Mr and Mrs Three Dawg's South America Adventure

  • OK, I'm going to try to make a start on this while my enfeebled brain can remember where we've been...

    As you may know, me and Mrs Three Dawg have taken a few trips abroad with the long suffering 1997 1100GS, fllying or shipping the bike to some interesting destinations south of the equator. This is because we are very busy during our summer, and because we both hate the Scottish winter. This time we decided to try South America as neither of us had been there and we could be sure of some spectacular scenery and a decent amount of gravel roads, which I really enjoy riding. Much planning took place over the preceeding year to make the most of our six weeks, along with some prep, detailed elsewhere, for the bike.

    We work on the basis that we can do about 300km a day even on gravel without having to push too hard, and it seemed like a route from Santiago in Chile north to the Atacama Desert, then into Bolivia to the Uyuni Salt Flats then down Argentina's famous Ruta 40 to Patagonia and back up to Santiago would be do-able. We were joined on the ride by my mate from the world of Laverda, Rob, and his missus Nicky. They're noobs at this adventure riding lark, but were fully kitted out with a nice 1200 Triple Black. All good to go then at the beginning of November, 15 hours on a 787 to Chile's capital, Santiago. Where the sun is warm and the people are mellow.

    Mrs 3D seems happy enough ready for the longest non-stop flight BA operate.


    You'd think Rob would look more cheerful with this many glasses of wine lined up...

    Did I say mellow? Er, well, no. A price hike on public transport sparked some pretty serious rioting in Santiago and elsewhere. In an idle moment I decided to mock up what we might be in for.



    Well it amused me anyway. :) Quick change of hotel away from the city centre and a slight reshuffling of the route meant we should avoid any aggro - not that foreigners often get caught up in stuff like this unless they're stupid, and in fact it worked out quite well as we didn't have much time to get the bikes out of customs as we arrived on a Friday so being near the airport was quite handy.

    Rob and Nicky arrived a day or two earlier than we did and had already got the 1200 out of the airport so I just followed him around to various offices immidately after getting through the airport, and the bike was mine in about four hours or so. Easy, especially if you ask for a Black and Decker to undo all the screws holding the crate together. Thanks to The Bike Bus and Motofreight for getting the bike safely there!

    Ask for a drill Rob.

    Keen-ness personified.


    Screen, mirrors and rack extension plate back on and we are good to go. Clean as!


    Back to the hotel for refreshments. We made a good start with this one, which wasn't half bad.

  • The following day we headed north out of Santiago towards Salamanca, a straightforward 300km or so. However, after approximately 100 yards I took a wrong turn down a one-way street and lost Rob. We didn't see them again until we got to Salamanca...

    Rob and Nicky ended up riding along by the sea, while we were inland. Either way was good.

    Heading up into the hills we passed through quite a few rough-hewn tunnels like this. Only wide onough for a car you set off down one hoping that some maniac wasn't coming the other way, especially in the ones that had a curve in the middle.


    Regrouping in Salamanca we headed out for a beer. We found a nice wee place, but couldn't help noticing the VERY drunk guy at a table nearby who was clutching on to a screwdriver like his life depended on it. Attempts to shift him by the staff failed, but eventually he left of his own accord. We later spotted him in the town square, slumped on a bench still holding his screwdriver.

    Man with screwdriver not pictured.

    The following day gave us our first proper taste of gravel to Vicuna. We were both getting to grips with the bikes and stopped occasionally to play with tyre pressures. We also used out fuel bags for the first time. I managed to spill some fuel inside Rob's crash helmet, which was an unbelievably dumb thing to do.

    Just before filling Rob's lid with unleaded.




    Vicuna is a charming town at the bottom of the Elqui Valley with an excellent craft brewery (they had one of the best new world IPA's I've ever had the pleasure of supping). Rob and I were by the bikes in the hostal's back yard when the ground shook fairly violently. Turned out it was a magnitude 6 earthquake!

    We were in Vicuna for two nights, so could go exploring. Slightly disturbing public art in the square.


