Facts and Figures
Oct 7th -† Nov 3rd 2010
Argentina & Chile
After 2 and a half hours on the tarmac at Sao Paulo, Brazil, (and more seat swapping when new passengers got on) we arrived at BA airport at 09:30. Bags collected and head off to customs where I am expecting to have trouble taking the rear tyre I have with me through. No sweat though, the customs guy asked how much, I told him £50 and they let me through, no charge.
When we flew into BA last year to start riding the Americas we got stung taking the wrong type of taxi from the airport to the centre of BA, this time we knew to go to the Remise office, a lot cheaper.
Arrived at the coach terminal in BA and went to book our tickets for the overnighter to San Rafael, all 3 operators were fully booked, nothing till tomorrow night, bummer, that means a night and day in BA. We take a collectivo from Retiro to San Telmo to see if we can get into the hostel we stayed at last year but I couldn't remember the bus route number and we ended up on a different bus going to San Telmo, trouble was it went a different way and we never recognised anywhere that we passed. It wasn't until we went through La Boca that we realised we were way past our stop. Off the bus and get the same one going back the other way, this time we made sure the driver told us where to get off, three blocks from where we had to be so not far out.
Wandering around the hostels in the pouring rain we managed to get booked into a different hostel, the only one with space and that wasn't overpriced. We were sharing a 4 bed dorm with a couple of older American guys who had been out most of the day sampling the vino, looked like they had had a good day!
Got hold of John & Annette to let them know we were running a day late.
Spent the day just waiting for the time to leave for the coach at 18:45. We thought the coach was going to be the same as the one we got when we came home, a Cama Ejecutivo with fully reclining seats and three course meal with wine, coffee and night caps. What we got was just a Cama, half reclining seats and no nose bag! and we had starved ourselves all day because it was a huge meal on the way out.
09-17/10/2010 (San Rafael)
07:00 - the scheduled arrival time at San Rafael. We both woke up as the coach pulled into the station, grabbed our bags and got off the coach. Lucky for us the driver knew we were stupid Gringoís and told us to get back on as we were still an hour away and were only at General Alvear, the stop before San Rafael. Hope John isn't going to be too annoyed as he has been up most of the night with the weekly 24 hour watering!!!!
We spent the rest of the time at J&Aís acclimatizing and getting all our gear sorted, trying to remember where it all goes. I decided that the rear tyre has got a few more miles in it yet so wonít change it, thoí itís way past legal† in the UK!! So thatís something else to try and find a space for, glad we took some stuff home with us, gives us a bit more space.
Lorraineís birthday on the 13th, I had gone into town with John yesterday to try and find a card without success, apparently they don't have birthday cards here, looks like Iím in trouble again!! Annette saves the day though, she sent Craig from next door (another Brit) into town to get a cake as a surprise.
Helping out on the farm tying up the grapes and spraying the weeds around the plums, a few asadoís and a game of golf filled up the rest of our time on the farm.
Big thanks to John and Annette for putting up with us for so long, (hope we didn't outstay our welcome)† and for all your help looking after the bike etc. (must check the mileage!!! ). Hope to see you both again.
Start Mileage - 27142
Miles - 197
San Rafael (J&Aís) - Uspallata (Hostel Gran Hotel)
Hardly anyone that stays at the farm gets on the road much before 12:00 noon and we were no exception.
Coffees, final adjustments to the packing and itís time to say our sad farewells and get back on the road proper. We will probably not make Chile today so depending on time we will either head for Mendoza or Uspallata.
Mendoza came and went and we ended up at Uspallata at 16:00, time to call it a day so we pulled into the Hostel and booked in. We had just finished booking in when we were surrounded by a group of teenagers and their teachers asking lots of questions in Spanish although one of the teachers spoke good English so he was translating a lot. It is the last day of their school trip and they are having asado to celebrate and we are invited to join them. After an hour of chatting we get the bike unloaded. More of the kids came to talk to us during the day and wanted pictures of the bike and us .. feeling like celebrities again, probably the remains from the last celebs here. Apparently the cast and crew from the film 7 Years in Tibet stayed here while they were filming, too expensive to actually film in Tibet and the mountains are pretty much the same. The owner proudly showed us the picture of himself with Brad Pitt to prove the point.
