Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dakar Finish and 32C v 32F

Fri, Jan 16: Our trip through Argentina / Chile is coming to an end, and what better way to cap it off but by experiencing the finale of the inaugural running of the Dakar Rally here in South America! We arrived in Buenos Aires to stay with friends - they moved into a house in NorDelta, right on a canal. Temperatures have risen steadily, and the site of the pool in the yard was like an oasis in the desert.

Saturday morning we rode north out of BA on Ruta 9 to encounter the rally finishers heading into town. After passing dozens of rally bikes, cars, and trucks, we turned around to follow them in and experience the local fever. Argentineans are a passionate people; their first love is futbol (soccer), followed closely by rally racing. We followed 3 rally cars into the city, down the famous Av. Libertador, towards the finish line.

Have you ever seen the finish line to a really big race? Usually there is a corrider for contestants lined by police barricades and cheering fans. The corrider in this case was about 2kms long, and well stocked by cheering fans and police. Tucked in tight behind the 3rd car, we made it all the way to the finish line before a french organizer spotted the posers...

When we parked the bike, many people came to take pictures. One woman handed me her naked baby - I wasn't sure what to do, so placed him on the sheepskin covered seat while his mother took a photo.

We spent Sunday at the podium finish of the Dakar, having scored a rider's pass for me (Chris), and a mechanic pass for Erin back in Valparaiso - basically we had full access. Check out all the photos

Robby Gordon, an American hero here in Argentina - the audience loves him and he loves them...

When we tried to leave at the end of the day, we were once again swarmed on the bike. We told the fans we were not actually racers, and their reply was, "no importa". We signed shirts, hats, flags, and bodies. Fun and embarrassing all at the same time...

The rules are clear; our motorcycle can only stay in Argentina for 8 months as a temporary import. Otherwise you must permanently import it and pay about $10,000 in taxes. We spent Friday patiently going around to a slew of different government offices. As experienced travlers, we are pretty good at finding solutions to problems, and after initially told "no" we were granted a special extension.

On Tuesday, the aduana showed up at the house to complete the paperwork for the extention we needed. We're all set for our return in November.We spent most of the day on Tues locked in front of CNN. Thoughout the trip we were asked about Obama and no matter who we talked to (South Americans, Europeans, Australians), everyone was excited about our new president.

As a last hoorah, we took the 46' launch out on to the Rio del Plata.

The temperature in Buenos Aires was 32C, while back in Denver it was 32F and snowing when we landed. Brrrr - Welcome Home!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dakar 2009 - First Hand Experience

The Dakar rally has been in full swing since January 3rd, and after security threats in Mauritania cancelled last year's event at the last moment, organizers moved the location to Argentina and Chile to mark the 30th anniversary --

Sunday, Jan 4th - we rode up over the stunning Pehuencha pass. Near the top of the pass we passed the Laguna del Maule, a colorful and vibrant site nesstled in the western slope of the Andes.

About 2 hours before San Rafael, we came across the Dakar organizers as they were scouting the route for a final check. It was very cool to see, and a great mini apetizer for things to come.

We arrived back at John & Annette's finca where we would hang out for a few days and wait for the Dakar and other travelers to come to town. One night, in the rain on the way back to the finca I ran into another traveller - I asked if he was going to J & A's finca and he said yes, but wasn't sure he knew the way. He said his name was Ricardo from Ecuador, and soon we hugged forceably - Ricardo is a tall and very emotional man. As happens so much - We have many mutual friends, have emailed each other for years and even spoken on the phone, but had never met until now. Same is true for a few others that showed up: Aussie couple Ken & Carol, Javier from Dakar Motos, and even John & Annette who we only finally met a couple of months ago!

Weds, Jan 7th: We were at Check Point 2 and the Bivouac for the Dakar in San Rafael, Argentina. Many locals rode in the night before to camp out at the location. But we 11 of us opted to stay on the farm, sample local wines, eat a huge asado, got to bed late (early morning) and departed for the site at 11am. The police had the roads blocked, so we drove across farms and dry river beds to get around them. In the end, we got caught and simply BSd our way in.

