Limping Out of the Bolivian Desert

January 21, 2016

It was getting late in the day. I was still an hour or so from the border with Chile, and it would be dark before then. I began looking for a place to camp.

There is nothing out here. Nothing to hide behind from the wind. Most of the ground is rocks. Not exactly good tent space. I came alongside the Laguna Verde. It’s deceiving how a piece of land can look green in the distance and when you get there it is just shards of rock.

For much of the past 100 miles or so I had been on my toes, literally and figuratively. The road constantly went from fairly hard-packed to dangerously loose in the blink of an eye. Ruts from four-wheel vehicles dug through the deep, loose gravel, making the bike squirm uncomfortably at speed as I attempted to either power through the shorter stretches, or gently back off the throttle and maintain enough momentum but at a slower speed to make it through the longer ones. I kept thinking how miserable this would be on the Super Tenere or any large beast of a bike.

Finding some firmer footing, I rode along at about 40 miles per hour alongside Laguna Verde. Suddenly I hit one of those deep “pits” of gravel in the road. The front end dug in, and the back end began to come around. Before I could react, the rear swapped the other direction, and off I went, face first into the sharp gravel. My Shoei and Klim gear did a good job of protecting me, although the face shield of the helmet flew off on impact with the gravel. Unfortunately, my left ankle got caught up somewhere, somehow and I immediately knew when I hit the ground that it wasn’t good.

I sat there for a minute or two assessing the situation. No hurry to get up since there would be no cars coming. The only hurry was that it was going to get dark and I needed to find a camp spot.

I slowly got to my feet, and realized that only one foot was going to be useful in picking the bike up. It was a struggle, but I managed to eventually get the bike back on its’ wheels, and me on it. No damage to the bike, that I could see. I very cautiously started off again.

Ahead several miles, at the southern edge of the lake, I could see what looked to be a building. I decided I would see if someone was there. If so I would ask to camp next to their house. If not, perhaps I could camp in their house.

As I approached I saw two buildings, one on each side of the road, with the road blocked between. Two men sat outside the building on the right, wearing uniforms. I rode up and said “Buenas tardes”. They were in a good mood, as their day was about to be over. This was the Bolivian Aduana checkpoint, several miles from the border. I could go no further today even if I wanted to. I told them I had injured my ankle, and asked if I could camp next to their building. They agreed, and one of the men went inside and returned with a pole that I could use as a cane. At this point, I was having trouble just walking, so I gladly accepted it and set about pitching my tent.

It was a cold night at 15,000 feet elevation, but I was surprisingly comfortable in my tent. I was able to get my ankle out of my boot (not without some pain), and it had swollen to look like a baseball. I took one of the two painkillers I had in my kit, along with two ibuprofen, and wrapped my ankle with the ACE bandage from my first aid kit. All in all, it could be much worse. I slept fairly well, in between propping up my ankle again and contemplating how I was going to get out of there.

The next morning my ankle was considerably larger than normal, and I still couldn’t put any weight on it. I very painfully forced it back into my boot, slowly packed up, checked my bike out of Bolivia, and climbed onto the bike to head for Chile. The guards thought I was nuts for continuing on, but how long could I camp next to their guard shack in the desert?

I immediately realized I couldn’t bend my ankle to upshift, so I had to put my foot in front of the shift pedal and use the heel of my boot to kick the shifter up. For the most part, I remained in second and third gear, not wanting to take chances with the gravel.

As soon as I crossed the actual border, the road turned to pavement and I headed down the hill to San Pedro de Atacama, a Chilean town in the middle of the Atacama desert. I had planned to camp here, but in my current state, climbing in and out of the tent was difficult. I found a hotel and checked in, then headed to the local hospital.

San Pedro de Atacama is a quaint village with a large tourist population, and the center of town is pedestrian only. The bank (ATM — I needed Chilean Pesos) and the hospital are both within this pedestrian area. Which meant I had to walk/hobble to the bank and the hospital. Ouch. After getting some money, I went to the hospital only to find that they don’t have an x-ray machine. The nearest one is in Calama, about an hour away. The nurse looked at my ankle, felt fairly certain that it was just a bad sprain, and gave me an anti-inflammatory injection. Back on with the boot one more time, and I returned to the hotel intent on a few days rest with an elevated foot.