The night with the kids was quite entertaining, they had laid on a traditional singist to keep them amused while the Asado was, typically Argentian, not lit until 22:00. Really good food was finished around midnight then the disco started for the kids, we left them still going strong at 02:00.
Start Mileage - 27339
Miles - 101
Uspallata (Hostel Gran Hotel) - Los Andes (Chile) Hosteria Rucuhue))
Packed and on the road by 10:30 after coffee and free breakfast at the hostel, although we refused the breakfast because we didn't know it was included in the price at the time!! It was a big plate of sticky buns though, not our kind of morning food.
Heading up the mountain the temperature started to drop and got a bit breezy but the good ride took our minds off it.
We reached the border post (3,000 Mtrs) at 12:30 and joined the huge queue. Exit from Argentina and entry into Chile is all controlled at the same post which seemed to lead to a lot of confusion, not just for us but locals as well. After Lorraine discovered she had been queuing† in the wrong queue for 20 minutes she then went to another queue, reaching the front the computer went down and she had to join yet another. We were then passed from one desk to another in no particular order so we had half the entry stamps into Chile before we had even left Argentina, and then the problems started. For some reason there was an issue with us leaving Argentina on the 19th, the day the temporary export for the bike expired, whether we should have left before the expiry or not we never managed to find out. After being given a bit of a B******ing from the Argentine Aduana we got our stamp and headed for the last part of the process which is SAG, the Chilean food ministry. So far we have only been asked a few questions and maybe they have wanted a poke around in the panniers, not this time though. We had to strip everything off the bike so he could look through it all for meat, seeds etc. not finding anything he took exception to the amount of† painkillers we had in the pannier, but let us go in the end, must have been a bad day for him. Packing the bike up slowly and having a smoke didn't go down well either, we were told to get a move on and clear off so they could harass someone else in the queue. 3 hours in total getting out of and into Argentina and Chile!!!
A nice ride down from the border part of which was a series of 27 hairpin bends some quite tight. We arrived at Los Andes around 17:00 and hunted down the tourist office, found it at 17:30 and it was closed! although it was supposed to be open according to the operating hours on the door. We asked at few places about a campsite we had seen advertised in the tourist office window but nobody knew where it was and we were eventually directed to the Carabineroís, (cop shop). They knew where the camp site was but said it was closed and that it was crap anyway and said that they would give us an escort to a safe Hosteria. The place was a bit more upmarket and expensive than we would have chosen but had safe parking and nice rooms, with a bath. There were no cooking facilities we could use and the restaurant was a bit pricey so we headed into town to get some supplies. We found a cheap restaurant in a supermarket and pigged out on chicken and chips before going back to the Hosteria.
Start Mileage - 27440
Miles - 135
Los Andes (Hosteria Rucuhue) - Los Vilos (Cabanaís Corsario Drake)
I woke up this morning with a bit of a gut ache so we weren't going to go too far today. Breakfast was included in the room price and we knew this time so we indulged. On the road at 11:30 and stopping at the now open tourist office where we got a couple of freebie maps and were told of a route we could take off the boring Pan American Highway through the mountains and some old villages. We stopped on the way for fuel and found a good map of Chile produced by Copec, the national fuel distributors. Asking for camping nearby we were told the nearest was at Los Vilos, still a few miles to go.
We had to rejoin the Pan American about 30 KMís from Los Vilos, coming out of the mountains and back to the sea the weather had changed from nice and hot to misty and cold.
My guts have been getting progressively worse throughout the day, a lot of pain and a few toilet stops were needed.
Arriving at Los Vilos we found the tourist info office easily enough and were told that there was no camping out of season but we could camp on the beach if we wanted, to cold for that and the way my guts are I don't think so. After riding around town looking for accommodation and getting stuck in a Gaucho funeral cortege, we found a cheap Cabana where I went straight to bed and left Lorraine unpacking and to walk into town for food.
Lots more visits to the toilet!!
