. Hell, I wasn't even wearing my shorts!

There are several older buildings in town that show obvious German styles including some fine mansions in timber and some 20's style concrete ones. However, the thrust is modern with the inevitable shopping mall being the place to be. Had some very nice, and costly, coffees in one café. Hard to believe you are offered hot water and a tin of Nescafe virtually everywhere you go, real coffee doesn't exist outside decent cafes.

Hopefully we can find a new tyre and return to our village lifestyle. Our plan, if there is such a thing, is to do part of the day on the Pan Am, and exit it for some back road interest towards our chosen destination so we don't endure endless miles of boredom, and still get to see the country up close and personal. We'll see!

Monday 6th February 2006

Osorno - Curacautin via Villarica

Say 340 kms

Having discussed the amazing qualities of the food we are enjoying I have to add one caveat, breakfasts. Basically forget them in all but exceptional circumstances. The breakfasts here range from truly appalling to mediocre, with very rare peaks above that. Generally it's coffee and bread and jam. I seem to recall in Arg we often got cakes, and even if the coffee wasn’t brilliant it was at least real. Chile is the absolute pits to date for breakfast, you would almost do better to skip it generally, and they are all surpassed any time we camp by what we have ourselves.

This morning 'offering' was as bad as they get. The usual Nescafe tub - with an even more inferior brand of powder within - and bread rolls and a cheese slices that smelt like they'd been stored in our bike boots overnight (and believe me I'm far from picky when it comes to cheese) and a jam that could only be described as such by colour. The texture was like sugary syrup and the flavour was like sweet cabbage, truly abysmal.....never complain about a continental breakfast again !

We had a plan to get a tyre before leaving and we tried a small Yamaha shop nearby but they had nothing I would wager Bev’s and my safety on. He said try Moto's Kuper (Los Carrera 1291, Osorno) and indeed their range was better, they had a choice, not much, but I got a Pirelli MT60 for 28000, under £30 and a tube for a fiver. The tyre is slightly more road bias but should serve us well, particularly as we have a lot of road miles ahead. At those prices I don't mind changing again before Bolivia (if we get that far).

They don't fit them so we had to find somewhere. I would swear by your typical roadside Gomeria that you see everywhere in Arg, but here they are less frequent, and usually called Vulcan something or other. As we were looking we saw a Pirelli tyre shop and so naturally pulled in there, like you would an ATS or so at home I guess.

That was probably not a good idea as they appeared to have no knowledge of motorcycles in the least. It was a tense affair getting the tyre fitted I have to say. It's never fun watching your bike being worked on by someone you can't entirely trust, and tyres are a very important safety feature on bikes.

The guy took an age getting the bead broken even with a machine; I certainly would have achieved that with my 6" BM levers in half the time. Watching him fit the new tyre and tube I was to say the least a lot concerned. It was obviously not something he had ever done on a bike with tubeless rims I’d guess. Once a screwdriver comes into play you really worry about the possibility of tube damage... you can tell if someone knows what they are doing, and clearly he didn't.

To cut a long story short with my assistance we got there in the end, but the sting was in the tale. It took too long to do and I think we paid for the frustration of the taxi driver who was waiting, nearly a fiver just for fitting. The compressor he insisted on using had as much power as my bicycle pump so the bead wouldn't pop.

Anyway, put it down to experience that one I think. Small places are nearly always better than the larger chains, same here as in UK.

We left Osorno with job done, and the hope we wouldn’t have to go anywhere that large again for some time, and hit the Pan Am for a while.

I keep thinking these accounts sound like one long whinge, but I hope that's not how they come across.

We followed our plan to do some major and some minor roads and headed once more towards volcanic peaks and the lakes of this famous area of Chile. It reminds us of the Danish lake district of southern England if you ignore the bloody great volcano smack bang in the picture. It's very pastoral this area, apparently (seed rep in tyre change place) produces most of the arable products for the whole country.


The Chilean Lake District

There was some nice scenery, but not as - how would you say - stunning as in other places. Pleasing to the eye, but not gob smacking (oh look at them with their 'look another volcano' attitude. Sad isn't it but we've seen a few recently, and the best ones were first).

The volcano at Villaricca differs in that it's still active (but safe). You can climb many of these, including this one, quite reasonably. The costs aren't too high and there is the added aspect that you still need proper skills with axe and crampon, but it would seem to selfish just for my pleasure even though Bev says I should.


Another Volcano, Villarica

We had intended stopping the night at Villaricca, but as we got there we just thought it's too big and touristy. OK it's the height of summer here, but we really do like the smaller places were you can wander around and see the place rather than be swamped in your surroundings. So we decided to hightail out of town and aim for somewhere smaller. The only draw back was it was later so we would be arriving at that somewhere too late to be able to really see it, but what the hell.

We rejoined the Pan Am and got north of Tumuco before turning once again east to Curacautin to a much smaller place about 50% bigger than Thirsk.

The roads running into the town were long and occasionally winding and passed through some pleasant scenery. At least the road could be trusted as earlier the paved road had be pock marked with nasty potholes in the most unexpected places. Since the Pan Am it is obvious were the money went north of Osorno.

As we pulled into town I thought I could make out a bike up ahead, as we got closer it was obviously several. It was a group of Colombian bikers on a month’s tour starting from Santiago. Pulled up for a brief chat as it was 20.30 and we had to find a place top stay, and it tuned out they still had to get to Tumuco. Quite a surprise to see the yellow Columbian plates, and to see the bikes. The ones we pulled up behind were two 1200's and an 1100. They didn't even recognise our bike as a BMW! Good God! They did however caress the panniers and marvel at the quality and size, so there's a market here Vern for sure. They had flown their bikes, but assured us was only 12 days to Columbia from here!

We arrived too late tonight so just took the first place we tried which is expensive by our standards, but it was the last room and at least it's en-suite. But £20 is more than we'd want to pay, but nearly 9pm we couldn't be arsed running around. (In a.m. turned out to be 12000, not 20,000, so actually excellent value, and with garage for bike too)


Eine Bier 1

Bit of a ramble tonight explained by the pictures of our beers. We nipped out for a light tea - great you can get egg and chips easily in SA and had a beer to accompany it. The lady said small medium or large and we went large. Large would normally be half a lire, near a pint, but here it was a litre stein. We'll sleep well tonight then! The waitress thought it was hilarious and it rounding the day great.


Eine Bier 2

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 05:56 PM GMT
7th February 2006 - Curacautin via Villaricca - Coelemu

370 kms

We were greeted with grey skies and a very little light mizzle that luckily never turned into anything, and at least it was considerably cooler, in fact only 10 degs when we left, but soon rose.

We travelled from the fruit basket area to the forestry zone today, very reminiscent of the wooded areas of Germany and also Portugal once into Eucalyptus woods.

We hit the doldrums today. We seem to be riding rather than travelling. I guess it has to happen at some point, but it was almost getting boring. We travelled out to the coast at Concepcion and it has some very long bridges over the river and to one of Chile's main ports, so not too exciting, and it's the third largest city so we wanted to avoid going into it which we did.

What we didn't manage to do was pick up a small road we wanted to continue on.

We got in Tome and spent a long and fruitless time trying to get out. It was a shambolic places spread over hillsides above a popular beach and bay. There was no end of road works causing chaos and with the intermittent intercom we struggled to get out. The sad fact of travelling as two is when you have an argument it is the worst possible situation. So we hit a bit of a low point as we argued rather than pulled together. It can't all be plain sailing though and we did manage to resolve our difficulties all round.

From that point on we just wanted to call it a day and find some accommodation, but we had lost a lot of time and so never found anywhere until about 7 which is far too late to unwind after a hectic and rather warm day.

The place we found was fine from a room perspective as it was quiet and we had a bathroom for a fiver each, but the woman running it was the wrong person. She had the air of 'whatever' to any of our questions, and it was only the maid / cook that made the place more cheerful.

We decided to eat in and met a local guy as we walked in. I thought he actually was German as he spoke to us in German and his accent was so think. Turned out he was second generation Chilean but still a lot German. It's a real surprise how German Chile is when you're out and about. there was an abstract sight today when we pulled up at the peage and I noticed the guy driving the car in font of us was wearing an SS camouflage jacket and a genuine WWII Nazi helmet....what the hell was all that about ?

Anyway our 'friend' was certainly not of that type, but it was very hard work with him speaking German, and some English, and me trying to remember my German. By the end of the evening we were both worn out. It's interesting talking to folk, but you know what it's like when someone has had a few drinks and you just think 'We'd like some space now' but you can't get it as nowhere to go. A strange and tiring evening indeed.

We did at least get some insights to Chile from him. Their new government has a female head and is socialist which may swing things too far left for the countries old masters, but generally people are in favour. Even though the era of Pinochet brought dictatorship and thousands of deaths a lot of folk don't think it was that bad and want to let sleeping dogs lie.

The contrasts in wealth are extreme here, I can't remember what he said, but they are very extreme.

Wednesday 8th February 2006

Coelemu - Paine (south of Santiago)

Say 540 kms

Well we got a bit out of our Doldrums today’s, but then the end of the day brought a return before an 'unexpected twist', more later.

We started on the heavy forestry front as we ended last night, couldn't see the wood for the trees, very Finnish if it weren’t for the hills and the twisty roads.

Barring the memory of coming across a wagon that had overrun a bend and crashed into the other side spilling it's cargo of gas bottles all around the road the road would have been very sporting. It was a little like some of those in the south of France near the coast were the bends come so thick and fast you can't believe it and have to really be on the ball. So anyway it was cautious bend swinging that led very quickly to two subsequence changes of scenery quite rapidly.