Our small group arrived at the check point after the second bike arrived (missed Marc Coma by a minute), and spent hours watching the various bikes, cars, trucks, and helicopters come through the check point. As we were on bikes, we were treated as though we had something to do with the rally, and were overloaded with wine, beer, cider, soda, and of course, asado! What an amazing experience it has been so far. The energy in Argentina is unbelievable!

The Dakar frenzy is truly unbelievable! People are lining the streets, cheering on the participants, and we’re getting thrown in the mix. Everyone is taking our photo and “hi-5 ing” us as we pass through towns. They line the streets with chairs and coolers, people of all ages, waving flags, banners, t-shirts, etc. On the roads, trucks and busses pull into the shoulder to let us pass and cops wave us through any traffic. Oh, and speed limits do not apply to us. NICE!!!!

One of the Belgian X3s caught fire about 7km from the checkpoint and the navigator was brought back to our area. After a couple of hours, the driver hadn’t arrived and as the car burned up, there was no communication. The navigator asked me to go check on him, and I was allowed onto the course to go look for him. Once on the route, with touring rear tire and panniers, the excitement toned down and I realized where I was and felt a little overwhelmed.

Deep gravel in a dry river bed, and I was the only one without a beacon when the cars/trucks were approaching. With one eye glued to the track and one to the rear mirror, I rode about 4km and got passed by several cars, trucks, and bikes (pulling out of the track was a challenge). I ran across another local on a 250 dirt bike who said the helicopter had picked up the pilot. I turned around and headed back up the track, against traffic. Fun and scary all at once!

With so many photos, we put them into a separate photo album from San Rafael

Next we went to Valparaiso, Chile and stayed at a guesthouse only 8 blocks from the bivouac where the racers spent 2 nights including a rest day. We managed to get “back-stage” passes into the bivouac where we hung with a few riders, including Simon Pavey (lonely BMW Rider amongst hordes of KTMs) - here are some photos from the bivouac in Valparaiso

It’s time to figure out what we’re going to do about storing the bike, so we’re heading east towards Buenos Aires and probably Montevideo in Uruguay. We plan to be back in Buenos Aires for the Dakar finish, on Jan 18th. Back in Colorado on the 22nd.

In the meantime, check out the new marketing campaign....

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Feliz Año Nuevo! Today is New Year's day, and once again we're in a foreign land. To celebrate the end of 2008, we returned to Pucon (Chile) to attempt to climb the active volcano Villarica, high above the city and still covered in snow. The past 10 days have been interesting and challenging...

Jan 21st in the southern hemisphere is the longest day of the year (solstice), meaning the sun rises earlier and sets later than any other day. It also marked the day we would stop traveling south and start our return north.

We departed in the rain, on our way to the ferry (60 miles). Ahead of schedule and half-way there, we got a flat. Normally a 1 hour challenge, however we discovered not only was there a hole in the inner tube, but the attacker was wire-cored from the tire itself. Yes, the inside of the tire was ruptured. I made a roadside repair, but we would miss the ferry.
We found a semi-abandoned work camp where we would seek shelter from the rain for 5 hours, and the caretaker scrounged up some food. After the ferry, it was another 2.5 hour ride to Cochrane in the cold rain, and we arrived at 10:25pm, just after darkness settled in.
In the morning, I took the bike to a local gomeria (puncture repair shop) to see how my handiwork was doing. The repair was holding, but we discovered 11 more breaches where the metal strands were poking into the tube. They were "professionally" repaired by the local expert, although neither of us were confident if the tire would hold. We left just after eating lunch and the first 22 miles north of Cochrane is covered in some of the worst corrugation we have ever seen. With only a couple of miles to the end of the really rough part, total failure.

