Posted on April 3, 2014
From Mendoza we were on a mission to get to Santiago so that we could make the push down south. Ariel the mechanic (along with others) had told us we could make it to Santiago in about five hours, though the big question mark was how long the border crossing was going to take, as our last experience had scared us in terms of waiting time.
We got up and headed toward the border, along with tons of Harleys, BMWs, and KTMs among other motorcycles. It was Sunday, and on top of that there had been a giant Harley-Davidson rally in Mendoza that weekend, putting tons of motorcycles on the road heading back to Santiago. It felt good to be surrounded by motorcyclists who were out enjoying the weather, the weekend, and just riding.
The border to Chile is through a half mile long tunnel and on the other side you are in Chile. We didn’t see any signs for where to get stamped out of Argentina, and went through the tunnel three times before finding out that it was all done in one location, about five miles into Chile.
While waiting at the border, we got to talk to several bikers and pick their brains about the route we were taking to Ushuaia and rumors we had heard about Southern Argentina. One Harley rider said that we should prepare for wind and to make sure we had a gas can with us (this was echoed by friends who had already rode through southern Argentina) as many of the gas stations are closed or simply don’t have any gas.
The border involved the usual inefficiency and the second searching of the bikes we have had on the entire trip. Finally done and processed we got to ride the snail’s pass on our way down the mountains. As you can see from the picture, it is s-curves all day long and quit fun to ride down, though I was glad that the on coming traffic was stopped for road repairs or it might have been a scary ride.
We made it to Santiago just as the sun was setting and it was long after dark by the time we made it to our hostel. We decided to take one day in the city to enjoy the sites and rest up before we made the big push down the 5. Santiago has a European feel with both the atmosphere and the architecture of the city and we enjoyed just walking around and exploring.The next day, once again, we packed and moved on. About ten miles outside of Santiago, Alex killed her bike as a truck passed her and as we coasted to a stop on the side of the freeway (thankful for a wide shoulder) she found that she couldn’t start her bike again. With the sounds it was making we could tell it wasn’t getting enough fuel to keep it idling. Long story short, we played around with the fuel lines and finally were able to suck whatever was blocking the tube out. Something similar happened in Peru, and the same fix worked. We won’t question it for now, we are just thankful that we could fix it and move on.
We were able to make it to Chillán (past where we thought we would make it due to the US quality road that is the 5) and found a cheap hostel with parking and a place to clean our chains, that badly needed some attention. It was in the last minutes of twilight that Alex was close to finishing cleaning her chain as Tobee (from Germany) came walking up the driveway of the hostel.
Tobee has been experiencing some extreme bad luck with his KTM and delighted us with his stories from the road, a portion of which involved him removing the air filter of his motorcycle and using, in his words, panties to cover the intake. It was nice having someone to talk to and we spent the night swapping stories from the road and talking about the journey to Ushuaia. (The last we heard, Tobbe is still stuck in Chillán trying to get his carburetor repaired with the most patient of mechanics).
The next day, after a comment from Tobee, we stopped by a motorcycle shop to pick up an extra chain as Alex’s appeared to be on its last leg. It was here where I made a grievous error. It was close to when we were going to have to get the last oil filter change of the trip (we should have done this in Santiago). The “mechanic” at the shop said he didn’t know if he had the right size of oil filter and asked if he could just open up my bike and check to see.
After spilling oil all over my bike (should have been the first clue) he determined he didn’t have the right size oil filter, which if you looked at the size of the oil filter housing it was clear he didn’t have the right size. He put the oil filter back in and we purchased a chain and went to go fill up before heading out-of-town. It was at the gas station that I noticed the oil filter cap was not flush and decided we needed someone else to look at it before we hopped on the freeway. It was on the two block drive to the Yamaha dealership that my bike started hemorrhaging oil as if from a gunshot wound.To the “mechanic” at that other shop: YOU NEED TO GET ANOTHER JOB BECAUSE YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!!! Though I would tell Alex later that I should have known that was a horrible idea. Yamaha didn’t have an oil filter that fit, but their mechanic was able to take it out and get it installed again without any issues.
Alex and I found out that there was a Kawasaki authorized dealership in Temuco, which just happened to be on our way along the 5. Having wasted half a day with the oil disaster, we hightailed it to Temuco and got an appointment for the following morning. We used this as an opportunity to change the chains and spokes, as well as, the oil to get the bikes ready for the last leg of the trip. Though this ended up sucking up one more day than we thought it would.
Fresh chains and riding like new we headed for the border to cross back to Argentina. Everyone had told us it was going to be cold in the south, we just didn’t know that the cold was going to come this soon. We stocked up on new winter gloves (that still wouldn’t be warm enough for snow) and gas cans for Southern Argentina.