Following the heavily wooded landscape was a heavily depleted landscape with new Eucalyptus saplings all a round. Hardly used to that we were suddenly upon harsh arid baked lands with the distant Andean peaks on the horizon, almost spectacular, but I think they we grow in magnificence a they grow in height further up the chain (hope so !)


Andes in distance

The area was again extremely poor with the local populace clearly having a hard time of it, it was arid scrub and all the affluence was passing through. Looking back on our trip up the Careterra Austral that was what it was too, the richer folk from Santiago going on their holidays.

We d skipped breakfast this morning due to not wanting to get up early - good choice as we didn't sleep that well anyway, think ours minds were so tired after our entertaining host. We were on the look out for a cake and coffee shop, but that was a hopeless task as we really were in a poor rural area. We stopped in one reasonable size town and went to a 'cafe'. It looked pretty dire and the young lass serving looked terrified of us when we walked in (soon realised we were nothing to fear I'm pleased to say). Needless to say there were no cakes - in fact haven't seen any cakes in Chile, just bread in shops - and the coffee was finest (not) powdered Nescafe.

We got some bananas and water further down the road by way of sustenance. We were then into some of the vineyards for a further scenery change, but it wasn't too stunning...boredom was setting in again!

Now we have passed the main arable areas it is obvious that there are some large production plants and the like and you can see where the wealth is coming from. However you can also see the other side, which is the people having a very hard time of it indeed.

Hit the Pan Am after quite a bit of back road travelling (and hurrah, no tolls until the Pan Am) to get well up near Santiago so we can bypass it tomorrow, big cities are not our thing, and a bit pointless on a motorcycle holiday anyway.

On the basis of big road, little road we aimed for a little place near Rancagua (bad water ?!) up in the mountains, in fact Colon or Sewell. There was one major snag!

As we were climbing up what they termed the Careterra Cobra there were an alarming number of new coaches coming down, not a few, stacks, more than for a football game, even international. What was going on?

I had a clue as there was a road to a mine shown, but I hoped I was wrong as we intended heading to the hills for the night to escape the heat. In the morning it was perfect blue sky and really comfortable at 25 degs so OK on the bike with trouser liners out and jacket ones in, but by say 3pm things are warming up considerably and it's linings out and vents open but still you are starting to sweat at 35. A night in the mountains would give us a chill which would be good.

So, by nearly 5 we got to a junction that had the place on we wanted and as we turned left there was a sentry gate. Thought I'd ask, but the guys in hard hats with lamps on told us what I feared, no public access. This must be one huge mine I'd guess, or maybe a big construction job, but I'd put money on a mine..

Bugger, tried the next village but it was obviously a mining town clinging to the steep hillside, and no accommodation was forthcoming. The only other possibility was a thermal baths on map, but it was 35 quid each with breakfast so we ruled that out.

We returned to Ruta 5 and Rancagua but managed not to find anything immediately there and it was too big for our preference. To cut a boring story short we tried some other small places, asked a few people and ended up at a Motel on side of road at Paine.

Now I sat Motel, as that is what it says in big letters outside. There is a word missing in front, that word is 'Love', and that word makes all the difference I can assure you.

When we pulled up I asked the lady watering the garden how much it was and she gave me a price per hour......that's when we realised it was a Love Motel and not the normal sort. I asked for a price per night and she said 10,000 for 12 hrs. Very specific. So we have to leave by 8.30 in morning, unusual.

We were well knackered by time we arrived there at 8 and thought 'what the...' we'll take it. In actual fact you get A LOT of privacy, very secure and discreet parking and your own bathroom, so for the price it's not bad. Even the drinks are reasonable price even thought brought to a serving hatch in the wall.

Best to overlook how many people have been through here, but let’s face it, a lot of folk go through old hotels too. It is clean and tidy, so I guess little different. Still it does have the overtones of sleaze, the mirrored wall is a little unusual for a hotel, but at least it's not a round bed. By staying twelve hours I'm sure we'll impress the locals!!!

We are far from the first motorcycle travellers to have ended up in one of these places, and we won't be the last.

Thursday 9th February 2006

Paine (south of Santiago) - Ovalle

450 kms

Well as our allocated slot at the Love Motel ended after 12 hrs we were forced into our first 'early' start for a while, that being 08.30, your heart bleeds eh !

We nipped back to a petrol station for breakfast as none was included in our 'motel'. It's a sad day when you say the coffee at the petrol station is the best you can get, but it's true, the machine was better than all the coffees we've had for breakfast in Chile. Sad but true.


Biscuits for the Hein Gericke wearer

The plan was to get past Santiago, but as loose as that. Bev had suggested Ovalle as a destination, but I'd said "that's far too far". Well, that's the wonder of being on dual carriageway roads again I guess!

Santiago was actually passed rather more easily than I thought. Not much in the way of suicide merchants, but you did have to pay attention, not that much worse than any UK major ring road.

The one thing (Okay, okay, there's loads I know) that bugs me with the Chilean drivers is their 'goldfish' mentality. How’s that I hear you say. Well, watch the toilet habits of your average bowl habiting goldfish and it will all be explained, it works like this. The goldfish is swimming around his bowl. "I'll have a poo" he says, so he starts, then he thinks 'what was I doing ?' swims a bit, and thinks 'I'll have a poo', swims a bit thinks 'what was I doing', etc , etc , etc. you get the idea. That’s why goldfish swim around with a length of poo half the time; their attention span is that short they forget what they're doing.

So what's the connection then ?

Well, a standard manoeuvre here is a car will be behind you on the Pan Am for a way, then overtake, then slow, so you re-overtake, etc etc. Consistent speed just evades them (not all of course) and after a while it really bugs me. Especially when there is so little traffic compared to UK.

And that's saying nothing of the other thing that really bleeps me off, and will be recognisable to most UK cyclists. The ...ahem..... folk that overtake you then immediately turn off. That is actually really dangerous in towns were it's prevalent all round SA so far, but here it's popular on the Pan Am, must be some sad Latino Machismo thing going on. Anyway they soon get the message from us as they're going down the slip.

None of this is to be mistaken with the car that overtakes, slows, you overtake and then they pass again with their digital cameras out, quite common

Lots of odd things happened on the road today, no, not showers of frogs or the like, but strange things in themselves that you can't capture but in words or you memories.

As you head north you leave the obviously more habited and prosperous areas where there are big concerns and lots of affluent local traffic, and you start heading through the hills that become more and more arid the further you go.

There are a few oases, where there are huge tracts of greenery due to irrigation. The amount of stalls at the roadside prove the success. Huge mounds of fruit like oranges, melons, and the like. Watermelon, Sundias (I think that’s right) are huge and fantastic here, but no good buying on bike even at 70p for one the size of a pannier. The sellers are at the roadside (imagine that on the M1) or on short lengths of service road so provided. This so far all quite 'normal'.

Yesterday we passed areas that had carved stone emporiums and wicker ware and the like, only for a few miles, then nothing, then something completely unrelated.

Today we had some real weirdies. Firstly ladies (and some gents) in white aprons and hats stood or sat by the roadside with hampers but wildly waving sticks with white plastic bags as tassels to garner attention. Quite flamboyance at times in their routines. But we have no idea what it was they were selling. It said 'dulces' on a tourist sign for the town, which I think is sweet, but other than that we're lost. Don't think it was honey as seen that before and more obvious, the jars give it away.

Much, much further up, in the arid hills were there is little habitation, and less vegetation, we came across signs saying goat, or kid, which helps a lot, but at one point it all got a lot stranger. A guy at the side of the road lifted up the cloth he had hung over his arm to expose a kid with the rack of ribs splayed outwards in a disturbing way. It was like he was showing you some illegal item, or something you shouldn't see. What a way to make a living. This is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the lives of the prosperous 4x4s speeding past to their holidays (or flash foreigners on their hideous motorcycles either).

So that was weird. Another thing that is hard for your average softie westerner to appreciate, luckily I'm not soft like that, is the animals here. Dogs, as mentioned previously, are not pets in 99% of times, and are obviously beaten into submission as they rarely approach you in small villages and will cower. (We’ll ignore the bike chasing, which I'm trying too, but I can't resist the opportunity for an upward stroke with my foot generally). You see dogs in packs, after bitches on heat - the only thing that seems to make them forget to chase us, and that’s a pretty poor sight generally, but you often see dogs limping around hat have obviously survived horrendous incidents, missing feet or legs that even I feel sorry for.

But the worst was today. At a petrol station there was a cat that I guess had been run-over, and one half its back end was blackened and matted with flies swarming around it. It had obviously been like that a little while, but was limping and dragging itself along to the tables outside the cafe. Even the locals looked appalled, but that's what you see here - imagine it at home. Not a chance, someone would take it home and to a vet or something, but not here. And this is Chile, not even a country I'd guess was too bad, I expect it further up in Peru or Bolivia, but not here. Probably worst sight we've seen when travelling, animal wise that is, I'm afraid it pales into insignificance with the hardships of some of the people.

Anyway, the Pan Am stretches right through Chile and in many of the northern sections it is the only tarmac road there isn't a lot of route choice for the majority of our day now. It’s well surfaced and pretty new so far, a two lane blacktop stretching forever and climbing some drags that has trucks down to 15 or 20mph on crests, and it places close to out of control on descents. Amazingly we haven't seen a foreign plate in days, I'd think we'd see the odd Arg plate, or even Peru, but on the Pan Am everything to date has been Chilean, surprising to me.


The Pan America

The other thing is post mid-day we were up to where the road follows closely the sea. The first sights of the Pacific (sounds nice that does !) breaking against rugged rock headlands and sending spray 10's of feet into the air are impressive indeed.

We went into Los Villos briefly, a real ramshackle seaside resort that was heaving with this being the peak holiday season and only a couple of hours from the capitol. We were star attraction briefly as I guess not many foreign tourists visit - can you imagine Skeggie being over-run with Chileans: exactly!