I think it was all my fault – as we were bouncing along I was trying to get my mind off the negative vibes/fears and onto something more positive. I settled on “what differentiates us in business”, and quickly concluded the answer is problem solving. We excel at it. Well soon after coming up with clever ways to market this ability, the tire went flat, probably just the world’s way of keeping me in grounded, so to speak…

It took several hours on a road with few vehicles, but we got a small truck to bring us slowly back to Cochrane, around 7pm. To be honest, it kind of fun to travel in the back of the small truck and absorb all the sights and sounds.

A bit later, while trying to figure out our next move, Erin found a big truck heading north to the city of Coyhaigue, 200 miles to the north. While we couldn’t find a tire in Coyhaigue that would fit, it was the only real city along the 1,200km Carretera Austral. We finished loading the bike in the dark around 11pm, dragged our belongings to a local guest houses, then found a restaurant open at midnight for dinner. We were filthy and tired, and the meal was delicious!

Against all odds, our friend Santi who owns Las Salamandras guest house in Coyhaigue found a used tire that would fit our bike. Getting a new tire down to Chile’s outback during the holidays would have been very expensive and taken well over a week.

Dec 24, Christmas Eve, and I went to the truck depot to meet the truck. While the bike didn’t fall off the trailer as I had imagined, it had nearly fallen over and was marked up from where the truckers had to re-attach the straps. It was a rough ride for our KTM. The used tire we got is the same style as we were using, with even more tread on it, so we should be able to finish the trip without any more tire problems.

In town, locals are getting ready for the big event!

Everything was looking great, the sun was out again, we were with a great group of people in the guest house, and there was a feast planned for the evening. There were 5 "kids" from New Zealand, Adventure Racers (ubber athletes), a solo female Scottish bicyclist who rode 90 miles (mostly gravel) that day, a German backpacker, and an older NZ couple on 2 motorcycles. The night was proceeding well enough on its own, then Santi broke out a fresh bottle of Tequila and it was 3am when we turned in for the night.
Rather than continue riding up through places we’ve seen several times in the past, we opted to catch an overnight ferry from Pto. Chacabuco (1 hour from Coyhaique) up to Pto. Montt. It was a good trip with some friends, and very relaxing.

The German-owned guest house we stayed at in Pto Varas, just 20 minutes north of Pto. Montt was very efficient, with signs everywhere! This one was in the bathroom and Erin couldn't resist a photo:
We spent a couple of nights in the very European-feeling Pto Varas, then returned to Pucon to climb the active Volcano Villarica.

Wednesday, Jan 31st and then end of 2008. It’s been a great year and a great trip. The challenges of adventure travel help us appreciate how lucky we are. We woke early, got our equipment, and headed up to the volcano. The van dropped us off below the chair lift, and the first hour we spent hiking up through the volcanic debris to the station at the top of the chair lift. From there we donned are more serious equipment and stepped into the snow. We hiked for hours, one small step at a time, zigzagging our way up the mountain.

As we were climbing, we appreciated why the climbers on TV are always moving so slowly. Personally, I think I would go mad from the monotony. The views, however, were incredible - high above our surroundings, standing in the snow and looking at the lush green mountains below. The good news is they gave us new equipment to use; the bad news, new equipment. We were near the top when Erin’s open blisters became unbearable and we opted to start heading down. This in itself would be an adventure as we got to slide down the steep slopes on our butts. While the assent took more than 3-hours, the decent was only about an hour. The hike down the ski mountain almost as tough as the assent.

At midnight there was a fireworks display at the beach, just down the road. We watched it from our bedroom window, and were fast asleep shortly after.

To help ensure this trip is a proper write-off, we occassionaly stop in at real estate offices - see the reflection in the window?:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Carretera Austral – 1,247kms through Chile’s remote fjords, lakes, and glaciers.

