South America Blog

   This is the journey I have always dreamed of,  to ride my motorcycle across the Americas. 

   Follow me as I travel south from Texas to the tip of South America on my BMW GS.   

    Here's a view of the  Map 

Arriving in the Miami, Florida

As I flew to Miami from Buenos Aires I could not help but think of the many miles that I had traveled over land on my motorcycle the last five months, and now I was traveling over some of that area in just a few hours by plane.

The flight was smooth; however, once I stepped off the plane and headed to the lobby of my arrival gate I started to have issues.  Immediately a US Customs officer asked that I step aside.  It seemed that the Touratech bag I had with me looked suspicious and they needed to inspect it and question me.  After I had a chat with the US Customs officers I convinced them that I was not threat.  So I proceeded to the immigration desk, handed over my passport and the form given to me on the plane.  One of the questions on the form was “What Country (ies) did you visit since leaving the US?”  Since the form only had room for 5 countries I only listed 5 countries.  The officer asked if I had visited all the places listed, I replied that I had, and that I had visited more countries but there was only room for 5 countries and I could not list the other countries I had visited.  He reviewed my passport and his eyes started to squint.  He asked “You have been to all of these places?”  “Yes,” I replied.  “How long were you gone and were you working?”  “No, I am not working – just enjoying a vacation,” I replied.  “Vacation for 5 months!” he replied.  At this point he drew a RED circle on my form and asked that I fellow the red line.  Here we go, I thought to myself.  Just like having to deal with Peruvian police, I prepared myself for the personal attacks. 

I did as directed.  I followed the red line to the next US Customs Agent and we started all over.  “Where have been?  How long have you been out of the US?  Were you working?  Where were you?”  When I replied that I was on vacation, he cut me off and said, “VACATION!!!  Who takes a five month vacation?”  “How much time did you take last year?” he asked, in a condescending way.  “Who do you work for?” he asked.  “I am not working – I lost my job,” I replied.  “You do not have a job?”, he said, and proceeded to review each page of my passport.  His eyes were squinting on each page as well.  He would review a page and stare at me with his squinty eyes.

I finally told him that I had been traveling by motorcycle.  I showed him the paperwork for the GS.  He grabbed the paper out of hands and told me “wait here.”  After some minutes he returned to his desk and started typing on his computer.  He must have been typing a book report because whatever was entered took him quit a few minutes.  Finally he returned to me told me “You can go!”  “Great!” I said, and off I went.

The Last Tango

Once I realized that it was time to return back to the USA I had a difficult time accepting it.  I had been traveling a few days short of 5 months.  It seemed like it had only been a couple of weeks.  I have seen many amazing things and my hunger to experience, explore, and learn even more has only grown.

I made arrangements to drop off the GS at the Argentine Export Terminal.  Even hiring a shipping company to take care of sending your bike you still have to go through this terminal for packaging.  Customs and the airline company have to approve the package.  The process was fairly easy.  There are a few regulations that the airline had that I had to prepare for such as removing all the fuel, removing the battery, and deflating the tires.  The good thing was that I did not have to break the GS down.  This was good because I wanted to ride the GS home once I landed in the USA.

The issue I encountered was that I got a price quote by weight from the airline company.  Once the GS was prepared and I was ready to pay, the amount had gone up from the quoted price.  It was a lot more.  The agent gave me some bullshit story of volume.  So at the end you pay in CASH only.

The cool part was that the GS would arrive at the airport a couple of hours after I landed in Miami Florida.

Strapping and prepping  the bike.  I was able to oversee and secure the bike myself.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires was a great city to wind down at a 20,000 mile trip.  The city was fantastic.  It is the birthplace of the Tango, it has many different neighborhoods (districts), and all the great STEAK you can eat.