Los Vilos (Cabanaís Corsario Drake)
21/10 - I stayed in bed apart from frequent visits to the loo, Lorraine went to town for fruit and fruit juice.
22/10 - Feeling a bit better but not 100%, Lorraine now has a blockage but no pain so we stay another night.
Not sure what caused our problems but think it was possibly the chicken and chips the other night.
Start Mileage - 27575
Miles - 152
Los Vilos (Cabanaís Corsario Drake) - Caren (Camping Valle De Sol)
Feeling safe enough to move on today but not going to push it. Another nice ride through the mountains and headed for a camp site that was on one of the maps we got at Los Andes hoping it was open. It was, but there was a fiesta going on for the old folks of the Monte Patria area when we arrived and we had to wait for it to finish at 18:00 before we could put the tent up.† After the steep and sandy hill down into the site and a huddle of people and cars trying to come up as we were going down we were glad to wait and recover. We chatted with some of the organizers while we waited, got a free hat and a goody bag of food, no need to go shopping tonight. Not many tourists visit this site as it is off the usual track and the locals were glad to see us.
Tent up and get a fire going for our scoff. Lorraine went for a wander around the site and got an invite from the owners to go into their private observatory. Northern† Chile is the best place on earth for stargazing with 320 cloudless nights a year, with a full moon coming up at 23:00 she was lucky to get in before the moon and saw Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Scorpion and came back full of herself for getting the private viewing.
Caren (Camping Valle De Sol)
A munging day today, woken at 05:00 by the birds, then 10:00 by a bus load of kids arriving for the day. Throughout the day the kids came over and asked if they could take pictures of the bike and loved it when I said they could get pics with them sitting on it, I should charge.
Start Mileage - 27727
Miles - 116
Caren (Camping Valle De Sol) - La Serena (Camping Hippocampo)
Heading for La Serena today, a big town but we need internet which has been hard to find so far. Trying to stay off the Pan American but we lost the turn off at Ovalle and ended up back on it doing the last bit to La Serena. We decided to look for some proper food before finding a campsite as we haven't really eaten too well lately. I had just said to Lorraine about how good it was that we haven't seen billboards and sign posts for MacDonalds and Burger king, when what do we see? a big yellow ďMĒ which we avoided. Found a nice restaurant and had some nosh, the waiter spoke good English and found out where the nearest campsite was but it wasn't the one we were looking for which is supposed to be closer to town. Following the waiters directions we see a sign for Avenida del Mar which is the location of the site we are after so we stop at the tourist info and ask in there, we are only 4 blocks away from the site. Not too bad but could be a bit cleaner, at least there are hot showers and plenty of free wood for the Asado, we are the only people there as the season hasn't started yet. After pitching up in a shady spot we went to the supermarket for supplies, nice chorizoís.
La Serena (Camping Hippocampo)
26/10 - Very cold today, an icy wind blowing off the Pacific right into the tent by the feel of it, overcast but dry. Didn't get moving till lunchtime and headed for the market where we found a nice, cheapish restaurant with a bit of a seafood menu, nice crab pie. Sat watching the goings on in the square and the chess games below us. There is an archaeological museum in town that is supposed to be quite good according to the Rough Guide and has a Moai head stone carving from Easter Island, our only chance to see one as we canít afford a trip to the Island, when we get there it is just about to close, manana.
27/10 - Made it to the museum before it closed today, small but interesting with local Inca and other Indigenous artefacts from the area and surrounds, cheaper than the Rough Guide said! Found a cafť with free internet, just managed to download emails before battery died. Off to the supermarket again and met a Brit couple from Cairns Australia, Rachel and Skip. They are waiting for their bike to arrive in Valparaiso next week to start their trip, hope we gave you some good info!
Back to the site and we thought we heard Scottish accents from a couple in a Chilean registered car so went to investigate. Reena and Richie from Holland and Scotland respectively, they have bought a car and are travelling for 6 months before selling it again. Started on the wine with them before we got our fire going, wine gone at 00:30, no fire tonight.
