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September 28, 2011
In Argentina the drivers are courteous and friendly but have an odd style of driving, particularly in regards to intersections. It’s said here that the moment that exists between the yellow and red light is called ‘adrenaline’. But what is funnier than that is that it’s their joke. What is not so funny and makes little sense is how they drive through red lights. Since everyone does it you can pretty much be sure that going into a red light at an intersection is near fatal, yet people here will start driving through the reds as though they just came to a four way stop, it’s nutty.
We set up our tent in Mendoza, this involved shaking out all the leaves from Uspallata, stowed our gear in the administration office and headed for Carlos’ shop. It wasn’t easy to find with our GPS and asking people on the street is often the same everywhere so here is the address and GPS coordinates: J. Lencinas 1158 Guaymallen, Mendoza;
S32o 53.214’ W068 o 49.596’
Once there Deya and I got started on the oil and filters change, the next day. Old hat by now with the oil and so the conversation moved to my tedious complaining of Deya’s clutch function and the rut like feeling her front tyre was producing. Carlos laid hands on it, adjusting the clutch to an optimal position. Deya asked if he’d take it for a turn and Carlos obliged, jumping on to check out that clutch and front tyre. He came back shaking his head, I knew what he was thinking, “Brian you idiot, there is nothing wrong with this bike!” To my cheer and dismay that’s not what he was thinking. The clutch is good, the front tyre is fine but the steering head bearing is shot. That’s what is causing the ‘riding the rut’ sensation that has been bugging me. I have never felt that before, not even on my bike when I had to get mine replaced…hmmmm….
We would have to figure this one out before we carried on but first we needed to go to the local BMW dealer to have this front disc issue resolved. There are things that are not a big deal, like the seal on the engine leaking a bit of oil.
As Professor Kai says, “If there is oil coming out then there is still oil, don’t worry about it” We headed to the dealership for some legendary BMW service.
When we got to the BMW dealer in Mendoza no one got up to figure out how to help us, we had to go looking. After telling them about the recall issue on the front disc we basically got the run around. First they weren’t sure if they could help us because we were Canadians with Canadian bikes, next their system was down and they would not be able to check to see if there was a recall. We were told that we would be emailed tomorrow (mañana) to let us know IF they could help us, then sent away. Helping us out would be to know what you’re doing in the first place, but I digress. Deya of course wanted an email contact but could only get a personal one which we only noticed afterwards, it tells you something eh?
The situation around the BMW dealer would eventually end up in Germany to which the response would be, as we’ve always experienced, immediate and without confusion, we love sei Germans. After we left the dealership that day we went and confirmed from our tent what they could apparently not confirm from their fancy office; the six screws on the front disc had the potential for failure and were being recalled.
Recalls are unfortunate but they make for an excellent opportunity to contact your customer and create the opportunity for a good impression, thus more work and better brand recognition. The dealership failed, the next day and the following five days they made no attempt to contact us until our Germany source stepped in, then the response was immediate. This is not the first time we’ve had this issue with dealers and I’m sure it won’t be the last. By the way, we don’t get paid to chase the dealership around for service they are required to perform or intelligently should perform so the five days wait is on their heads.
When we finally got the screws changed they once again failed to perform at an acceptable standard of service based on our expectation of the BMW brand. Any dealership from any brand or any ‘Joe’ mechanic shop could have performed as poorly. I’m not just complaining to be a jerk, we once again had to find them, ask for help and wait for someone to help us. What they didn’t bother to mention was the obvious, Deya needs two new tyre and front brake pads. A quick look would have revealed oil on the engine leaking from the old seal, “Hey what’s that Service light flashing for?” Oil and filter change, too late but a valve check, sure. Oh and what about that brutal steering, well throw in a new steering head bearing at 50,000 kilometres and you’ve got yourself some business. Are they going to get the work, no, obviously they didn’t want it. Done my rant.