The end of the road… what a great destination! We’re in Villa O’Higgins, in the southern end of mainland Chile. The Carretera Austral stretches through this area of fjords and glaciers, and after more than 700 miles of sand, gravel, rocks, potholes, corrugation, a ferry, and some of the most stunning views, it comes to an end here.

Dec 11, 2008 - We entered Chile again near Futaleufú, a small town known around the world for its class 5+ rapids. Kayakers and rafters from all corners of the globe come to test their skills against the mighty Futaleufú. Unfortunately, a recent eruption of the volcano near Chaiten has blanketed the town in a thick layer of fine ash. The air has been tough to breath for several months, but these hardy folks are staying put, and the short tourist season is about to begin. As we rode along the bank of the Rio Futaleufú, the crushing sound of the waves reverberated off the canyon walls and up to the road.

We stopped at a small bridge where rafters unload, and ran into Josh, one of the tour operators. He looked at the bike and said, “, I remember you guys when you rafted here years ago”. The really bizarre thing is that he remembered our names (he’s an American), and we rafted with a different company nearly 7 years before. He said he had followed our journeys for years. Small world!

We arrived at the campground in the Parque Nacional Queulat a few hours before sunset, setup our tent, and after a simple dinner we had a pretty good sleep under a crystal clear sky loaded with stars. We had purchased a cheapo tent and air mattresses the week before in Bariloche, and the only problem was Erin’s pillow section lost air during the night. With no wind or rain and perfect temperature the equipment was OK. In the morning we took a walk to see the “hanging glacier” and the roaring rapids below it. Some 50 years ago the glacier’s edge was at the campground, but over the years it’s pulled back quite a long way and now hangs off a cliff spilling forth a spectacular waterfall.

Further south we stopped in Coyhaique for a couple of nights, the main city of the region. We remembered it as being a quaint place focused on adventure tourism. It has grown into a commercial city, the population bursting past the city’s edges. We stopped in to see our friends Santi and Chus, who own a popular hostel. While their hostel hasn’t changed much they are now separated and have different partners, but are still running the business together. It’s highly rated in all the guide books, has a steady stream of clients, and is up for sale if you are interested.

Lunch stop with another RTW traveler - a converted city bus with a great view of Cerro Castillo:

Dec 14 we arrived at the small village of Puerto Rio Tranquillo. There are 3 streets that run north-south; 4 more that run east-west, and it sits on the western edge of Lago General Carrera (Chile)/Lago Buenos Aires (Argentina). While it looks nothing like you might imagine from the name, it was an extremely relaxing place and we stayed several days in a great little cabana.

The first night we took a small launch (boat) out to an island to see the Marble Caves. This name makes sense as the caves look like chiseled marble, and the small launch maneuvered in and out of the many openings. The ride back had its own adventures with some strong winds and big waves, but the young captain managed the small vessel exceptionally well.

The next day we took yet another scenic ride out to a glacier field situated down a narrow, twisting valley with hanging glaciers at every turn and hundreds of waterfalls. Ice balls filled the river downstream, formed by the rapids. After a 20 minute hike through lush rain forest we came to the purpose-built viewpoint and took in its sheer size. Much like viewing the Grand Canyon, its hard to believe what you are seeing with your own eyes is really real.

Dec 17 we arrived in Coletta Tortel, a small village that first started seeing tourists a few years ago when a road was constructed to reach its inhabitants. Set on the edge of the fjords, there are no streets and all passageways are made using stairs and boardwalks at various levels, and it takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Built into the side of small mountains, the walkways zig-zag in countless directions. Supposedly, if you stretch out the stairs/walkways, they would be some 15 miles long.