The hotel owner offered to have her husband or son drive me to Calama for another examination and an x-ray, but I declined, telling her that if it didn’t look and feel better in a few days maybe I’d take her up on the offer. She sent her son to the pharmacy to get some ibuprofen and a coke for me. I propped myself up and started searching for wi-fi.

This morning the swelling is going down, although I can still barely walk on it. But I’m headed in the right direction, I hope. Perhaps in another couple of days I’ll be headed east, into Argentina, and south again.

A couple of random observations:

  1. All of the previous border crossings I have done go like this: Arrive at border, check bike out of country (Aduana), check self out of country (Immigration), cross border (usually a river, or a bridge, or a line, or a gate), check self into country, check bike into country, ride into next country. This one is different. Miles before the actual border, you pass Bolivian Aduana in the middle of nowhere. You have to stop and check the bike out here. Then you continue for several miles in Bolivia until you arrive at the actual border, where there is Bolivian Immigration. You check yourself out here. There are no Chilean facilities here. You have to ride another 30 or more miles to the town of San Pedro de Atacama where the Chilean Immigration and Aduana are housed in the same building in town. Makes it pretty easy to miss a step if you aren’t paying attention. It also says to me that even the Chileans don’t care about the land nearest to Bolivia, and I can’t really blame them.
  2. My first experience in a rural foreign hospital left me with a sense of what Mexican and Latin American nationals must feel like in a hospital in the US. You have to trust that the language skills and interpretations are good enough to get what you want and need without getting something you don’t want or need. It can be a somewhat frightening experience, and at some point you have to put your trust in the system, and hope there is a system. At the end of the day, for an emergency room examination and a shot, I paid $21. My insurance co-pay would have been more than that in the US, and then I probably would have received another bill for another couple of hundred dollars later. Far more simple than trying to use the insurance I paid for, although perhaps I will consider applying for reimbursement yet.


Argentina! A Long Day and Another Lesson Learned

January 25, 2016

I left Casa de Mireya in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile mid-morning. No real hurry. I was only going 170 miles to Pastos Chicos, a hotel and restaurant standing alone in the middle of the desert due east in Argentina. Sure, it was a fairly long 170 miles, as it crosses two mountain ridges, so there was a lot of climbing and descending. 

I rode up and out of San Pedro, back the way I came, but passed the turnoff to Bolivia and headed for Paso de Jama. It’s all desert here, but the scenery is fantastic. 

Church in San Pedro de Atacama. Very touristy, but a cool town.


Heading out of San Pedro de Atacama in the morning. Hard to see in this photo, but the highway goes straight to the mountains, then an extremely steep climb up for many miles.


Looking back down on the Atacama desert floor from above San Pedro.


Beautiful desert, mostly at around 14,000 feet.


Amazing to see this river running through the desert. There are a lot of salt lakes up here, and I imagine this water has a high salinity content also.

The wind was blowing hard high in the desert, at times upwards of what felt like around 40 to 45 miles per hour. It was odd to be struggling with the bike in the wind, in the middle of an open desert, and not have any sand blowing around. Everything here is much larger and heavier than sand: gravel, rocks, etc. It hasn’t decomposed to the sand level. So even in strong winds, there was no debris in the air.

I have a knack of arriving at borders at just the wrong time. As usual, I pulled up to the border right behind three large tour buses full of mostly backpackers. I got in line behind them and went through the immigration process. Both Chile and Argentina Immigration and Aduana are all in the same building. Fortunately, after the backpackers passed through immigration, they got to skip Aduana since they weren’t bringing vehicles in, so the process sped up considerably at that point.

Walking out of the joint border crossing building, I looked around and noticed that there were no money-changers around. At most border crossings, there’s either individuals walking around offering to change your money, or there are small shacks set up with “Casa de Cambio” signs on them. Not here. Absolutely no place to change money. 

Keep in mind that this is in the middle of the desert. The nearest towns are San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (about 100 miles west), Uyuni, Bolivia (about 325 miles north), and Jujuy, Argentina (about 200 miles southeast). 

So I was now in Argentina, and the nearest place to change money into Argentine Pesos was a hundred miles behind me in Chile. The next was two hundred miles in front of me in Argentina.

Next door to the border station on the Argentine side is a YPF gas station. I pulled in there thinking maybe I could change some Bolivianos or Chilean Pesos there. Nope. But fortunately they did take MasterCard. Not Visa. Only MasterCard. And I happened to have one. So I was able to get fuel, just no food. 

