I've found that it's very easy to find something to do other than update my blog. Also, once it gets way behind it takes an effort to bring it up to date. I'm in the process of updating it and editing my photographs. What I need to add are the days that have passed since La Paz Bolivia as well as a little about La Paz, which wasn't my favorite city. What I have found is that Chile and Argentina are a world apart from the other South American countries that I have visited. I'll explain what I mean by that as I complete my update.
La Paz, Bolivia 11/1,2,3
As I said before, La Paz was not my favorite city. It is one more place where the traffic is terrible, the driving is no better and the streets are crowded and very slow at all times of day. The air is dirty with trucks and buses belching out huge clouds of black smoke. There is no good way to get into the city without fighting heavy traffic. The concept of bypass and feeder roads isn’t known there. Also, speed bumps before traffic signals just add one more element to slow travel. Markets spill out into the street and people, buses, motos, cars and trucks scramble around like ants to move forward. If one can avoid riding through La Paz, I would recommend it.
We did stay an extra day in La Paz because we wanted to ride the infamous Road of Death. To get there we road north through some very pretty mountains and at the highest point we crossed a pass at 15,280 feet. The bikes ran well but did experience a significant loss of power. It was cold at that altitude and we stopped to add some cloths. When we got to the start of the Road of Death, the clouds had moved in and there was nothing but fog to look at so we turned around and made our way back to La Paz. I guess I can say that I rode 50 feet of it and Joe did about 150 feet before turning around.
15,280 feet and there's a lake with Llamas and sheet grazing.
As we got close to the Road of Death, the clouds closed in.
Potosi, Bolivia 11/4
Uyuni, Bolivia 11/5
Hotel del Sol Luna Salada, Bolivia 11/5,6
We left early for Potosi, Bolivia on a Sunday and the traffic was much better, however, we almost ran out of gas. The gas problem wasn’t because we couldn’t find a station open but was because we couldn’t find one that would sell us gas. We pulled into the first couple and they took a look at our license plates and told us that they couldn’t sell gas to us and to go on down the road where we could purchase some from the next station. The stations are few and far between and we had both been running on reserve for several miles. After being turned away at two stations and finding one that wasn’t open, we pulled into the last one for many miles and when we were told that they couldn’t sell us gas, we just sat there at the pump and kept asking. A line of cars began to build behind us and finally we were told that we could purchase gas but that we would have to pay a special tax. They were correct about the tax because the government subsidizes the gasoline and foreigners have to pay about three times the pump price. We said ok and paid what totaled around $6.00 per gallon which was about what we expected. They even gave us a special government receipt for the taxes.
Tanks filled we set off for Potosi. The roads La Paz, and several other places, are asphalt but rutted. The trucks have pushed ruts into the asphalt that are as much as 4 or 5 inches below the areas between the tire tracks where the asphalt has been raised up. It makes driving a little tricky and passing a maneuver that will keep one on their toes. The ride wasn’t bad although it was laced with a little rain and a search for gas that required searching in three little towns and finally finding fuel in the third one. Most of the ride was above 12,000 feet as we were on the Antiplano which went on for miles and miles. Finding the center of the city in Potosi and a place to stay was a little challenging but we eventually found a place near the town square. Nothing really noteworthy to say about the city.
For a long long ways the Antiplano just kept on going.
The ride to Uyuni was mostly on new toll road and it was great. The ride also offered spectacular views of mountains, canyons and planes all within 150 miles. Arriving in Uyuni we found a dusty little place in the middle of no where. The streets are mostly dirt and the wind seems to blow constantly. We had made it there riding on fumes and were afraid we were going to run out of gas so the first order of business was to get gasoline. The one station in town had a line of cars that must have been half a mile long. There hadn’t been gasoline available for a while and the tanker trucks had just filled up the station and everyone wanted gasoline while it lasted. Fortunately, they let motos go to a pump at the side and filled us up without waiting. I liked that system. After getting gas we drove around looking for a place to stay and found a room at a little Hostel. We took our gear off our bikes and rode back to the center of town to find a bite to eat. It was there that I had the worst hamburger of my life so now I have a new baseline for bad.