Since we were visiting the famous Carlos Desgens from Mendoza and he was letting us use his shop to drop our oil we asked him if we could take him for dinner, something Argentinean. This is an ‘all kinds of good’ idea since we get to eat, hang out with a local, learn about the food and culture, repay the kindness and hopefully make someone happy. Carlos seemed happy to pick a place and that evening we headed back to the shop to drop the bikes off and head out for an evening meal at a restaurant serving typical food.
We ended at a place known to Carlos called ‘El Patio’, it was quiet as I think we arrived early for dinner at 8:30 pm, and he had to confirm that they would serve that early. We got the grilled meat course which started with a beautiful empanada, many cuts of beef, pork and veal and ended with a lovely lemon liqueur called Lemoncello. To accompany the dinner were a bottle of Malbec (most common in Argentina) followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec blend. When the first cut of meat came out, grilled to perfection, fading from pink to blue in the middle, I took a deep drink of the Malbec and cut into the beef. When it hit my tongue tears gathered in my eyes and I was moved by the sensation of the expertly prepared meat, the salt and fat still liquefied over the browned and smoky exterior. I had to stop and sit back savouring the tastes and the care that had gone into the food and to stop myself from actually crying. It was emotional and I was grateful for the experience. It is seldom that I’ve tasted food and wine with such flavour in such an environment and at that moment it was like magic for me.
After a tremendous dinner we headed for an ice cream shop nearby. Deya and I both had two different flavours, some with chocolate. Easily the best ice cream I’ve ever had and I’ve had some good ice cream. Maybe again it was the moment but since I was already fully stuffed and emotionally drained I don’t think so. This was a good night.
Following we would go to a vineyard for an ‘asado’ which means grill and I think of as a BBQ, though I’ve been sternly corrected that it is NOT a BBQ. The gang was a lot of fun and we even got up to some mischief, good clean fun. Among the goodness was more interesting food, see The Road Sandwich: www.theroadsandwich.blogspot.com
We would take a tour of two different vineyards and wineries, an olive factory and an olive farm. Just going around the city is nice and making the occasional run to get meat, wine and beer is always enjoyable. The new group of friends would have us over to ‘El Piezon’, a motorcycle rider only group where Deya would have been only the second girl to have entered the premise in 30 years.
Later we would attempt to cook for the group and regale them with tales of adventure, sully and fame, or something like that, I hope they liked it.
Our campground was awesome, Deya and I really enjoyed our time there and we could easily spend seasons. We’ve had a couple of asados and hung out drinking wine and chatting late into the night, when in Rome… We interviewed another winery and had a fantastic tour.
I think as kids we all want to have our own ‘bat-cave’ but as adults, at least me anyways, we would like to have a stocked wine cellar, awesome! The good times for us have been one after another and the people we have been meeting are simply fantastic. I would even liken it, for us, as being similar to the Maritimes in hospitality except different, like Professor Kai says, “Same-same but different” totally cracks me up.
On one of the tours and on a couple of other occasions we witnessed the stereotyped behaviour said to be typical of Argentineans, arrogance. We learned that the bulk of this comes from Buenos Aires for some reason and heard an infamous quote to support the idea:
“The best business in the world is to buy an Argentinean for a fair price then sell him for what he thinks you must have paid.” -Peter Apel.
Despite what we’ve heard, the people in Argentina have been in every aspect, fantastic, friendly, professional, courteous and helpful. I’m going to miss this place when we are gone but we need to either go now or stay until next year, I am not too sure of the right answer. We met some other riders and there are no shortages of fine folks to spend time with. The family we spent our final night with in Mendoza, the first bed we have slept in since entering Argentina was simply fantastic. We had more good food, wine and conversations; there is a theme here which I’m sure you are starting to read into. The only bad part is not spending enough time with people, there are so many interesting things to do and learn about the people we’ve met here that it’s a shame not to have more time for them. We missed more than we shared and we shared a lot.
Gas shortages and import supply problems seem to be rampant here, we were told it was political issues, but I don’t understand why that is. Gas, when it’s available is a cash only transaction, even if the station normally accepts credit cards. This is because the delivery drivers will only accept cash, I don’t get that either. Regardless, we get gas whenever we have covered over 100 kilometres or can find it. We understand that as we approach Bolivia it’ll get worse and when we enter Bolivia we’ll be using 85 octane whether we like it or not.