Another 75 miles or so through the desert I came to what I had planned to be my hotel for the night. Again, unfortunately, “solo effectivo” (cash only). It was only about 2:30pm so I decided to keep rolling in hopes of finding a small village with an ATM. 

A couple of hours later I pulled into just such a village. Even though it was Monday, there appeared to be quite a market going on near the Central Park area. 

Across from the park was the ATM. I stuck my card in it and immediately got the “Your Card is Not Accepted Here” message. Back on the road, headed for Jujuy. 

As I wound down the mountain I dropped from clear blue (and I mean really blue) skies into the clouds, and it started to drizzle. I popped out at the bottom and it cleared up again. Then within about five miles, I suddenly found myself in the thickest soup of a fog I think I’ve ever ridden in. It lasted for about 30 minutes, then cleared off again. At this point it was getting close to dark, and I decided that I would head directly for Salta, as it is a big city, and I knew I would find an ATM there, as well as the hostel I originally planned to stay at the following night. 

An hour and a half later, and well after dark, I arrived in Salta, found the hostel (cash only) and convinced the manager to let me put my bike in the lobby and my stuff in the room and walk (hobble, actually) to an ATM five blocks away. This one took my card, and I now had enough Argentine Pesos for not only a room but a meal.  I had ridden 352 miles today. Much longer than I intended. 

It must have been a holiday Monday, as there was a HUGE party going on in Salta, and the main part of it, with a huge outdoor stage and nationally famous performers, was being broadcast live on television. I still don’t know what holiday it was, but people were out in force at 11pm.

The next morning I woke up late, had a leisurely breakfast, and slowly packed and hit the road for Cafayate. I was in no hurry. It was only 118 miles. But what a lovely 118 miles it is. Ruta Nacional 68 south of Salta passes through some absolutely beautiful green farmland. The green is almost overwhelming after so much time in the desert. Farms are large, crops beautiful and bountiful with huge leaves. Everything here is very different from what I had been experiencing for the past month or two. The rural people, for the most part, seem to live better than in the last few countries I visited. Certainly not everyone, but a large percentage. The lower-end homes are nicer, and the land looks better. Many houses have driveways, and people here own cars, which they tend to drive in a respectable manner. There are a lot less buses and collectivos shuttling rural residents to and from towns. Which means there are a lot less people sitting and standing next to the road everywhere. I haven’t seen it like this since I left Texas. The downside of less buses and collectivos is that the backpacker population, which is huge here, is left with less ride choices. There are a lot of people with large backpacks hitchhiking along Ruta 68. 

This valley that Salta sits in is the northern end of the wine region here. 

The wine trail is a long one in northern Argentina.

About fifty miles south of Salta, the road starts to climb a mountain, and the lush green valley starts to go away, returning to desert, but yet another, different desert landscape. 

This large chasm on the side of the road was very popular, and there were lots of people walking up into it. The rock formations here were beautiful.

Do you think the people of Animana are called Animaniacs? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

And then, just before Cafayate, the vineyards appear again.

Vineyards line the road on the way into Cafayate. Parts of this area remind me of some of the roads in central Italy and southern France that I’ve ridden.


An impressive estate vineyard just outside of Cafayate.

Cafayate is all about vineyards and wineries. There are a number of wineries here, offering tastings, and the town square is literally ringed with sidewalk cafes. 

The campground just south of town, Luz y Fuerza, is packed with tents. Tourism here is mostly national. Lots of Argentines enjoying their version of Napa Valley.  

Lots of tents in this campground. Unlike most everywhere else, I didn’t hear a word of anything except Spanish. These are mostly Argentine nationals, enjoying their own country.


In the campground, I met this Argentine couple, touring their country two up, and pulling a homebuilt trailer behind their 150cc Yamaha FZ. He told me they hope to visit Chile and Peru on it next year, and possibly further north. So the next time you tell me you need a 1200cc bike to do this trip two-up, think of these two.

Officially in Patagonia

February 1, 2016

Today I officially entered Patagonia. There was a sign on Ruta 40. It said Patagonia Region, Argentina. On the north side of the sign was desert. On the south side of the sign was, well, more desert. But I am confident that, after days of riding due south on Ruta 40 through the desert, tomorrow will make all the difference.