After the best border crossing of the trip, we made it to San Carlos de Barlioche (the lake Tahoe of Argentina) and this is where things got interesting. It was cold on the ride along the lake, but we didn’t know we were going to wake up and see snow falling outside the window.
We took showers, got packed, and the snow had stopped, to be replaced with a light rain. We ate breakfast and got the bikes packed to try to make it out-of-town before the real rain started. We didn’t succeed.
Ten miles down the road it started pouring, and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. Our new gloves and five layers of clothing wasn’t enough to keep the cold out and on top of that, we got our first snow ride. Not little flakes, but literally snow that falls, hits your helmet visor, and sticks.
We could only make it about 30 miles at a time before we had to pull over and warm up our hands as they were turning numb with cold. Making it to El Bolsón (only 80 miles past Bariloche) we had to give up for the day as we were numb in both fingers and toes and were soaked to the bone. The best part of being in a part of the country that is cold for a large portion of the year, they have heaters.Getting a hostel with a heater was clutch and Alex fashioned a drying rack out of the curtain rod that we hung in front of the heater. The hostel owner said that it would stop raining the next day, but it continued to rain all day and didn’t break until the morning of the next day.
Not knowing what the day would bring at 7am, the sun started to peak out around 9 and we were off. Riding through snow-capped mountains and frosty fields we made our way south, 36 miles at a time while we let our hands warm up. It wouldn’t be till after Esquel that we started dropping down in elevation and the ambient temperature rose, at least enough so that we could start putting some miles down without stopping.
The excitement of the day was that Alex’s bike was going to turn 30,000 miles. After lunch, ten miles outside of Tecka her bike hit the 30,000 mile mark and we pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures and I did a little dance in celebration. It was during this dance I noticed the massive amount of liquid coming out of the bottom of Alex’s bike…
To be Continued…
Posted on March 30, 2014
Travelers crave the authentic. They idealize it. And they brag about it when they achieve it.
Travel magazines, guide books and blogs do a great job motivating new tourists to pick up a passport and head to the airport every year which is AWESOME, however it also makes it harder for travelers (there is a difference) to make a real and unique connection to a place before it’s time to head back to the fluorescent life.
About a week ago Nathaniel and I managed to achieve one of those beautiful, authentic moments that made every time we’ve gotten stuck and had to pay too much for a hotel or broke down and bought American fast food (effing Tegucigalpa!) worth it.
It started in Lavalle Argentina, where the now familiar smell of gas was coming from Nathaniel’s gas tank and we suspected he had a new fracture in the tank, but couldn’t confirm till the morning as it was dark and we had rode 300+ miles that day.
The next morning Nathaniel went through the process of taking off his panniers and top box and discovered one of the weld seams on his tank was slowly oozing gasoline. We would wipe the spot where it was collecting dry and then gas would immediately begin spreading from a crack so small we couldn’t actually see it.
We had fixed a different fracture in the tank with JB weld a few days before, though the position of the new fracture made it impossible to seal with the JB Weld.
While we waited for the JB Weld to set, Nathaniel googled “KLR Mechanic Mendoza” because the next large-ish town was only about 30 minutes down the highway. I still think that phrase was an incredibly specific thing to look for, but it gave us the name, address and phone number of a man that according to legend is half mechanic half wizard. Looking at the thread about “Ariel” on Horizons Unlimited was impressive, although it was seven years old – just for the heck of it we gave the phone number a call and someone answered!
I asked if it was Ariel the mechanic and he told me it was. I next inquired if we could bring a motorcycle for him to look at and he confirmed his address for me.
Less than an hour later we were sitting in the middle of a residential intersection in Mendoza Argentina confused about which house was the mechanic’s shop. A pregnant woman motioned to me and asked if we were looking for the bike mechanic- I replied we were and she pointed to a house (her house). The woman was Ariel’s wife and a lovely hostess for the next two days.
The back of Ariel’s house opens up into a huge work space with dozens of motorcycles, cars, quads and even a full size truck tucked in cozily next to each other (also a couple of 60’s Ford Falcons). The walls are covered with every tool imaginable and the obligatory sexy lady posters, although he of course seems to be a loving father and husband.
Before we were introduced to this space he met with us out in front and told use he could help us, but that we needed to come back a few hours later at 4pm. Argentina takes ‘siesta’ seriously and from 2 o’clock to 4:30 pm it is often impossible to get errands done. Even banks and ATMs close during this time.