Buenos Aires is a city of approximately 13 million people.  You would think that with this many people you would never come across anyone you know.  The strange thing is that I ran into other adventure travelers that I had met along the way in other parts of South America.  My girlfriend flew into Buenos Aires to spend a few days visiting with me and to see the city.  As we walked the Sunday markets in the San Telmo district we ran into Enrico.  Enrico was someone I met on that long and boring 36 hour ferry ride in Chile.  We had not seen each other since.

Enrico was to leave the next day,  we tried to convince him to stay a few more days.

 

After spending the afternoon with Enrico enjoying the street music and several tango shows, my girlfriend and I were making our way back to the hostel where we were staying.  Several blocks before arriving at the hostel on a dark street I kept my eyes focused on the street so that we did not trip and fall in one of the many holes.  We walked past two tall man walking in the opposite direction.  They were speaking Germen.  I continued walking for a few more steps when it hit me that I knew those voices.  I suddenly turned around and ran to catch up with them.  My girlfriend thought that I had gone mad.  The voices I heard were those of Gerald and Jochen, other motorcycle travelers that I had also met on that long ferry ride.  What a small world.

 Jochen, Sherry, and Gerald

Buenos Aires has lots to offer – nice districts, markets, tango shows, great steak and wine, the widest street in the world, and an unbelievable graveyard.  There is much to see and one needs a lot of time to take it all in.

Mar del Plata, Argentina

From Puerto Madryn I traveled north to Mar del Plata which was a large resort city on the Atlantic coast of Argentina.  It had many high rise condos and very fancy and expensive places to dine and shop.  It was a pretty city.  The beaches, for the most part, were very organized.  They had hundreds of little tables with umbrellas lined up in rows that people could rent on the beach.  I was lucky to be in Mar del Plata in the middle of the week, otherwise I would have had to deal with weekend beach crowds.

The area is also a surfer hangout.  I could see them having a good time on the waves all day long.

My GS finally received some much needed attention.  I wanted to wash the GS ever since I set foot in South America.  While the weather was nice I managed to locate a place where I could wash it.  Besides, at this point I was not planning on riding on gravel road any more.

The GS almost looks new now!  And ready for more adventure

Los Motoqueros

(Left to Right) Carlos, Jose, Carlos, and Hernan.

The winds finally subsided enough for me to enjoy my ride.  The winds were still blowing, just not as strong, and they were not killing me as before.

After four months of following road signs that indicated SOUTH, it was strange and awkward to see and follow road signs that indicated NORTH.  This part of Argentina’s Patagonia seems to be a lot like West Texas in the USA.  Because I had not repaired the crossover fuel line, and my fuel range was about 50 miles less per tank, I decided to ride at a speed of about 60 MPH instead of the normal 80 to 90.  The distances between towns and fuel stops were far apart as well.  Traveling at this slower speed made for some long days of riding.

I made my way to Puerto Madryn, a stop for the Dakkar Rally.  While exploring the town I came across four guys traveling on BMW GSs.  They were from Buenos Aires and were on their way to Ushuaia.  They were riding a couple of 1200 GSs and a couple of 1100 GSs.  We traded a few stories over lunch, and as fast as they rode into town they rode out.  They were on a mission to get to Ushuaia before winter set in.

Rough Seas and the Winds from Hell

When I first arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina I was pleasantly surprised with the beauty of the area.  In my mind I was picturing a flat prairie and a small coastal village.  Instead I found a beautiful city surrounded by some amazing mountains.  The National Park Tierra del Fuego was also great.  I was sad to leave Ushuaia so soon after my arrival, but since it was March it was that time of the year when the weather changes very quickly.  It started to get cold and rainy.  From the information that I had, the second week of March was the latest time to be traveling in this area on a bike.  The night before my departure the area got heavy rain.  In the morning, as I readied for departure, I was told by the staff at the hostel to be extra careful in the shady areas along the road.  Those areas tend to become icy first.  At the time of my departure the temperature was in the mid 30s.  As I rode down the road I was sure to pay extra attention to the road.