This was the other way around town. The boat we took to the glaciers was only slightly larger

Dec 18 we signed on with 5 other travelers to visit the Montt Glacier in the Southern Ice Field. The trip was 4.5 hours one way (11 hours total), and it was a boat without many comforts. That being said, we had a lot of fun, saw some amazing sites, and have some great memories. When we finally got to the glacier field, it was well worth it! The lagoon leading up to the glacier is filled with whimsically shaped ice bergs of all different sizes. The captain pulled along side one of the largest icebergs and one of the young travelers on the journey jumped on the ice. Unfortunately for him, one of the anchors slipped and the boat drifted away. He had to stand there, perfectly still so as not to slip and fall into the frigid water, until several minutes later when we were able to pull close again and re-anchor. One of the other young travelers brought a large bottle of whiskey aboard, and we retrieved a small iceberg to chill it and serve it over ancient ice cubes. Not a drop was left in the bottle, and the ride back was spent in the warmth of the crowded cabin below deck sharing travel stories and nibbling on Christmas fruit cake.

Life inside the boat:

Back in town, the owner of our hospedaje shared a bit of his story. He was born in 1962 in a tent into a family of 13 children in what was then a small logging camp in Caleta Tortel. The local industry was until recently wood, cutting down by hand and dragging to the shore to be shipped further south to the large port of Puerto Arenas. Houses and shops appeared about 25 years ago, and they had no power and no running water until only a few years ago. Even today local kids still have to go to high school/boarding school 300 miles away in Coyhaique.

Dec 20 – We arrived in Villa O’Higgins yesterday, to an awesome little guest house at the very end of the Carratera Austral, the southern-most town in mainland Chile, and it feels like the bottom of the world! Glaciers, icebergs, fjords, clouds, rain, sunshine, lakes, mountains, rivers, warm, cold, etc... If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes.

The new road, along with a newly opened pedestrian passage to Argentina will see this sleepy little village transform in the coming years. In the past, travelers had to back-track from here, up to the north a couple of days journey, cross into Argentina, then take the famous Ruta 40 down to Tierra del Fuego. Now, with a passenger boat from Villa O’Higgins across the lake, the journey includes a ferry ride to a hiking trail (or horse ride) to another ferry to a small bus into El Chalten, Argentina and the famous Mount Fitzroy, high on any international trekker’s “to do” list. Unfortunately the boats won’t take the motorcycle (or any cars for that matter) across on the passenger ferry nor are we allowed to ride the small trail.

Some of you may be wondering how one gets gas in these remote areas – it is simple, they take gas from large barrels (imagine 55 gallon drums) and pour into 2 liter coke bottles. To fill our bike, it’s 22 liters (5.8 gallons), so they refill the bottles a whole bunch of times!

So, tomorrow we will mark the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere by turning the bike around and heading north.

Safety first?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Northern Patagonia resort towns in Chile & Argentina

Often times people stop and take pictures next to the bike, often when we are in restaurants or simply not around. In this case, two bus loads of travelers from Buenos Aires stopped just to chat with us. They asked what the cost for a photo on the bike would be, and Chris, always trying to enhance international relations, told them a kiss would suffice. We're not sure if these seniors were happier to sit on the bike or share a kiss....

After two restful days in Pucon we were on the road again to cross the border into Argentina and to San Martin de Bariloche at the end of the day. Rather than take the paved, beautiful pass we had taken several times the last time we were here, we decided to take a different, more interesting route south through the Chilean lake district and east to the Chilean border at Puerto Fuy. The ride started out as a welcome cool, foggy day with the roads rising and falling through green pastures and around beautiful lakes.

We got to the quiet village of Pt. Fuy and the waiting ferry around mid-day. There we found 5 drunk, wealthy Chileanos on fishing holiday and two Dutch bicyclists on a long holiday. Paul quickly investigated the options at the small restaurant and treated us to a dozen delicious empanadas for lunch. While we waited to board the ferry (there is only one a day each way, 1pm departure from Chile and 4pm departure from Argentina) we got to know the Dutch couple and hear about their travels.

Here is a video approaching the ferry:

The ferry ride took about 2 hours and we landed in the wonderfully forrested Lanin National Park on the Argentine side. From there it was rough dirt road until we hit pavement just before the quaint town of San Martin de Los Andes.