When we came back at four we rolled our bikes into the back portion of his house and Ariel’s assistant went to work draining Nathaniel’s gas tank after they had a look at the cracks and temporary repairs. Ariel floated around monitoring his assistant, drinking mate and helping another young guy in the shop who was working on his own bike. The whole process was very laid back, so after an hour and a half the tank was prepped for surgery and Ariel went to work with the blow torch.
After several blow torch sessions, we waited for what seemed like forever for the tank to cool down enough to be re-installed on Nathaniel’s bike and re-filled with gasoline. When we were ready to leave, Nathaniel asked Ariel how much he wanted for the work and Ariel told us not to worry about it and to come back the next day as he wanted to make sure the weld held and to ensure the quality of his work (it was now past dark). We were itching to get on the road, but agreed and then Ariel asked us if we would be able to return at noon and have asado with him and his family.
In situations like this I usually try to be polite and decline a few times before giving in. However, when an Argentinian gives you an invitation to eat asado at his house you say thank you and ask what time you should show up.
We arrived a little after noon the next day and things were awkward at first. Nathaniel doesn’t speak Spanish and Ariel clearly wanted his 11-year-old daughter to practice her English with us. It was interesting to talk to her and see what her life was like. Ariel double checked the weld and approved that it was going to hold, but he later joked to Nathaniel that he wasn’t giving a lifetime guarantee.
Eventually we all moved to the top floor patio of Ariel’s house where they have a brick grilling area built right into the patio. The conversation got easier once we all began to relax and I carried my miniature dictionary with me the whole day. I can communicated pretty well in Spanish (obviously), however I knew that over the course of the next several hours words would come up in conversation that I wouldn’t understand and I didn’t care about looking like a nerd leafing through a dictionary.
By the end of the day I was mentally exhausted.
It’s impossible for me to explain the feeling of being wrapped up in that afternoon. The conversation was warm and easy while I tried to translate back and for between Nathaniel and our hosts as much as I could, though the conversation never really slowed.
A friend of Ariel’s manned the grill which was fueled by a wood fire and although the stomach meat was marinated the rest only saw a generous sprinkling of salt before he laid the pieces out on the hot grill with the care and skill of a surgeon.
Argentinians don’t eat the meat once it has cooled off so there was one point where they took a cooled off piece from my plate and gave me a new one hot from the grill. I thought of it as strange, however there is no denying they are the masters of beef when you are crunching through the slightly crisped salty fat and biting into those simple delicious flavors.
I also really enjoyed their blood sausage, which was much softer than the blood sausages I’ve had in the past. It had the texture of pate on the inside and paired so well with the crusty fresh bread they had laid out on the table.
The entire time we sat on the patio I kept thinking to myself how lucky we were to be in that place at that moment.
As dusk came we started to say our goodbyes before disappearing off into the dark, back to our $20 a night hostel after having a dinner money cannot buy.
P.S. Ariel never did allow Nathaniel to pay for the services her provided, he said we had already paid with good company.
Posted on March 17, 2014
For a reason…
In Bolivia I started asking the owners of hotels (using Alex translate their responses) how long it would take to get to the next stopping town we had decided on. Why? Because in Bolivia there can literally be nothing for miles and miles and I wanted to make sure that we made it to the next destination without running out of gas or having to drive long distances at night.
I accomplished only one of these goals when we set out from Uyuni to Tupiza after our day in the salt flats. I had asked the owner of our hostel the night before how long it would take to get to Tupiza, as we were planning on crossing the border to Argentina the next day. She responded that the road between the two cities was bad, mostly gravel, and that it might be better to back-track to Potosi and then head down from there as it would take 4 hours from Uyuni straight. A total of over 600km (roughly 372 miles) for the back-track, when the road that went straight there was only around 200km (or 130 miles).
Alex and I had been told by Google maps not to take certain sections of road and to instead do these long loops, but as of yet, we had’t encountered anything the bikes (or us) couldn’t handle. The worst was the road between LaPaz and Oruro, and that was simply because at varying intervals it would turn into gravel (while also hailing), before becoming asphalt again. Annoying, but nothing to worry about. And with this in mind we decided that some gravel wasn’t bad enough to warrant a back-track of more than 350 miles.
The next day we got up, got packed, didn’t take showers because the element in the water heater was broken, and headed out after having some breakfast (our last meal until 9:30 that night) and spending a half an hour looking for gas, in a town that isn’t any bigger than a four or five street grid.
By the time we got onto “highway”-21 it must have been close to 10:30, not the earliest start to the day we’ve had on the trip. Highway-21 was never asphalt, not even in Uyuni, and about ten minutes in I gave up on it ever being asphalt for the entire length of the drive.
