November 30, 2012 GMT
The Bike Is Dead

The bike had never run properly since the engine was rebuilt to replace broken piston rings in Cusco, Peru. This rebuild included unnecessarily stripping and reassembling the bottom of the engine and the gearbox. The engine finally refused to go any further while travelling in the Cordilleras de Cordoba. First gear refused to engage then a short while later the engine stopped with what turned out to be coolant leaking into the cylinder. I took it by truck to the BMW dealer in Cordoba to discuss the options. We assumed the engine problem was the cylinder head gasket which wasn’t too big of a job and luckily they had a new one in stock. To investigate the gearbox problem required removing and stripping the complete engine which would cost a lot more than the bike was worth. I opted to replace the head gasket to get the engine working and then I would attempt to ride the bike to Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America without first gear. This was a risky option as owing to the dodgy rebuild in Peru something else could go wrong at any time, but having ridden the bike so far south; I wanted to at least try and complete the last leg of the Americas. As I didn’t know why first gear wouldn’t engage my main concern was that other gears would follow suite leaving the bike with insufficient gears to continue.

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Leaving Santa Rosa On The Last F650GS Motorbike Ride (Photo By Nelieta)

Once the top end of the engine was stripped it was discovered that it needed a new barrel and piston assembly and the cylinder head needed skimming. The dealer said they were unable to get the parts and asked me to order them. For some reason it is very difficult for companies to import goods and materials into Argentina. I was told the problem stems from Argentina defaulting on their one billion dollar international loan from the World Bank in 2002. It would take about a month to get the parts which wasn’t a major problem but by the time Argentinean import duty was added to the cost of the parts and shipping it took the repair cost to more than the bike was worth. If I had gone ahead with the work the bike still wouldn’t have first gear and the bottom end of the engine would still be suspect following the rebuild in Peru. It looked like the bike had run its last kilometre. The bike had done a total of 62,104 miles (99,336 kilometres). 56, 098 miles (89,756 kilometres) were on this trip from Miami to Alaska then south to Cordoba, Argentina.

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One Dead F650GS In The BMW Operating Room

The one thing that could swing the balance towards repairing the bike would be if I had to pay a high import duty to Argentinean customs for ‘importing’ the bike permanently into the country. Much to my cost I generally prefer to do things ‘by the book’ so I went to the Customs office in Cordoba to make a ‘hypothetical’ enquiry into the procedure to follow if the bike could not be repaired. I was told I could simply give the bike to Customs which seemed like a good deal at the time, far better than paying import duty or having to pay to get the motorbike out of Argentina. However nothing works out as smoothly or easily as that when dealing with Latin American officialdom (Possibly European officialdom is just as bad, I have never had to find out). When I returned to Customs to ask for the address to take the bike to I was told I would have to write a letter requesting permission to give my bike to Customs. I would also need to persuade the BMW dealer to write a letter concerning the condition of the bike. If the bike was worthless they wouldn’t accept it and I would have to return it to my home country of England. If Customs could sell the bike for spares they would graciously take it from me.

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Malvinas (Falklands) War Memorial In Cordoba

Running the risk of having to pay a lot of money to return a scrap motorcycle to the UK persuaded me to look into alternative, less ‘by the book’ solutions. I thought of just going to a border crossing and leaving the country but I had read of two cases where Argentinean Immigration had refused to allow riders to leave the country without their bikes. It is possible to leave Argentina without your bike but you have to show that you intend to return for it before the temporary import license issued on entering the country expires. I needed a cover story in case I was quizzed by immigration when leaving.

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Cordoba Cathedral

I tried to reach an agreement with the BMW dealership that they could have the bike for the parts if they would support a story that I was going to Santiago, Chile to buy the parts and return with them to get the bike fixed. This was going well until one of the big bosses got involved and wanted a solicitor to draw up an agreement for me to sign saying that I was ‘illegally’ giving my motorcycle away. I didn’t want to involve solicitors for obvious reasons so had to hire another truck and take the bike to a friend I had met who said he would help out. I bought a return air ticket to Santiago and had the list of parts required to repair the bike from the BMW dealer in Cordoba as well as accommodation booked for my ‘return’ to Argentina. If contacted by immigration, the friend was going to say that I had left the bike with him while I went for the parts required to repair it. The elaborate ruse turned out to be unnecessary as I sailed through Argentinean Immigration at Cordoba airport and wasn’t asked about the bike. I guess they either assumed I would be coming back, or the computer system failed to display that I had entered Argentina by motorcycle as it was supposed to.

