Ciaran & Nathan

Las Crónicas Americas

Category: Chile

The Driest Place on Earth

Our first decision when we awoke in the south-eastern corner of the Atacama Desert was to determine if we could make it to San Pedro de Atacama with the little amount of fuel we had remaining in our tanks. I decided with “she’ll be right”, whereas Ciaran opted to pay an extortionate price for fuel from the lady who’s backyard we slept in. After jumping on the road north to San Pedro, we opted for a short detour into the salar to visit Laguna Chaxa, home to many flamboyances of flamingos, including the strangely stunning pink flamingo. I can only assume God wanted to see how far he could push the envelope after watching the regiments of flamingos standing in extremely salty water eating tiny krill on top of stilts.

Feeding time on the salar.

The laguna itself was split into a couple of lakes and was quite pretty – however, as our time in the Atacama progressed, we quickly learned that this was only a taste of what was to come.

Laguna Chaxa surrounded by the rough salty landscape of the Atacama.

After making our way into San Pedro and refilling my parched tank (I got yelled at for skipping the line 🙁 ), we searched for a hostel that we could park our bikes, and didn’t have a crazy “no alcohol” rule. Later that afternoon we remounted our steeds and headed off towards Valle de la Luna in search of a beautiful sunset, and damn we were rewarded. A short hike up a sandy path to the top of the valley presented us with stunning views to the surrounding valleys and plains as the sun slowly set. We stood and watched as the sky transitioned from blue, to yellow, to orange, before finally settling on a deep red before darkness.

We followed the crowd to the top of a valley just in time to watch the sky explode with colour.

The ride back to the hostel proved less than ideal as we made our way back along the pitch black sandy roads into town. But in the end, it was worth it.

Our second day in the desert started off with a short walk into the very dusty town in search of a quick breakfast, before heading out to explore more lagunas. Our destination for the day: Laguna Baltinache. The route here took us along an absolutely terrible dirt and sand road, with 4wds blazing past us far too close and far too fast.

Laguna Baltinache is a collection of 7 individual lagunas ranging in size separated by the rough Martian like landscape of salt. We crunched over the salt winding our way between the laganas under the scorching sun and the blindingly reflective white ground. The first few pools were large shallow ponds coated with a layer of salt.

The other pools were an exquisite mix of blues and greens depending on which way you looked. The clear water let us see the impressive juxtaposition of the smooth salt formation under the water, compared to the rough jagged salt covering the ground above.

We had been informed on the way in that we were allowed to swim in one of the lagunas. A quick test of the water confirmed my suspicions: it was fucking cold. Nevertheless, we slowly disrobed and eventually built up the courage to enter the frigid water. It was a strange experience to me; being in super salty and dense water made floating very easy. However, the freezing cold quickly took over and it wasn’t long before I needed to get out. 

The following day we planned to explore the expansive Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley) and the surrounding area. We climbed higher and higher on the bikes, quickly passing 2500, 3000, 3500, and eventually and 4000 m where we levelled out. We had noticed the bikes slowly losing more and more power the higher we climbed due to the reducing amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. It was decided that it would probably be best if we turned around and headed back to our hostel for some much needed carburettor adjustments. Our afternoon was spent becoming intimate with our carbs as we changed the jetting to reduce the amount of fuel entering into the engine, to hopefully increase the performance of both bikes.

That evening we explored some of the many markets. Clothing and various knick-knacks made up most of the merchandise, with llama wool prevalent. While Nathan perused, I found a pretty great beanie that proved useful in the cold month ahead. A few streets off the main avenue, the food was cheap and delicious. For a handful of change we were treated to delectable meat soups and a main dish of chicken and salads. Our hunger satisfied, we ambled towards upbeat music that drifted in the winds. The beating of the drums intensified with the footfalls of the dancers before us, their colourful garments dancing with them. They alternated between a group of women dancing in lines, and two men twirling and stomping with youthful vigour.

With a few adjustments to the pilot screw as we climbed up into the same mountains of the day past, we worked out the kinks and had both motorcycles purring seductively. Atop the plateau we were greeted by swathes of yellow, reminiscent of Autumns past. We parked outside a small building marking the entrance to Yerbas Buenas, a site full of 10000 year old petroglyphs on the surrounding rock formations. They mainly depicted llamas and other wildlife, as well as the occasional person. In the distance we spied a couple of real life llamas, and obviously wandered over to get a better look.