I rode through some beautiful country with snow capped mountains and great scenic views for the first 100 miles.  I as soon approached the coast I started to encounter strong cold wind.  Along the coastal road the strong winds became even stronger as they blew off the sea.  From time to time I would get a severe wind gust that would blow the GS into the opposite lane.

I reached the Argentina/Chile border, and by now exiting and entering between these two countries had become routine.  In Chile the paved road became gravel or rippia as it is called locally.  For 100 miles I struggled to maintain control of the GS in the very high winds.  Riding on gravel roads is like riding on top of marbles.  I had to allow the GS to glide on top of the gravel stones.  When a strong gust of wind would hit the GS, it would start to drift off the road.  I experienced two very close calls when the front of the GS would push out causing the GS to dip severally.  I was lucky to be able to place my foot down preventing a fall.  I was sure that before the day was over I would have a fall.  Glad I was wrong.

I was finally off the gravel road and very glad to be back on a paved road.  I had a short ride to the port where I needed to catch a ferry to cross the Straights of Magellan.  As I waited to load I could see the waves slamming against the side of the ferry and the Lorries were rocking pretty severely from side to side.  With all the rocking and rolling of the ferry I knew that it was going to be a challenge for me on the GS.  When it was my turn to board I had to time the boarding just right otherwise the ferry would tilt, causing the ramp to be too high for the GS.  My timing was good but no one came over to help me secure the GS to the deck.  On all other ferry boardings, ferry staff would come over and help secure the GS.  With no assistance I realized that I was not able to get off the GS due to all the rocking and rolling of the ferry.  Before long the ferry was making its way across the Straights and I was stuck on the GS trying hard to balance it.  As the ferry traveled on the rough seas it acted like a roller coaster.  It would climb up a wave and then drop, causing a wall of water to splash on everything on board – cars, trucks, lorries, bikes, and of course, me.  This rocking and rolling and splashing of water continued for 30 minutes but it seemed like 20 days.  It was a long period of time.  All I could think of was ending up under the lorry next to me.  How I managed to stay upright I do not know.  Glad it was only a 30 minute ferry ride.

Finally, I make it back on solid ground.  I thought to myself, only 100 miles to the next border crossing.  When I managed to arrive at the border the winds were extremely strong.  I was struggling to keep the GS upright.  I had to find a spot next to a high wall so that I could park the GS and climb off.  The customs staff told me that the winds average 60 miles per hour in this area.  Because Patagonia is flat, there is nothing to break the wind so you get very strong winds all of the time.  I was almost afraid to get back on the GS, but I did.  I managed to ride to Rio Gallagos.  When I arrived I was very tired and my hands were in pain from having a very tight grip on the handlebars.  My dinner was interrupted by the winds from hell.  I had parked the GS between two cars in a gap that was about four feet wide.  My thinking was that the cars would shield the GS from the strong winds.  I selected a table that allowed me to keep an eye on the GS in the parking lot.  I could see that it was rocking and from time to time it seemed that it was going to tip over.  Before I could finish my dinner I decided to find a hotel with high walls to protect the GS from the winds.

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Ushuaia, Argentina

The Ferry Patagonia crossing the Straights of Magellan

 

Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Tierra del Fuego - I finally reached my goal – the End of the Road . . . the Bottom of the World.  I traveled a distance of 15,408 miles or 24,769 kilometers in three days shy of four months since my departure from my hometown in Texas.

As a young child living one mile from the Pan-American Highway near the Texas – Mexico border I used to wonder where that highway led to going south.  My parents would take us on annual vacations north, east, and west to see many of the sights within the USA but when it came to traveling south they always stopped at the Mexican border.  I would often ask why we could not go any further south and the answer most of the time was that it was too much trouble.  My imagination would always take over and I would start thinking of the many possible sights, people, cultures, and landscapes that were beyond that border.  On this trip I have reached the end of the road and have seen the many sights; met many people from many different countries; experienced many rich cultures; tasted many wonderful foods; and seen many beautiful vistas, mountains, deserts, forests, and different types of wildlife.