    Evidence of protests.





    There are a great many stray dogs around. They DO NOT like the noise a 1200 makes - Rob was often chased while me, on my purring 1100 was left alone.


    The ladies step out. With lightweight gear there is no need to look like a biker chick all the time.

    The Elqui Valley is one of the best places to see the stars, this is celebrated on this wall art.


    Later in the day we headed up the Elqui Valley to Pisco de Elqui. Pisco is a popular spirit in Chile and originated here. A cocktail called a Pisco Sour is very popular, as is Pisco and Coke. We developed a liking for Pisco Sours which are a bit like a Margarita.

    Cuatro Pisco Sours por favor!


    One of the differences between travelling in Africa and South America seems to me to be the town centres. Coming in to a very unpromising place often resulted in us finding a charming square like this. This is Pisco's.


    Turning the desert green in the Elqui Valley.



  • OK, let's see if we can get to San Pedro de Atacama. The next couple of days out of Vicuna were basically slabbing it up to SPdeA. Plenty of it was done on the Pan American Highway (Ruta 5), but it wasn't all bad. Coming down to the coast at La Serena we saw plenty of evidence of unrest around the university, and we had to weave our way through quite a lot of debris on the road from the previous night's protests.

    Back on the Pan American, heading for some sea fog.


    I put in this shot to illustrate the poor conditions many rural Chileans live in. There is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots which can only end in tears.


    We overnighted in Copiapo, where those Chilean miners got stuck underground for a month or so. The hotel was all boarded up, clearly there had been some trouble, but any aggro was directed at the police barracks oposite.


    There are protesters with an artistic bent...


    Curious sculpture donated by China. Probably got them some mineral rights...


    Back on the bikes down to the coast to Taltal. No traffic! By gum I could have had some fun on the Falco here.:evil:



    There are loads of mines in northern Chile and associated heavy trucking. To keep the dust down they oil some of the dirt roads, but we managed to find plenty of untreated gravel too. They pull apart entire mountains here. It ain't pretty, but the desert is so big that the mines seem only a small blot on the landscape.



    Arriving at our beach side hosteria at Taltal.


    Yup, just park them in everyone's way, by the door. At least I think that's what the owner said, my Spanish isn't up to much.



    Once again, a fairly uninspiring town was redeemed by its square...


    ...and wildlife.


    After Taltal , we had a fairly short hop to the shithole that is Antofagasta. The run along the coast was chilly at first with a lurking sea fog, but as soon as we turned away from the coast normal service in the form of unbroken sunshine was resumed.



    No shortage of roadside shrinage.


    There was some evidence of water, but it would most likely have come down from the mountains.


    Before we got to Antofagasta we took a look at La Mano del Desierto. It's an absolute must stop. While we were there various people came and went, but we were able to grab some decent shots with the help of a young couple in a camper van.




    The run down to the coast at Antofagasta was grim - definitely not a place to linger unless you look good in a hard hat. Checking in to the hotel was a farce - they wouldn't start the process until 3pm (we arrived at abot 2), and then lost my booking while seemingly having three for Rob. Hopeless. Anyway, they did redeem themselves by providing an excellent barbecued meal that evening.

    Why is there a giant penguin here?


    Geotel, Antofagasta. Must try harder.


    Antofagasta, grim. Suspect you could find an eight foot diameter tyre for some massive truck here, but not much else.


    Anyway, it was just an overnight before we climbed about 8000 feet from sea level to San Pedro de Atacama, the main tourist town in the Atacama desert. Climbing so high so quickly meant we were risking altitude sickness. We had some pills (not Viagra as used on Top Gear...) which seemed to help. Once at altitude none of us felt particularly bad, apart from tingling extremeties, but manhandling the bikes around made your head swim. Three nights in San Pedro would hopefully allow us to acclimatise before we climbed higher to over 12000 feet. The locals use coca tea to ward off the symptoms brought on by altitude. Dunno what UK customs would make of this if we'd brought some back...