I continue to learn interesting lessons. Well, interesting to me, anyway. Like, when you camp for two days in a campground that only turns the electrical outlets on from 9pm to 2am, and all of the outlets are nailed to trees, and it rains all night, you end up with dead electronic devices. Dead phone, dead iPad, dead laptop, dead camera battery. So, since I couldn’t charge anything except my waterproof Delorme inReach GPS tracker in the rain, I instead ran everything dead sitting in my tent reading. So I have no photos from the past couple of days. (Perhaps it is a sign: “Put down the electronic crap and spend more time looking around and enjoying the ride!”) Last night’s campground in Malargüe had only one outlet that my adapter fit (there are two different kinds of plugs here in Argentina), and it was in the office, which closed around 9pm, so I charged my laptop, then drained half the laptop charging my phone. Finally tonight, the campground here in Las Lajas has a power strip near my tent that my adapter fits, and it is turned on even though it’s only 7:30pm. And it’s not raining. So the camera battery is finally getting charged.

There are definitely pros and cons to camping, in addition to the odd electrical outlet provisions. One of the biggest advantages of course is cost: most of these places are municipal campgrounds, and are relatively nice for tent camping. They have cost me between free ($0) and five dollars a night. You also meet a lot of interesting people, but most are also traveling; some are from Argentina, some from Chile, a few from further away. I’ve seen no other overlanders (motorcycle, camper, bicycle or otherwise) in these campgrounds.

One of the biggest downsides to camping is that you miss the actual city. I camped outside of Mendoza for two nights. (Side note: when you check into a campground, ask if they allow bass drums. No, really. Long story, but there was a huge soccer match Saturday in Mendoza and a large party turned up at my campground, complete with bass drum and trumpet, all in their matching jerseys and ready to party. And they beat the drum all day, and half the night). It wasn’t until I packed up and left my campsite, and stopped at an ATM downtown (after stopping at the giant WalMart to do some grocery shopping), that I saw what a beautiful city Mendoza is. Imagine a small-town downtown feel, with sidewalk cafes, except the sidewalks are about 15 feet wide, and there are huge trees lining both sides of the streets. Very nice.

Malargüe is another example. Small town with a lot of adventure tourism. I saw signs for ski rentals, ATV tours, lots of camping, and for the first time since leaving the States, I saw a lot of pickup trucks with real dirt bikes in the back, and even a few pulling trailers with Polaris RZR side-by-sides.

The past few days have been primarily on Ruta 40, which as I think I mentioned earlier, is the National highway that runs the length of Argentina (over 5,000 kilometers) on the western side from the border with Bolivia to Rio Gallegos near the tip of South America. In the north and central parts, where I’ve been, this is like riding though the desert portion of Wyoming, or Utah, and/or Arizona, for days. South of Mendoza, towns are very far and few between, as are people. In places, such as today near Barranca, the road suddenly turns to gravel, sometimes for more than 60 miles at a time. Yesterday, when given a choice between taking the long way around on a dirt road to Malargüe as my GPS suggested, or the shorter road which had the sign indicating it was the official route to Malargüe, I chose the official route. And spent 40 miles riding gravel washboard so rough that I understand much better the term “detached retinas”. I ended up standing for most of the 40 miles, which wasn’t easy on my bad ankle. But I figure all of this is preparing me for the southern portion of Ruta 40, much of which has not been paved yet, and is constantly windy.

Kilometer marker on a paved section of Ruta Nacional 40. Only 2712 kilometers to go if I were to stay on this road all the way south. (Note the volcano in the background).


Not sure of the significance of this arched flagpole. I’m sure it has to do with the incredible constant wind here.

Tomorrow I will cross back into Chile to continue south on the Carretera Austral (Ruta 5). I think the real scenery is coming soon.


How Do You Stop an XT250? Just Add Water!

February 2, 2016

I was definitely right about a day making a difference. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my most recent week in Argentina, there is a very definite “green line” along the border between Argentina and Chile down here.

As I left Las Lajas, Argentina and headed up the mountain to cross into Chile, the scenery began to change from desert brush to piñon trees.

Sitting in line at the Argentina border exit. Piñon trees begin to appear about here.

The closer I got to the border, the less power the bike seemed to be making. It definitely felt like it was running very lean, and perhaps had a fuel issue. I was convinced pretty quickly that the issue was in the fuel I purchased not far before arriving in Las Lajas the night before.