The first half was boring landscape you can’t be excited about going ten to fifteen miles an hour through. Llamas littered the sides of the road, while bumps caused by rains, that make the road resemble monster truck tire tracks, made for a slow bumpy ride. Stopping for a moment to wait for Alex to catch up to me, and checking what appeared to be an oil leak on my front left fork, I stood up to see a mama llama and her baby starring at me.
Not knowing if they wanted to attacked or were simply curious, I backed away from them slowly and raised up on the balls of my feet and put my arms above my head (what I was taught to do in cub-scouts if you come face to face with a mountain lion) making myself as big as I could. All the mama did was look at me, blink, and continue forward as I retreated to where Alex had stopped some twenty feet back.
All in all they were just friendly, curious llamas not accustomed to seeing stupid motorcycle riders, in full gear, stopping on the side of the road. The mama even ended up nuzzling Alex’s hands as she tried and succeeded to pet her. Seeing as we still had an entire days worth of riding ahead of us we pushed on from the llamas, as they lost interest in us and went back to grazing.
Thinking the road couldn’t get any worse, it showed me a thing or two, by giving us sand on top of monster truck bumps, which helps to destabilize you better than anything we have encountered thus far (I almost tipped over more than half a dozen times that day, but was able to keep the bike up luckily). I went around one corner and couldn’t see Alex in my rear-view mirrors so I stopped to let her catch up.
However, after a minute of not seeing anything I knew something had to be wrong, so I flipped around and rode back around the corner to see Alex sitting on the side of the road, her bike smack dab in the middle of the sand on its side. I made sure she was okay before anything else, she replied that the sand was soft and she wasn’t going very fast when she fell, so we both went to lift the bike back onto two wheels.
It was at this moment that Alex realized that a cable was hanging loose, and upon further inspection, it had been held on by one of the sub-frame bolts. We don’t know how long she had been riding without it, but for those that don’t know the KLR, the back and front of the bike are held together by, you guessed it, the sub-frame bolts. There was no way she was going to be able to go another 100 miles on one sub-frame bolt without risking snapping the other and literally having her bike come apart into two halves.
There was a small cropping of buildings that some people might call a town only a couple minutes away, so we decided to get off the road and figure out a plan. Supposedly, according to locals, there was a larger town about ten miles away (though when your only going 15-miles an hour that can be almost an hour of riding) that we might be able to find a replacement at. However, I had read forums before we left where people had snapped sub-frame bolts and had a hard time finding replacements.Before we went to anything drastic, we decided it would be best to check our tool bag, as I had thrown in a bunch of random spare screws and nuts we had bought, but hadn’t used when we mod’ed our bikes. Miracle of all miracles, I had not one, but THREE bolts that were the right size to fit. I don’t know where they came from, but they saved our asses (literally). Alex’s bike went up on the center stand, we made a couple of minor adjustments, and we were off again.
I’ll spare the details of the next 100 miles, and nearly 7 more hours of driving that occurred other than the important details. No more tip-overs by either driver, getting to the halfway point at 4:30pm, driving the last 40 miles in the dark, still on gravely dirt roads (they did get better in the second half, though still quite rocky), in the middle of the mountains with no ambient light say for headlights, smell of gas on my bike (to be covered later).
All in all, what the lady said would take us 4 hours took us ten plus hours to drive, the last three in the pitch black. Although, after driving the road all day and seeing how the Land Cruisers blast through it like they are training for the next Dakar we can totally understand why a local would think the trip only takes 4 hours.
Finally making it to Tupiza, we found an awesome hotel with parking and a restaurant right next store that was still open, again small miracles.
Even though we wanted to get to the border the next day, one of our bike gurus (Chuck Squatrigila) suggested we take a half day and check every bolt for looseness on the bike. It was a good thing he did. My bike was now leaking quit a bit from the left fork, but there was no mechanic in town who could do the repair, and it was looking like Salta, Argentina was the place to get it repaired. Though one mechanic in town told us it would be fine to drive on asphalt for another 1,000 miles (I don’t know if I believe that).
We found several loose bolts on both bikes, and the connections to my battery were loose (I lost electricity while parking that day, which made me think that might be the case). The big find on my bike was that gas smell I mentioned earlier, ended up being a hairline crack in my tank that was leaking a small amount of gas. Not to worry, Alex and I had prepared for everything (thanks to the help of many people) and we pulled out the tube of JB Powerweld, followed the instructions, and epoxied the crack right up. We checked to make sure it stuck and there were no leaks in the morning, good to go.
It was the hardest day of riding of the trip, but we both felt accomplished for tackling it and making it through, though I think are guardian angels took a couple blows that day.