    Coming down into SPDA


    The town and our accommodation. Place was full of springy young things with back packs and there were loads of tour operators offering various activities for those foolish enough not to have arrived on a motorcycle.


    I had been wondering how to get my hands on some Bolivian currency, fortunately there were money changers everywhere. This is because backpackers take three day bus trips to see the salt pans at Uyuni in Bolivia. Sounded like hell to me, I was expecting to take two days just to get to Uyuni.





    Once again we were able to bring the bikes off the street, but it was tight...



    Next up, the reason everyone comes to SPDA.

  • Ha, the sheepy made it all the way round, although it ain't as clean and fluffy now! Definitely gave me another hour on the bike before my arse went numb.

    San Pedro de Atacama - great little place, but it's what is around it that is the draw. I'll just let the pictures do the talking.


    Tebinquiche lagoon (and flamingos!) You have to pay a small fee to enter these places, but they seem to be run by the indiginous people, who were extremely helpful. We were able to dump our riding gear with the ladies manning the office while we walked out to where the birds were, just as well as it was bloody hot.








    Cejar (I think)




    After a slight detour through a remote and dusty village...


    ...Moon Valley








    There were mad people cycling up here - 8000 feet and about 30 degrees would be far too much for me. There's a viewpoint which we visited later in the day where you can look down on Moon Valley. Spectacular, and pretty much deserted.




    Reminded me a little of Zubriski Point in Death Valley.


  • After three pleasant nights in SPDA it was time to head north to Ollague and the Bolivian Border. I was looking forward to this - borders and border towns are interesting places, and we would really be travelling in some remote areas to get through to Uyuni in Bolivia.

    I wasn't at all sure if we could get fuel in Ollague as from what I had read it was a real one horse town (our booking at the hostal there looked a bit shaky, bad news if we arrived and they has mislaid our booking) so we brimmed the tanks in Calama and filled up our Desert Fox fuel bags. This should be at least enough to get us to San Christobal where there should be fuel.


    The road to Ollague is tarmaced now, but the weather gradually closed in until it became clear that we were heading into a storm, complete with thunder and lightning, which up on the altiplano was very very frightning me! At one point we stopped to see which way it was moving, because i was genuinely worried about our safety. Fortunately it seemed to be movin to the right as we looked at it while the road headed to the left, but we still got pretty wet.

    Before the weather closed in Mrs 3D managed to capture some spectacular colours on the mountains.



    Emptying the fuel bags.

    Looking less lovely now. And the temperature was dropping like a stone.


    Anyway, we rode through about a half hour of rain to reach Ollague. The hostal weren't expecting us (!) but had rooms anyway. It was a surprisingly comfortable little place considering the location. Ollague is a rail head and border and nothing else, huddled under a large and smoking volcano. Altitude? over 12000 feet.

    Happily the day cleared up enough later on to grab a few photos of the town.



    The hostal.


    High. 12164 feet to be exact. Even on a fuel injected bike you can feel the power dropping at such altitudes.


    The following morning the border was quiet and we got through without a delay. We'd been warned that we may be asked for a 'tip' but weren't. The guys on the Bolivian side did however warn us about the protests that were ongoing, caused by President Evo Morales trying to seek and third term in office - something the constitution doesn't allow. This means roadblocks and petrol shortages, but he reckoned way out here we'd be OK. You hear about people being delayed for days and days at big roadblocks near Sucre and La Paz, fingers crossed we wouldn't encounter anything. I stashed a few dollar bills in an outside pocket just in case the local plod decided their beer fund needed topping up by some travelling gringos...


    Ah, now this is more like it!


    We had a whole day of gravel ahead of us, happy happy. The scenery was stunning. If we were at 12000 feet, how tall were those mountains?



    Lamas? Alpacas? Vicuna? Dunno.


    It was somewhere up here that Rob couldn't restart his bike after a rest stop. Turned out he had his spare key in the front of his tank bag and the signal from it was confusing the immobilizer. Sorted by banishing it to the top box. Technology eh?