After crossing into Chile I decided I needed to stop and find the problem before it became a major problem. While I couldn’t hear any detonation, I was concerned that the bike was running so lean that it could be causing some internal damage. I found a shade tree and pulled off under it to investigate.

A little roadside downtime to fix my running problem.

After removing the fuel tank and turning it over, I took the fuel pump out and cleaned it, dried it and reinstalled it in the tank. I was thankful that the pump itself looked to be in good shape, with very little debris present, and the inside of the tank was clean. Most of the water (and it wasn’t much but it doesn’t take much) had settled to the lowest spot, which was the fuel line between the pump and the throttle body. I drained the line and dried it as best I could, reassembled everything, and fired it up. Problem fixed. For now, at least.

As I was putting everything back together, a guy pulled up on a BMW F800GS. He was from the UK, and had rented the BMW in Pucon, Chile (my destination for the night). This was his second day on it, and he had a flat rear tire. He was complaining about the cracks in the sidewalls, and believed they were the cause of his flat. I disagreed, but didn’t voice my opinion; the cracks were a result of him riding the tire flat for a lot of miles . I was feeling better about my situation. At least I could continue. He was headed to a campground about a mile away, and was planning to wait for a tire to arrive by bus within a day or two.

I continued on to Pucon with no further issues. Going through Villarrica I was surprised by the sheer numbers of tourists on a Tuesday. I have to remind myself that it is summer here. Just because it is Tuesday doesn’t mean families aren’t vacationing during the summer. The “beach” area along the lakeside was packed with people. Traffic was backed up for miles. It’s a beautiful tourism destination with a major tourism traffic issue. Cars line the road along the edge of the lake for miles between Villarrica and Pucon.

View of Villarrica Volcano, looking across Lago Villarrica, from the town of Villarrica. This is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, with the last eruption on March 3, 2015.

My destination for the evening: Cris Maragaño’s place. More about Cris and his project in the next post.

MotoCamp Chile

February 3, 2016

I spent two days with Cristian Maragaño, his girlfriend Tamara from Serbia; another traveler, Javier, who is staying with Cris and helping out; and Diego, who is working on MotoCamp Chile with Cris.

The MotoCamp Chile crew: (L-R) Diego, Javier, Tamara, me, Cris.

Cris spent more than four years traveling through 135 countries on his bike, and it was during this trip that the idea for MotoCamp Chile was born. When he returned to Pucon, he began to plan and execute this “motorcycle destination”. He has a beautiful wooded piece of land on Rio Pucon, and is in the process of building a small hostel, camp sites, cabins, a community kitchen, a performance stage, a workshop, and several large decks overlooking the river. Cris sees MotoCamp as an Event Center for motorcyclists. It’s a huge undertaking, and he is definitely taking it seriously. I toured the property with him this morning, and many aspects of the project are well under way. He plans to open for business in September of this year. This should be a perfect location to stay and do day trips out and back. There are many beautiful roads in the area, and Cris has a number of loops already laid out.

Official MotoCamp Chile Vehicle


Entrance area to MotoCamp Chile.


Huge deck being constructed overlooking the river at MotoCamp. The kitchen area and a BBQ will be attached. Just below this deck on the river side (to the right in the photo) is a series of terraced seating, with a gorgeous view of the river.


Looking out from MotoCamp Chile at Rio Pucon.


Looking from the future kitchen area to the campsites and future cabin areas.


MotoCamp Chile creator and RTW rider Cris Maragaño, at the beach area at MotoCamp.


Those of you who know me, know I drink very, very little alcohol. So after a beer and two bottles of wine over dinner, Cris broke out this really cool bottle of “rakia”, a vodka that Tamara’s father in Indija, Serbia gave him, and we all had a shot. I’m not really a wine drinker, but I had several great red wines here. Chilean wine is cheap in Chile. I paid between $3 and $5 for a couple of nice bottles of merlot and carmenere.