As we headed North of Mendoza along what seem to be an endless stretch of desert highway we found something really cool. It was Sunday and it would seem that any tree large enough to shade a whole family was supporting a picnic, usually with an asado and vino, at the roadside. Two hundred kilometres of families out in the desert is a strange and wonderful sight and the smell of grilled food and scene of people enjoying the afternoon a real delight. The road changed from desert to forest as we approach the mountains, our route would take us from Mendoza through Valle Fertil, Tafi del Valle to Cafayate.
En route we would stop for a nap under a tree, there was a police trailer there. As we prepped for a twenty minute nap the police officer came out and offered the shade of a nearby building. After a short rest in the 35oC heat the officer would offer us some cold water, mate or coffee as we desired. He told us we just missed the asado, darn. We talked a bit before heading out, it was another good experience. We heard that the police in Argentina were not good but that hasn’t yet been our experience, typically only getting a friendly wave as we pass through.
By now we’ve arrived in the lovely little town of Cafayate, touristic with many Bodegas and Fincas de Vino. It’s a lovely place and we decided to spend a couple of days camping near town to catch up on our blogs and other details including researching our route and borders into and through Bolivia. When we finally checked our emails we found out that a fellow rider we met in Cartagena was killed making a left turn in Alaska, R.I.P. friend.
I’ve been in many situations where an intersection that should seem simple, seems totally alien and entering it can be sketchy at best. Whatever made this Toshiaki’s last I feel for him and understand. What is tough is thinking about Carlos, who if you recall we enjoyed time doing maintenance at his father’s shop in Quito, Ecuador, and what Carlos has had to deal with on the spot and since then.
Carlos is returning alone to Ecuador, I’m not yet sure how or what condition he is in but if we can find a way to help him out on his path home we will, our thoughts are with you Carlos.
The news’ clip from the Daily News – Miner in Fairbanks, Alaska:
“Truck not at fault in fatal motorcycle accident
by Sam Friedman / email@example.comFairbanks Daily News Miner
Aug 31, 2011
FAIRBANKS — After reviewing Tuesday’s fatal traffic accident in downtown Fairbanks, police have concluded the pickup truck driver who hit and killed a motorcyclist was not at fault.
The accident occurred in late afternoon at the busy intersection of Cushman Street and Airport Way when a red Ford-150 going west on Airport Way collided with a motorcycle making a left turn to go north on Cushman.
The motorcyclist, 64-year-old Matsuura Toshiaki of Japan, was pronounced dead at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. The Japanese consulate has contacted his family, Sgt. Eric Jewkes with the Fairbanks police department said. A second motorcyclist at the scene told the News-Miner he and Toshiaki had been returning from a ride to Deadhorse at the time of the accident.
A review of the accident showed both drivers had either green or yellow lights, Jewkes said. In either case, the pickup truck had the right of way. There was no evidence the truck’s driver Jonathan Blevins, 21, was speeding or under the influence.
“Unfortunately everyone is the victim here,” Jewkes said.”
The exit from Chile started with an escort out by Mario and would eventually lead us to 29 curves of some fame as we neared the Argentinean border. I’ve seen spectacular pictures of this sight but until you get there, there is no way of knowing how unimpressive it is. Not that it’s bad but there is a lot of traffic and Chileans tend to drive badly the closer they get to Argentina, odd since they are impressive drivers in their own country. What is cool is the Ski hill and lift that go over the road. A series of tunnels allow folks to ski over top and probably get the best view of the place. That was cool.
Entering Argentina was pretty simple as the two countries have a combined Customs and Immigration solution. We got through the process with only one problem, no insurance. The insurance of course is mandatory but foreigners can’t buy it. So we have to head into Argentina with no insurance, the police can stop you and fine you for not having it but you can’t buy it. Nonsense, but we will continue to look for it while we are in the country.
