March 02, 2005 GMT
Sighs of Relief

I always thought Bondi Beach was this huge expanse of white sand full of beautiful people and bordered by enormous surf.

I went there yesterday to have a look. It's a sort of bijou Bude but without the cream teas. It's really small - most disappointing.

Mind you, I had a lovely ride around the general vicinity of Sydney, and there are some stonking views to be had over the harbour. I took the opportunity to have a ride over the bridge as well, although not as fast as Mark Webber on Sunday (I expect you read about that fiasco).

I think I told you I'm at a campsite on Botany Bay. I went for a ride around the bay to the National Park. Very nice, and hardly spoilt at all by a) the Caltex oil refinery in the middle of it, and b) the final approach to the airport directly overhead. Quite like the New Forest, really.

The gearbox. Well, considered opinion of the experienced mechanic who took the bike for a ride the other day is that the clutch splines have dried out a bit, and he doesn't think there's anything else wrong. As we'd have to take out the box to regrease, he reckoned there'd be nothing to lose by taking the end off the box and checking it out. Trouble is, they can't do it till Monday even if I take the box out myself.

So I've now gone to plan B. Bike gets crated on Friday morning and collected by the shipper in the afternoon. It'll be on a flight over the weekend. Meanwhile, I'll arrange with the dealer in Santiago to have a look at things for me when I get there. We'll see.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:01 PM GMT
March 07, 2005 GMT
Plan F

Easter Island belongs to Chile.

For about 50 years, from around 1900 until 1953, it was leased to Williamson Balfour & Co. Williamson Balfour & Co are the BMW concessionaires in Chile. They are owned by Inchcape, who also own (amongst others) Cooper Reading, my local BMW dealer. I have shares in Inchcape. So it would be rude not to go there on my way to Santiago, wouldn't it?

The bike will, allegedly, be crated tomorrow morning and collected by the shipper in the afternoon. I blame the Oz Police, because it's the late delivery of one of their new bikes which has caused the delay. Never mind - it's been nice weather and I've had some decent rides around various National Parks and the Blue Mountains.

Some of the TV here is a bit strange. As well as reruns of Dr Who (I'm not scared of the cybermen any more) they have home improvement programmes which include items such as "How to stop cockatiels eating your furniture". Adverts range from the hilariously un-PC to the intelligence-insulting stuff we're all used to.

People encounters have encompassed everything from the very friendly Welshman in the traffic jam who recognised the Newbury phone number on my numberplate to the unreconstructed male person in the Outback who asked "Does being bisexual give you any problem while travelling?"; to which my answer was, of course, "I've no idea - why don't you ask a bisexual?"

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:08 PM GMT
March 08, 2005 GMT
Plan G and I┤m about to Scream

Nearly screamed this morning - the crate hadn't arrived, so crating is delayed till tomorrow. Luckily the shipping people are being very cool about it all.

I think Easter Island may be out as a stopover place. I spent most of yesterday afternoon at a flight consolidator (considered to the Oz's best) attempting to make some sense out of the schedules. Actually, my proposed itinerary was easy compared with the poor chap next to me who wanted to fly to Vladivostok, then LA, then back to Sydney. Non e possibile.

It transpires that the cheapest way to do Sydney/Easter Is/Santiago is via Israel (8 hours in the transit lounge at Tel Aviv) and takes a total of 35 hours; go figure that one out on a map of the world. The next best route takes in 3 nights in Tahiti and a fair time in the transit lounge at LA. So, as there are 2 flights a week from Santiago to Easter Island anyway it looks easiest although not cheapest to do it
from there.

The next challenge was a flight from here direct to Santiago; well, I say direct, but the shortest route (16 hours) is via Auckland (only one-and-a-half hours in the transit lounge). Leaves here 10:15 on Saturday morning and arrives two hours later - it crosses the dateline so you gain 14 hours, and I'll then be 3 hours behind you instead of 11 hours ahead. For A$300 less I could have had a 35-hour series of flights more or less as above, but I really, really couldn't face that. And the shipper reckons there's a fair chance of the bike being on the same plane, which would be great. The chap at the flight place was extremely helpful, and is not only dropping off my ticket at the campsite for me but has also made sure my ticket is a movable feast - that way if there are any more crating delays I can take a later flight without penalty.