This was a FANTASTIC ride with many challenges that at times I thought I could not handle.  Traveling solo has been great because it forced me to meet, talk and mingle with the local people instead of staying within the security of a group of traveling mates.  My trusty GS, with over 429,000 miles on it, has been unbelievable – given the conditions it had to travel through.  Friends told me that I was crazy to start a trip of this caliber on a motorcycle that had over 429,000 miles on the odometer.

Over many years I had collected a list of the many places I wanted to visit and experience.  Places like the Panama Canal, the Equator, Arbol de Pierda, the Calafate Glaciers, and the Tierra del Fuego.  I wanted to experience the cities of Bogota, Quito, Santiago, and Cusco.

Although I had reached the end of the road, my trip was not over.  I still had a 3,000 mile ride north to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  That is where I plan to officially end my ride.

Thank you to all who traveled along with me via my blog.  Thank you for the many emails of support and encouragement.  All of this support from friends and family helped me reach my goal of adventure.

Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas

From El Calafate I headed south on Ruta 40 toward Puerto Natales, Chile.  The temperature was getting colder and the winds were strong.  From this point I was approximately 700 miles from Terra del Fuego.  After riding approximately 100 miles I stopped to dig out my fleece clothing for the first time.  The temperature was dropping and other riders traveling in the opposite direction informed me that it was snowing pretty heavily a few miles ahead in the direction I was traveling.

Looking at a map it does not seem to be that far of a distance; however, this is a big continent and the road zig zags through both Chile and Argentina.  Because the road zig zagged between two countries I had to deal with the issues of entering and exiting countries several times.

I made it to Puerto Natales, Chile.  The village is the staging area for those persons visiting Torres de Paine, a National Park.  This park has a spectacular mountain range.  If you speak to an experienced mountain climber about the Torres de Paine they will know what you are talking about.  I arrived in the afternoon, and since it was Sunday, not too many places were open for business.  I did not get to see much of the village.

On Monday, I rode to Punta Arenas, Chile it was a rather easy ride.  On my way I saw a sign indicating a natural habitat for penguins.  I decided to go explore the penguin habitat.  It was about a 40 kilometer ride on a gravel and sand road that led to a very lonely and remote beach that the penguins use for nesting.

On this trip one of the most rewarding things for me was to see the many changes in landscapes and variety of wildlife.  I started out with rattlesnakes in the south of Texas and now penguins in Chile.

Near Punta Arenas, Chile

Once I reached Punta Arenas I made my reservations for a ferry ride the next morning and found a good place to eat and a place to sleep.

El Calafate and the Glaciers

My 120 mile ride from El Chalten to El Calafate was without incident – a very easy ride.  After arriving in El Calafate, I first located a hostel.  Then I proceeded to search for parts and tools that I needed to secure the rear wheel on the GS.  Like in many Latin American countries, businesses in Argentina are closed for a couple of hours during lunch.  So trying to locate the items I need in the middle of the day was rather hard.  I managed to locate most of the items that I needed in the late afternoon.  I worked on the GS and got it ready for the next day.

The next day, Sunday, I decided to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier.  Like the Arbol de Pierda this was a place that was on my MUST SEE list.  Because it was on my must see list I traveled on a not so safe and very poor condition road to get there.  I was not disappointed when I arrived there.  The sight was astonishing and beautiful.  Like the Grand Canyon in the USA it is one of those places you need to see to appreciate.  To see and hear the huge chunks of ice breaking off and crashing into the water below was absolutely miraculous to witness.

Perito Moreno Glacier

El Chaiten, Argentina

The Spanish crew escorted me out of that gravel-pit of a road that I had been traveling on.  We reached a paved road which was nice and smooth.  We were heading to El Chalten which is located at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.  The area bears resemblances to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in the USA.  It is my understanding that Mt. Fitz Roy is one of the hardest mountains to climb.