This afternoon, Javier took me into Pucon and I dropped my bike off with a small shop to have a fork seal replaced. (Javier rode a DR650 Suzuki from Chile to Alaska, and planned to return to Chile on it, but a failed main bearing made the repairs too expensive for him to continue. He sold the bike and returned to Chile, bought a Chinese 200cc bike, and plans to continue traveling around South America soon.) This is the second time for the left seal and it’s pretty clear that there are some small scratches to the inner fork tube that are causing it to continue to leak. It’s a bit frustrating not having the ability to do the work myself, or explain what needs to be done, to correct this problem. I’ll continue to work on it. Meanwhile, the right seal is beginning to leak. I have one more new fork seal, but will wait until Punta Arenas (another 2,000 miles) before replacing that one. Hopefully I can make it to Buenos Aires on these last two seals. My “to do” list for BA keeps getting longer and longer.

Small shop, great service in Pucon. He was quick to point out that the “ripio” (washboard dirt roads) and “polvo” (dust) contributed to my seal failure. No doubt. A lot more of both to come.

Heading south again tomorrow. Poco a poco.



Pucon to Puerto Varas

February 4, 2016

It’s been a week without internet (not necessarily a bad thing), and I just found an open spot in Cochrane, Chile that is smoking fast and hopefully will continue to work long enough to get this loaded. I’ll load about five short posts with photos if all goes well. After today, it may be another week before I find good internet again in Punta Arenas.

I left Cris and the MotoCamp Chile crew and headed south on the Circuito Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Loop) out of Villarrica. This is a nice road climbing and twisting past green countryside and beautiful lakes. Eventually I dropped onto the Pan American Highway (known here as Ruta 5) and headed south to Puerto Varas. Ruta 5 here looks a lot like Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle.

Puerto Varas lakeshore



I wanna live in the cuckoo clock.

Puerto Varas is another lakeside tourist attraction much like Villarrica and Pucon, and it was also full to the brim with vacationing Chileans. I checked into a hotel overlooking the lake and then rode another dozen miles south to Puerto Montt for a salmon dinner. Lots of salmon in this area, and the restaurants at the wharf (known as Angelmo) here came highly recommended. 

Tonight’s dinner.


Carretera Austral, Part 1: “No Tickie, No Ferry”

Feburary 5, 2016

The Carretera Austral, (also known as Ruta 7) begins in Puerto Montt, and continues south for around 800 miles, through rainforest, past glaciers and lakes. Spectacular scenery. But to get there requires three ferries: the first and last are about a half hour each. The middle one is about four hours. 

Ferry #1 of 3.


You would think I was the only motorcycle the workers at the second ferry had seen in a long time, based on the confusion that ensued. When I arrived at the dock, I went to the office to buy a ticket. There were four young women working at the counter. I was told by one of them that they don’t sell tickets to motorcycles until all of the cars have been loaded and they determine that there is space for the motorcycle. Okay, I can live with that. 

So I hung around for a few hours and waited for the ferry, along with about a hundred cars (the ferry only holds about 70 or so vehicles). There was a line on one side of the street that appeared to be those who had reservations or had purchased tickets. The line on the other side of the street appeared to be “standby”. I was the only motorcycle.

When the ferry was nearly full, the man on the ramp directing cars approached me and asked for my ticket. “I don’t have one”, I said. “They won’t sell me one until all the cars are loaded.” (All of this is happening in Spanish, of course.)

He looked at me and said “You need to go get your ticket, NOW, if you want to get on the ferry.”

Okay. Clear enough. I got off the bike and walked back into the office. Once again, I was told they wouldn’t sell me a ticket until all of the cars were loaded. 

“But the guy on the ramp just told me to come get my ticket”, I said.

“We can’t sell you a ticket until all of the cars are loaded.”

Confused, I walked back out to the ramp. The guy directing cars asked for my ticket.

“They won’t sell me one”, I told him.

He motioned for me to follow him back to the office, where he told the girls to sell me a ticket.

Now she asked for my vehicle documents. Back out to the bike to retrieve those. Turns out she just needed the license plate number, but didn’t ask for that. 

While waiting, I overheard the other girls saying (in Spanish of course) that I was scared that I was going to miss the ferry. Nope, not at all. Frustrated, but I have plenty of time if I miss this ferry. So just do your job.

Ticket in hand, I rolled onto the ferry, and it became clear that it is necessary to load the motorcycles before the last three cars, otherwise you can’t get the motorcycles in place. There was absolutely no need for the confusion that took place, but it didn’t matter now. I was on my way. 

Have to load the motorcycle before blocking that space with cars. Duh?


Third ferry.

