Finally down at the low low elevation of 2600 meters (8,500 feet) I can begin to breath again. No longer does eating, showering, or even breathing make me short of breath. I’m in the town of Calama, an oasis in the middle of the desert. I decide to stay an extra day to regain more energy. It gives me a chance to try Chile’s national food “The Completo.” This hot dog has a bun so large that it can hold layers and layers of toppings like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, onions, tomatoes, avocado, barbeque sauce, and only god knows what else. At home I’d expect to find something like this at a baseball game or at a street cart. But here in Chile you can also find it at fine establishments with eloquently designed holders.
CULTURE SHOCK coming from Bolivia. Life here is orderly and expensive. Gas, food, and lodging are all on par with US prices. I’m missing Bolivia already….
Although my appetite is coming back, I still can’t get a good nights sleep so the next morning I head for sea level. It’s a swift ride down through the desert. Passing through some road construction I see things that I haven’t seen since the US like road cones, traffic signs, and radios to contact the other end of the construction zone. And what’s even crazier… people are actually obeying! After 4 months in Latin America this is certainly an alien sight…
Continuing on I pass the Mano del Desierto (Desert Hand). Sadly, as I’m rolling up I start signing “Get your hands up, up, up! All my single ladies!” There’s a Chilean family on holiday and so we take the usual 987239847 photos together. First just the daughter me and the bike, then with the mother, then without the daughter, then sitting on the bike, then the with the daughter while the mother sits on the bike, then the daughter sitting while the mother standing, and so on… It’s fun.
About 30 miles earlier I passed through the city of Antofagasta and I wasn’t really keen on stopping there. It’s noon and I’m just at the beginning of a long stretch of desert with no towns in between. I decide to push it for a long days ride the beach town of Caldera. All in all it’s some 450 miles on the day. Time for some real sleep – my first night back at sea level. 11 hours of sleep never felt so good! And finally, my throbbing headache is GONE!
But with all the excitement and joy I managed to break my sandal. I’ve had these sandals for over 12 years. I really thought they’d hold up better than this… They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to (over 13 years ago). So I walked with one sandal in hand into the bank and back around town to the hotel. Why is everyone staring at me! Oh ya, I also have this ridiculously overgrown beard…
Continuing south the scenery remains… desert. There’s some big equipment out there.
Late in the day today I looked down to notice that my right boot and pant leg were wet. Upon inspection I found that my fork seal had blown out and leaked fork oil all over the right side of the bike and the right side of me. Great…
A few more desert days on the way south (ya, there’s LOTS of desert here). I’m driving up a hill and pass a slow moving truck in a no passing zone. When I make it around the corner there’s a police man waiving me over. Here we go… It was a set up. Trucks crawl up this hill and I imagine that they’re always passed by traffic. The police sit at the top of the hill around the bend, with a clear view of the entire scene. This time I definitively broke the law and I tried a new approach. I pulled off the road and dropped the bike (on accident). I pulled off my helmet and moaned that I was tired. I half struggled to pick up the bike and finally got around to making introductions with the police. They proceeded to explain what I did wrong. One man said I was getting a ticket. Then the other man pulled him aside and after some talking (they must have felt bad for me for dropping the bike) they let me go without a ticket!
As I pulled away I heard some loud clunking. Crap, I thought, my transmission is screwed. I take a better look at the bike and notice that it’s not the transmission. The chain is loose, ridiculously loose. So loose that I’m convinced something must have broke (axle, subframe, front sprocket, something). Nope, it’s just crazy loose. I also look at my rear sprocket in detail for the first time. They are both shot, dead. It’s only 30 miles to La Serena so I tighten up my chain and roll on. It’s clicking like crazy and I saw to myself over and over, “just keep going, just keep going” and I eventually make it to La Serena.
The next day in La Serena I stop into Tonino Motorsports and those guys really hooked me up. Without an appointment, I stroll in mid morning and they get working straight away. A new fork seal, new fork oil, new engine oil, air filter cleaning, new chain and sprocket and fixing the heated grips. They even set me up with a FREE set of brake pads as well as a FREE (Chinese) front tire! All finished by the end of the day at a fair price (although parts in Chile are almost double the U.S. price!). Let’s hope this is the last mechanical servicing of the trip.
Old sprocket – very worn!
Tonino Motorsports Crew
South south south and I reach Concon where I stay at a small B&B. The owner is taking care of 3 children displaced from the earthquake. He invites me to dinner and I chat with the kids all evening. It wasn’t until 30 minutes into our conversation that I had to ask them to talk slower so I could understand. Up until then they thought I was Chilean and they are shocked to learn that I’m from the States. It was a fun evening learning about these kids and about the earthquake. I continuously surprise myself with how good my Spanish skills are! Granted, I’m still terrible but I was able to have a conversation for hours. Awesome.
In the morning I head to the Argentina border. On the way I pass lots of women on the side of the road selling food. I’m hungry and curious to see what they have to offer. Dulces (Sweets)! The woman gives me one as a gift and I buy a second. Delicious…
I climb the stupendous mountainside up to the border. The official asks me if I felt the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that happened just 20 minutes ago. WHAT!?!? I felt nothing and good thing as I was riding up a precariously steep slope with prime rock fall… How do you like these curves?
I’m off to my last new country… #15 – Argentina! Stay tuned.