I'm really looking forward to Chile and Argentina; they both sound fantastic places where the superiority of the campsites is in inverse proportion to the state of the roads (especially in Patagonia). Tim Rawson, are you out there? Why are there so many places in Patagonia called Rawson? Any relation? The Welsh towns sound rather fun as well.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:10 PM GMT
March 10, 2005 GMT
Far be it from me . . .

Far be it from me to tempt anything approximating fate, but I think it's sorted.

We crated yesterday (jettison fuel, oil, battery; remove front wheel, mudguard and screen; remove top box and saddle and replace them the ther way around; reduce tyre pressures; strap evrything down; nail coffin lid down).

Today I went over to the warehouse for the Customs inspection and had to unload EVERYTHING which meant un-nailing the coffin lid and de-jigsawing all the carefully-packed bits and pieces. The officer then complained that the panniers and topbox aren't mentioned on the carnet under "Additional Equipment" although this a) has never been the case before and b) the issuing authorities regard such items as part of the bike and thus do not need to be specified. This is the most detailed Customs inspection I've *ever* had. The shipper was really furious and
phoned the Customs HQ in Canberra to complain, bless him.

So, the Hazardous Cargo certificate has been signed (visions of savage bikes rampaging around the cargo hold in the middle of the Pacific), and I go back tomorrow to get the Bill of Lading and give them an arm and a leg. The bike *will* be on the same plane as me on Saturday morning, hurrah.

Why are all the taxi drivers in Sydney Lebanese?

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:12 PM GMT
March 13, 2005 GMT

I already like Chile. It┤s a sort of Spain with attitude. Smoking is compulsory, and a bottle of very decent Cabernet Sauvignon can cost as much as, ooh, thirty bob.

I think I┤m now GMT -4 hours. The confusion has occurred because when telling us local time on landing yesterday lunchtime they omitted to mention that the clocks went back last night, so I was an hour early for breakfast this morning.

The Andes are rather spectacular, even from here, and I┤m really looking forward to riding around on them. It┤s still T-shirt weather here, but it┤ll cool down as I go south and upwards into the mountains.

So, it┤s the fourth continent and the 19th country. I┤ve ridden around 17,000 miles and actually travelled around 32,500 miles if you include the sea and air interludes.

The next challenge is bike retrieval and reassembly. I┤ve yet to establish whether the bike really is here - can┤t do that till tomorrow morning. But I think I┤ve managed to arrange a battery from the BMW dealer, who claims to have four of them in stock. Very helpful people, and the general manager┤s PA speaks excellent English. The bike person didn┤t, so I showed him a pic of the bike, and a pic of the bike crated in Sydney, then drew a pic of a battery, and he understood immediately what I was on about. Just like the Cambodian lady at the little chef on the way to Phnom Penh - I pointed at two eggs, mimed whisking them, then mimed frying with appropriate sound effects. Five minutes later I was served an excellent omelette. Anyway, it┤s another use for a digital camera.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:15 PM GMT
March 14, 2005 GMT
Bernardo O┤Higgins

Chile is an RC country, and there is no divorce law.

So on the immigration card the options under Marital Status were limited to Single/Married/Widowed. I ticked Widowed on the grounds that a) technically it's true, and b) I might have an easier time of immigration than when I entered Oz. And so it was - sailed through in a third of the time of anyone else with no nonsense about return tickets or anything. I┤ll have to try that one again.

My driver is an elderly Croat called Mario who speaks a very little English and about the same amount of Italian and German as I do, so we get on like a house on fire, and he┤s helping me with my extremely meagre Spanish (which will no doubt improve on this continent until I get confused by Portuguese in Brazil). I┤m having to use a driver as although the Metro (in common with most other capital cities) is clean, efficient, cheap etc. it doesn┤t go as far as the airport in the west or the BMW dealer in the east, and the buses are completely impenetrable. A very fetching young man called Alejandro at the dealer has sorted me a battery, which I collected this afternoon fully charged. Mark Christmas, the nice young man at the shipping agent in Sydney, very kindly texted me to confirm that the bike has indeed arrived, and a helpful lady called Ninoschka rang me from LAN Chile cargo to explain the procedure I┤ll have to go through tomorrow when I go to get the bike. Mario is going to lend me a jerrycan for the petrol and is all primed to sort me with that and the engine oil on the way to the airport tomorrow.