28/10 - Had planned on moving today but Lorraine got bitten last night on her cheek and jaw, swollen up quite bad and she wasn't comfortable in her helmet, looked like Droopy the Dog!!!!! Lazy day again but no problem as we are waiting for the Paso de Agua Negra, the highest pass between Chile and Argentina (4,772Mtrs), to open in November.
Start mileage - 27874
Miles - 43
La Serena (Camping Hippocampo) - Vicuna (Rancho Elquino)
Lorraine's face has calmed down enough to get her lid on so we will move on today, not going far so no rush.
While we were sat having a coffee we felt quite a big earth tremor, oh no, not another one, however, the evacuation sirens stayed silent so we assumed that we were in no danger from a Tsunami hitting the site. Not sure how big it was or where but it did feel a biggie. We spent the morning with Richie and Reena and eventually got packed and going by around 13:00 for the short ride to Vicuna.
The tourist info gave us a choice of 3 campsites, one in town, one 9KMís away near the Observatory and one 5KMís away, we opted for the one in town, 3 blocks from the Plaza, rode around for a bit and ended up back at the tourist info after riding up a steep dirt track into a goat herders coral! Proper directions this time and we found it easy, a nice site on grass but no tent shade. Plenty of Asadoís, a shady sitting area and a quincho to sit in if it gets cold at night, swimming pool and cold showers. The owner said we could use the showers in the Cabanaís if we wanted a hot shower and there was no-one in them. Cabanaís were full the first night so we skipped the shower.
It got bloody cold at night, even inside the quincho. Heard a lot of sirens going on through the night, thought something big was happening but no idea what.
30/10 - 1/11/2010
Vicuna (Rancho Elquino)
30/10 - Walked into town to book a trip to the observatory tonight but a bus load of Gringoís had arrived and the tour was fully booked so booked for tomorrow. Wandering around the Plaza we realised what the sirens were for last night, a big building, still smouldering, had burnt down. There were people inside, not sure if they were the owners rescuing what they could or if they were just looting the charred remains.
31/10 - I didn't fancy exploring today so Lorraine wandered off on her own. First stop the tourist office to confirm that the Paso de Agua Negra was open tomorrow, bad news, it is still closed and not planned to be open until mid December, bummer have to† revert to plan ďBĒ whatever that is!
Next stop Capel, the Pisco distillery, the largest in the area. Pisco† ( a clear Brandy like drink derived from Muscatel grapes, Chileís national drink, although Peru claims they invented it first ) can only be called Pisco if it is grown and distilled in Regions 3 and 4.
Spent the rest of the afternoon trying to come up with new route, not going to ride back to Uspallata so the only option is North and the second highest pass, Paso San Francisco open all year.
Into town for 20:00 to get the minibus to the El Pangue observatory, only us and two Germans on the bus with a family following in their own car. 17KMís climbing up a dirt track to the observatory and 45 minutes later we are there. The guy that we booked with was the astronomer, passionate and knowledgeable about his job. A good night for viewing with no moon. As we stood outside a few things were pointed out to us first, Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to Earth (4 light years away), the Scorpion (which can only be seen fully in the Southern Hemisphere) , the cone of light (which is caused by the suns reflection on the dust in the atmosphere), the two Magallenic clouds (originally thought to† be clouds that never moved) and Jupiter. We were told that there are also around 10,000 known (not including military) satellites circling the Earth, we saw 2 or 3.
We then moved up to the telescope through which we saw Jupiter and itís 3 moons, higher magnification showed us it only has one ring now the other mysteriously disappeared only 5 months ago. Next was the Milky Way, a Nebula with a Black Hole (Nebulas form new planets, the Black Hole was the remains of a planet being recycled into a new one), two clusters of stars, one of which contained 100 stars and the other 1,000000, two Galaxies within the Magallenic Clouds one side on and one front on, a dead Sun (the end of time!) and the Tarantula which is the only system that gives a sense of depth viewing space through a telescope and finally the Spiral. The Guinness Book of Records says that the furthest point visible with the naked eye is the furthest of the two Magallenic clouds at 30,000 light years away, however, this is not true, in Chile the naked eye can see the Andromeda Galaxy which is a staggering 2,000000 light years away, who needs opticians! A great experience and well worth the cost.