We had wanted to see the salt hotel (Hotel del Sol Luna Salada) that is about 20 miles to the north on the edge of the salt plane so we rode out to it. We wanted to stay there but hadn’t been able to book a room. Joe went inside just to check and found out that an arriving flight had been cancelled and they had a room. It was at this point that we found out how accommodating the hotel staff is. We explained that all our things were at a Hostel in Uyuni (down one of the worst washboard roads in the world). They said no problem because they had someone in town that would be coming our way. Oh, we also had the only key to the padlock that was on the door. The hotel person got the hostel to break the lock, give them our things and then paid the hostel for our room. All our things were delivered to us within a few hours. The lock was about $6.00 and the room was not much.
The rate at the Hotel del Sol Luna Salada was reasonable and the rooms were very nice as well as it having the distinction of being made of blocks of salt. There was a very good buffet dinner as well as a great buffet breakfast. The breakfast was included in the room rate and the dinner was reasonable too. The next day we were rewarded with the second instance of great hospitality when we returned from riding across the salt and part of the road that we would take to our next destination. The racks that I had made for our extra fuel tanks were failing due to conservable shaking. We asked at the desk if they knew someone in the area that could weld. No problem we were told because they had a maintenance man that could weld. He worked a couple of hours on the bikes and the hotel didn’t want anything. We did tip him well, as we had done with the other employees that brought our things from the hostel.
I had a great time riding on the salt flat. I’ve wondered for years what it was like for the people driving at Bonneville and now I have some idea. The salt flat is about 40 miles wide and 80 miles long and as flat as can be. Each winter it gets flooded and then dries in the spring. The surface is like concrete and except for some small ridges formed by the drying salt, it is perfectly flat. Out on the salt one can loose track of where they are because most landmarks are far enough away as to be unseen. We navigated by putting coordinates in our GPS units and going straight to places as one would do if they were on water. You can go as fast as you want and not have to worry about a traffic cop. There are some tracks, or polished surfaces, that one can follow where the tour guides have driven between popular places, but there are no signs and one could find themselves lost if not careful. Driving around the edges of the salt is also tricky because where the salt is thin there is mud beneath it and ones bike or auto will break through and become stuck. This happened to Joe when he followed me as I made a little navigation error on our way across the salt. Try to avoid getting stuck because the salt flat is over 12,000 feet in elevation and getting someone out will kick your butt.
Inside our room at the salt hotel.
Joe kind of likes it there. Note that the furniture is made of salt blocks and the floor is crushed salt.
Joe heads off into the great unknown. I hope he set up his GPS before he left.
This is an island in the middle of the salt flat. There is a resturant on it and it is where Joe took the photo of me and the little girl.
San Juan, Bolivia 11/7 La Magia de San Juan Hostal
When we left the salt hotel we rode across the salt and picked up a little road to San Juan. That little road was one of the worst that I’ve seen. Actually, much of what I’ve seen in Bolivia is the worst that I have ever seen when it comes to roads. There were washboards easily 3 inches deep and when they weren’t present there was sand…deep sand at that. One has to throw in a few boulder sized rocks just to keep it interesting too. After riding for most of the day we came to San Juan and a very pleasant surprise. We asked a a little store if there was somewhere to stay in the town and were told to go to the two story building…the only two story building in town. What we found was the La Magia de San Juan Hostal. It is a great place and if anyone takes that road, they should look it up and make a reservation. It was clean and very nice. Because there isn’t anywhere to eat in town, breakfast and dinner are included. The food was excellent and the owner speaks some English and is very helpful. They even borrowed a hose so we could wash the salt off of our bikes.
Here's the La Magia de San Juan. Easy to spot since it's the only building with more than one floor.