As the landscape opened in front of us, we were greeted by a herd of over 30. With a child’s wonder, we slowly walked with the llamas as they wandered through the valley munching on each bush they passed. I don’t know about Nathan, but I was giddy with glee. As the day stretched on, we begrudgingly turned back and jumped on the bikes.

Arriving in Valle del Arcoiris, it was as if we had gone through a portal to another world. Something alien. And damn was it beautiful. Between the mountains of red, blue and green, we drifted on corrugated roads and splashed through streams. The half-marked tracks had no real destination, simply another perspective of the gorgeous surrounds. I wanted to build a shack and live out my days with a llama amigo.

From Rainbow Valley we continued on, skirting the edges of cliffs on a tight winding road towards Rio Grande. This offered fantastic views over the valley and river below, as well as the colourful mountains we left behind. As dusk rolled in, the clouds above were illuminated into a brilliant inferno, and we returned to San Pedro.

Before departing on our final day, we wandered through a pop-up street market that was packed with practical items, such as clothes, tools and appliances. Locals were out in droves, with nay a tourist in sight. Nathan picked up a missing tool from his kit, and eyed off the handguns for sale on a table next to CDs. With Atacama behind us, we pressed on to the border of Chile and Bolivia, roaring through the last stretch of highway. What began as a sleepy ascent soon turned into excitement sprinkled with anxiety. The icy winds pummelled us from every side, trying to force us off the road as we passed salt flats that reflected the yellow cacti and the reds and blues of the mountains. After 300 km we arrived in Ollague, marked by its rusty railway infrastructure. And with that we bade farewell to Chile, a country full of adventure and new friend.

El Perro

With the enduro ride behind us, we bid our farewells from our new amigos in Tongoy and headed for Pisco Elqui. The practical off-road experience proved invaluable almost immediately. The pavement opened up into technically challenging dirt that a week previous would have surely seen me take a fall. The trail took us over a mountain range and through piles of sand as roadworks were constant. The harsh conditions left us alone on the road, except for a brave cyclist. His stamina was insane to be at such an altitude. We descended through grape fields that hosted a plethora of rich colours, marking our arrival into the Pisco Valley. After a tumultuous six hours we arrived in town, finding a campsite a mere stones throw away beside a stream. We setup our tents beneath some stunning weeping willows, which unbeknownst to us dripped sap, bugs and spiders. Attempting to sleep, it was quite disconcerting looking up as these giant dark and murky patches slowly engulfing my tent.

The view from the top of our campsite over the vineyards.

The next morning while Nathan undertook some bike maintenance, I attempted to wash my clothes in the river. This was rather difficult as I can barely operate a washing machine, let alone a bar of soap. Across from the main plaza we found ourselves in front of the famous Mistral distillery. Tours were half price during the special pisco month of May, and so for $6 we were treated to the history of pisco and its distillation process. To finish the informative tour, we were given a few tastings of various aged piscos, learning to appreciate the fruity flavours that they presented. We also were given a free pisco sour in the restaurant that overlooked the surrounding grape fields. With our newfound love for pisco, we truly were turning into Chileanos.

Enjoying the complexities of the differing ages of pisco.

After spending the better half of the next morning waiting for my clothes to dry and attempting to get rid of all the creepy crawlies from my tent, we finally hit the highway to La Serena. Turning north on the coast, the winds picked up immensely as we rolled over the hills, our heads popping in and out of clouds. My heated grips weren’t enough to fend off the cold and the accompanying misery. The asphalt transformed into dirt and then sand as we neared Punto de Choros, dodging bulldozers and 4WDs in our endeavour to reach the town before nightfall. Pitching the tents 10 metres from the ocean, I played fetch with a stray dog as the seabirds circled overhead and the last of the fishing boats returned to shore.

These little guys were kind enough to stop for a photo.