We were speaking with the Germans on the way back, they had driven to about 10KMís from the Border on the Paso Agua Negra and said that† the trip was worth it, we will do it tomorrow.
01/11 -† 173 mile trip through the Elqui Valley and up the pass, furthest we have ridden for a while! A nice but not spectacular ride until the Chilean Aduana post where we had to leave our passports and be back by 18:00. From there on in we were on ripio and the view got better and better with all the different colours in the mountain rock and La Laguna at 3,167Mtrs. We carried on a bit further to about 15KMís from Argentina and at a height of 3,554Mtrs where we turned around and rode back.
Start Mileage - 28090
Miles - 264
Vicuna (Rancho Elquino) - Copiapo (Residencial Chanarcilla)
Just a ride to get to our destination today. Not bad along the coast though it was on the Pan American Highway and was a bit drizzly and was getting colder. Some nice twisties up into the mountains and through the clouds then the weather got better. Stopped for fuel at Vallenar and got accosted by beggars and met two Brazilian bikers. After chatting for a little while we got going again and within seconds of leaving the fuel† station we were waved down by a local cop, seems we didn't come to a complete stop at the junction. After checking our paperwork we got a severe finger wagging and sent on our way, he must have been bored as he stopped the car behind us as well, glad he didn't ask for our insurance!
We stopped for two bikes at the side of the road, they were from Copiapo and were just having a rest. They told us there was camping 20KMís out of town towards Caldera. When we got to Copiapo outskirts there were two roads to Caldera, not sure which one the camping was on and as it was getting late we went into Copiapo and got a cheap room.
Start Mileage - 28354
Miles - 303
Copiapo (Residencial Chanarcilla) - Fiambala (Argentina(Camping Don Chochita))
In the light of day the hotel was a bit of a dive. I think it, like the rest of the town caters mostly to the mineworkers in the area. We think this is the area that 30 miners were trapped way before we came back and not expected to be freed until Christmas time.
Lorraine had breakfast that was supposed to cost CLP1200 but they forgot to charge her because they were intrigued with her Camel Back demonstration.
On the road early around 10:00, we have a long way on ripio today. Only a few KMís of tarmac leading out of town then the road, which is ripio on the map, turned to a salt road. A pretty good but boring ride past all the mines in the area and quite barren for 200Kmís all the way to the Chilean Aduana where we saw the salt flats Salar de Maricunga, quite impressive. At the Aduana we seemed to be missing some paperwork although we had the same as every other time we have left Chile, eventually sorted and we have 100KMís of no mans land to the Argentine entry. Now we are on ripio proper, ok for the first 30KMís then turned to sand unexpectedly. We were motoring along not too slowly when I hit a large patch of sand that I hadn't seen, the bike was all over the place and must have looked good from behind especially as I managed to keep it upright. Confidence on ripio all gone again it is slow progress. Laguna Verde on the way is one of the attractions for the area and supposed to be spectacular and it was as we saw it appear around a corner, never seen anything so blue, why is it called Laguna Verde (Green)???? The going is getting sandier and we are climbing, with no speed and not a lot of oxygen, the bike is protesting, getting very rattly and overheating, we had to stop a couple of times to let it cool down. A recovery vehicle passed us at one stop to see if we were ok, when I said we were just letting the bike cool down they went off. We carried on after the bike had cooled but didn't get much further before we had to stop again or rather the bike forced us to as it cut out and wouldn't restart, think we may have a problem Houston! The guys from earlier had come back and offered to transport us and the bike to the tarmac, but when they said it was only 1.5 KMís we thought we would be ok and that the overheating wonít be a problem when we get some speed up on the tarmac so thanked them but refused the offer. Off they went again and so did we. We made it to the tarmac which was more like 3KMís without any further incident until we stopped for the photo at the Limite (4,726Mtrs) and it wouldn't start again. Lorraine was getting a bit wobbly and went to check out the refugio at the top (one of several on the way down) while I tried to get the bike going. Engine running again I give Lorraine a blast on the horn and she wobbled back to the bike, we started the descent towards the Argentine entry and then Fiambala.
The rest of todays story in next update.