The scenery really got arid as we moved further north as most of the vegetation was replaced by succulents and cacti, some of those large cartoon type ones which were starting to flower spectacularly. They were even laid out in lines to create prickly hedges which were impressive.


Cacti scenery


Flowering cacti


Detail of flower

The funny thing all the while was it was quite sunny but as soon as we headed over the hills from Santiago the sea breeze blew in, and by the coast it commanded the weather, making actually quite nippy, even the odd shiver. When you stopped though, it felt warm, very odd.

Leaving the relative coolness of the coast to travel 33kms inland to Ovalle you certainly felt the difference, boy did it warm up! Ovalle sits in a valley that is obviously very well irrigated, and like the fertile valleys of Ladakh in India, comes as a shock being verdant green amongst the parched yellow stark surrounding land.

It isn't a pretty town, and all those western looking faces of the Lake District area are long gone. We stand out like a saw thumb, and once again have developed second if not third heads. Still, rough it may be, but there are plenty of diamonds.

Our accommodation is a little past sell by date, but has a charming host, and the bike resides in the courtyard after a very tight entry up the pavement and down the corridor. At least the place cools at night, but it's bloody hot during the day I guess. We’ll find out as we will be here a couple of nights to catch up on one or two bits and pieces.

On the bike front we now have a spreading oil leak but at the moment it's not losing enough to drip, just being absorbed by all the dust matting the bike head to foot. The master cylinder is still leaking and being routinely filled up, but perhaps I will have to strip it down yet. The exhaust blows a bit on the left pot, and a couple of minor bits have fallen off, but otherwise fine, we just take it easy and cruise at 100 - 110 kph. The old girl has done well......and the bike too !

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 06:02 PM GMT
February 13, 2006 GMT
10th February 2006 - Ovalle

0 kms

As we've had another rest day, with little but a fine haircut and beard trim, which was carried out better than you'd get at home and for considerably less, we thought it might be good to highlight one or two things we discovered in our travels that otherwise wouldn't be covered.

Language - After trying to learn some basic Spanish on previous trips to Spain we knew how different a language it is to ours. I spent a year at night classes just a few years ago, and although I found it very difficult, I persevered. Bev spent many hours going to and from work with CDs in the car, and learnt a surprising amount before we left. When we arrived we hardly expected to be fluent as neither of us is anything like a natural at picking up foreign languages, but we did expect to return with - probably unrealistically - fairly reasonable Spanish conversation.

Well, we have been disappointed! We were doing OK up until we got to Chile I'd say, but here it's like another language again. Each country has different dialects and wholly different words, but at least you can make yourselves understood. OK at some times we have really struggled in the other countries, but here we have hit the blank stares more times than I can understand. Tonight we had the greatest of difficulties when just getting something simple. We are at a loss to explain that. In Uruguay and Paraguay we seldom struggled, and never really have difficulties in Argentina, but off the beaten tracks in Chile it seems totally different to the off the beaten tracks in the other countries.

We can get by, but we are far from being able to hold a conversation. I remember the point, fairly early on, in Argentina, were I had a total conversation with a guy about where we were from, what we were doing, were we were going, and how we loved the trip. Obviously it was because at that point he said ' Chau' and that was it. But I remember that as a real success. Since then we seem to have gained naught. It's very strange, as we can't use English, and we aren't relying on other people.

Lets see how we get on for the remainder of the trip.

And finally on language, a bonus! We've mentioned before how some words are similar, or very similar.

Hey kids, it's competition time.

Here’s some words, try to think of the South American (in case anyone picks me up) words for:-

Well the answers are :-

So there are some advantages, but it works far from every time. Beero for instance will get you bugger all in the way of beer, and barco....well it isn't Spanish for dog! You can see were the Scorchio sketch comes from in the Fast show for sure!

Toilets - I've not raised this one up until now. Those that have been to Greece (we haven't) may be familiar with the small bore sewerage systems and their requirements, but for those unfamiliar, you don't flush paper etc down the toilet. The paper you use is put in a receptacle next to the toilet. This is common to virtually all South American toilets. It takes some getting used too, and I'm not sure what happens to all that paper. You’d hope it was burned rather than going into the bins, but we've no idea.

The standard of toilets, as you can imagine, varies considerably. Virtually no 'Turkish' style ones though. Just cleanliness. Some have been out of this world disgusting. When you find really clean ones it is a surprise. Chile gets a thumbs up here as they are above average. Hell, there's usually paper and hand cleaner. But in many of the other countries the toilets, even in good establishments, can be truly awful.

As there is virtually no maintenance carried out on most things - something all of us travelers have picked up on - you often find no door locks, or even doors that won't close. All things that could be fixed in minutes, but just no one ever bothers.

You'll be pleased there's no photo's with this one!

Hopefully when we return we will adapt to the norm, but as a precaution, I'd` remove your toilet side bins if we're visiting in the first month or so of our return !

Bottles - Now this is an important topic! There is a real problem here with getting bottles of beer, and one we have all encountered at some strange and cannot figure out. When you go to get a bottle (litre size) of beer you often find you cannot buy it! After a couple of times you figure out it is because the bottles are returnable and you have to take an empty back. Fine, great idea, but. How do you ever get the first bottle? It's a chicken and egg one isn't it. You cannot get the beer you want without an empty unless some charitable soul charges you the deposit, or just gives up trying to explain.

There must be some heavy fines or something as in Paraguay for instance we literally couldn't get a bottle of beer in a shop. You can buy Bud in little bottles (not bloody thanks) beer of any type in cans, but not the one you really want in a litre bottle.

It does vary, as here there are 'throw away' bottles (as everyone does judging from the hedge backs) but they are never the nice brands you want. They do some fine ales around and about and a few 'malt' ones that are dark and very much to our taste, and nearly always bloody returnable ones.

We would just like to know how to get that first bottle.

There is even the same problem with the large bottles of fruit juice etc sometimes.

Gringos - Well, obviously we know we stand out, but it's unbelievable how much. People literally stand and stare even when we're dressed casual and walking around town. Often we are off the beaten track and you’d expect some interest, but it's amazing. It's how the first West Indians must have felt in the UK (I'm talking a long time ago here) there is no malice; it's just a surprise. It’s not always where all the indigenous peoples are otherwise it would be more understandable, but generally it is. As soon as you get away from the more popular centers you find there are less western faces, particularly so here in Chile, but also in the other countries we've visited.

We've never suffered real Gringo problems like over-charging (or have we?) and we've only extremely rarely felt uncomfortable about any charges we doubted.

The one positive discrimination you come across nearly everywhere that is annoying is at parks and heritage sites. Apparently it is entirely correct to charge none residents substantially more than residents, this means when you go to say Moreno Glacier you are charged at least three times more, and at other sights it can be six times more, just for exactly the same thing.

Some locals say 'it's just like when we go to London' but of course it isn't. It’s expensive for them, but they are paying the same price we do.

It's all a bit odd in our book, and we've met several folk who have had a good old go at putting that point across. Of course the people collecting the tariffs have no say in it, but it strikes everyone as pure Gringo Pricing and I think it is. It's not like it's the difference between say 70p and £3, it's the difference between figures like £5 and £20 which is bloody considerable.

Directions - here's a good tip. If you want to find somewhere in a medium sized town, give up on the wandering around fruitlessly (particularly after dodgy local directions) take a taxi - after checking price. It’s 50p well spent, and you can walk back when you discover it's only round the corner from were you were at some point previous. Here there are 'collective taxis' that pick up anyone, not just you, and stick to a route, like the tube, going round and round. Somehow you'll figure out which number to pick and it saves hours! No good on the bike though - though I have considered asking 'how much to' and then following them!

Anyway that sounds like more whinging, but I can assure you it isn't, it's observations that might forewarn or be helpful..

Saturday 11th February 2006

Ovalle - Vicuña, via, Coquimbo & La Serena

167 kms

Leaving this morning it was uncharacteristically cool and grey, too cold for jacket and trousers without liners but we couldn't be bothered stopping to put them in.


Leaving the hotel, tight squeeze, but secure

The bike slipped out the way it had come from the courtyard via a just wide enough doorway. We had a quick look up the road back towards toward to admire how much of an oasis this place is, quite impressive irrigation over centuries.


The oasis that is Ovalle, arid beyond the valley

The ride up to the coast was on some nice twisty roads at one point, but views shrouded in low cloud and then it was the normal main line drags until we neared habitation.

The two towns are quite large, and almost joined. Coquimbo was the smaller on an impressive headland giving it a great harbor that was very busy with a market as we rode in. It was a little run down and rough, but had quite a lot going for it on the historic buildings and history front, but we didn't want to stay - it wasn't even mid-day. We followed a street to a headland and discovered a little fort type thing with great views of the rocky prominantry, breaking waves, a single Sea lion, and Pelicans amongst other seabirds. First time we've seen Pelicans and very nice too. More colourful than we expected with blues, yellows and reds on their beaks. It gives us the opportunity for one of Bev's quotes, "The Pelican, a bird whose bill can hold more than his belly can'. A great saying and so appropriate.


Pelicans at Coquimbo


Blue Footed Boobies (stand by for usual comments!) at Coquimbo

The other thing in town of interest is a church designed by Gustav Eiffel (of the tower) made of steel. We looked hard and thoroughly and found nothing! Shame, as by complete coincidence I was given a book a few years ago based on the building of it, I had no idea it was in Chile (short memory) so was weird to realise it was here (somewhere).

The second very weird thing was there was a small coffee bar playing some great ambient music that we both really liked, similar to something - Jah Wobble - we like in UK. I asked the guy to write down the name, Cafe de Mar a mix by Jose Padilla. I thought it was Chilean, and then remembered - I'm obviously getting old - it too was something I had heard a few years ago in UK and tried without success to find, how weird is that!