As we bought some fuel-like mixture from a local fisherman at the dock, we witnessed small groups of tourists heading out to the hazy islands in search of nesting penguins. Knowing that the active season was well behind us, we bypassed the tour companies and got the hell out of the sand. The road wound along the coast, the compact dirt beneath us flying by as we opened up the throttles. Naturally it turned to absolute shit. Hairpin turns, steep inclines and a sandy surface littered with rocks. Keeping the bike upright was a nightmare, made all the more nerve-wracking as we skirted the edges of cliffs. My muscles ached and begged for reprieve, but we had to push on, with no space to stop or risk almost certain demise. Despite all the dicey moments, we endured, with no falls to write home about. The final stretch to Huasco saw us zigzag down the mountain, with panoramic picturesque views. Stopping briefly to refuel, we were a mere 30 minutes away from where we had planned to wild camp in the desert when tragedy struck.

This stunning view greeted us at the top of a long winding downhill section of road.

Heading out of the provincial town, a street gang of a half dozen dogs gave chase. Nipping at our feet, we picked up speed to try and lose them. The pack that had me gunning it were soon left in a trail of dust, though one determined canine was still hot on Nathan’s wheel ahead. When he too finally pulled away, the tenacious dog took up its qualms with me, pelting down the road in angst. My mistake was respecting the dogs survival instincts and general intelligence, believing it would continue to my side before it too would be left behind as I maintained my speed of 50 km/h. However, as the dog came within 1 metre of my front wheel, it foolishly took a 90 degree turn and subsequently went straight under it.  With zero time to react, all I could hope for was to hang on. But the bumpy ride proved too much, and after a few sideways bounces of my wheel, the bike slid out from underneath me, hurtling me violently forwards onto the bitumen.

I landed hard, using my outstretched hand to take the impact and tearing holes in my boot, tent and side bag in the process. Nathan was instantly aware of what had transpired, copping an earful of swearing through the headset. He helped me get the bike upright, fortunately starting up again readily. With the dogs nowhere in sight, I sat down on the side of the road to let the adrenaline subside and check myself for injuries. Two local women who witnessed the incident helped me out, acting as nurses and providing me with an ice pack for my disturbingly discoloured and swelling ankle. An ambulance soon arrived, and as they rolled out the stretcher I realised that the nightmare of an insurance claim was a far worse ordeal than what I had just encountered, and so vehemently refused. We holed up at a hotel conveniently located 50 m down the road and began to numb the pain with beer, both as cold packs and down the gullet. I had pretty significant pain in my knee and wrist for the month following, though thankfully it’s now but a distant memory. I don’t know what happened to the dog in the end, but I hope it turned out better than I did.

The whole street came out to fuss over Ciaran.

After the long night of tending to Ciaran’s injuries, we decided it would be best to keep moving. Partly because where we were staying was much too expensive, and that getting back on the bike is the best way to overcome any lingering doubts. We continued our ever northwards journey along the Chilean coastline towards the town of Caldera. Our route took us along a very bumpy and winding dirt road with constant views of the ocean, and the gusting winds to go with it. From the commentary I was hearing, Ciaran’s wrist wasn’t enjoying the journey. Arriving in Caldera, we found an empty hostel to take over and promptly set off to find ourselves a late lunch.

We discovered that Caldera is a large seaside fishing town as we walked past the dock with scores of brightly painted fishing boats. Our hopes for fresh seafood were dashed as we remembered that it’s currently the off-season and very few shops are ever open. Instead, we stumbled into some sort of fair where we watched groups of children performing traditional music and dances.

This was our first exposure to South American dancing, so much more to see!

We stayed in Caldera for a couple of days to give Ciaran’s injuries some extra time to rest, and for our washing to dry in the overcast weather that had been with us since Punto de Choros. Our next stop was to be the city of Antofagasta, our last along the coast before heading inland. However the distance was too far to make in one day, and the prospect of a long day on the highway instead did not entice us. So instead we planned to camp somewhere along the road about halfway to Antofagasta, we assumed somewhere nice would pop up.

The roads took us further away from the coast and reminded us of exactly where we were – The Atacama Region. I don’t remember seeing any wildlife during the ride, and plant life was just as scarce. That said, the landscape still proved to be incredible.

Even the roads have given up on living.

We returned to the coast at the town of Taltal and decided we would go a bit further along  before stopping for the night in a hopefully protected area. The coast was an impressive array of mountains falling away directly into the sea interspersed with rocky outcrops and small sections of sandy beaches. We rode along the coastline slowly, keeping our eyes peeled to try and find the perfect camping spot for the night. We settled on a small area that sandwiched our tents between two rock walls, to hopefully provide enough cover from the winds during the night. While Ciaran investigated an oil leak on his bike, I setup my tent and then sat back and watched a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Living on the east coast of Australia, I haven’t had the chance to see many sunsets over the ocean, so I relish any opportunity I get.