In between ferries is a gravel road, and all of the cars unload and take off for the next ferry in a dust cloud so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Being the only motorcycle, I was a bit nervous about this arrangement, since I couldn’t see the car in front of me, or the condition of the gravel road, or the car behind me. Eventually I decided since I was going to board last anyway, I’d just pull over and let the cars and trucks go first. 

Lots of curious people on the ferries, asking about my trip. Not sure why (perhaps it was the afternoon ferry rather than the morning crossing) but I was the only motorcycle on all three.

So after five hours of ferries and about a hundred miles of total riding on this day, I arrived at Campground El Volcan in Pumelin Park, just north of Chaiten. It was so nice that I didn’t want to leave the next morning. 

Camping El Volcan in Pumelin Park.

Carretera Austral, Part 2: Losing Pavement, Gaining Scenery

February 6, 2016

The Carretera Austral is slowly being paved. From the ferry landing at Caleta Gonzalo to Puyuhuapi, the road shifts back and forth between gravel, pavement, and construction. Often, it’s 20 miles of pavement, followed by 20 miles of gravel. Rinse, Repeat. 

Much of the Carretera looks like this.


But there’s this one wide spot in the road…why? It’s the runway. Yep. The highway IS the runway.


Scenery just keeps getting more spectacular. Paved section.

At Puyuhuapi I looked for a campground that I had intended to stop at, but it apparently no longer exists. So I decided to continue south of town and see what else turned up. Not far out of town on the lake was a sign that said “Camping Toninas”. It didn’t look like much but I decided to give it a try. It was mid-afternoon and spots were still available. I pitched my tent and decided to do some maintenance on the bike. 

Coming into Puyuhuapi.


Campground on the lake.

A couple of hours later I noticed two BMWs pulling in. It was Daniel and Joey from I had last seen them in Cuenca, Ecuador. I invited them to share my campsite, and Joey cooked dinner. It was nice to eat from a plate rather than a mug. There are definitely advantages to two people traveling on large bikes with large panniers. Joey has a full kitchen setup with a nice selection of spices. Sure beats my pasta-in-a-mug dinners. 

Sharing my campsite with Joey and Daniel. Thanks Joey for the great meal!

The campground filled up and was less than great, with limited facilities considering the number of campers. But it served the purpose, and I got to visit with Daniel and Joey again. 

Carretera Austral, Part 4: Puerto Rio Tranquilo and the Capilla de Marmol

February 8, 2016

Puerto Rio Tranquilo is a spot on the road. There isn’t much here, but this time of year the population swells dramatically as bicyclists, motorcyclists, backpackers, and families in cars pour into town, mostly to see the Capilla de Marmol, or Marble Chapel.

The town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo. The whole town.

The lake here is large and beautiful, the color hard to describe and changing constantly under sun and clouds.



It’s a short boat ride to the Capilla de Marmol



Yep. Crazy. They drive the boats right into these caves.








This is a photo of the wall of the marble. That’s not a reflection: it’s the marble striations continuing below the water. Impressive.


The actual Marble Chapel.

I stayed in Puerto Rio Tranquilo two nights. On the second evening, two women pulled into the campground: a German on a BMW F800 and a French woman on a DR650 Suzuki with Chile plates. As they set up camp I introduced myself. It didn’t take long to figure out that the woman on the BMW, Ira (who also goes by Diana, because Ira is about as common as Pat in South America and nobody can understand it), was the same woman that Judith had ridden with through Cañon del Pato in Peru. She had since met up with Celine, who arrived in Santiago with absolutely zero motorcycle experience, and after four hours of instruction bought a DR650 and hit the road. Wow.

My campsite overlooking the lake. There were some sites with better views further down, but much more wind as well.


Poor photo taken well after dark. Ira (Diana) and Celine invited me for dinner. Two meals in a week not in a mug! Woo Hoo!

The next morning I left for a short ride to Cochrane and more stunning scenery.


This will be as far south on the Carretera Austral as I go. While it’s possible to continue all the way to Villa O’Higgins, there are no more rideable passes to Argentina below here. Tomorrow morning I plan to head back toward Argentina via Paso Roballos. Depending on availability, I hope to camp at Kris Tompkins’ newest park before crossing into Argentina.