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Santa Rosa de Calamuchita River At Sunset

I ended up spending six weeks in Santa Rosa de Calamuchita broken up with slow weekly trips by bus into Cordoba to check on the bike and pursue the various options with Customs etc. I preferred Santa Rosa where I could relax lying in a hammock reading a book and go for walks along the riverbank. It was worth putting up with the bus journeys rather than staying in Cordoba the whole time. I almost got used to the four hour long afternoon siestas that are common in Argentina. It was fine when I wanted to read a book or take a nap in my room during the hottest part of the day but it was still annoying when the shopkeepers did the same and closed up when I wanted some supplies! We had a number of traditional Argentinean barbecues called asados at the hostel although we would have them in the early evening rather than late at night as the Argentineans do.

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Chilling With A Book And A Mug Of Tea (Photo By Nelieta)

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Nelieta And Andrey Cooking Up An Asado

There was a rodeo held in Santa Rosa one weekend. The horses were tied to a pole and blindfolded while the rider mounted. Once the rope and the blindfold were released mayhem ensued. Most of the riders managed to stay on the horse for the allotted time, the tricky part seemed to be getting off. Guachos (cowboys or stockmen) would ride either side and try to lift the rider off with varying degrees of success.

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Santa Rosa de Calamuchita Rodeo

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Santa Rosa de Calamuchita Rodeo

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Santa Rosa de Calamuchita Rodeo

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Santa Rosa de Calamuchita Rodeo

While I was trying to sort out what to do with the bike I was also looking into options to continue my trip. Having travelled from Alaska to Argentina I wanted to continue southward to get to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia at the tip of South America if possible. My first thought was to buy another bike in Argentina but discovered that for some obscure reason you aren’t allowed to take an Argentinean vehicle out of the country until you have owned it for twelve months. I would want to cross the Argentine / Chile border several times on the way south and on the return journey north again. I considered travelling by bus but hadn’t enjoyed the bus trips between Santa Rosa de Calamuchita and Cordoba. Also, the buses get you to a city but I’m mainly interested in the bits in-between which would be awkward to get to. Without my own transport I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I probably could have bought a motorbike in Chile but they would be expensive. Once I was out of Argentina I was reluctant to return in case Immigration or Customs picked up on the fact that I had a motorcycle there on a temporary import licence.

The original plan had been to ride to Ushuaia as early as possible in the summer then to get to New Zealand as quickly as possible to hopefully tour around the north and south islands before the summer ended. For this to be feasible I was banking on summer starting early in South America. Having reluctantly decided I wasn’t going to be able to ride a bike to Ushuaia, the one good thing was that I could get to New Zealand earlier and spend the summer there.

After more than three and a half years on the road most of my camping equipment and motorcycle riding clothes were past their best and no longer 100% waterproof. I left a lot of it in Argentina so I not only need a new bike but new riding gear and camping equipment as well.

Although I’m generally not a fan of big cities these days Santiago was a nice place to stay for a few days. I spent most of my time walking in the parks running alongside the river. As soon as I arrived I was looking for flights to New Zealand and discovered that I could have a stopover in Melbourne for almost the same price as a direct flight so I decided to have a week’s R&R with my brother Keith and his family.

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Art Market In The Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile

On my last night in Santiago there was a classical concert in the Plaza de Armas with a full orchestra and a choir of around one hundred and eighty singers. They were performing pieces by Beethoven, Elgar and Tchaikovsky as well as music written by a Chilean composer. The finale was the 1812 Overture with a five foot (one and a half metre) diameter drum being used to great effect for the cannon fire.

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Free Orchestral Concert In Santiago

In Melbourne we had the barbecue working overtime while I adjusted to everyone speaking English and trying to remember to flush the toilet paper instead of putting it into a bin. I was re-associated with the joys of ferrying nephews and nieces to after school sports and learnt all about the latest musical sensation, a pop group going be the name of ‘One Direction’. After a week in Melbourne I flew to Auckland, New Zealand to look into buying a small bike to explore the small country with.

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An Aussie 'Barbie' A Week After An Argentinean 'Asado'

Posted by at November 30, 2012 03:09 AM GMT

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