Our first night took us to the small, semi touristy skiing village of Uspallata. We road a bit of dirt to look at more coloured dirt and that was uneventful. We headed into town, got gas and found the municipal campsite. This was only five bucks for the night. Deya didn’t like it, we were the only ones there except for some dogs and the wind blew as if to remind us of the hurricane Earl in Newfoundland.
When we arrived I found dogs, or they found me, and I knew I could test out my new dog bones on these critters to make a few new friends. To my surprise, when I offered the dogs these tasty treats, they literally pawed at them, sniffed, then looked at me like I was an idiot and walked away leaving the milky, beef tasting, slightly minty fresh bones in the dirt. How do I know what they taste like? Take a guess. I was shattered, to say the least, but would soon come to understand why these healthy looking dogs portrayed such arrogance.
The wind blew from the southwest and the trees were all barren of leaves. The leaves collected at the northeast foot of every obstacle in the winds path including our tent. A snow shovel would have worked the same trying to dig out the doorway of the tent. It was a cold night and the morning was exceedingly difficult to pack up the gear because of the frigid strong wind blowing. Breakfast would be impossible with this wind so we decided to simply escape.
On the route through some mountains we saw a good place to pull over to make breakfast, with little wind and lots of sunshine. I love our breakfast, Katarina inspired and mentored by Archie it includes dried fruit, minute oats, powdered milk, sometimes coconut and often granola. This is our mainstay and we carry about two kilos of this mix everywhere we go. We could stay well for a week on this stuff and it actually gives us a lot of strength through the day and it is easy on our stomachs, ideal for this kind of travel.
The spot we chose to have breakfast was beside two small stone structures that had collapsed at some point. Nestled between a large mound of rocks and an old railroad bridge, a muddy river running strongly beneath it, we were obscured from the road. The wind was low and we had our own dead horse bones to ponder about. The skeleton of the horse had been picked clean and the bones were partially bleached except for the tail which was still intact. As we ate we watched two motorbikes pass slowly and wondered if they were also travellers like us.
Our next stop would be Mendoza, a major city and principle wine region of Argentina. The road there gets pretty flat as you exit the mountains and the wind blows hard. The region is naturally a desert but the level of agriculture is vast with extensive aqueducts and canals. In Mendoza we planned on visiting Carlos, the famous mechanic we met in Santiago; we had seen pictures of Carlos in Colombia and we were told about him by Kai and Annette. We needed to do some oil changes on the bikes and think about Deya’s tyre situation and the BMW recall on her front disk brake.
“Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly get fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that a motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.” –Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
This problem of gumption, as Pirsig puts it, doesn’t just apply to motorcycles but to pretty much everything else. When I think of my own work ethic and some of the experiences I have had I note that many times people are looking for a silver bullet as a final solution. This bugs me, I like to stare at a problem, map it out, spit on it, call it names, walk away then come back, praise it a bit, look at it from another perspective, lift it up, put it down, prioritise it then reprioritise it again. If I have to show up for 8 hours then I should bloody well be thinking, scheming and breathing deeply about something that’s going to move us ahead. I like that but it sometimes leaves me wondering what has happened to the moment.
I know that what is required for this trip is gumption, people who are on it need it and those that don’t probably fail or struggle badly. We’ve got it but to be honest it can be slippery and after a while hard to hold onto.
While in Santiago Deya asked Carlos about camping, he recommended “Camping Suizo” as a good place to stay, we would head there once in Mendoza but first we have to deal with the bikes pulled over on the road up ahead.
It’s the two bikes we saw go by as we had breakfast, we passed slowly and waved, we were on the highway and it’s never easy to just stop, especially when there is no paved shoulder. We pull over about 400 metres ahead and turn around. They were just about to start going again when we pulled in. Cristian and Vanesa were travelling around South America on a 125cc and 150cc and were on their final run to Buenos Aires, home. People often look at us with our fancy bikes and technical gear as though that is what it takes, maybe we are the real travellers but the truth is these two are as much adventurers and motorcyclists as any others. To haul ass through mountains and deserts with little gear and a tonne of gumption is admirable to say the least. To show that it can be done and have a good time doing it, perfect. A beautiful couple, a short meeting, a great memory.