We actually went to a shop in a Mall to try and get it as the guy said they had it, but couldn't find it. Should be able to get it in UK, but weird eh!

La Serena was another good looking, but bigger, place. We would probably have been better staying in one of those for two days rather than were we did, but there you go! You can't do it all. There were lots of lovely historic building there and things to see.

We left the chaos of traffic, and it was, to head inland and by time we were half way to Vicuna things had heated up and it was roasting again.


Blue Vicuña, another oasis town. Pisco grapes and fruit

The towns are now taking on the style of Spain with low stories and inner courtyards and trees on footpaths. The place is baking and the surrounding hills are sparse of vegetation and bare. The area nearby is apparently on good lay lines and there are lots of alternative therapies and different life styles so it is a bit more of a chilled place. Lots of interesting hand made jewelry - i.e. not imported from Peru or Bolivia, and as only about 8000 population and with more tourists (not many European or US) it is a nice little spot.

Gone mad on the accommodation front price wise, but nice place, and we want two good nights as tomorrow we will have a late night as we are visiting the Observatory Cerro Mamalluca for a night visit to see the stars and view their telescopes which is something we are really looking forward too.

The one thing I never mentioned about the night sky here is that for the first time ever I have discovered there is a blank patch in the Milky way - you can actually see with the naked eye and area with no stars, never seen that before. So the skies have certainly lived up to and beyond expectation already, fingers crossed tomorrow will bring even more amazement....don't expect any photo's though!

Sunday 12th February 2006


Spent today chilling really, had a nice walk up to a viewpoint overlooking the town. It’s another Oasis ands they grow the grapes for the national alcoholic drink, Pisco, here. The way they get the dry land irrigated is really impressive.


Another, a stiff 30 min walk for view

The skies have heavily clouded over this afternoon and we have great reservations about what we really came here for. This valley is heralded as ´the greatest stargazing place on earth´….can you bloody believe it 


Grapes drying in the sun

However, last night they had some live local music (very Mexican, strong links with Chile for years) that was OK but not outstanding. Tonight? Rock concert. The bands have been tuning up and setting all the car alarms off like our bike does and they sound pretty good. Can’t think what the locals will think though as they are heavily into the traditional music and dance. It shows how we have lost that tradition when you see that nearly everyone can dance here….and no, I can’t, have to leave that to Bev.

Some great handicraft places around making some really nice stuff, particularly jewelry. It’s nice that it is made, as so much is from Bolivia or Peru generally.

It is hot here mind, cool breeze occasionally, but in thirties, and they get very little rain, under 120mm a year, except for tonight………

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 08:31 PM GMT
February 18, 2006 GMT
12th February 2006 - Vicuña

0 kms

Basically, as we expected the clouding over of the skies, in this the 'best place in the world to see the stars at night' meant our astronomical adventure was cancelled, in fact bad enough to cancel the whole night’s bookings, even the 1am. A very disappointing evening for us.

The rock bands were a bit lacking too so we were off to bed somewhat let down, mother nature eh.

Monday 13th February 2006

Vicuña - Paso del Agua Negra (4753 or 4779!), Arg. frontier and back

336 kms

What a difference a day makes - good title for a song !

We decided that we'd push the boat out and stay a further night in a last ditch attempt to stargaze properly.

To fill the day we thought we'd attempt a bit of pass storming and ride up to the frontier at Paso del Agua Negra. Not sure why we hadn't thought of it before, perhaps because it was quite a haul, one way, and on unsurfaced roads, but it was a real gem of a day.

All the indications we had, including the local tourist information somewhat strangely, was that the road was unsurfaced for most of the route. In fact we found out the road was entirely surfaced until about 20kms from the Chilean immigration which is some half way along the route, 84kms before the actual border, the Argentinean customs being a similar distance the other side. that's a significant area of 'no mans land' when you think about it, but mainly due to the sparse population and height of pass.

On the way we had blissful tarmac that was only a few years old I guess, and some incredible views of the extent to which they strive to create areas they can grow the grapes for Pisco on. The valley is historically irrigated, even having a trail down it named the Inca Way that obviously predates most of the modern agriculture.

Large tracts of land were protected with timber spars and netting to - we guess - keep the strong winds off the grapes and minimise evaporation. The lengths they have gone too are considerable. On approach some of these large patches looked like huge corn fields as the netting is straw coloured. It was quite an amazing sight.

The road changed, as mentioned, to repio for 20 kms before the aduana, but for the most was excellent condition meaning we had little concern though most of the luggage was still on the bike.

Naturally there was the issue of whether we would be able to climb the pass without clearing customs 'properly'. I didn't want to hand over the temporary import docs for the bike, or get stamps 'out' of Chile as both would be difficult - I guessed - to get done again if we returned without having been through the Argentina in side. I had thought perhaps we could explain our plan and get them to keep the docs and return them once we came back down, but had doubts they would agree.

As has surprised us on many occasions during this trip with the officials on the borders, it was to turn out to be nothing of a serious problem. I explained our plans, making it obvious we weren't going to go into Argentina, but just go to the top of the pass then come down again, and the customs guy said "OK' and gave us a stamp out on a piece of paper with 'Frontier' written on to show we weren't leaving Chile. At the police point we again explained our plan, and they again were quite happy with that. They didn't want the temporary import papers and they didn't want to stamp the passports. The only draw back was they wanted to hold our passports until our return.

Would have preferred not to have handed them over, but I guess in the past hotels have held them, and I'd like to think you can trust the police more than a hotel so we handed them over. I checked to make sure the same guy would be on duty first though. Not entirely happy, but happy enough with this plan.

The barrier was up, and we were off!

The pass was billed in the local tourist information as very colourful and wonderful, but that's all we had to go on. That and the fact it was clearly higher than any pass we had ridden our bike on - by a long way.


We soon discovered the tourist information was bang on right when we climbed past a recently constructed dam and got our first views of the multicoloured landscape set against the vivid turquoise of the lake.

I'm not sure how words can do the colours of the hills justice, and I'm not sure the photographs will either. I can't believe they will truly reflect the natural colours we saw.


The hillsides were variously orange, ochre, purple, red, pink, coral, grey, blue, green, yellow and every (and I mean every) shade between. It was like a surreal painting by Salvador Dali.


The road followed the river for a long way without gaining much altitude. There were quite a few nomad like small settlements that were small families of goat herders following their herds from lower to higher pasture we assume.


The road started to climb steadily and very slowly after a long way, and the first sights of the higher peaks surrounding came into view. They were gilded in obviously fresh snow that came down quite a way. It reminded me greatly of the scenes you see in Scotland in March or April when the old snow has receded, and new snow falls. There is that excitement of the winter, but the knowledge it won't last.


With the pass being a high one, there was also the thought of what would it be like higher up. Even at this level the temperature was very warm, it had been 35 down in the valley when we started, and certainly high 20s now, certainly just below too warm on the bike.

The road started to climb in earnest and the route zigzagged across broad slopes slowly gaining height. We still had stunning views looking back towards were we had come as the light played with the coloured landscape creating quite unsurpassable views (surely ?)

As we got higher it became obvious we were ridding towards big grey clouds. As we got to them, or into them, we discovered they were snow ! It was time for waterproofs over, for warmth rather than waterproofing, and we soon had to change our gloves for the winter ones in the pannier. My hands were painful with electric like pains from the cold even though I had my heated grips.

It wasn't just the cold, it was the altitude. We were gaining height far more now, and the road, though very good repio, occasionally had more challenging sections where we were swimming through deep gravel for short sections. Not welcome when the hillside was obviously naked and the slope to the edge was very unforgiving and vertiginous.

The engineering in getting this road up the pass was impressive, and even more impressive was the skills of the grader drivers who had obviously fairly recently graded the route - not easy !

The altitude was definitely making itself known by way of breathing becoming more strained and each breath being less effective. I actually found my head was slightly muggy and with the combination of the bitter, bitter, cold it was becoming quite a challenge. The bike was coping very well up until near the top, no real coughing or missing, just a gradual loss of power. Often I would change first to second, then back again as I hadn't used enough revs, but other than that it was doing very well.

The track was quite narrow in places, especially when some rock had fallen, or there were areas of snow breaking out into the tracks. We were now high enough for some significant snow to be laying, it was the new stuff, it was what remained from the previous winter. some patches must have been nearer and crossed half the track. We were well into the high and white zone now.

To be honest, we were cold, the weather was against us, and I was jus counting down the kilometers to the top. Would it ever come ? Progress is very slow at these altitudes and one these roads. Only 15kms to go and I was almost thinking we should turn and go down, that's how cold and hard it was. But at the same time, neither us wanted to not make it to the top.

We finally got there and boy was my head spinning, and our hands were so cold. Mainly thanks to the altitude I think rather than the weather, but our ascent had been quick, only two or three hours to gain at least 4000m. It was a case of take some picccies and bugger off back down quick.

Sadly there were no views to be had - 30 minutes later would probably have been fine, but we peaked too early ! It was 1pm and we had a long descent so no point hanging around, and we wouldn't anyway as it was just not the right conditions.

The sign at the top said Altitude 4753m which is one hell of a long way up, certainly the highest we've been on our bike, and well beyond the call of duty.


At the top were the obligatory Chile and Argentina signs, a nice sculpture of a cycle, numerous plinths to dignitaries I assume, and one with a steering wheel and about half a dozen plaques that I guess were folk who'd died driving here...or maybe it was to honor the grader and construction crew drivers, I guess the former


Bev's thermometer was showing -2, and our bodies were showing much lower with the wind chill. My thumbs were achingly painful. Not somewhere to linger, though we would really have liked to. This wasn't the weather for it at all. On numerous other occasions you might be able to picnic here (with a headache), but on other occasions you'd suffer what we did, or worse. This height in the mountains is not to be taken lightly.