One of the many narrow bridge crossings:

SM de Los Andes is at one end of the famous 7 lakes drive down to Bariloche. When we were here 6 years ago most of this road was still dirt. Now we were surprised at how much it had been paved (about 50% and the rest in being prepared to be paved). Much has been done in the past decade to pave the popular and scenic routes in Patagonian Argentina, and it appears that for many motorcyclists that the dream of conquering many of these storied, challenging dirt roads will evaporate within the next 10 years at the current pace. On the other hand, it will open up opportunity for those who prefer to stay on the pavement.

We stayed in Bariloche for the last 4 days. Our friend Paul left on Friday for Santiago and his flight home. At our hotel we met a German couple on 2 motorcycles and a Dutch couple with a 2 yr old son riding a tandem bike and pulling a trailer. Can you imagine how difficult that must be?! The German couple is in their 50’s with grown children and traveling for the first time outside of Europe. We meet the most interesting and intrepid people on the road!

Bariloche is very touristy and quite expensive overall, but a good place to relax for a few days. We were a bit disappointed by the graffiti in the central square and all the rowdy teenagers playing loud rap music (in Spanish of course!) and basically taking over the place for themselves. It’s a real shame because the last time we were here 6 years ago, the square was a beautiful place with a lovely statue in the middle (now covered in graffiti) and old people and families enjoying the view over the lake towards the Andes. I guess the financial crisis since we were here is partly to blame.

We did have a wonderful day however riding out to Hotel Llao Llao (one of the nicest/fanciest hotels in Argentina) and the circuit around the peninsula. We had a very expensive fruit smoothie on the patio and walked around the beautiful grounds. There is nice trekking on the peninsula and beautiful beaches to take a swim. Hopefully the photos will do it justice.

We left yesterday and are now in the town of Esquel a little further south in Patagonia. Of our two options riding south after El Bolson we took the rough dirt road through the Parque National Los Alerces which was very well worth the bumpy/dusty ride to see it. The lakes are beautiful and the forest is filled with huge alerce trees, some as old as 2000 years. There is a lot of fine dirt on the road around the lake and in the air around here. The locals told us that it is from the recent volcanic eruption which wiped out the village of Chaiten in Chile, just over the Andes from where we are now. The volcano dirt/dust is all over our motorcycle and riding gear. Just 5km before reaching the pavement, we got our first (and hopefully last) flat tire. Normally a simple routine, the process took a bit longer with all the dust spewing up from the traffic.

We are now staying in a wonderful cabana for about $35/nt and it is nice to cook our own meals again. It’s like a mini version of our Winter Park townhouse. We will stay here until Wednesday so that we can take the famous Patagonia Express narrow-gauge train tomorrow (it only runs a few times a week). After that we don’t know where we are going. If the weather forecast looks good for heading south on the Argentine side of the Andes we will go to the layover town of Perito Morreno and then El Chalten for Mt Fitzroy. If not, we will probably cross back into Chile at Futeleufu (not too far from here) and head south down the Carraterra Austral to Cohaique.

There is a lot of free-ranging cattle on the roads, and they don't always want to get out of the way:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

San Rafael to Pucon (Start of Patagonia)

It was around the crack of 10am when we rode off John & Annette's finca, heading south for a 300 mile ride. We had a fantastic time on their finca and vowed to return in early January to see the Dakar pass through.

The first 1.5 hours was on a well paved road as we slid southwest back towards the mountains. The road then became a mix of pavement and dirt, and we opted to get off the main road and take the less-used route 221. We zigged and zagged, slipped and slided, and danced the bikes over some pretty technical sections. Although we spent many hours in the countryside, we only saw one shepherd the entire day!

Erin took the pilot seat (it's her bike too!) while Chris sat behind taking some of the video...

There were also a few un-posted detours which were slightly challenging...