The streets of San Juan.
Where but in San Juan can you have an oven in your back yard?
Ollague, Chile 11/8
If you didn’t have to go there, you probably wouldn’t but it is on the road at the border and while it isn’t the most modern place, the people are friendly. To get there we had to navigate more bad, no exceptionally horrible, road. Oh, and one thing to keep in mind, there are no road signs and the GPS routes don’t all connect. In many places roads will go off in several directions and one must do a bit of dead reckoning to find their way.
We were told to go toward the base of the big mountain and the border would be toward the left. Did anyone say desolate?
Crossing the border was a bit of a challenge. Not that we had real difficulties but because nothing on the Bolivian side is marked. When we got to the border there was a bar blocking the road so we went around it and parked outside what seemed to be the only official building. Inside we found an agent that took our motorcycle documents, processed them and said to proceed. We asked about passport control and he just motioned toward Chile. We got on our bikes and rode a few miles into Chile and were told that we needed to go back and get our passports processed out. We rode back and went to the first agent and he didn’t seem to understand what the issue was. A second person that had come into the office said that we needed to go to the police station that was across the rail yard that is across the road from the offices. We could just make out a flag behind some rail cars so we set out to walk across the rail yard and find the police. We found a building that looked kind of official and knocked on the door. After a few moments a sleepy policeman opened the door, asked us in one at a time and processed us out of Bolivia. We rode the four miles back to Chile and were greeted by officials that actually knew what they were doing and seemed to care about making the entry as easy for us as possible.
Here's the building, the only new one in the country, where we checked our bikes out of Bolivia.
Over there, to the left end of the orange car on the right...see the flag sticking up.
Try the door on the left, I think I hear snoring coming from behind it.
We then found that there was no gas station in the town and there was no way we had enough gas to get to the next town of Calama. After asking around we were told to go to this Hostel/Restaurant and that they may have gas. They did have gas, at $12.00 a gallon, but at this point they had us over the proverbial barrel. It was getting late too so we booked a room and went to the back of the building where a woman took gas from a drum, put it into a jug and filled our tanks. Nothing was really cheap but at least we had what we needed to proceed the next day.
Fill er up.
Calama, Chile 11/9
We were told the road to Calama was in great shape and we could make it there in less than two hours. Well, it was better than what we had been on in Bolivia, but it was no super highway. It had it’s share of washboard and sand and deep gravel but it was still an improvement but no way to do it in less than two hours. Oh, and once again we were stopped for road construction. This time they were blasting. At least we got to see it from where we were stopped for an hour or so.
Still many salt flats and places where the road went across them. But, we were making good time.
There were even flamingos in some of the marsh area of the salt flats. I think they were looking for Orlanda, Florida.
I guess I said good time one time too many.
By the time we got to Calama we were seeing a vastly different country side from what we had seen in the north. As we rode in Joe said to me, “You know, this could be any town in West Texas”. It appeared we were back in the modern world. No more adobe huts, trash everywhere, drivers that didn’t know what traffic rules were and no black smoke belching vehicles. It was a refreshing change and one that we welcomed. Prices were higher but that was ok.
Chanaral, Chile 11/10
La Serena, Chile 11/11
Leaving Calama we headed toward Santiago where I would stay and await the arrival of my wife and Joe would catch a flight out for a vacation from his vacation. There wasn’t too much to see but rocks, sand and
some far-between towns. The route eventually took us along the coast and while it wasn’t always spectacular, it was a nice change and interesting. As with riding along the coast in Peru, there was a strong wind and it was cool, but the roads were superb. The two towns we stopped in were interesting and nice too. And I’ll say it again, everyone we met was as friendly and helpful as we could ever hope to find.
Land for sale, make an offer, any offer.
Still waiting on that offer.
Even on the coastal highway.