It was another very long and stressful day for me with all the hardware issues I encountered.  I just wanted to eat a good meal and relax.  I ran into Gerald and Jochen and we managed to locate an inexpensive hostel.  I settled in just as the rain and wind started.  The winds built up and became very strong, making some incredible sounds.  I was amazed that objects that were not tied or bolted down did not blow away.

It is my understanding that this area has micro climates.  It can be storming in one area of town and a few miles down the road the climate conditions are completely different.

After a very restful night I was on the road again in route to El Calafate.

Challenges

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After arriving in Chile Chico, and after a very tough day on rough gravel roads, I gave serious consideration to not continuing any further south.  The thought of traveling alone in the middle of nowhere and having trouble did not sound vey inviting.  At this point I had traveled over 14,000 miles.  I did not think or feel that I was declaring defeat if I did not make it all way to the bottom of South America.  So that evening I studied the map very carefully several times.  I decided that the distance left to travel to accomplish my goal was achievable.  So I decided to continue traveling south.

I got off to an early departure to reach the Chile-Argentina border.  Once there I took care of all documentation in about an hour and was on my way again.  The road “Ruta 40” has a reputation for being rough and having loose gravel.  In addition to the great road conditions you also encounter the infamous Patagonia winds.  After about 10 miles of travel I started to think to myself that maybe I was pushing too hard, so I decided to slow down a bit and take one mile at a time. 

After about 100 miles I arrived in a very small town which was basically a gas station and a hotel all in one.  My average speed was between 25 and 35 MPH on those gravel roads.  The next fuel station was 230 miles further south on this road.  That would require a minimum of about 10 hours to travel that distance.  So, at 1:30 P.M. in the afternoon, I decided to call it a day.  This was the earliest time in the day that I had ended my travel on this trip.

The two German riders, Joahen and Gerald, rode in about two hours later.  They stopped for some cold beer then continued traveling south.  Later in the evening three other GS riders arrived.  They were Spanish riders touring the southern part of the continent.

I turned in early to get some much need rest and I had also planned on an early start the next morning.  I got on the road at 7:30 A.M. riding solo again.  It was a bit cold and the winds were mild.  About 20 miles down the road I started smelling fuel.  I slowed down and noticed a tiny fuel stream.  As I came to a complete stop the quick-disconnect for the tank crossover line broke and fuel started to gush out.  My immediate concern was FIRE, because the gas was pouring all over the exhaust pipes.  I rushed to stop the leak by pinching the fuel line with my fingers. 

Now, without an extra pair of hands to help me, it took a lot of effort to pinch the line while trying to grab my tools and parts.  How I managed I am not sure but what I was sure of was that I was in the middle of Patagonia, miles from any type of help.  After an hour or so I managed to resolve my crisis by repairing the fuel line.

Again I continued traveling south on Ruta 40.  About 20 or 30 miles down the road I noticed a strange sound – a sound that I had not heard before.  At first I thought that maybe it was music playing on my iPod.  I stopped playing music on my IPod, but I could still hear the strange sound.  One thing to keep in mind is that on rough roads you will hear different sounds – sounds that are not normally heard on a smooth paved road.  I traveled about another mile and decided to stop.  As I came to a stop the rear wheel felt like it was flat.  When I examined the rear tire I was shocked to find that two of the lug nuts were missing and the remaining two were loose and about to come off as well.  Again I am in the middle of Patagonia with no parts store to purchase two more lug nuts.  So my only option was to tighten the remaining two lug nuts as tight as I could get them.  I did a complete check of the GS for any other loose items and kept on riding.  I rode even slower at first, stopping to check the lug nuts often.

I was traveling so slowly that the three Spanish riders blasted past me.  I caught up with them at a cross roads.  I give them a run-down of my morning and they were nice enough to ride slow enough to keep an eye on my progress.  We still had 200 miles of travel ahead of us to get to the next stop.

WHAT A DAY!!

You can see where I taped the two missing bolt holes to keep dirt out.