Before having my well-earned pint of Greene King IPA yesterday I was very virtuous. I took the Metro into the city centre at Plaza de Armas and did museums and things. I got a double whammy with the museums. As is the case in most places (as I┤ve explained in previous epistles) they┤re closed on Mondays (so I couldn┤t have done them today anyway), and not only that but they┤re free on Sundays. I sat outside a pavement cafe on the square for lunch, just like Quadri┤s on the Piazza San Marco but without the sneering waiters, and watched the fat and very well-behaved pigeons politely taking turns with the olives. And then an Italian-registered camper turned up and parked illegally (naturally), its sides inviting written messages; and a special place was reserved for comments about Fabrizio Meoni. Turns out the guy is an enduro nut. He and his wife came here via the Middle East and for some obscure reason doubled back and shipped the van from Istanbul.

So, tomorrow is a busy day doing paperwork, paying out more money, and reassembling the bike, preferably in the reverse order of disassembly. Alejandro offered to have the bike picked up and reassembled in the workshop for $220, and I accepted with alacrity but then had to decline as they can┤t even collect it until Friday and I probably wouldn┤t get it back in one piece until next Monday. Never mind, I┤ve nothing much better to do. At least I┤ll have somewhere to do the clutch splines.

Names here are rather bizarre - mostly along the lines of the above-mentioned and ubiquitous gentleman. Banco Edwards (part of the Chile national bank), Gladys the receptionist (and I┤m not even in Patagonia yet), Browne┤s Pharmacy down the road. Apparently it gets quite unreal once one┤s in the depths of Patagonia with the inhabitants of some small towns (like Trelew and Donafon) speaking Welsh almost to the exclusion of Spanish. At least I know what Araf means and what an Ysgol is.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:17 PM GMT
March 15, 2005 GMT
Ele Vantarse

I knew it was all going far too smoothly.

When I collected the battery yesterday afternoon I said "It's too big" and they said "No, it's the right one" so I thought I must be mistaken.

This morning Mario picked me up at 9 and we went to the airport. Warehouse office first to get the Airway Bill ($10); Customs to have bike verified (checking frame and engine numbers); on to the airport circular bus to go to the Customs office on the airside of International Arrivals (not much Security apart from two sniffer dogs having a go at the entire luggage of a couple of elderly nuns) to obtain the temporary import permit (they use the carnet merely as a cribsheet); back to the warehouse to pay for the dangerous cargo/storage/etc. stuff (35,000 pesos); and there's the bike.

So, they ripped off the packaging and dismantled the crate and I proceeded to reassemble a la Haynes, having despatched Mario to collect fuel and oil. He arrived back bearing these items and the battery, which, of course, is too big. Phoned Alejandro at the BMW dealer and reaffirmed by belief in the oversizeness of the battery, gave him the chassis number, and he said he┤d double-check for me and ring back. He didn┤t, so after half an hour I tried to phone Alejandro and every other number I had for the dealer but all numbers resulted in some sort of recorded message. Heigh-ho. But I managed to improve the shining hour by using my jump leads to connect the battery to the bike anyway so I could use my little 12v compressor to reinflate the tyres.

Eventually we all gave up, and a very helpful supervisor type called Pablo produced an English-speaking sidekick called Francisco, and between us we arranged that I would leave the bike there at no charge and they┤d lock the luggage and stuff in the secure cage (which they insisted I inspect), and return tomorrow with the correct battery.

So, off we went back to the other side of Santiago. On the way I had a totally brilliant idea and rang John, who has an identical bike and was on his way home from work. So when he got home he texted the exact dimensions of his battery to me. Hurrah, I was right, it's 7.5cm wide, not 12cm. And as I walked into the dealer they solemnly pointed at a battery of the correct size sitting on the reception desk. Phew. They didn┤t argue, and I just paid the balance - it's more expensive because a) it's smaller, and b) it's one of those nice gel ones with no
maintenance and that you can turn upside down (which is sensible if you're me). So they're charging it overnight, and tomorrow Mario will collect me at 9 again and we'll do our lovely circular tour of Santiago again.