Santiago, Chile 11/12 until 11/25
We checked into the RA Hostel in Santiago. It is a pretty small place, converted from a home, but is well kept and the two men running it, Alfredo and Francisco, are great to work with. I spent a week there before my wife, Karen, arrived and I enjoyed the time. The hostel is located in a primarily residential district of the Providencia area of Santiago. It is two blocks from the subway, main streets, shops, a huge multi level mall containing high end stores, many restaurants and cafes. It was in a place where I felt comfortable day or night walking around. The streets are tree lined and well kept. Oh, and there is a Starbucks only a few blocks away so we could finally get some good coffee. If you are looking for an inexpensive place that is clean and in a safe area, you should check it out.
They say Santiago has a stray dog problem. They are pretty tame, don't bark and don't even raise up when people step over them. These are laying on the walk about 50 yards from the Presential Palace.
When my wife arrived, I changed to a nice modern hotel because she had been telling me that for my being able to take this trip, she expected to be treat well. I heard the message and so went for the 5 star rating. And the hotel was fantastic too. We stayed a total of five nights at the Best Western Premier Marina Las Condes.It wasn’t like any Best Western that I’ve stayed in before. Our five nights were broken into two sets with side visits to Mendoza, Argentina and Valparaiso, Chile.
Mendoza, Chile 11/25,26
For Mendoza, Karen and I climbed on the KTM and headed for the border. It was a nice ride and went well. Our only difficulty was in finding out that to go into Argentina one has to pass the first border control building and go another 10 miles or so to the second one. Take your vehicle inside the border control building and the officials from Chile will process you and your vehicle out and those from Argentina will process you in. It worked very well and was efficient. One needs to realize that if buses are present, there will be long lines of people waiting to get checked in or out but we were able to go to an open line for individual travelers.
We stayed at the Casa Lila in Mendoza. It is a small B&B with only four rooms. The rooms were built strictly for use as a B&B and are nice and comfortable with a great yard area for sitting or having a bite. The owner speaks English and was quite helpful. While there we went on a wine tour that was arranged by the owner of the B&B. If travelers are looking for wine testing’s like the ones back in the states, they may be disappointed. The testing’s were all at vineyards that require reservations and that charge. But, they were great and the tour was very nice. There were two couples and we were driven to four different vineyards where we were given generous samples and at the last one we were provided a late lunch of grilled meats. When we returned from the tour, Karen and I walked around a nearby park. As is often the case in South America it was some kind of holiday and we were treated to some music and costume dancing and many picnickers.
Valparaiso, Chile 11/27,28
We left Mendoza for a visit to the port city of Valparaiso. This is where Karen was able to experience the great experience of Road Construction Delay. Things went well and we easily completed checking out of Argentina and back into Chile. As we headed down the highway we quickly came to a barrier and a stop sign. We were told that there was to be blasting ahead and we would have to wait. The blasting didn’t happen for well over an hour and then another hour to clean it up. But, because the road ahead was reduced to one lane we had to wait our turn to go and those folks below had to come up first. The problem was right in the middle of 29 switchbacks that are one after the other on the Chilean side and traffic was halted before either end of them. The result was that it took a long time for groups of vehicles to travel through the area in one direction before the opposing vehicles could go. All told it took over three hours before we were allowed to proceed. And the great part, we were the first people not to get to go before the delay. So, had we been five minutes earlier, we would have had no delay at all. At least now Karen knows why I can’t always make it to a destination when I said I would be there.
The buildings in Valparaiso.
The Yellow House in near the center.
Here's a look at some of the switchbacks. They have yellow road signs at the corners so you know where you are.
It's hard to see but Karen is giving it a thumbs down. Oh, another caption could be "Honey, does this riding suit make me look f@#?" But I would never say that. Nor would I say that all the insulated liners and sweaters may have the Michelin Man chasing you around. Oh, she's going to kill me. But, she was warm and that was the whole idea.