All in all, this had been a challenging ride, and we were only half way! Sometimes it is easier going uphill (well nearly always under power) so we didn't want to underestimate getting back down too !

We turned and left with the weather breaking slightly, but not enough for distance views, and certainly not enough too warm us. There had been very light traffic on the pass, all Chile reg, guess going up and down again. On whole of descent we only saw two more vehicles !

It was quite tricky going down as not only was my head spinning a bit, it was more difficult swimming through the sections of deeper gravel under deceleration rather than acceleration. For the second time in the trip so far, we nearly came off. The first time had been near Lago Carerra when the rear end had caught some loose material and spun out and the bike nearly fell over barring me jabbing a leg out. On that occasion I had nearly folded my ankle up and it was a wonder it didn't break, never mind sprain. We didn't want that up here. Wanted or not, the gravel was extraordinarily difficult, especially now with us tired and cold. The front end dug in a bit hard and the bike turned suddenly, I countered it, and we swung the other way suddenly too. It's so easy in this circumstance to loose it, but luckily we didn't. We were both somewhat panting now. The sudden race of blood enough to tire the body to point of minor exhaustion. Even my voice was a little horse (sp)

As we cleared the cloud, or it cleared us in effect, we no longer had the snow, really it had stopped before we reached the summit, all but. The views were still not of huge distance as the surrounding mountains were still 6000m peaks.. The views back were we'd come were good though with us now looking down from the virtual snow line to the colourful valley below. Looking over the edge and down was a little worrying though as it really was still pretty high.


Returning gave us the views the other way and I saw the old ice field the road cut through (Bev had seen it on way up but didn't want to distract me). The ice was sculpted by the wind into myriad pinnacles and fins, very impressive.


The return leg had some shortcut options were the road down turned one-way and went down in a steeper direction, but it was quite safe. I had followed a mountain bike trail earlier and imagined how good the descent would be for them, once over the cold it would be quite a ride.

With altitude the descent quickly brings around an improvement in feelings, but it was still around an hour before we felt 'normal' again. Hadn't suffered headaches or anything, but our mouths and throats had dried, and our breathing had certainly suffered along with our concentration.

The valley once again and the colourful strata showed their other face and we had different light so the whole magical experience was at least as good as when we'd come up. we were unable to get more than a few kms without stopping for another photograph. Whether they will ever catch the light and the colour we won't know until we see the pictures properly.


It was a stunning ride, absolutely stunning. Once again the scenery seemed to have surpassed itself.


Now we were down at a much lower level we were amongst the goat herder encampments and received friendly waves as we passed, especially from the children who would run out as we approached.


Around one corner we met a troupe of mules loaded up with crates etc. As we pulled up to take a picture a few of the guys came over and had a great (if limited on our part) conversation. They were obviously impressed with our steel mule, and particularly the luggage systems ! They offered that we join them for a drink, which they appeared to have been doing for a while, but we decided regaining our passports and getting back before dark was our priority. Shame really as they were great characters, and not just friendly because of the drink. They asked of conditions up there, and had obviously stopped their journey because the weather looked so bad.


A funny thing happened at the customs post, no not any problems you might imagine, but our return being a good opportunity for a weather forecast. They had clearly shut the Chilean side and there was a queue of 10 cars. The people waiting came across to ask how bad the conditions were. I guess other returning vehicles that had gone during the storm had reported it, and from below it looked bad, so they had closed the access. I think they thought we were mad as they clearly didn't believe us saying it was fine.

When I went to retrieve the passports - no issues at all - they also wanted a report and were surprised we had said we encountered no difficulties, maybe the Argentinean side was worse, or maybe those returning had just painted a vivid picture. At near 5000m this is not a pass to be taken lightly, and I suppose they do right to err on the side of caution.

Still, all the same it was odd being back in a hot hot valley after all that and the wind was howling along compared to earlier.

Our return journey to Vicuna was delightful with virtually no traffic, and views the other way. the remnants of the Inca Way were visible most of the time. it is incomplete, but there is a 3km section you can walk that would have been nice if it weren't for the time.

The other thing was we needed to be back for some food, naught since breakfast, the usual stale roll with cheese - all one of it, and we'd just had water during the day as no facilities anywhere. We had booked the astronomical tour again in hope we could go.

To cut to the quick we got the tour, if nearly an hour late and took a minibus with three French tourists up the mountain behind the village. When we arrived at the observatory we were staggered by the amount of people. We had thought it would just be us, there were hundreds of folk there, amazing.

We were added to English speakers and then split into groups and taken around. First was the 30 inch telescope in the dome. Like kids we were all impressed with the rotating top ! First we all took turns to see Saturn, which appeared as a remarkably small, but clear image, rings clearly visible. Next we saw two parts of the moon with the level of clarity startling - in fact it burnt your retina after viewing like a flashgun does.

Following this we went outside and the guide took us through the various stages of a stars life. From this I'm able to accurately describe what we've been seeing in the Milky way. The two 'cloudy' bits I described as nebula were actually galaxies ! The dark area was a carbon nebula, absorbing rather than reflecting light.

He showed us the nebula near Orion’s belt, forget the name, but the gas clouds were clearly visible. We saw other aspects in the sky also and overall it was very impressive. As it was a full moon the views were nowhere near as good as you'd expect (except the moon of course !)

You forget we are on the other side of the planet and therefore upside-down, all the stars are the other way around, Orion standing on his head for instance.

We had a presentation inside after that was a little lost on us as by know it was 1am. We returned and drank the remnants of a local fortified wine, Huancara, that was very nice, introduced by the Jesuits, and used by us to help guarantee a good nights sleep !

A late night, but an excellent way to round off a superb day.

Tuesday 14th February 2006

Vicuña - Caldera

477 kms

Leaving as ever on a hot and clear skied day we had another day of Pan Am to get us further up this long thin strip of a country.

We were well and truly away from fertile land excepting the oasis valleys every now and then. By late afternoon we were definitely into desert scenery with little of anything but sand. We headed for this place as by coast and a contrast to the previous couple of weeks travel. Not too much here by way of accommodation, and with it being height of season all is costly - whatever the quality. But we needed a place for the day, and tomorrow so booked in.

Wednesday 15th February 2006


0 kms

We had a true rest day today doing virtually bugger-all but sitting on rocks on a beach, or the beach near the hotel.

It's a funny old place as there are remnants of heavy industry like coal and iron export, a small active fishing fleet, and then beaches. There are some very clean ones further down the coast - including an English beach too ! but we stayed in town. The rubbish etc was unbelievable it's really a third rate country on that score, but the sun was intense and the breeze warm.

The highlight of the day was certainly the morning when the local boats had come in and were selling their catch at the quayside. You bought your fish, then went and paid to have them gutted. This was spectacle enough - but it was what was waiting for the cast offs that was most impressive.


A large flock of very large Pelicans were crowding the scene and two sea lions were muscling in below.


The pelicans are such cumbersome beasts on land, but on the wing are such effortless fliers. Their abilities with their mouths are amazing too, not in quantity terms this time, but speed and reflex. The filleters would chuck something behind them and it never ever touched the ground, ever time in a bill !


We have been able to identify some of the fish we have eaten from stalls and the likes of today which is helpful. The oddity today was - I think - sea urchins being prized from holes in soft mudstones. Cracking it open was like watching someone separating scull and removing eyes, not very appetizing.



Posted by Simon McCarthy at 10:49 PM GMT
February 26, 2006 GMT
16th Feb 2006 - Caldera - Antofagasta

526 kms

Hot desert and a return to the hotel of love!

Well another day of mileage crunching though it wasn't planned that way. The book talked of a little place only 60kms away that was to be our destination, but when we arrived at Chañaral it far from lived up to expectations. The book has slightly over egged the description on many of the destinations in more northern Chile, but I put down to the fact most of the small places are bougainvillea and therefore even a few crumbling historic looking building are mentioned, yet they're not worthy of attention.

Having stayed in one port that was a mix of fishing fleet and a mini Teeside we didn't need another after on 60kms so decided to push on. There is only so much attraction in looking at a bay with steel jetties for exporting nitrates and ores stretching out to see and shanty buildings huddled around a dust blown bay. Remove the buildings and industry and simply admire the crashing rollers from the Pacific and the craggy shoreline and sandy beaches (don't look too closely) and the place looked OK, but really it wasn't.

Not a problem except there is bugger all up here now OK Antofagasta is a large place (225,000) - and therefore bloody awful to our mind, one part lovely sea front, one part modern tower blocks and decrepit old buildings and one part rough as anything. Not somewhere we wanted to stay, but necessity said we would have to, anyway.

The Pan Am loomed onwards as did the traffic. Quite a bit of HGV traffic, they really struggle with the long stretching uphills and grind to a snails pace towards the top of the inclines. Strange as most are humongous great modern tractor units, much bigger than UK, and therefore I assume they are just well overloaded.

Still can't believe we haven't seen one foreign plate since being on the route, not one. I don't mean tourists, I mean Argentinian, or Bolivian or Peruvian vehicles, neither commercial, or private. I would actually guess we'd also see some European ones as all the ones we saw previously can't have just not come north, surely?

It's the wrong time to visit Bolivia due to the rainy season, but there must be folk like us who just had to come round this way at this time - no?

The rain must have been pretty tremendous in Bolivia as people mentioned the weather we had in Vicuna as being the result of Bolivia, and today we saw distant Andean faces that were plastered in new snow which can't be that normal for summer.


