Entering Tongoy we were greeted by the setting sun as it met the shimmering Pacific Ocean. It radiated deep oranges and reds over the crashing waves and the few surfers still braving the waters in late May. We began our tour of the quiet beach town in the proper fashion, by doing a mainy along its sandy, seaside promenade. The cove of yellow fishing boats was a gorgeous site, and one that we are quickly getting used to as we travel along the coast. We pulled into our destination, marked by the presence of several other motorbikes and an amalgamation of chileans with beers in their hands. We quickly recognised our amiga Cristian’s sister and knew we were in the right place. Throwing our gear into a seaside cabana, we joined the group around a raging fire and grabbed some beers of our own. That night we pre-celebrated the birthday of Pompeyo, Cristian’s father, who had so generously invited us to spend the weekend with his family and friends. The dinner was sublime, with local wine and pisco free-flowing. We learned of our new favourite sauce, aji, like salsa but with copious amounts of chilli. While Nathan was sensible and had a good night’s sleep, I forgot the address of our cabana after too much pisco and slept on a couch.

Ciaran sleeping peacefully, far from our room

The next morning I woke feeling well rested and alive, albeit alone in my two bed room. After fielding a few questions on where Ciaran was, “no se”, I eventually met his hungover ass before we grabbed some breakfast. We set off for the day shortly after 10 AM – following a photoshoot of the group in front of the beach. There were at least 20 bikes that had come to join in for the day and we were split into two groups: our group on dirt bikes ready to take on the ever-changing terrain, and the other group made up of couches on wheels (BMW GS1200s) who took on a much more hospitable bitumen route.

Everyone was (naively) excited for the day to come

We began by hurtling along bumpy, sandy roads at 90 km/h until we reached a gate marking the actual start of our journey. The butt-puckering started almost instantly as we crossed over the threshold into loose sand, the first time for both Ciaran and I. For those who don’t know, riding in sand without the right tyres is like swimming blind down a river – you don’t know where it will take you and there is very little fighting it. The sand continued until our first rocky hill to climb, which coincidentally was where Ciaran dropped his bike for the first time. Unfortunately I was in front, so we miss the footage, but thankfully it meant the people behind him had to help while I just listened over our headsets.

I will spare you the turn by turn recount of the day and try and provide you some of the highlights of the trip, although there were many. Almost immediately, Ciaran, Daniel (a Swiss rider who had been touring for 3 years), myself and 2 Chileans had been traveling along at a good pace minding our own business until we stopped and realised that we had lost the two guides. We sat for a moment before deciding to climb the next hill for a better view of the land, however we had no luck. And so for the next 20 minutes we rode between hills on the lookout for the other riders. During that process, we somehow lost another one of the Chileans. Eventually we came to another hill (unsurprisingly) and started to descend. To be fair, this was a pretty challenging decent for two newcomers, I had some slips and slides on the way down but made it in one piece. Ciaran, however, I’m not really sure what happened between him and that mountain. All I can assume is that he had flashbacks to being stuck on a mountain in Norway. Thankfully, his own mountain rescue team in the form of Daniel was there to help him down the hill, one fall at a time. I sat comfortably at the bottom watching two specks slowly descend while listening to the swearing and grunting. Terribly, a few parts had been injured pretty badly and needed some quick attention; however, apart from the bike I think Ciaran was okay.

The guides and us did reunite after a bit more fumbling about, only for us to discover we were to return back up the same dreaded hill. The ascent proved even more difficult with everyone (including the guides) having a fall somewhere on the path. The rider in front of me went down first, blocking the trail directly ahead. I was on a section too steep to stop properly, so over I went. We ended up heading up the hill one by one, each rider being given a good push through the tricky sections. With myself and the Chilean in front of me safely up the hill we ventured back down on foot to help (watch) and provide support (laugh). Ciaran was 3rd in line up the hill and took his place astride his trusty DR650. I would explain what happened, but I think his GoPro captured the event much better.

Yes, he managed to flip the bike. If he could stay on, he might have a prosperous career in MotoCross.

Once we managed to eventually pick up the trail where we left off, the route started to become more and more incredible. We tracked over all possible types of terrain as we snaked our way through the landscape, occasionally meeting the sea on the rocky coastline.

Nathan posing for a quick photo

Leaving the rocky beach we started to climb upwards following a road that hugged the cliff faces back inland. We sat on the fast paced dirt roads eating up the miles in considerable comfort, finally taking a break from the slow technical riding of the day. It was along these roads that I had a small accident as my concentration started to lapse in the late afternoon sun. Coming up to a tighter corner than I expected, I realised I had no hope of slowing down and making the turn in time on the loose dirt, so Plan B was executed: hard braking and letting the bike and I fall over for a rough slide to a stop. The sore hip was definitely worth not ending up in the trees and rocks off the road.

Dusty, bruised, battered, but not defeated

Eventually we made it back to Tongoy and after washing the immense amount of dirt off our faces, we noticed how famished we both were. We joined the rest of the gang from the previous night as well as some newcomers around the growing fire and grabbed a couple of beers as we began to retell our stories of the day. The birthday dinner was as excellent as the previous night, with even more wine on tap. Many speeches were made that night, but our ears pricked up as Pompeyo gave a shout-out to the Australian and Swiss travellers sitting at the table. The rest of the night was spent chatting to our new friends around the fire and finishing off the last of the alcohol. This time, an early night was had by us both.

We managed one half decent group photo that night

Our last full day in Tongoy began with a well needed long sleep-in before we headed into the town with a group for lunch. Ciaran and I had our first (and far from last) ceviche (seafood cooked only in lemon juice) along the pier, before heading to a restaurant for the rest of lunch. The afternoon was spent fixing all the bits and pieces that Ciaran had managed to break the day previous and one or two parts on my bike that needed some attention. Pompeyo broke out his welding skills to repair the rack on Ciaran’s bike, and to add a little extra weld to a crack I found on my kickstand. Thankfully, the bikes came out of their touchups looking like nothing had happened.

Fixing Ciaran’s Rack

We ended our time in Tongoy with an asado with the small group of guys that had stuck around. After polishing off our fair share of meat and pisco, Ciaran and I retired to bed, keen to rest up before we got back on the road to continue the trip north (via a detour east).