July 11, 2005 GMT
The President Threw Me Out of My Hotel Room

It was like this, you see.

On Friday the border situation was still not entirely clear, so I decided to stay an extra day (and this is a very nice place). I went to tell Reception and they asked if I minded changing to a different room, offering one of the rather nice bungalows on the beach instead, so I accepted.

Turns out that it was because the President and All His Men were booked in, which would explain the thousands of soldiers rehearsing ceremonial stuff on the main road along the shore on Thursday afternoon. And the presence of quite a lot of largish chaps in reasonable suits with bulges under their left armpits.

Anyway, I went and parked the bike outside the bungalow, upon which I heard the unmistakable sound of a boxer engine. José and Maria arrived on a pretty yellow 1200GS and parked beside the bungalow next door.

Of course, we started chatting. They´re from Viña del Mar, which is on the coast just north of Valparaiso, and are having a biking holiday (as you do). They were going to Putre yesterday and invited me to join them, so I did.

Putre is a small village about halfway along the road to Bolivia, at about 12,000 feet in the High Andes. I rejetted so the bike wouldn´t run out of breath, but unfortunately I couldn´t do the same for myself. Even with the smaller jets the reduction in power was significant. Interestingly, the 1200 suffered despite the electronics, and this morning when we left neither bike was very happy to start.

On the way along the road lives a middle-aged hippy in what can only be described as a dwelling. It´s constructed out of the dead trunks of candelabra cacti and an old railway carriage. He serves excellent coca tea (and yes, that is what you think it is). He also provides all his own power - the stove is solar powered, the computer runs off a wind generator, and he´s had backing from the local German consulate for constructing all his renewable energy resources (superb setup involving solar cells, inverters, huge batteries and so on). He used to live in London in the early 70s so we had quite a long chat about that, and other things.

So I´m back in Arica, as are José and Maria. I´m trying for Peru again tomorrow morning, and they´re going to Tacna (in Peru) by train instead of on the bike, as the latest info is that anything Chilean-registered will be a problem but I´ll be OK so long as I cover up the Chilean flag sticker on my topbox.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at July 11, 2005 07:12 PM GMT

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