   The Spanish Crew Juan Ignacio, Tomas & Juan    RUTA 40

 

Patagonia, Chile

Patagonia, finally!!  I traveled 14,000 miles from my hometown of Dilley in south Texas to Patagonia.

After leaving Coyhaique I traveled south toward Lago General Carrera.  The road was paved for a short distance then changed to gravel and rock.  The knobby tires would come in handy now.  I could see the snow-capped mountains in the distance and the famous Patagonia winds started to present themselves. 

Cerro El Castillo or Castle Mountain is the first mountain to catch your eye.  I saw my first glacier there.  From information that I had gathered I knew that if the snow has a blue tint it is a glacier.  I could easily see the bluish tint on the Cerro El Castillo when the sun shone on the mountain.

Cerro El Castillo

As I continued traveling along a road that followed a river that fed the lake, the gravel road turned into a road of large rocks.  At times it was very difficult to handle my heavy GS.  As I approached the crest of a hill, and while standing on my foot pegs, the front tire sank into a pile of rocks.  This caused my handlebars to turn hard left and the back end of the GS wiped around so fast. This caused me to fall backwards off the GS.  This occurred in a matter of a few feet.  The GS came to a sudden stop when it hit even larger rocks on the side of the road.  Luckily my body suffered no damage.  However, the GS was not so lucky.  It did suffer some damage.  The left pannier was torn off.  A risk of traveling solo is that when you need help to upright a heavy GS there is no one around to help.  With lots of effort I managed to upright the GS.  My next challenge was to get it out of the ditch it had fallen into.  First I had to point it in the right direction, next I had to secure the pannier that was torn off.  I managed to point the GS in the right direction and I secured the pannier with tie downs.  I was back on my way.

My ride on this day was rough which made for a very long day.  I traveled 250 miles and 175 of those miles were traveled on very rough and harsh road.  At the end of the day I was very tired and I still needed to repair and secure the damaged pannier.  I managed to locate a hardware store that had the items I needed and the pannier was back as good as new.

Coyhaique, Chile

I was still on the ferry; however, it was getting close to the time I would be getting off - only 2 hours more.  After a very long ferry ride, mostly in the rain and fog, the sun was finally starting to shine.  The actual distance traveled by how the crow flies (in a straight line) was only about 300 miles.  With all the zig zagging it was many more miles.  Of course it was a very long time on the ferry.  Once we arrived at Puerto Cacabuco I had a very short ride to the city of Coyhaique, Chile.  The ride there was fantastic, through valleys and mountains that reminded me of the road between Durango and Silverton, Colorado in the USA.

The first thing I needed was to find a good place to stay, good food, and most importantly, a nice shower (hopefully with hot water).

Coyhaique was a nice size town with tourism as its industry.  Since it is located on the edge of Patagonia one could find any kind of tour package there.

Ferry to Puerto Chacabuco, Chile

With the erupting volcano being only six miles away from Puerto Chaiten, there was no way I was going to get there.  My only other option was to catch a ferry that was leaving late Saturday night from the port in Quellon, heading to Puerto Chacabuco.  If I missed this ferry I would have to wait a week for the next one.  This was a 36 hour ferry ride and traveled over 1000 kilometer zig zagging around the many fjords and passages and making many stops along the way to load and unload cargo.

I left Puerto Varas in the morning and traveled south Puerto Montt where I boarded a small ferry to Isla Grande.  After getting off the ferry I traveled to the southernmost tip of the island, to the Village of Quellon, Chile.  At Quellon I was to board the ferry heading to Puerto Chacabuco.  However, I had to wait several hours.  While waiting I met two other motorcycle riders from Germany who were also traveling south like me.  At 10:30 P.M. the motorcycles were finally allowed to board.  At 11 P.M. the ferry set sail.