Flowering cacti

At one point some the vehicles coming towards us were spattered in red mud as if they'd been in a rally. Considering how long ago the last rain must have been this seemed odd. As we approached the only fuel stop for over 200kms before Antofagasta at Agua Verde we could see there was uncharacteristically muddy water standing at the side of the road, and further up in a slow flowing muddy sludge, which had recently crossed the road in a few places. A guy in the petrol station said this was a result of the rains in Bolivia. Incredible, as the only views we got of the Andes were of them nearly 100 miles away. He chatted to us as he used to have a BM like ours. I mentioned about tyres and he gave us his card and said call me when you're in Antofagasta and I'll help you find one. That was so kind, we have met so many generous people on this trip.

All day we'd been riding though unvegitated desert, no sign of life....well...there was one Guanaco (or vicuna, or llama, whatever type it was) on its own, but nothing else. Pure rocky desert.


Danger, Llama´s crossing - first ´truly´wild ones (OK the locals herd them, but they´re not for tourists, they’re for life)

Although fairly featureless it did have some striking colours along the way which meant the journey wasn't boring. We had also been along the Pacific coast for a portion of the morning which was quite impressive.

Another draw back of having several hundred kilometres between places (and they might not have much in way of facilities) is food. Getting lunch today we pulled into a posada, small shanty looking places in isolated spots with truckers outside. Asked for two completos - set meals, and got a large bowl of soup each. It was mystery what is was a broth like thing. I was lost to figure out what the 'meat' constituent was and asked Bev. Until that point she was tucking in heartily. She said 'chicken'. I said not. She investigated and lost interest in eating it after that. It wasn't chicken, and certainly wasn't a mushroom, guess it was some form of offal or something, white with some grey on, and the odd tube. Sounded too much like something I didn't want to eat anyway, and neither did Bev after that. The main was OK with fish and rice and salad. No drinks were available excepting coffee or a large bottle of Fanta. At a cost of £2 each not bad, but the choice for eating is getting thin up here. It really is an isolated blank spread of country.

This area was, and still is, an area for mining naturally occurring minerals and the like and has swapped nationalities through the last few hundred years. We came across some British Ruins today by the roadside which would I guess have been a Anglo Chilean Nitrates plant. there were many here, providing great wealth, until the Europeans started manufacturing them rather than importing the raw product.


Trying to tell me something?

Before we got to Antofagasta we came across the surreal 'hand' in the desert. Much photographed and as strange in real life as in pictures. Four fingers and a separate thumb (left hand) protrude upwards in hollow cast concrete about 20+ feet high. No idea of the relevance, but it's a strange sight. Sadly had lots of new graffiti on, but that's par for the course here. Even in a small place like vicuna, nearly even flat wall and surface was 'tagged', completely out of control, especially when most were domestic house walls. As there was literally no shade or shelter along the route today, it also stake of pee ! Compulsory photo taken we continued.


Hand - the big mysterious hand everyone gets photographed at - how long before someone removes a thumb and two fingers I wonder?

We had hoped we could get a new rear tyre today, but even in Antofagasta it proved impossible. While trying to find accommodation for the night we stumbled on a small motorcycle shop and I enquired within. They had nothing, but one of the guys led us on his rather knackered Yamaha FZ through to a couple of other shops that also drew a blank. It was a sporting ride as we did a couple of illegal moves and he wasn't hanging around. He did do it all for nothing though which was very good. We also tried to get some DOT4 brake fluid, which before coming away I had never even thought would be a problem, but has been. In Argentina you can only get DOT3 (the older stuff isn't as good, and I understood you couldn't mix it) but I'm surprised it's proved difficult here as all the modern cars must use it. Anyway I'm sure we can source some another time. The Honda shop had some, wanted £3, and it turned out to be open anyway which is not good for brake fluid. As we had exhausted the bike shops we didn't ring Miguel as a pair of Brazilian bikers we met later suggested Calama might have a bike shop.

By the time we'd done all this it was just gone seven so we tried to find one of the accommodations listed in the guide. We found it, it had no parking, we were roasting, so we decided to just split and get anything outside town.

During the day the temperature varied considerably. By coast high 20s, but very cooling breeze, and inland it had risen to 40, while we were moving - very warm!

Leaving the city we of course found nothing in the way of accommodation, just suburbs, and the sun was starting to really fade. I saw one sign 'motel'. I sensed I knew what that meant, certainly not a motel in the UK sense. I mentioned it to Bev, and apparently she had just been thinking, a Love Hotel would do just now (and she didn't mean it 'that' way!) and so our destination for the night came to us.

These places are most peculiar. I can't figure out whether they take people in for the night as a course that aren't in for the 'passion' or whether they think even we are here for a night of passion. Anyway, the price is a tenner for 12 hours, which at near 9 o'clock is fine - we were desperate enough.

The strange thing is, these are cheaper and surprisingly better quality than the accommodation we have had to on occasion pay twice as much for in Chile..

These places are very secure - your vehicle is always next to room and behind doors, they are always clean, and they have much better sound insulation than almost anywhere we've had in Chile. So all in all, they're not bad as a last straw, certainly better than half the places we've stayed so far here. I'm not sure whether or not you could get one of these places as a solo traveller, whether they'd accept it or not, maybe as a couple it easy. I'm not sure they have any triples or quads either, as they might be going too far.

God only knows what the people make of it...but then we are far from caring. I'm sure it causes minor amusement at home too!

Friday 17th February 2006

Antofagasta -

550 (?) kms

Leaving our love lodge we discovered the cause for all the earlier sirens when we came across the first crash for a long time, and the car that had hit the van looked in a very poor way. Fatal I suspect. The TV crew were already there - an aspect of the local news is they always show if there (as often there are) nasty road accidents. Great viewing obviously.

One of the roads out of the city was still closed, due to road damage from the flood water from 100kms away, still hard to believe. There were sections of our road that had temporary speed limits or diversions due to the huge undulations the water had caused when it washed out the sub-base. Two days previous it had been closed for a time. And remember, as previously emphasised this was in the middle of the Atacama desert were there is nothing, generally, in the way of any vegetation, not even cacti. You can't believe rain and snow from a hundred miles away can get this far and still cause damage. The floods we had at Hawby were staggering, but very local, I wonder what the damage was like nearer the source here - I guess there is less to damage in the mountains. It made us think back to the closure of the high pass we crossed a few days ago - maybe they had reason to be cautious.


Digger - I know, I know, not professional term for a civil engineer to use, a pair of superceded bucket excavators outside a nitrate (or similar) mine - Cummins engines

Today we really had the heat, over 40 on the move, and little relief. There are so few hamlets it's not even as if you can stop every hour for an ice cream or drink. We get cold water where ever we can and fill the bladders in the back of our jackets and carry one. The water cools you briefly, is wonderful to drink, then loses it's cool, then gains the heat and is not quite as refreshing.

We had planned to head for Calama and try to get DOT4 brake fluid, try for a tyre, and get a hostel for the night as we wanted to visit the copper mine outside of the town. They do two tours a day, and it's the biggest open cast copper mine in the world....huge.

Well sadly we were let down on all accounts as we tried nearly all the accommodation options (without going ridiculous) and surprisingly all were full. It is the middle of the holiday season, but perhaps there was something else on. It was exhausting work riding around for a couple of hours in that heat in bike gear. I don't like letting the bike do it either.

By the end we were thoroughly disenfranchised (or insert a stronger word yourself) and very hot and bothered. To be frank we were both entirely offed with this section of Chile in total. Met some great people, but the scenery died out post the Lake District if you ignore days out into the mountain passes. It's really time for a change of scenery.

We had one chance, head the 100kms to San Pedro de Atacama. We set out and followed an extremely boring road until gradually the horizon dropped and the snowy peaks of the Andes started to poke skywards.

We pulled in for a break 35kms from San Ped and both had very bad feelings of our adventure beginning to end. The tears were welling up in Bev's eyes and I could find myself going the same way. It was not the altitude, or exhaustion, it was the fact we both felt we were getting into a situation were we would have to return to Argentina to get tyres, and we'd never then get north again to Bolivia and Peru. It was crushing. We knew we would be limited as it is the rainy season in Bolivia ruling out the small unsurfaced roads (nearly all) but we really wanted to get up there for the change.

Bev had planned for us to go through San Ped on our way to Argentina after Bolivia and Peru so I guess that's what heightened the effect for her. For me I was just sick to death of struggling around trying to find things I thought wouldn't be a problem here.

We both needed an upper here, and luckily we got it in San Pedro! As we approached the town (small 2,800) the light was fading but the sight of the rocks around glowing in the last of the light and the recently snow bedecked Andes and volcanoes lifted our souls.

As we pulled into San Ped we were greeted with a surprise. It was like entering a North African desert town, all adobe mud walls and low roofs. Completely different to any were else we have been, and straight away we liked it.

We got a really quite nice hostel right on the edge of town - it's good to be away from the party centre as this is Gringo's Ville. It was nice to find accommodation at a fair price that was actually good quality, we thought we'd seen the last of that way down on the Careterra Austral.

A walk into the town proved a few things. One, the street lights the owner said come on, didn't, but they were no sad loss as the night sky was truly fantastic. Amazingly the moon doesn't rise til about 10 or 11 and so the sky is remarkably visible. The other thing was that this really is a place were all travellers come, and hence it has a different character. The facilities are all here, and very good, but as only a small community, they are also very friendly and there is no feeling of threat at all, even stumbling around in the dark.

We found a restaurant that was honestly as nice as anything back home and had a set meal that was very good for a price you could pay in York, but it was nice to get good service, good food, and a beautiful room, not often you get all three.

We were much happier bunnies.

Saturday 18th February 2006

San Pedro de Atacama

25 kms

We checked out the post office in morning as we are awaiting some new AutoCom leads so we can once again enjoy proper conversations on the move, this we are greatly looking forward too. I didn't think they'd be here yet, and they weren't, but we've already decided to stay a few days and chill as this is definitely the place to do it.