Incidentally, Mario was astounded that at no time did anyone demand any dosh from me except the perfectly legitimate and properly invoiced shipping charges. Although he was also pretty astounded by the labyrinthine procedure, which I assured him was par for the course.

Oh, and the subject line. It appears to be the name of a menswear shop just around the corner.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:20 PM GMT
March 16, 2005 GMT

Got the bike back. Mario took me to the dealer first thing to collect the correct battery, charged overnight. Back to the airport, shoehorned battery in, connected everything up, put my clothes off, signed the last bits of paper and off I went into Santiago.

During the day the traffic is moderately dense (especially the women in Chelsea Tractors) and fairly placid in an Italian sort of way. Then suddenly, at around 7:30pm, the density trebles and it all goes *completely* bonkers. The main drag (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O┤Higgins) has 10 lanes, five each side. Three on each side are theoretically reserved for buses but this doesn┤t seem to be enforced. The divider between the three bus lanes and the other two is a series of concrete blocks about 6 inches high which, although painted yellow, are less than visible and seriously need to be avoided.

Although Chile˝o driving is very polite, the parking leaves a little to be desired

This is the first country since Russia where I┤ve had to ride on the right (apart from Laos and Cambodia where one┤s road positioning was pretty flexible). People don┤t seem to realise how much of the world apart from the UK still drives on the left - on my route it┤s been Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

So, having made sure the bike┤s OK I returned to the hotel and beetled off to a pavement cafe for a spot of lunch. I┤m a pretty careful soul, but clearly not careful enough as I managed to have my bag stolen. So that┤s all the credit cards (the two I normally stash in the bike I┤d removed for shipping and hadn┤t replaced); passport (that┤s the worst as it┤s my most precious historical document); phone; digital camera (luckily the only pix I┤ve not uploaded aren┤t really that interesting); driving licence (but I have an International Permit);
various odds and sods worthless to anyone else. So, Credit Card Sentinel have stopped all the cards, chums in the UK are trying to persuade Vodafone to stop the phone, I have dollars stashed in the bike so I do at least have money until I can sort something in the morning, and I have a crime number from the Carabineros. I go to the British Embassy in the morning to get a new passport (there┤s a photocopy in the bike and I have a bunch of appropriate photos with me).

All this means I┤m here in Santiago UFN as I have to wait for the passport and for the replacement plastic to arrive from the UK - they get sent to my substitute address, my friends Don and Pauline, who will FedEx them out to me.

As I said, the only thing which *really* pisses me off is the passport - no use to anyone else but has lots of interesting stamps and annotations from the various countries I┤ve been through on this and previous trips. Utterly irreplaceable.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:22 PM GMT
March 17, 2005 GMT

Having spent half the night on the blower to Amex (a most painful and circuitous procedure involving calls to the UK, Germany and the US, and a final conference call between the lot of us) I managed to obtain $684-worth of pesos at the Western Union office this morning.

Predictably I got the Jobsworth. Refused to listen to anything I said until I gave him a passport. I tried to explain that it┤d been stolen and that Amex had arranged things so I wouldn┤t have to produce it (ID numbers, Q&A things, weird remitter name etc.). I eventually persuaded him to ring them, filled in the form, and he grudgingly handed over the dosh.

Did a little light bike dismantling and retrieved my stash of emergency US$ from inside the headlight housing so I┤ve been able to pay the hotel. If only I hadn┤t been so lazy yesterday, and got up off my bum to replace the spare plastic inside the airbox on the bike (loads of space in there for all sorts of stuff).

Beetled off to the embassy to sort a passport. Jolly helpful and friendly, all helped by the fact that I had about my person a photocopy of the original passport, a couple of pix from the shedload I┤ve been lugging around (monopolised the booth in Sainsburys for an hour one day before I left), the police crime report, and wore a BMW bike T-shirt. For, lo and behold, half the staff are bikers, and they┤re fast-tracking me for no extra charge so I can collect the new passport tomorrow morning instead of next month. I┤ll have to go to immigration and get it stamped, of course, otherwise they won┤t let me out (not that I┤d mind as I rather like it here).