We rolled into Mendoza and easily found our camping destination, 10 bucks a night, covered tent, hot showers, more attention than a hotel and very quiet, heaven. Since we were early we would try to go find Carlos’ shop and get our oil change done. The front wheel of Deya’s bike was ugly from the Panamerican Highway and to me made the steering feel awful; it really was grinding on my mind. The town is nice but in the evening there is fog or smog or sand or smoke or some kind of pollution I can’t identify. Despite this we are about to discover something fantastic.
September 14, 2011
Entering this country is like lining up at the bank; it’s pretty easy but you always have a small feeling of doubt about the outcome. The staffers are friendly, professional and helpful and there is little confusion especially during the week, the weekend might be different. We got our papers in order and pulled to the station where they would inspect us. We declared all things contraband and several folks came out for a look. As you can imagine we are more interesting than the typical local with a trunk full of toilet paper and laundry soap from the duty free. This makes for more of a curious check than a search. The highlight was when the dog came out.
The dog handler came out with a happy looking dog, maybe a Yellow Lab and he sniffed around Deya’s bike, immediately finding the pannier with the contraband we declared he put his paw on it with a look like, “Did I win, did I win!?” The handler took ownership of the prize then threw the chew toy to the delight of the dog. It was an impressive event that I enjoyed watching and the dog’s purpose, his job and position in his world was fulfilled leaving him satisfied.
The route was not unlike most of the Peruvian coast, dry, dusty, rocks and sand and way too much garbage. I read that Chileans considerer themselves more European than Latin American but I can’t see it. For sure they are different than their neighbours, keep up the good work. The only things I noticed that are European are the prices, good policing and the 220V European style outlets. Other than that its low quality at a high price, poor service and lots of garbage like every other Latin American country (except Costa Rica). This isn’t a complaint just an observation, the truth is I really appreciate the drivers here, they are by far the most civilized we’ve found. It maybe because of the police service, they are professional and well trained, definitely the guys you go to if you need assistance.
Our first night in Chile was on a beautiful (minus the garbage) beach, Caleta Camarones. We had a great dinner, some wine (1L of Gato red, 3 bucks), and a small fire. The wine is about the cheapest thing in Chile and it is good! The night was cold and made it difficult to sleep but the country feels very safe for camping and we didn’t worry at all. Getting to the sight however was difficult, I realized something that I may have been denying previously; I hate sand and wind. The wind is tiring and the sand is simply difficult to manage with the bikes fully loaded, probably unloaded as well. I dumped it in the sand then and just about pulled a muscle trying to lift it in those conditions.
In between the stops we have a lot of time to ourselves, helmet time I like to call it. It’s a great time to reflect on things, try to develop thoughts, sing, count lines on the road or just think randomly. Some thoughts can not be shared but many can, the hardest part of the experience is losing the thought or idea the first time you come to a stop or some other distraction takes place. It ends up being a great release on the mind, a battery charging effect I think.
The road South, after having ridden a couple thousand kilometres of sandy scenes is pretty uneventful and even a nice scene of dirt is a little bit like, well dirt. The thing about northern Chile is that it is loaded with mines and mills that are ugly looking and have traditionally polluted the environment to such an extent as to seem unreal. Great for job creation, etcetera, but when everything is consumed and the little productive town of Quillagua is decimated due to the sulphuric acid being dumped into the local streams it might not make as much sense. Seeing this first hand, a once productive climate now taken over by sand dunes and dead earth is disturbing. It doesn’t hold life, only that which can be paid for and maintained possibly for sovereignty reasons.
Another long day and we ended in the town of Calama, sight of the largest Copper mine in the world. We had approached a couple of places including this big one to get information on their operation but were greeted poorly. Mill towns as many of you know are all the same, people making more money than often their experience or education would normally allow for. The result is a lot of bars, tattoos and rednecks. A particular feeling is around and while the middle class is larger, thank goodness, the class can sometimes be smaller as a result of having things handed down. It’s good and bad to know that it doesn’t just happen in Canada. We stayed in an expensive residence, the cheapest we could find, and it was a dump.