The stunning view where we set up camp on the coastline.

Rising late in the morning to a delicious breakfast of bread and jam, we set off along the coast road that seemed to stretch on forever. Occasionally we had a glimmer of sunlight to tease of the warmth we could be feeling; instead, the howling winds took over again. The winding road eventually came to an end and we began to climb up and over the mountains that straddle the Chilean coastline. We climbed high and finally peaked our heads out from under the clouds to find ourselves back in a desolate region of the world. But, it did make for some nice photos.

Stopping for new cover photo on a dead straight road.

The road into Antofagasta was a long winding downhill path that seemed never ending as we weaved around truck after truck. Eventually the coast line came back into view, and with it, the start of Antofagasta. In this region of Chile, there is about 20 km between the ocean and the closest mountain range, and in between lays Antofagasta. A thin, but very long stretch of civilisation, somewhat similar to the Gold Coast in Australia. We spent two nights in a very odd hostel/hotel with a giant billboard on the roof advertising rooms. The owner was very keen to show off his Harley Davidson to us after walking through his house to get to the garage. Our time in Antofagasta was spent replacing my well worn front tyre and exploring the town and hardware store. Antofagasta has an impressive fish market where we tried our 2nd meal of ceviche, even more delicious than the first.

Out the back of the (not so) bustling fish market of Antofagasta.

Our last major stop in Chile was San Pedro de Atacama, however, we had 2 options of getting there. Our Harley riding hostel owner suggested taking the highway to Calama and onto San Pedro – “only 3 hours” he said. We quickly decided on the alternative route, a very faint road marked on the map once you zoomed right in – perfect(ish). Before setting off we grabbed ourselves some spare fuel and topped off at the last petrol station before commencing the trip to San Pedro. The road we had chosen started off very poorly as we rode through a small fence opening off the highway onto a terrible dirt and sand road, It took awhile, but eventually we made it to the first salar of the driest place on earth. The route we were on took us along the southern limit of the desert before heading north along the eastern edge to San Pedro. It was at this very south-eastern point that we made camp for this night – in the backyard of a store owner in Peine.

The view we had over a salar from our backyard camp in Peine.

Los Zorros

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).

The Tunnels of Chile

We last left you off as we were on our way to the west coast to the quiet little surf town of Pichilemu. The town was eerily empty, with almost everything closed, including restaurants, shops, hostels and campgrounds. The latter we found out first hand as we rode around to every campsite in town hoping to find one still open for the off season. We were starting to get desperate as the day got later, the temperature much colder and the street dogs watching us ever closer. Thankfully we did succeed; at the far end of town we found a larger campsite that came with hot showers, electricity and wifi! Not what we were expecting to find in Chile. The wifi helped us overcome the gloomy overcast sky that had been with us since descending a mountain range back to sea level on the way to Pichilemu.

The next day we were greeted with the same gloom as the night before, but on the upside, the night was much warmer than in the National Park. Ciaran and I took ourselves on a little walking tour of the town as the sun slowly thinned the clouds. We both came to a similar conclusion: the town would be a great place to be – in summer. There is ample accommodation everywhere that looks to be aimed at young people and heaps of (closed) street food in a very relaxed setting. We were a bit unsure about the black sand beaches however.

The last stop on our little trial run was the incredibly vibrant city of Valparaiso and the affluent Viña del Mar. We discovered a quirk of Maps.Me during our ride to Valparaiso, instead of providing the fastest route between two points, Maps.Me gives you the shortest route. This might seem fine as you’re riding down narrow village streets side by side with farms, walls and animals. In fact, it’s a great way to see more of the country compared to sitting on a long boring highway. The downside is when the narrow street through the village turns into a dirt track wherein you pass a man on a horse and find yourself on a very bad condition logging trail. This section of dirt and rocks was by far the most difficult Ciaran and I had encountered before and coupled with our fully loaded bikes, made for a very challenging uphill ride into the pine forests.