New plastic will eventually wing its way to me via Don and Pauline, and Pauline┤s even sorting a replacement Yellow Fever certificate for me (the doctor┤s surgery doesn┤t have email).

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:28 PM GMT
March 19, 2005 GMT

The great thing about hotel buffet breakfasts is that you can make yourself a packed lunch.

Pootled up into the mountains today. Santiago sits at around 2,000ft; I┤m staying fairly centrally, and five miles up the road the city stops abruptly; you fork right on to a country lane which starts rising rapidly; and it only takes another half hour to get right out of the city and up to 7,000ft. Around 25km further and you're at nearly 10,000ft and the road stops, about 5 miles from the Argentine border. The road┤s not bad, but deteriorates the higher you get in addition to the frequent landslides. This makes the very steep hairpins, some of which have adverse cambers and no safety barriers, awfully interesting.

There are ski resorts up there but they┤re closed at this time of year as the snow line starts at around 12,000ft; hence the packed lunch. If anyone┤s interested, I went to El Colorado, La Parva, and Valle Nevado. Next to no traffic either, which I found a little strange as I would have thought the fact that there┤s nothing up there except peace and quiet and stunning scenery would be attractive to people wanting to go somewhere on a nice sunny Saturday. There were quite a lot of mountain bikers (all friendly), and I saw a few dirt bikes on the back of 4x4s but none being ridden. I don┤t know about the legality or otherwise of trail riding here, but as the pavements (and just about everything else) in the city seem fair game to all including the carabineros (looks like an enduro paddock outside the local police station some evenings) I can┤t imagine there┤s much problem.

I┤ve had to recalibrate my Wow-scale. So, the Andes just here are at about 5 on the 1-to-10 scale, allowing me some leeway in both directions. I┤m afraid there┤ll be no more pix uploaded for a while, unless I can persuade the little Kodak camera that Charlie Rauseo gave me to function properly and not eat AAs. Obviously I still have the Nikon SLR, but you┤ll have to wait till I get back for those pix (transparencies, and put on to CD at process time). Of course, if the insurance pays out I┤ll probably buy another Panasonic like the one that was nicked.

I┤m not usually terribly good on flora and fauna, but some things are unmistakable. Today I saw condors gliding and circling on the thermals. They are truly enormous, and you can see them just twitching the feathers at the wingtips to manoeuvre. They just seem to hang there, so slowly are they moving.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 09:31 PM GMT
March 30, 2005 GMT
Still in Santiago

Some of you don't know how much of a sad git I am. All will now be revealed.

Anyway, Don and Pauline have been ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT. They┤ve FedEx┤d new plastic to me (so I┤ve now been able to pay the hotel) and are doing the same for my new phone and the rest of the cards. So I┤ve had to promise to lick their bikes clean when I get back.

When I buy a bag (of any sort) it gets named after the place where I bought it. So the bag (holdall sort of thing) I bought in hong Kong in 1986 was called my Hong Kong bag, and when it expired in Aleppo in 1996 it was replaced by the Aleppo bag. A Damascus bag was subsequently acquired (in 1998), then an Isfahan bag (in 1990, in order to transport a Persian carpet back to the UK which in its turn knackered my rear suspension), both of which are extant (in storage in Newbury). So, my St.Petersburg bag (shoulder bag sort of thing), which was stolen here, has been replaced with a Santiago bag.

I haven┤t mentioned manhole covers have I? Er, well, that started in Libya in 1996. Another story, really. More sad-gittery.

Had another great ride yesterday to see Aconcagua (highest mountain in the Americas). The road goes north then east from Santiago, through the foothills and up the Rio Aconcagua valley to Los Andes (dusty little town), then east up the pass to Argentina. At nearly the highest part (around 10,000 feet) is Portillo, a *very* exclusive ski resort (more or less closed at present). I went a little further, as far as the border with Argentina at the entrance of the Cristo Redentor tunnel, and the scenery was, well, more recalibration of the wow-scale. This is one of only three good roads across the Andes between Chile and Argentina, so is a major truck route. The climb is amazing, the air the clearest I┤ve seen for ages, and the trucks aren┤t underpowered so you never get stuck behind anything doing 2mph. Totally cracking ride.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 05:06 PM GMT

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