Late in the day we reached the main road again, and arrived in Chos Malal, exhausted. As we took a break in the small town centre, a few local kids directed us to a hospedaje with basic amenities. It was Saturday night and the small town was hopping, we struggle to get a good night's sleep.

Sunday, the last day of the month as we entered Patagonia. We opted to stay on the pavement for the first 100 miles, then tucked up into the mountains for some great, rarely used dirt roads along a river.
The region is full of rare Arucaria trees:

The last part of the day included another mountain pass, a national park, and a border crossing at the peak. The area is rich with lakes, mountains, and volcanoes, so the scenery was spectacular! The crossing took a little longer than in the past, as customs recently acquired an x-ray machine and all of our stuff had to be pulled off the bikes and put through -- I think if the guy wasn't so bored he wouldn't have bothered.

We arrived in the tourist town of Pucon, Chile around 7pm, which is fairly early for us. We found a cute hospedaje with views of the active volcano Villarica. Monday was spent hanging out, wandering around town, taking a dip in the frigid lake, and chatting with other travelers. As you might imagine, the view from our bed could have been a little better.

Tuesday, Dec 2 was another mellow day with late breakfast and lunch. In the afternoon we took a rafting trip and the run-off easily made the rapids a class 4+. One girl fell out, but the rest of the trip was filled with "Hang On" and "Wahhoooo". Tomorrow we head back over the Andes, back into Argentina, to the famous resort town of Bariloche (similar to Aspen or St. Moritz).

Friday, November 28, 2008

On the road.

The bike arrived on Sunday (Nov 23) and customs/unpacking went almost perfectly – the clutch fluid all leaked out (bad) and we refilled it with tap water which works just as well. We’ll replace it later with proper fluid. Roadside ingenuity in its simplest form!

We headed out on Monday afternoon, got 35 miles out of Santiago, and Paul’s rear tire went flat. We broke out the tools and an hour later we were rolling again. The ride was fantastic – some 30+ switchbacks up over 10,000 feet. We exited Chilean immigration/customs, but could not get Paul’s bike thru Argentine customs due to a paperwork snafu (borrowed bike). 11:30pm we rolled back into Santiago, dead tired.

Video from Paul's HD camcorder, attached to his helmet...

Erin's first attempt at video footage from our digital camera...

Tuesday (Nov 25) we went to dept of justice then dept of ministry to get Paul's paperwork legalized, then to Argentine embassy to get legalized paperwork translated onto Argentina letterhead - Long story… Back on the bikes at 3pm for another late start to the 200 mile ride back up the curves (video coming soon), over the pass, past Aconcagua Mountain (22,825 ft), across the border, down one of the prettiest road/canyons, and into Mendoza. We pulled in to the main plaza just as darkness settled in. There was a hostel close by, and as we pulled through the gate we spotted several other travel bikes. “Hello Chris, hello Erin”. Huh??? It was Rich Humphreys, a traveler friend we had met in New Zealand back in 2001 after he road from the UK to NZ. Small world, and great to see fellow travelers again! Rich had become a fireman in NZ and was taking a year off to travel SA. We decided to turn in just before dawn, after solving many of the world's problems, with the help of inexpensive Malbec and a few reflective ales.

Wednesday morning we had breakfast with our Spanish teacher (2 weeks back in 2002) at her nearby home. In the afternoon we rode 140 miles through the pampa to San Rafael. Back in 2002 we spent several weeks here rebuilding both our bikes in one of the local bike shops. The small city has grown immensely, and it was great to pull into the bike shop to surpise everyone. The guys were shocked and their faces changed instantly from confussion to warm recognition and we were swarmed with big hugs and kisses.

In the evening we rode 10 miles to meet John & Annette at their finca (farm). They had also traveled around the world on two motorbikes. When they went back to England, they needed something different so returned to Argentina to buy a vineyard. The 35-acre farm was in foreclosure, and most of the agriculture was dead/dying. It’s taken nearly 3 years for them to get the grapes, plums, olives, peaches, walnuts and other plants healthy. It's hard work creating a working farm, and in 2 more years they will decide if they will stay or move on to another project.