The ride there was long, and we went through an inspection station for cargo trucks, as we queued up there where about eight dogs hanging around. When they saw us they came running. They surrounded me and a couple went to Deya, they where all barking vigorously. Deya panics when she’s approached by dogs, looks straight at them and physically appears scared. This excites two animals, the dogs and me. I don’t mind the dogs, I just ignore them, they usually bark then realize I couldn’t care less, shrug their shoulders and leave. But now they were all around me and barking hard.
The one dog that was leading the assault was looking at me as though to tell me something, I wasn’t sure what it was, it wasn’t dangerous but he certainly thought it was his place to do so. As the other dogs got closer he inched in, closer and closer to my leg, snapping and barking. I moved forward with the queue, annoyed slightly at the barking when the fellow got inches from my foot. Bang! I kicked him in the chops, he staggered back and continued to bark now with seriousness but from a distance. I watched the tone change as he shook off the pain in his jaw and all the dogs surrounded me. They acted as though they were trying to run down a deer, for me this is fine because I just let them run; eventually they get tired and give up, it’s fun. The sad part is that if they get too close they’ll get clobbered by the pannier or feel the effect of 400 kg of bike tire doubling over them at 30 kilometres per hour.
We rode away from the dogs and for days I would feel poorly for kicking the dude in the chin. Not that I feel bad about kicking a dude in the chin, I just think I could have handled it better. Deya picked up some milk bones so I would have an alternate strategy for dealing with the dogs down here, we will see. It’s really sad the way these animals are abandoned and when we see them dead on the road it’s a puzzle if they are better off as a bloated corpse or as a wounded half starved loner with no family. Most roaming dogs are badly damaged and suffering and there are a lot of them.
We headed into the mountains, our destination now was San Pedro de Atacama, located where the driest desert in the world is. The route was the long way as we wanted to go to some Geysers for free camping. The road was fantastic but as we climbed in altitude, oblivious to the huge error we had made, the road became more difficult. Deep sand and finally shards of ice covered the route and we had to turn around. The problem was we had just gone from 900 metres to 4500 metres in elevation. I almost passed out 3 times, our chests were hurting, stomachs twisted and the head spins were fierce. It took about 10 minutes of mammoth effort to turn the bikes around, something that at lower altitude would have been a joke.
The place was beautiful but we were truly suffering, distracted by the altitude we carried on. It seemed as though we would never go down the mountains, they just climbed as we reached an altitude of about 4900 metres. Finally we reached a point about 10 kilometres from the Bolivian and Argentinean borders and found a police outpost. The officer there was a fantastic guy, took us in, gave us oxygen, explained what was happening, gave us directions to get out and fed us some hot food. We watched Chile beat Spain in football for a bit too, 2-0 but later found out Spain won 3-2. If we weren’t so affected by the altitude and were prepared for -15 Celsius we would have camped in this area. It was probably the most beautiful place we’ve been in Chile so far.
We worked our way towards San Pedro, yes it was work. The road was not easy and the altitude was unforgiving. Eventually we would get there and find a place in the city to camp. The city is very touristy and actually pretty cool. As we moved through the streets you could see any number of different kinds of people; a young couple having a mild argument, a street vender handing out marketing or a pedestrian looking at us with wonder. Each of these characters becomes a part of our experience if only for a moment and we enter into their lives with an impact unknown and share a little piece of their reality. It seems, as eyes connect, that it’s all random but yet nothing on this journey has been random. Each thing, each encounter seems fixed and purposeful even if it’s only realized in hindsight. The purpose sometimes unknown but still less than coincidence we find ourselves being set up for lessons and opportunities to exercise our weak points and strengthen our skills.
