Following the illustrious Ruta 40 south out of Salta took us through some green mountain scenery, rocky mountains of all colors, very red rocky mountains, and arid desert conditions. While we hit some loose ripio (= gravel) for a 40km stretch or so, most of the road was nicely paved.
(first evidence of wine region)
(campsite in Belem. Our chain got thrashed in the muddy adventures of Bolivia, so Mike spent the better part of the afternoon in the Belem gas station trying to free a couple of stuck links. We camped instead of continuing on after. While in the gas station a couple from Buenos Aires chatted with us and invited us to an asado at their place whenever we can make it there.)
(Our site at the municipal campgrounds in San Jose de Jachal. We arrived at ~8pm, set up camp, ate dinner, and had a beer all before the sun went down. We then went to bed around dark, with the campground empty. Around 11pm the place started filling up with groups cooking their asados. Crazy Argentines.)
Leaving Jachal we started heading towards Chile, not seeing a gas station, or much of anything really, for the next 310 kms. It was a beautiful ride, especially with the amazingly good weather we had - strong winds were offset by strong sun.
(at the Argentine side of the Agua Negra border crossing, something like 80 km before the actual limit. Within 10 min we were through migraciones and aduana, but they took our import permit, assuring us that we didn't need it. The Chileans disagreed, however. And the people that passed right behind us had their permit when we saw them in Chile. Inconsistencies are the norm)
(glacier snow near the top of the pass)
(the signs are wire mesh so the wind will pass through. Even so, we passed at least 1 metal sign that had been bent to the ground, presumably by wind)
(the mountains had amazing colors)
And then we finally hit the Chilean side of the crossing, separated by ~150 kms from the Argentina offices.
This was our least favorite crossing of the whole trip. Even considering the expired Bolivian permit, and all of the waiting in Central America. They took our only souvenir - our sheepskin seat cover that we picked up in Peru, washed ourselves, and had grown quite fond of. It still hurts a bit (both the fact that they took it, and the fact that the Corbin saddle is not so comfy). That sheep was like our 3rd companion. But no longer. Chile customs are very particular about what enters their country - no food, plants, etc, and no animal products of any kind are allowed. Had we known I would have stuffed the thing in my moto jacket, sweated through the process, and never claimed it. But enough of my sadness...
We continued down the Elqui Valley towards the coast, passing a ton of vineyards, a well known observatory (apparently with a months-long waiting list to visit), and the tourist town of Vicuņa. We were glad to see that they accepted Visa, because there are no ATM's in town, and we had 0 Chilean pesos. So we went on down to La Serena to find an ATM, food, and a place to stay.
Finding an accessible ATM was a surprisingly big challenge, and when we did, it charged us US$6 for the transaction. Yikes! That was the first sign of how expensive Chile is. Next up was our food stop. A small, unassuming cafe sat off the beach a few blocks right next to a hostel. The cafe was on the expensive side (we thought) at ~US$6-8 per entree, but we were starving and ate there anyways. The hostel provided us with some entertainment when they quoted a room rate of US$80. Uhhh..no thanks. We asked around for camping and were told to go along the beach to a casino where we could (oddly) find camping. Well, we found where it used to be. All the cheap looking hotels quoted us US$60 for a room, with camping to be found 45 minutes out of town back up the Elqui valley. Finally, a gas station attendant steered us towards a strip of hotels with rooms at US$40 (total). Perhaps our most expensive night of the trip. But at least it came with breakfast, and had it's own kitchen too.
The next day we found a new chain (at Tonino motors, which is an absolute rip off - costing us US$75 for a DID non O-ring style, after passing up a nice O-ring chain in Argentina for US$50 thinking (1) that we might run out of Argentine pesos on our way to the border and (2) that Argentina was always more expensive for parts...don't believe everything that you hear online...) to replace the one that could just never get freed. At the same time we ran into Mauricio working on his busted speedo on his Africa Twin. He was headed up to Peru to travel, then spend time with family in Argentina. Maybe we'll see him that way...
(Mauricio from Spain with his Africa Twin)
Outside of a Chinese restaurant, a guy pulled up next to us on his Yamaha XT and started chatting. Osvaldo turned out to be one of our best random acquaintance encounter of the entire trip! He offered moto help if needed (he's a mechanic), invited us to his place or to take a moto tour of the area. Since Mike had pulled the carbs to clean them that afternoon, our chance to get to Osvaldo's place was about zero. Instead, he showed up with his girlfriend Carla.
They were extremely nice, fun to talk to, and excited to hear about Bolivia as they are planning their own trip that direction. To top it all off, they asked if we eat meat, went for an errand to return with olives, chips, a variety of meat and wine to boot! As if that wasn't enough, they even brought their own grill and cooked all of the food for us. It was fantastic! They turned our attitude towards Chile right around.
While we didn't get to know them as well, we talked with some parking lot attendants for awhile outside of a Home Center (had to get some good chain lube, especially since not running O-rings anymore...). They were super nice, again picking up our outlook.
(it's been too long for me to remember their names, but they were Peruvians working in Chile.)
We moved on from La Serena, excited to avoid the Panamerican and see some of what the interior of Chile has to offer...