Had a cup of (real!) coffee and wrote some cards while chatting to other Brits over here on tours and like.

Went wandering around town and bought some food for breakfasts and as the hostel has a kitchen for the use of and a nice patio and hammock etc.

On the off chance I decided to try the garage (well petrol station) for brake fluid. You could have knocked me down with a feather duster. Six bottles of DOT4, all in date and unopened. I resisted the urge to buy all, but got a couple for £2.50 each which wasn't too bad and some oil for the old girl too. Well, well, well, things were improving all the time.

We still had Miguel's card, and thinking back to his kind offer of assistance, and the fact he was returning to Santiago, we thought we could take him at his word and call him and see if he could help with the rear tyre. Obviously our Spanish is not up to calling bike shops to try and find one with a tyre in stock, and then arrange getting it here, but if Miguel could, we might just be out of our predicament.

We found a phone place - over here the Internet and shops full of phone booths are prevalent in all towns, even very small ones. Loads of folk have mobiles, but there is no end of trade for the phone booths. Ironically the lad just punched Miguel's number into a mobile and passed it to me when ringing.

Obviously Miguel speaks very good English, or this wouldn't have worked very well at all. After introductions and pleasantries we were in full on English. Of course he remembered us, and he would love to help. I could send the details to his works email address and he's pick it up Monday morning and make some calls. If he could get a tyre he would buy it and arrange sending and we could pay him. A very trusting man, as are most we have met, it's Good (as my mother always says) to find that most people are genuine and honest and so keen to help. It might come to nothing, but Miguel was quite confident he could find a tyre in Santiago and get it to us somehow. If he can, our plans for Bolivia and Peru will be back...fantastic, what a great guy, and just a chance meeting.

We wanted to see another local spectacle later in the day, so returned and got the bike out late afternoon to ride to the Valle de la Luna. It was only a few kms out of town off the pavement road and down few more of repio and we were there. There is an entrance fee (£1.50 each) and the tour buses go there for the spectacle of the sun setting on the rocks and dunes.

An interruption. The Atacama desert - the driest on earth - is not all sand! In fact, generally it is sand encrusted with gravel and stone and minerals on top, so you don't see dune after dune - In fact you generally see huge flat expanses with rock bits and only the odd dune. Just so you get the picture, it’s not the Sahara as classically thought (though neither is all that of course).


Valley of the Moon just outside San Pedro de Atacama

We entered the park and discovered it is remarkably small, the road is only 7.2kms long. In this immense distance are packed a horde of sights. Well, OK, a dune to climb, some wind sculpted rocks, and the pathetic remains of a small salt mine.

That all sounds negative, but it isn't, the place is really nice, just small, and that's not so good with the pressures of tour groups etc, but we're all here for the same thing. We thought at the price we would come and have a look, but go somewhere else I had spotted for sunset, and return here and do the tourist bit another day. There were some nice sites, and it was quite amazing the double-takes we got as there are so may Brits here with tour groups like Dragoman. When they're camped on your campsite it is a bit of a pain as I have said, but we are all doing this big circuit however heroic we feel our efforts are. This group was at the observatory as we recognised one or two. They're nice enough folk in the most, and keen to chat as they think what we're doing is brilliant. Can't say I can say the same in return, but some of them are living this tour for 6 months too and seeing just what we are generally so I'll leave my bitching out and respect them for what they're doing....but I hope we don't meet again.....we will!

We left the 'park' and went out on the main road to the spot I'd thought of. Ours is a trip using roads of one form or another most times and therefore the road is a focal point. Hence I wanted a sun set on the approach road from yesterday that had looked so impressive in the late evening light. Needless to sat, as it was in front of the pass, the sun was well and truly gone and we were too late. One for another evening for sure, but we took some pics anyway and marvelled at the view. Those snow capped mountains are definitely shedding their whiteness, I'm sure snow of that amount at this time of year is rare.


Sun set over the Andean range looking towards San Ped

So, our whole mood has changed. We are at last looking like we can continue our limited tour, and although we will not be doing Bolivia and Peru justice we will get a flavour, and a fortnight in each should give us a lot of good memories. There are lots of folk that manage to pack in what we have done into half the time we have, but it all depends how much time you have. We are lucky, we have been able to dwell in places and truly get a flavour of the place, but that time has passed, and we must think ahead and plan the remainder of our time to be as effective as possible.

It is definitely absolutely impossible to do South America justice in anything less than a minimum of a year, and to include everywhere, really a year and a half. we have only seen the bottom thin bit, and we have not been bored through staying places too long, in fact generally the opposite. You definitely need a month of two in most of the countries to appreciate them fully. So if any of you fancy this trip, plan to be here much longer for the outset. We certainly would have done if we'd known, but this has been a fabulous opportunity for us and there is virtually 30% of our time ahead!

Sunday 19th February 2006

San Pedro de Atacama

155 kms

As you would know by now the weather was absolutely as always. It's hot but it gets much hotter 3 or 4pm, so the best plan would be up early, off early, back for siesta and bed early. Well that might be the best plan, but not ours - and as it doesn't tie in with most of Latin America it's just as well. You wouldn't get much sleep going to bed early as even last night there was some deranged men knocking on the doors to try and find out how to get hot water at 1am, same people, different country I guess, but folk here do stay up much, much later, and consequently (when on holiday) get up later. Often see no one around on a Sunday til 11am. Anyway, so we don't get up early, but we were on the road by 10.30 which is good enough when you aren't aiming for somewhere but just touring the area.

Today's plan was the Salt lake (third largest in the world) and then to the town down the road, Tocoao, to try and find a locally produced sweet fortified wine (we're not alcoholics honestly, just like to find the local brew!).

It's strange how much it heats up during the afternoon, the morning ride was comfortable enough not to require all zips open, the ride back required all open and sweating like pigs.

The best Salta is undoubtedly the one in Bolivia, but it's under water at moment which is spectacular, but not anything we'd take the bike through - a LOT worse than road salt in winter. also due to the rain, those small access roads are out of our league, we would slither off everywhere...and that isn't something we want to start doing after 4 months free.

So, this salar is no way as impressive - in fact, disappointingly, there is no vast white expanse, it is more cracked up mud and salt cake than anything, being honest, not actually that spectacular.


View of the Salar with mystery bird

The attraction though is the Flamingos. Not just Chilean ones as we've seen afore, but here also Flamenco de James (I guess that the dance got the name) and another I forget. In fact without going back to their boards I'm unable to describe each type.


View of the Salar

We parked up, and as ever though we had to pay an entry, we were able to leave our lids, jackets and tank bag with the helpful staff. Although all the vehicles were Chilean we soon discovered who many were driven by other nationalities. There is at least one UK reg bike here, not seen, and a French land rover, so there are others here.


A pair of those mystery birds

We usually ride in our bike gear if going more than a short distance, or if off road (overlook the Brazil bit!) and surprisingly it wasn't ridiculously hot in the bike trousers for walking around their paths to see the sites.


OK, it´s a bloody penguin alright?

As mentioned the flamingos are the star attraction, and though smaller in numbers than elsewhere we've been, they were closer. There were also other wading birds and a few nice looking lizards (half without tails, obviously close escapees).

There were some nice folk there as well as some of the usual tour group mentality (how long do you need to be in SA before you stop flushing toilet paper down the bog and blocking it I'd like to now ? They can't have all arrived that day - and they have warnings signs in the toilets too). So met some nice folk asking what we were doing there and asking for us to take there photos and the like.

Leaving with it still warm we returned to Tocotoa in search of the booze. There were a few local restaurants so we chose the one with the best balance of people versus loud music. We were, as often, the only Europeans in, and it was good honest cheap fare. Finally managed to get rabbit, Bev having Chicken, and they were both like you were eating with friends (that could cook of course). The meal was great and for the price excellent. If you make the effort to show your satisfaction in the local language people love it.

The quest for the wine was more difficult. We were pointed to a shop and once within discovered not rows of labelled wines, but a lady who popped round the back and came back with a recycled Pisco bottle full of the red wine. Was expecting white like Muscatel (sp), so red was a surprise. And the price, 5,000...bloody hell! There was no negotiation as this was their best four year old stuff. They opened a sampler, and indeed it was good so we decided to go mad and let them have the money. Maybe, or maybe not, it was a gringo price, but as it was nice we didn't care.

Returning along the road we saw one of those brown tourist signs that seemed to indicate rock paintings or something. As there was no road, just tire tracks across the dessert I was a little apprehensive, especially as getting to the hot part now, but we went. Generally it was OK, but there were one or two sandy patches (what in a desert) that had the bike squirreling around lock to lock. Couple of spots Bev had to dismount and a couple of spots I had to and walk with throttle wide to prevent bike submerging. What a great plan this was.

Finally reaching another sign we looked around for the paintings or whatever. No sign, no sign anyone had been this year either, no bloody wonder two miles off the road across desert! We eventually saw what we guess was the sight, some old walls for an enclosure and a couple of very small dwellings. Well, that must have been it. We returned without too much excitement, but considerable sweat.

It is amazing how our emotions have swung back around to total enjoyment again...thank God!

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 12:24 PM GMT
20th Feb 2006 - San Pedro de Atacama, Jama pass

242 kms

To continue our quest to discover the area we thought we'd have a peak at the Bolivian border today and a further part of the Flamenco National Park that lies over near Argentina, so this place really is a crossroads.

You cannot miss the road to the Jama pass as it goes straight from the side of San Pedro into the hills in what looks like a direct line.