The long sections of road make you think. I think about the reality that is around us a lot, about my career, about how I can make a difference. All these things are fleeting but they keep returning to me. I meditate while on the bike, in my own way, as does every other serious rider I’ve met. I wonder about how to resolve complicated issues varying from Deya’s fear of things to quantum mechanics, electromagnetism and the connection of the three fundamentals with gravitation. By the way, it’s way beyond me but there must be a simple answer to retarding the effects of gravitons (if they exist), which I’m sure they do, by blocking the route to their destination with some kind of parallel interference to mass and dense matter. The question might be more about what mass is, really. Certainly like a river inevitably flows to the ocean, a graviton moves towards mass pulling us along with it. It could be that finding this parallel opens the door to other fundamental forces explaining why gravity can not be linked well with the three primaries, but I digress. Someone smarter than me should be riding for hour after hour thinking about this so I don’t have to.
At San Pedro de Atacama we stayed in a campsite with a group of folks taking a http://www.kumuka.com/ world tour. This was a fun group, mostly Australians, one US and a New Zealander. Thinking back we should have stayed another night to hang out with this fun group. The ball sack pictures would have been funny to hear about. The town was a great tourist trap with good restaurants and shops. A really nice North Face shop cornered the main walkway, with mud brick construction and engraved wood signs the place was a dusty but beautiful place to walk, particularly in the evening. The morning came and we went riding into the Salar de Atacama, within the driest desert in the world. It was okay, with plenty of dirt and sand, there is no doubt about its desert status. I’m not too excitable about these things unless we were riding towards a dessert (a play on words) but really great dessert is hard to find down here.
We found a store that had some discount sleeping bags so we got two. They were about 8 bucks each and we figured it was a good idea since we keep freezing every night. The next camp would be near the water and we expected it to be cold. We found a spot in a place called Pichidangui, more precisely Quilimari about 200 metres off the Panamerican, and found out that it was an Army facility that allows camping. The facility was fantastic, the staff and instructors there were even better. What a good group to hang out with. We had dinner and breakfast in the mess with them and learned a few things about the forces too. They were running a Commando or Special Forces course for 6 weeks around water activities and were camped out beside us.
Previous to this great spot we also stayed in the Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar which has private camping, but since it was off season there was no one around. We met with the park ranger there who was a super guy, he invited us for coffee but by the time it got dark we were tired and couldn’t navigate our way to his place. We tried to pay the owner of the camp spot but he said he was too busy and took off. The facilities were poor at that spot and the next morning we couldn’t find anyone so we left. The park is beautiful and hosts things like penguins and various important sea life.
Our next destination after leaving the dry land would take us to the coast at Viña Del Mar, where we would stay in a hostel. The cheapest place we could find and it was brutally expensive. We discovered in town that when ordering a coffee you get a glass of carbonated water on the side, typically you finish your coffee and then your water, it’s nice. The cost of the stay though made me feel like we would have to abandon Chile as soon as possible if we were to continue our trip. The town itself was beautiful as is the landscape when you approach Santiago. The countryside turns very green with fantastic cactus and brush from 1-2 metres. A palette of smells and colours in greens, pinks, reds, blues, yellows and white splash across the hills and along the roads giving you a feeling that you will not end up a pile of bleached bones. The people become friendlier.
The minimum wage here is about 400 USD a month; the discrepancy between the rich and poor must be vast. I can not understand the high costs here, one might think the system is based on debt bondage, where the debt is the high cost of living and the bondage is to society in general. Despite that you do not see any impoverished people, weird, maybe they are hidden? I think it’s more likely that the country takes care to have a higher standard for everyone; Chile seems very advanced in its perception of itself.
We had an invitation to a friend of a friend and as it was either a friendly face and place to stay or rob a bank we decided to stay. Mario is a fantastic host and a good guy, sharing with his family and a dozen dogs is like hanging out with the Dog Whisperer. We have only been here a couple of days but have experienced fantastic Chilean hospitality. Learning about Pisco Sour, Chicho and other typical drinks has been excellent. We had a good BBQ with a selection of other Chilean dishes. While here we will have a chance to clean our gear, maintain the bikes and get supplies for oil and filter changes. Getting Deya’s left fork repaired is a priority and finding a solution to the broken GPS is also likely. Overall this is a very productive and helpful stop that Deya and I really appreciate.