The dirt continued for a while, slowly getting better in quality before we hit the highway again for the last leg into Valparaiso. I had my first fuck up of the trip just after leaving the highway – it would seem I am not at all used to the lack of a fuel gauge on the DRZ as I came to an unexpected stop on the side of the road. I was running through all the possible reasons why the bike would suddenly stop, but a quick look in the fuel tank and my worries disappeared. Ciaran went off to fetch me some fuel while I waved on the few concerned passers-by.

Arriving in Valparaiso wasn’t the most pleasant of first experiences in a city. The highway began a long downhill stretch of road with cars and trucks passing us at incredible speed. That combined with the traffic, confusing one-way streets and noise left us feeling a little salty after the relaxing days away from the busy cities. No matter though, we made it to the hostel, parked our bikes and hauled our gear up far too many stairs to our warm room and comfortable beds. The hostel in Valparaiso was our first chance to stay at a hostel that Ciaran and I are both used to from Europe – large dorms, couches and a rooftop terrace with backpackers to drink with. Our first night at La Hoya we met a few Canadians and Australians (of course) and a handful of various Europeans. After a couple rounds of beer pong, I retired to bed to nurse my man flu, while Ciaran geared up to head out with the guys. It wasn’t until the next morning I discovered he passed out on a beanbag instead. (Un)surprisingly, he did it again the next night and was perplexed when I told him we had already been out and back by the time he woke up.

Ciaran’s normal behaviour aside, Valparaiso lived up to the hype we had been told about. The city is covered in spectacular street art depicting values close to Chilean and South American life. It was inspiring listening to the meaning behind the artwork described to us by the walking tour guide. The tour was also our first taste of how good a fried empanada can be. After the tour of Valparaiso, we continued on a self-guided tour of Viña del Mar, a beach front town akin to the centre of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. We wandered the streets for a couple of hours taking in the sudden wealth change of the city, before resting on the beach watching the sun descend.

One of the many walls covered in art

Those beanbags were comfy af and I regret nothing. So we finished up our week test ride by smashing straight back to Santiago. The morning started rough, our deathly hangovers aside, we had to deal with horrific Valparaiso traffic on a morbidly miserable day. After our GPS directions took us the wrong way, an hour of feathering the clutch later we returned to the front of the hostel. Not even kidding. Getting onto the highway and into some sunlight was a huge relief, and it seemed to suddenly cure the pernicious toxins and pessimism that was coursing through our veins. Something about vitamin D being good for you. 1km from our glorious return to Hostal Casa Matte and Nathan’s bike cracked the shits, riding rough as guts. It sounded like it has been out on the piss with us as well. Nath coasted ol’ Jumbolove back and said mañana mañana, we’ll sort her out in the morning. Throwing our gear down in the dorm, we headed to the roof for an excellent asado with Cristian and some of his family and friends. That greasy charred meat was pure heaven in my ravenous state.

We ended up spending another 5 nights in Santiago, trying to deal with all the shit that kept arising. Two of those days were spent purely on the bikes, replacing worn parts like chains, sprockets and tyres. Nathan solved his rough as guts issue by replacing his stator. Fortunately for him, Brent had carried a spare from the US with him his entire trip, and it came with the bike. I was sent on a mission to find him a new rear disc brake as the one he had brought from Australia didn’t fit. As I had just picked up a new tyre, I spent a couple hours lugging it up and down Lira St in search of the damned thing. Noone seemed to have one in the right size and always directed me to another random shop. Eventually I found one that was close enough, Nathan just had to grind away the inner edges a wee bit. Talking about replacement parts, I had ordered a new phone battery online before leaving as I had a feeling it might die at some point in the journey. Well the battery never arrived. So of course 2 weeks after arriving in South America it died on me. That was another couple hours wasted running around like a headless chook. I also discovered that my bank cards weren’t working in any ATMs. After a number of long and frivolous phone calls to Australia with the intention of sending me new cards, I decided to try a different bank. Lo and behold it worked, it just seems that Banco Estado hates me, even though Nathan has zero issues with the exact same card.

La Moneda Palace in Santiago

Besides all the fuckery, we had some nice moments too, we went on another walking tour, learning some of the history and culture of the city we had spent so long in. We also checked out Barrio Italia, or as I call it, Little Italy. We found a nice pub where after the football they had stand-up. Despite it being all in Spanish, the comedians tried their hardest to get us involved. I feel like there were a lot of jokes about the two gringos in the crowd who didn’t understand a thing. I even got up and did a short bit in English with some translation from the host. It went over better than I expected for my first time. But maybe that was the beer. I may have accidentally insulted a member of the audience who looked like she wanted to fight me. Everyone else thought it was hilarious though and the show went on. Editor’s note: he called her a vagina.