In Valparaiso we stayed at The Yellow House. It is a multi level house on the side of a hill. While it’s not brand new, it was well kept and the owner was very friendly and is English speaking. The architecture of the city is quite interesting. Many of the homes are built on the sides of the hills and are multi level with the rooms stacked one on top of the other. The homes are painted in all colors imaginable and many have “graffiti” painted on the outsides. But, the “graffiti” isn’t street gang type. It is put there by artists and is intricate and well done. We were warned about pick pockets and people that would snatch and run with things left dangling but we saw nothing that left us uneasy. We walked around the streets, shops and sea coast and had a very enjoyable time.
Santiago, Chile 11/29,30 12/1,2
All too soon it was time for us to return to our hotel in Santiago so we mounted the KTM again and made our way back to the city. We had enjoyed our earlier time there and continued to move about the city. We took full advantage of the subway transit system. It is easy to figure out and if one has used subways anywhere they will have no problem with it. The system was clean and the trains ran frequently. On the first day that we were in Santiago we had gone on a walking tour of the old city and we headed back to revisit some of the areas where we had been before. If one has some time, I would recommend on of the walking tours because they acquaint one with the area and add a lot of history too. And, if you are in the area and want a great meal, be sure and make reservations for the restaurant Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). I had my doubts because it is in a book and a movie and sometimes things aren’t the same in the real world. Well, Karen wanted to go there and I will say that the food was excellent and the atmosphere was also excellent. The notoriety hasn’t hurt the restaurant at all.
Here's my beautiful wife in the restaurant but she's standing with some old gray-bearded guy. I think she can do better.
A final though for Santiago. As I sat on a street side park bench, on more than one occasion, I couldn’t help but think that if I didn’t know where I was, I could have been on a street in Manhattan or many other US or European cities and it would look and feel the same. Chile is not a third world country but is very modern and can be visited with comfort and safety.
Temuco, Chile 12/2
San Martin de los Andes, Argentina 12/3,4
San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina 12/5
There’s not a lot to say about these three cities where we stayed other than we spent the days riding in the rain and nothing eventful happened. The border crossing went well and the only thing that set it apart from other border crossings was that it was in the rain and mud and cold. San Martin de los Andes reminds me of any mountain tourist resort area. It has the same look and feel and is reliant on the tourist trade. We stayed an extra day there mainly because I was suffering from a cold and wanted an extra day of rest. We were in a place that probably went for a lot more during the winter ski season but it was reasonable and comfortable.
Welcome to Argentina.
About 15 miles on each side of the border are not paved and that's not too bad on the Chile side because of good gravel, but the Argentine side has lots of soft sand and some mud.
Getting on into Argentina and some beautiful country.
Esquel, Argentina 12/6,7
We stayed an extra day in Esquel for a couple of reasons. One, and a small one, was that by this time Joe was in the middle of his own cold (probably thanks to the one I was getting over) and he had just crashed his motorcycle about a hundred kilometers back. What happened was that he hit a bus. While going around a highway corner at about 65 mph, he looked at his GPS and let his bike wonder across the center line. A bus traveling the other way was coming around the corner and hugging the center line. Joe saw it a split second before impact and tried to move but he hit the side of the bus and it knocked him over, tore his side cases off, ground down and broke his engine crash guard, ground down the left side passenger peg and shredded his rain pants and jacket. He was lucky and one can be and his only injuries were a sore wrist, scraped elbow and sore big toe. The bike even did pretty well. The engine guard was repaired by a local welder and the left side case is now held on by straps. Everything else appears fine. The bus had a 15 to 20 foot crease in it at the luggage compartment level. The local police took down the information from Joe and the bus driver and asked Joe what he wanted to do. He said nothing so they said ok that he could go. They then had him follow them to where the welder was so he could get his bike fixed. I’m sure he will give more of an account on his blog. Oh, we didn’t photograph anything so nothing to show. I didn’t see anything because I was a few minutes ahead waiting at a gas station and only found out the details when the bus and Joe showed up and went to the police station.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD, EXPECIALLY AT TURNS.