As of now, I still need to make it another 1100 miles on these tires to Punta Arenas, where I hope to find new rubber. The front tire is beginning to wear in a scallop fashion, which makes the gravel even more tricky. The rear is just wearing down, but I think (fingers crossed) it will last until Punta Arenas. The chain and sprockets are another story, and could become a problem somewhere between here and Buenos Aires. But I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now all I can do is keep adjusting and lubricating the chain, and trying to take it easy on them, which is difficult with nothing but gravel, dust and ripio.

Cochrane, Chile to Gobernador Gregores, Argentina: A Good News/Bad News Day

February 11, 2016

Bad News: I discovered this morning that my rear rack is broken completely through in two places where it meets the left pannier rack. The ripio (badly corrugated roads) along with the heavy weight I have on the rear of the bike has finally started to take its’ toll.

Good News: I’m in Cochrane, and there’s a welding shop here.

Bad News: The welding shop is closed. The guy is out of town until next week.

Good News: There’s a hardware store here, so I bought a few hose clamps, and used one of my tire irons, the hose clamps and some zip ties as a brace until I can find a welder. 

Bad News: It’s another 120 miles of ripio across Paso Roballos today, and in the process my front fender pouch manages to fly off somewhere before the border crossing. Of course I didn’t see it. So I lost a spare inner tube, my other tire iron, and a few CO2 cartridges I was keeping as a backup inflation method (my compressor works fine so far).

From my campsite in the National Park outside of Cochrane.


Heading towards Parque Patagonia on X-83, just north of Cochrane. The road here is relatively smooth and nice.


Lots of these guys running across the road. Also ostriches at one point.


Valle Chacabuco


I’d like to thank Dr. Michael Bell, DDS in Austin, Texas, and Dr. Stuart Anderson, DDS, in Corona, CA. Both of these guys are clearly excellent dentists, as none of my fillings fell out over the 100 miles of hellish corrugated road. The scenery was a nice distraction also.


Parque Patagonia headquarters. This is where Doug and Kris Tompkins spent their time. I didn’t ask if it was Doug’s plane out front, but that’s my guess.

Good News: I still have one tire tool, clamped to my rear rack. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve changed a tire with one tire tool, and luckily these tires are fairly easy to change. 

Bad News: My phone seems to have also suffered today, though I don’t think the ripio is that bad in my tank bag, since the package of cookies next to the phone was fine. Not sure what’s up with the phone, but it definitely topped off today’s cascade of fiasco. It won’t power up or charge. It’s a brick at this point.

Good News: Ever since I bought a Garmin Montana in December, the old Zumo has behaved itself and worked fine, even on the ripio. I definitely don’t need to be carrying two GPS units (although my phone was my backup, and it’s now dead, along with several apps I’ve been relying on), but as soon as I get rid of one GPS, I’ll wish I had it.

Another “road goes on forever” photo. Ruta 40 north of Gobernador Gregores, just before the rain started. This was the first pavement in many days, and also the beginning of the brutal crosswinds that will just get worse further south. Anything over about 45 mph was scary. It’s amazing how much guardrails change wind direction. After a while you learn to prepare for the beginning and end of the guardrails by leaning less and more.

Bad News: Twenty miles out of Gobernador Gregores, it starts to rain, and my fuel system woes start to appear about the same time. I just barely limp into Gregores in the rain before dark.

Good News: The nicest guy I’ve met in Argentina is a welder in Gobernador Gregores.  It ain’t pretty, but in 20 minutes and for $4 my rack is back in one piece, for now at least (would have been faster, but he’s a funny guy and we were enjoying joking with each other, even though he doesn’t speak a word of English and my Spanish is pretty poor). I also managed to clean my fuel pump/filter/injector again this morning. My fingers turned black pressing on the filter screen…not a good sign. I wish it was a detachable/replaceable filter, but like many fuel injected bikes, the filter is in the fuel tank before the pickup for the fuel pump. Thus it’s integral to the pump, which I think is about $350 retail. Ouch. I’ll keep cleaning it as long as possible.

Bajo Caracoles, Argentina. Notice the pumps: completely covered in travelers’ stickers. That’s what I noticed at the time. About fifty miles later is when I noticed how badly my bike was running.

Bad News: My front tire is definitely beginning to look “iffy”. Still just under 800 miles to Punta Arenas. Fingers crossed.

Good News: As my Spanish teacher in Guatemala likes to say: “Es La Vida”. I always liked his attitude.