My goal was to stay out on the outer deck of the ferry, but not long after departing the rain and cold winds started blowing forcing me to move inside to the lobby of the ferry.  This ferry was not a cruise ship by a long shot.  It only had one lobby with seats which were occupied by those who had boarded early.  I tried to find a spot on the floor but that was even difficult.  Most of the floor space was occupied by backpackers and their equipment.  Around 2:00 A.M. I was finally able to find a tiny space to sit and try to get some sleep.  It was going to be a very long 36 hours.

The next morning I got up around 7:00 A.M. with the hope of taking a few photos.  However, I was immediately disappointed by the rain and fog.  It stayed that way for at least 26 hours.  I walked from the lobby to the deck time after time in complete boredom.

On the positive side, I met some very interesting people from all parts of the world.  It is amusing how in the United States we make a big deal out of a two week vacation and those from other parts of the world normally travel for months at a time.  Now that is how we should all vacation.

 Claudia and Martha from Switzerland

Joahen and Gerald from Germany

No Ferry Today

On this day I rode south to Puerto Montt to board a ferry for Puerto Chaiten, Chile.  However, due to the eruption of a volcano that had been dormant for over 9,000 years, authorities evacuated the residents and closed the Port of Puerto Chaiten.  According to the authorities, there was deformation on one side of the volcano cone and they feared that something major was about to happen.

At this point I was forced to sit and wait to see what would happen next.  I decided to return to Puerto Varas and just hang out for a while.

 

Moving South

It was time to head south after a few days in Santiago.  I was not sure how far or where I would land at the end of the day.  The only thing I knew was that I would be traveling south.  It felt great to ride on an interstate type road after many months and thousand of miles on mountain roads, endless curves, topes and small villages that slowed me down.  I was able to enjoy and relax on this road and before I realized it I had traveled 500 miles.  The most distance that I have covered in one day on this entire trip.  WOW!  The rest must have done me real good.

“Come see us” said the signs along the road inviting you to stop and sample their wines.  I traveled about 150 miles in the Chilean wine country. 

I briefly stopped in the very picturesque Village of Valdivia.  Tourism seemed to be their main source of income.  Tourists were everywhere.  I traveled another 100 miles south to Puerto Varas, located on the shores of Lago Llanquihue.  Puerto Varas is surrounded by several volcanoes.  As many times before, just before I ended my day, the cold air started blowing, followed by rain.

The rain followed me all the way into Puerto Varas.  I needed to swap tires again since the nice paved road south of this point would be a gravel road.  I now needed to change back to knobbies.  In the rain I rode around town searching for a place to do the tire swap.  I stopped at gas stations, car tire places, and all I heard was NO.  I even tried a Yamaha motorcycle shop and they said yes until they realized it was a BMW and not a Yamaha, then they said NO.  I decided to stop at one more gas station and ask them if they knew anyone who might be interested in doing a little work.  They give me the name of someone called “El Tigre” (the tiger).  He was the ticket.  He did the job and did not care what I was driving.  Once I found El Tigre it was a matter of 45 minutes and the job was complete.

Real Chilean Workers  

Santiago, Chile

I decided to relax in Santiago for a little over a week.  I wanted to some good rest before starting the last leg of my journey to the tip of South America.

One day I pulled up next to a couple on a motorcycle at a toll booth.  It was very strange to hear someone say “You must be Hank”.  I thought to myself, how do these strangers know who I am?  Then Margus, the male half of the couple, said that he had visited my website.  Again, it is a small world after all.  Margus and his partner, Karlina, are from Estonia and they were on the Latin American leg of their round the world trip.

We spent some time comparing notes with regard to our travels.  A topic of conversation was the wear and tear on a person traveling all the time.  Some of my friends do not understand when I say that I need a rest from my trip.  The truth is that you wear yourself down and at some point you just need to stop to rejuvenate yourself.  To date I have traveled 12,000 miles with only one week of rest in Cusco, Peru.  After a while those 10 and 12 hour days wear you down both physically and mentally.