    Anyway, it was a great day's riding, and presently we rocked up in Uyuni (not needing fuel at San Christobal as the bikes were so economical at our 50mph gravel road cruising speed) to check in to a hotel made entirely from salt.


    Unusual place, reminded us of a plush prison with the arched roof, but it was a decent place to stay with a receptionist who could speak excellent English. She remarked how sad she was at the latest trouble, as it was impacting on business and in fact we witnessed one American guest checking out early because she was worried about the protests. Yanks are such pussies, no wonder they need all those guns.



    Anyway, time for a beer as it's off to the world's largest salt flat tomorrow. Did I spray enough ACF50 on my aged machine I wonder?

  • Uyuni. Right on the doorstep of the biggest salt flats in the world. Waaay bigger than Bonneville, the Salar de Uyuni 10500 km2 of white stuff and something I had wanted to see and ride for a very long time. And boy, I was not disappointed. It is an amazing place. But first, a cup of coca tea to steady ourselves and a short run out to the edge of town to see the steam engine graveyard.


    Fuel first. You can barely see the lady behind the bike filling it up. Bolivians are somewhat short in stature, but very friendly.







    Back though town - and then hopefully on to the salar.




    Hmm, maybe not...


    The entrance to the pans wasn't that well marked, but about 20km out of town we found it. Your GPS (apart from the compass) ain't much use out here. This is an amazing place and is somewhere I have wanted to visit for years. Happily it was dry, I can't imagine what it would do to the bike in the wet.


    There are a couple of places to get ssome colourful pics - the flags is one.


    Ah, raggedy metaphors


    Is my bike cool, or what?


    Another salt sculpture - the Dakar Rally monument.


    You really do need sunglasses


    Anything? Nah. You? Nope.


    I seemed to remember (maybe from Top Gear) that there was an island with a cafe on it somewhere in the middle of the Salar. Following a promising looking track we set of in search of it. Bearing in mind that it's ten thousand square kilometers of flat whiteness...

    Yep, more by chance than skill we found it. We mucked arouns a bit, rode round it and got lost. The salt got softer and softer until it was like riding on firm sand. We had to basically do some dead reckoning and eventually we found a track that lead us back to where the flags were. Phew!




    I thought at first that my final drive bearing had shat itself, but it was just salt.



    What a place. Go there.

  • The amount of salt colected on the bikes was horrific, even though it was more or less dry. We dropped the girls off at the hotel and set off in search of a jetwash. We managed to find one (again, looked familiar from Top Gear) that seemed more set up for trucks. They were shutting up shop, but said we could rinse off the bikes as long as we shut off the equipment afterwards. Sorted.



    The folowing morning there was a market in ful swing in the street. Very colourful it was too.




    No cocaine for sale, but plenty of pot...





    Anyway, that was it for our short stay in Bolivia, the Carretera del Muerte will have to wait for another time. We were heading south into Argentina, a fairly straightforward run, assuming there were no roadblocks.

    We came across several, as it happened, but all were abandoned.




    Diversions. These started to fill me with dread and fear when we came upon them. They basically buldoze a track around where the work is going on, and the trucks trash it. Rob had already lost it on one section (not this one, we got through here fine) , and I had come bloody close, bucking over a berm so violently that it set off Mrs 3D's electric toothbrush inside the pannier.

    Very happy I was running a TKC up front!




    The border at Villazon/La Quiaca was again pretty straigtforward, although here we were asked for Argentinian road insurance (which we had arranged in advance) and the Bolivian guys don't stamp your passport on exit for some reason. It will be funny if all those Brexiters have to go through this process at Dover: Passport control to get exit stamp for the country you're leaving then customs to hand in Temporary Import Permit (TIP), then head over to the other side to get your passport stamped in, then off to customs to hand over your V5 to have another TIP for the country your entering filled out. Oh, and don't forget the bio-security form. And maybe a check in your panniers for fruit and dairy products...