We woke Thanksgiving Thursday to a rooster’s call then spent the afternoon in the shop making adjustments to the bikes. Parts were fabricated from scratch, and lots of mate (form of herb/tea) was shared. At 10pm there were 3 long tables that were brought into the work area and 25 of us shared an amazing asado dinner. More wine, more chatter, more laughs – life is good.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Photos around Santiago

The shipment is delayed and customs is now on strike, so who knows when we'll get on the bike. In the meantime we have some time to try out new looks (notice the Quaker look!).
We're also taking in Santiago and Vina del Mar, on the Pacific coast. See the photo album here

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Off to Santiago de Chile

Of course, the last few days leading up to our departure were action-packed. Andre, the agent who will be looking after our business was away in Hawaii enjoying a vacation with his family, and we were covering his business. Several of his clients wanted to see properties and we negotiated a great deal closing in 3 weeks - welcome home! Andre returned on Friday. Sunday, the night before our departure 2 of our own clients wanted to write offers --- fortunately our local real estate market is not following the national news!

We arrived at the airport around the same time as Paul, who decided back in September to join us for the first couple of weeks of our trip. One day he had said' "you know, I must admit I'm a bit jealous about your trip." To which I answered, "don't be jealous, join us!" Since he didn't have a good excuse, he did!
Denver airport was nearly empty so we enjoyed the fastest trip through security, ever! Our first leg was a twilight flight to Dallas. We hitched a ride through the Dallas terminals in one of those golf cart type security buggies, and after an hour layover it was time to turn off the Blackberry as it would not work in South America. No, not by binky! 10-hours later we would land in Santiago de Chile.

The last hour of the flight was amazing - we skimmed along the top of the Andes mountains, and although we live in the Rocky Mountains, this was an impressive site. While the flight landed early in Santiago, we were of course delayed at customs for a little while. See, as our bags went through the customs declaration X-ray machine, we realised we had a large bag of fruit and nut mix in one of our bags - a clear violation punishable by about an $80 fine. While the inspector caught it on the screen, he thought it was in a different bag. We tucked the malicious bag under others on our cart, played the dumb Americans (my specialty!), and after awhile we were free to go with our bags.

The shuttle company wanted $10/person to cram 3 of us into a crowded van. Instead, we wandered outside and negotiated a $25 flat fee for the 30-minute private taxi ride into town. As we were exiting the airport, the police stopped to check our driver's taxi license, and of course it had expired. While this was another delay, we were in no rush and used the opportunity to syncronize our GPS and SPOT devices, and update our new positions (see the locator on the right panel of this blog). The police were very friendly to us and I got to practice my spanish, but our unlucky driver would be hit with about a $600 fine.

We arrived at our B&B around 11am -- -- a terrific little place in the city center, surrounded by parks and quaint streets. It feels more European here than one might imagine, so we knew we were in another place, it didn't quite "feel" like South America. OK, into travel mode I'm striving for and although $40/nt is above our normal budget, we wanted a good place to get ourselves organized. The little old lady who owns the place said we could catch the WiFi from the fancy hotel next door!, although she didn't understand what that meant. The hospedaje is also across the street from the French Embassy and down the street from the Homicide Detective's Precint.

Ater a simple meal in a local lunch place, we spent the afternoon wandering around the busy streets and climbed a mountain fort/castle that over-looks the city. In the evening we headed to an eclectic part of town for a huge dinner accompanied by a couple of local refreshments. It was a good finish to the start of our trip!
Unfortunately, the bike has been delayed again for some document problems, but Lufthansa promise it will start its own journey tomorrow -- at this rate we'll be here through the weekend. Not to worry though, we'll do a tour of the local vineyards and probably hit the beaches in Vina del Mar....