While in Santiago I decided to take a tour of a vineyard.  I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination; however, I thought it would be fun to visit and learn a little about wine making.  A favorite wine that I like to drink is made by a vineyard in Chile.  The brand name is Concha y Toro and it just so happens to be in the Santiago area.

I was amazed at how much science goes into the production of a bottle of wine

 

Valpariso, Chile

After traveling 400 miles south I found myself in Valparaiso, Chile, another port town north of Santiago.  I was able to locate a hostel in the Cerro Concepcion district.  It reminded me of Sixth Street in Austin, Texas and the French Quarters in New Orleans, Louisiana.  There where colorful hillside neighborhoods with even more colorful social and political graffiti covering walls, fences, and sides of buildings.  The Cerro Concepcion district also had art galleries, coffee shops, and trendy restaurants that overlooked the port.

Chile seems a lot like the United States, with the major difference being that everyone speaks Spanish.  Traffic laws must be followed.  You cannot pass on a curve with solid double yellow lines.  PARE or stop means STOP – not slow down like in the rest of the South American counties.  Everything was very orderly and on time.  The police in Chile are called the Carabineros (rifleman).

As indicated earlier it was very expensive in Chile.  To save on expense I had to resort to sharing my room and bathroom with fellow travelers.  On this night I had to share my room with seven ladies as roommates.  The things I have to put up with when traveling.

Caldera, Chile

While in Antofagasta I decided to take care of some needed repairs and also do some minor maintenance on the GS.  An oil change was in order and I have always used Mobil 1 oil in my GS and did not want to change to another brand at this point.  I paid dearly for the Mobil 1 oil in Chile. It cost $20.00 a quart.  WOW!!  I also wanted to change the tires on the GS back to the street tires since I would not be on dirt roads until I got much further south.  I also needed to have the back rack re-welded since it had cracked again.  The tail rack was in one piece but developed a crack again from the pounding it took crossing the Bolivian desert.  I was able to take care of everything in one day without any difficulty.

After a couple of days in Antofagasta I continued traveling south.  Not far from Antofagasta I visited a monument named “La Mano Del Desierto” (the Hand of the Desert).  The monument was made by the Chilean artist Mario Iranrrazabal.  His idea was to have this hand waving at people traveling to and from Antofagasta.

I rode across approximately 150 miles of Atacama Desert again.  This desert is considered the driest desert in the world and has existed for over 100 million years.  After many miles and many days of traveling at very high and dry elevation, it was nice to be able to breathe nice, moist air once I approached the coast.

I stopped for the night in the small coastal village of Caldera.  Caldera was a very quant village with a bay full of fishing boats, cargo ships, and a plaza full of souvenir shops.

Getting into Chile

The Chilean Customs Office was located in San Pedro de Atacama.  The roads in Chile were much better than those in Bolivia – like day and night.  We traveled for about two miles on a hard-packed road then it was highway the rest of the way.  The Customs Offices was located on the outskirts of San Pedro.  Our paperwork only took a few minutes and we were official.

San Pedro is the hub for many touring companies that provide sightseeing, hiking, and bicycling tours of the desert area.  The city of San Pedro de Atacama is much like Santa Fe, New Mexico or Sedona, Arizona in the USA – very rustic, with many expensive hotels and restaurants.

Chile seemed to be more expense than any of the other countries I had traveled through.  Food, hotels, gas, and oil were more expensive.  Since San Pedro was a tourist type of area and very expensive, I decided to move on.

Kevin was headed in a completely different direction then I so we said our goodbyes.  I ran into Frank and Gaby again and we rode together to Calama.  We heard that in a small town, just a few miles from Calama, was located the Chuquicamata copper mine which this supposed to be the largest in the world.  We decided to take a two-hour tour that was very interesting.  The tour showed how the raw material is mined and recovered, the equipment used, and the mine itself – “the hole in the ground” – which is huge!

From Calama we headed toward the port city of Antofagasta.  We crossed the Atacama Desert – the driest in the world.  A lady working at the copper mine told us that it has been three years since they have seen a drop of rain.