    Anyhow, we were staying in La Quiaca so not far to go after customs. I was delighted to be told to ride (not push!) my bike right through reception to park in the coutyard. Another Adventure Travel box ticked...


    Next up, Ruta 40.:P

  • Ruta 40. Argentina's iconic road runs down the eastern side of the Andes for 5000 km from La Quiaca to Patagonia. Unfortunately much of it is paved today, but there are still some tasty bits that aren't, and today we were going to have a 300 km full day on probably the best bit, from La Quiaca to a roadhouse called Pastos Chicos near Susques. It is one of the very best days I have had riding my GS. Fast in places, tricky and slow in others, the scenery was never less than epic. No traffic other than the odd mining vehicle it felt truly remote.


    Not so little Urn. Ewer joking, of course.

    Quick pit stop after about 100km to empty the fuel bags. Of course the bikes will do 300km on a tank, but you can't be 100% sure you won't hit a massive detour becuse of a washout or whatever.




    This little fella seemed to be the only living thing in the village above.



    The entrance to a gorge where we seemed to be riding down a dried up river bed. It bacame Very Bumpy Indeed.





    14000 feet up! And we'd been higher - my GPS's power connection was failing so I had it switched off mostly, so I don't know our max altitude, but it must have been the thick end of 15000 feet.


    Getting a bit late, but at least the road was good. Beer o'Clock for sure. When we arrived at Pastos Chicos I threw my gear into the room and headed straigt to the bar for an ice-cold Salta beer. Fortunately beer is available in litre bottles there...


    Pastos Chicos roadhouse.

    Many stickers...



    Pastos Chicos was a bit of a dump, although the staff were cheery, but they had cold beer and gasoline, so the two main requirements for motorcycle touring were covered. Stand around too long and someone will probably slap a sticker on you...


    Aftyer a truly indifferent breakfast it was off to the colonial city of Salta, presumably the home of the beer I'd been drinking the previous night.

  • Gonna move on swiftly to Bariloche now, Mainly because although our stops in Salta and Mendoza (and a couple of smaller towns) were pleasant, the riding was fairly straightforward.

    Well, mostly.


    We met this guy from Switzerland while we were admiring another salt pan. Judging by his jacket he's been on the road for a while.


    Salta is a gracious place, the main square is lined with cafes and is a great place to watch the world go by. Or admire 1920s Buicks or slightly younger Fiat Topolinos.






    Some places (this is on a farmstead outside Guandacol) just feel right as soon as you arrive.:) Must have been a long day, I'm still in my riding gear...



    Heading south I was struck how many of the villages in Argentina reminded me of France 30 or 40 years ago. There seemed to be less inequality here, in sharp contrast to Chile where lots of people live in shacks out in the sticks. They (the Chileans) have plenty to protest about, but Argentina has problems too with spiralling inflation. Still, silver lining, our holiday was getting cheaper even as we rode.


    Mendoza, famous for it's wine is a fine city. It was stinking hot on the run in to town - 38 degrees according to Rob's on board computer. Mrs 3D celebrated here birthday there at a fancy restaurant. Total bill, including wine for the four of us? About 36 quids... This meal was the exception in terms of quality.






    Heading south, still on Ruta 40, kilometer boards ticking down...



    Can anyone enlighten me as to how one uses this nozzle? Actually, don't.


    There was some respite from the tarmac after our night in Zappala, good riding!


    Letting down the tyres to about 30/36. Makes a massive difference, but those pressures are hideous on tarmac, especially the front.


    The Battlestar Galactica cruises through having just lost its possum scraper.


    Oh dear. Never mind, we didn't see any possums anyway.


    One of many roadside shrines



    Truckers often build these shrines to keep themselves safe. This one was going a bit far really.


    And here we are in the very Germanic town of Bariloche. Famous for its Nazis and earlier fugitives such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. At least the Germans left a fine brewing legacy. We came fairly close to running out of gas on this day; a mis-read map saw us hitting 235 miles before we found some. As it happened that was 19 litres to fill my bike, which meant I was getting around 55mpg. Not bad two up and loaded.


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