That's not far from the case either, it climbs and climbs without the benefit of any bends of hairpins, it just goes straight up. No idea what the gradient is, but on the way back is was 40kms of downhill, half of which was direct freefall. Apparently most of the heavy traffic uses the other pass, and I can see why. The drain on HGV brakes of that descent must be enormous. The hazard is obviously that of the runaway train.

One thing noticeable in all of South America is the number of roadside shrines they are numerous, but never more so than on the Pan Am in the north, or on the big Andean mountain passes. Today was a fine example in how the roads combined with the state of the vehicles using them - at least in the past - conspires to dot the verge regularly with these shrines. It must be a Catholic thing I guess. The shrines vary tremendously; some must have over the years taken greater importance and have been built up and are sometimes signed, and most are fairly simple and rudimentary. The ones on in the desert are particularly interesting as they often have little enclosures and vegetation. The only way that can happen is if people water them, and obviously they do. Some shrines are surrounded by used water bottles, sometimes in hundreds, but I don't know the significance of that.

Anyway, what reminded me was the sight near the top of the descent (ascent) where we stopped today. There were five separate crosses and flowers, and just over a little berm a mangled HGV cab with various bits of axles and trailer bed laid around. Someone’s brakes obviously had failed, and you dread to think how long he was careering out of control fighting to save himself before the wagon finally went off the road and destroyed itself. Whether the other crosses were from the same accident I doubt, but it looked to be a father and son in the wagon anyway.


Shrines - result of crashes on road - see them everywhere once roads get dodgy - these on Jama pass

The road to the Bolivian border was dirt but reasonable, as we approached the gatehouse (Chilean customs are in town) the Bolivian guard came out, and almost looked disappointed as we turned before it, but soon went bank inside. I can't imagine this border getting much traffic, especially not as now in the rainy season.

We returned to the fine tarmaced Jama pass and continued onwards. The views of the surrounding mountains were impressive, even after all these months. There was no plated high point, but we definitely went over the highest point before we got to the park at 4300m, so say 4500m. Due to the nature of the ascent the bike seemed to notice this one more in some ways, all the long drags. The effect is the opposite of what I'd expect. I'd guess you need to leave it in lower gears at higher revs, but in fact it you over rev it coughs and spits, better changing up. Obviously there’s a limit - you can't stay in top. The bike did very well indeed; in fact better than most vehicles we met....which were few. For such a well made pass probably only 15 we saw.

Some of the colours were once again impressive, and the high altitude lagoons certainly so, quite a surprise. Seeing water up here was unexpected. Surely heavily salted or similar, but colours from deep blue, to green. There was wildlife too, not aplenty, but more than many places. Flamingoes, Vicunas (type of Llama) geese and some small birds. We also saw two Argentinean reg vehicles - first for an age !


Not llama, not Guanaco, but Vicuña

It was cold, which was actually very nice, and we had our cags on, but the sky was generally cloudless so the sun was warming.

The park was free and in sections along the road and quite beautiful. The rock formations particularly were spectacular. being you are surrounded by wide open space there is no reason not to just ride off the road and go to what you see (but watch the sand) which we did on a couple of occasions, quite liberating, image the comments you'd get if you did the same at home.


Tara, Salar Aguas Calientes, Jama Pass. There is a bike under that pillar

We returned to find an email from Miguel saying he had found a tyre and details of how we could pay and get it delivered by bus to arica. Here the buses are used a bit like couriers and will take parcels in exchange for payment. You can collect the parcels at their terminal. Spoke to Miguel later in evening too as email is fine but not a very personal approach. He has been so helpful to us, and it looks like we might well be back on track again which will be wonderful. To add to the feeling of well being the brake fluid level didn’t seem to be dropping as much today either. If stays like that we may be able to continue topping it up and catching the spillage with folded up toilet paper as per the last three months. Its one of those jobs I don't really want to do unless I have too as it could end up worse than now. Currently we have brakes that work fine; if the repair failed we could end up with no front brake. Not ideal on Andean mountain passes!

Tuesday 21st February 2006

Calama + Chuquicamata Copper Mine

245 kms

Our first task was too get the details sorted for the tyre. Miguel had emailed the fact he was able to get one the right size and what the price would be and how we had to pay. As there is no banking facility in San Pedro that tied to Miguel’s bank we had to go to Calama.

Though the road across to Calama is pretty bleak it is a straight run and only takes a little over an hour, some long tugs up and down hill though.

To cut a long story short we got there, and the bank we needed couldn't accept deposits and with time running out before they closed we ended up paying into a relatives account in order to pay. It was a close run thing but we succeeded in the end. All of this is of course based entirely on trust. Miguel packed the tyre off to the Tur Bus company and it will travel with them to Arica were we go to their terminal and pay for the carriage (£8) and prove who we are to get the goods. Like many things in Chile the cost of the tyre is around 50% more than Argentina, and near the UK price (the tyres are made in Brazil). But no tyre, no further north, so it's a small price to pay.

The important task complete we had the option of gaining something from the long round trip by way of trying again to visit the worlds largest open cast copper mine at Chuquicamata

We thought there were tours at 8.30 and 14.30, the time now was just gone two! A bit of a dash up the road for 12kms and the time was very near half past.

The city basically is the mine now, as 8,000 folk works there and 30% of Chile's entire income is from this mine. So it's quite a place. The mine itself dominates the landscape as of course the spoil heaps are of enormous proportions, clearly visible for miles.

We dashed into the tour office to find that the tour leaves at 3pm and of course was fully booked! We could wait and see if there were any cancellations, there often are the woman said. Obviously you see all the folk, and the others who came before you who had no tickets and think, not a hope!

In fact we were lucky, everyone left, and there was space for two more only. We had to quickly do the paperwork and pay. There is no charge for the tour, just a donation to a local children’s charity. I opted for 5000 for the two of us which sounded pretty reasonable. We dashed out with our bike gear with us as the office was due to close. Luckily there was space on the coach for all the clutter.

We had the introductions and a test of how many different races and the tour commenced in Spanish and English - lucky for us !

I'll sketch some details in at the end, but basically the mine has been here since 1915 and extends down 850m, in standard fashion it is tiered out and upwards and so is an immense hole in the ground - unbelievably huge, hard to comprehend. We saw all this from a viewing point for about 20 minutes and it was amazing, like a human inverted ant heap.


The worlds biggest open cast copper mine - that truck is carrying over 100 tonnes

There are round the clock operations and obviously some of the biggest Tonka toys you've ever dreamt of. It's hard to describe the scene. We only saw the pit really; none of the processing side or finished product, but the guide gave us insights to the future.


Can’t get the scale, 3.5kms long, 2.5kms wide

They expect to mine for 85 more years, go down to a depth of 1100m - the economics of further depths rule them out, and link with two other nearby mines to create one super mine 15kms long. One big hole !


There were a few questions I would have liked to ask, but we weren't able to at the time. Such as:

Will they infill it (unlikely) or pay for fencing as security ?

Are there any side effects of having such a huge deep hole in the neighborhood ?

How warm was it in the bottom - apart from the suns heat, there must perhaps be the earth’s heat too ?

How long does it take one truckload to ascend ?

Other things that struck me were :-

If the copper market falls, Chile will collapse.
With an 85 year life the shares must be good
It's a state run company so must corruption you'd think.

On our return we stopped by yet another large memorial sat in the dessert. This one had a plaque in Spanish that I could at least understand. It was a memorial to 34 people executed here by the Pinochet Dictatorship in the 70s I think, the infamous "caravan of death" and good to see being recognized in this relatively newly democratized country.


Shrine to the victims of the ´Caravan of Death´ under the Pinochet regime

So all in all today was a definite good day, and we gained more than we ever expected so double bonus.

Wednesday 22nd February 2006

San Pedro De Atacama

0 kms

Well, almost truly a day of leisure today. We came to San Ped to stay a few days mainly in order to pick up some leads being sent form AutoCom – the leads packed up first way back in November I think, we made them function until December when a replacement set were sent from the states – but the states dealer got it wrong and sent wrong parts (at $45 cost to us I add). We had a repair and a fiddle in Ushuaia that lasted on and off til about a month ago. Autocom were sending the right leads direct from UK to here Poste Restante (sp) but so far nothing’s arrived, beginning to worry we´re doomed to bad luck on the intercom front. It’s had a lot of use, but is disappointing that it’s failed as we really need it for the long boring riding days. Last chance tomorrow.

Had a very relaxing day, in fact spent the day doing little but getting frustrated by internet problems here. The upside was we got to spend quite some time with some other residents at the hostel a French family from Aix en Provence. They were very nice, and particularly nice to see a family interacting so much, definitely people we’ll keep in touch with and hopefully meet again. Even had a pool championship in evening. Shame they’re leaving in morning, off to visit a cousin who works at an observatory so very envious of the fact they’ll see a real telescope in action while here – bet that knocks the pants off the one we went too. You can visit the observatories here, the big ones, but only during day which seems against the whole point.

Thursday 23rd February 2006

San Pedro de Atacama

nominal kms

Another relaxing day with a ride out into the canyons hereabouts – another opportunity to get completely bogged in sand, but at least when only in the thirties rather than forties ¡


Trying to tell me something else?

Rode out towards the geysers, but never went all the way as road rough and they are best viewed in a.m. but don’t seem too spectacular by all accounts we’ve received – not with a 4am start anyway.

Some great cacti by road, we never knew those ´rain sticks you buy are made from dried cacti wood from hereabouts. It’s wonderful stuff as light and very ´vented for want of a better word.


Well that´s a surprise - forgot we´d cross this!

Sending this as our final task, then we’re up in morning an Arica bound. Lets hope we get the tyre more successfully than the intercom leads…sadly nothing arrived while here (allowed 10 days which is 50% more than it takes the CDs to get to UK) so looks like we’ll be shouting through Bolivia and Peru – a great disappointment.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 12:32 PM GMT

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