We had our goodbyes in Santiago and headed north to Illapel. This was it. We were officially beginning our adventure. And what a beginning it was. We took a precarious dirt road winding north through pitch black one-way tunnels. These were somewhat terrifying, especially when you saw car headlights coming towards you. We had to grope the wall to squeeze past on the three occasions it occurred. One of the tunnels also went around a large curve. I’m just glad Nathan rode first to take the brunt of the hit if a car was coming through. In Illapel we stayed at Sherpa Hostel with Sherpa Erick. He had been involved in the Dakar in 2016 and was super enthusiastic to show us pictures and videos of the experience. The next morning as Nathan’s rear tyre looked extremely flat, he took us to a local mechanic to sort it all out. He will definitely be remembered, even more so as he was the first person to give us some stickers for our naked bikes. They look so much better covered up just a bit.

Sherpa recommended a road north that was a bit more off the beaten track than we had experienced to date. The roads weren’t even documented fully on any of our mapping apps. The loose dirt had my bike take a couple of naps, one of which twisted my handlebars quite significantly. It was a hell of a time adjusting to the new positioning. Eventually we arrived at the point Sherpa had been raving about, ‘El tunel’. A 3 km stretch of abandoned train track through a 150 year old carving in the mountainous rockface. It was one bumpy ride. Sketchy as anything but what an experience. After that the road seemed trivial. It spat us out back on the highway and we rode through Monte Patria to the edge of Embalse la Paloma, a giant reservoir surrounded by golden fields in the setting sun. Camping nearby, I spent the evening gazing at the Milky Way, untouched from the light pollution normally so prevalent. From here we rode west to Tongoy, and the highlight of our trip to date.

The First Steps


Our first week in South America has been challenging to say the least. Arriving in Santiago extremely jetlagged, albeit very refreshed following a sneaky last-minute upgrade to Business Class. Our first experience on the road was in a taxi with no seatbelts, hurtling along at a refreshing 100 km/h despite the 40 km/h limit. We settled into Hostal Casa Matte, a fantastic place purely for motorcycle travellers in the downtown area of Santiago known as Providencia. It’s run by Christian, a local Chilean with boundless enthusiasm and knowledge of motorbikes. He lives upstairs with his family and is extremely accommodating. One Saturday afternoon we enjoyed an asado (or BBQ) on the roof terrace with his family and friends.

Organising the bikes for ourselves proved rather cumbersome, though the two American guys we bought them from were both super helpful and were great fun to be around. Intertwined with the double-up riding we did through the hectic streets of Santiago were the fantastic meals, beers and chats. The actual process involved us visiting a notary who wrote up a document explaining that we had been given full permission to use the bikes throughout the Americas. This document was signed and fingerprinted by all involved, as well as stamped by two notaries and someone from the Ministry of Justice. We also made a short (hours and fucking hours) trip to the Aduana (customs) at the airport, where they were able to change the names and dates on the Temporary Import Permits for the bikes. Ben and Brent if you guys are reading this, cheers for everything and for continuing to provide knowledge and advice. Don’t worry we will take great care of Suzi and Jumbo-love (the beautiful names of the bikes).

With the bikes in our names, we headed south on Route 5 to Rancagua, where we turned off the highway and wound our way through some small villages to Reserva Nacional Río de Los Cipreses. The National Park is named after the stunning aqua river that cuts through the great snow-capped mountains either side. The gravel road was slow, though fairly rigid, and offered us fantastic views of the river and surrounding landscape. We camped up at Ranchillo for two nights in a picturesque little spot. From here we hiked the surrounding trails, observing wild horses, foxes and various birds. Unfortunately we didn’t see any pumas which the park is renowned for. We were also given a tour of the small museum at the park entrance in Spanish, and we surprisingly were able to piece together a lot of the information. When asking for food, the guide pointed us to a walnut tree and we happily foraged from the ground. They tasted infinitely better than the stew we tried to concoct on the first evening (everything was undercooked). From the National Park we headed west to Pichilemu, though that’s a story for another time.

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