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Old 05-18-2015, 03:20 PM   #1
RageAgainstTheFence OP
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Observations on 31,000k through Bolivia, Chile and Argentina on a Tornado XR250

Hello Everyone,

Having been debating whether or not to post about my experiences, in the end I've decided to go ahead with it, given that it was only the reports of others, Nick from Tales from the Saddle especially, that inspired me to undertake what to many would be a seemingly impossible, or impossibly stupid, undertaking. Yet due to reading forums like this and the HUBB, soon became an achievable reality, for me at least. I decided not to blog during in the trip because when I first set out with that intention I had a running "blog" commentary in my head and this quickly drove me mad. I hope to not dramatize this report (too much) and give a good balance between factual information and my subjective experiences.

Introduction;

This is will be 'retrospective' trip report on my recent trip to South America that lasted almost fifteen months, from February 2014 to May 2015. I went out there with a full license and some equipment I had researched and bought in the UK and very little else. Until I was actually on the road I never really believed I would get that far! I had ridden a couple of rented bikes before and did a short trip around the Indian Himalayas but that was it. I had no camping experience and spoke next to nothing of Spanish. I also used help exchange websites (such as WOOFING, Help-x or WorkAway) to volunteer along the way, as I had lots of time but not much money.

My aim was to motorcycle around South America and wildcamp, hence my alias, but that was about it. I volunteered for six months in a small town in Chile called Curico for a government programme called English Opens Doors. During that time I bought a Honda Tornado XR 250 for around 4000 USD new. Apart from welding on a rack to put a jerry can, a sheepskin rug over the saddle and a 12v charger, I rode it stock. I could write a lot about the bike but in the end it proved a solid choice, was totally reliable, and suffered only from the limitations you would expect from a pretty simple, carbed 250cc motorcycle.

The Route;


The northern section...

In the end, my trip would see me ride almost 32,000k as far as southern Peru and then down to Patagonia, though only having spent a short time in Peru I will not talk much about it here. More or less then, I travelled 'extensively' in Bolivia and saw a fair amount of the Andean Chile and Argentina and that was it. After I got as far as Peru I turned around to make the long journey down to Patagonia, where I would eventually reach Puerto Natales and decided to go no further, in fact I actually pretty much hated Pataognia!


The south... (I took a boat from Puerto Natales!)


Over all the trip went well accept for a bad crash in the Atacama, which saw me rescued by Chilean miners and flown back down to Santiago for two months 'recovery', and then a few other minor 'offs' and getting stranded in a 'mud pit' when I attempted to do the northern section of the Bolivian Altiplano solo. The highlights were probably camping on the Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flat in the world), the amazing Jesuit Circuit in lowland Bolivia and the Carreterra Austral in the south of Chile. If this sounds interesting you could always read on or if not just have a look at the pictures! Here are a few to warm up with!



Equipment before I started.



How not to load a lightweight tourer.



Likewise.



...I got there in the end!

More to follow...

RageAgainstTheFence screwed with this post 05-18-2015 at 03:26 PM
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Old 05-18-2015, 03:38 PM   #2
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Count me in, I'm subscribed!!!! Sounds like one hell of an adventure!
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Old 05-18-2015, 03:51 PM   #3
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I'm in!
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Old 05-18-2015, 07:16 PM   #4
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count me in...
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Old 05-18-2015, 07:36 PM   #5
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I'm in as well, I agree with you about the Argentinian pampas. I disliked them, on my way down the wind was absolutely vicious, twisting my helmet and head almost continuously and threatning to push me off the road, the way back up was cold rainy and absolutely boring but then I'm glad to say I made it to Ushuaia but never again!!!!! LOL. Okay lets hear more of your story

here's mine
http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=820120

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Old 05-19-2015, 03:26 AM   #6
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Rage, my dream trip. I love your platonic point of view.
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Old 05-20-2015, 01:51 PM   #7
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A Calamity in Calama, he washes out.

I woke up in a white room with medical equipment around me. A blood stain splattered across the ceiling caught my attention. I can remember a lot of commotion and a very annoyed police officer. I think it was something to do with my passport and me refusing them a blood sample. I remember shouting erratically in bad Spanish that it was against my human rights. A nurse took my arm, inserting a drip. More confusion, disorientation and then blackness. I came around again and the police officer eyed me suspiciously. Were there other people I asked? Then a small pause. My life could have significantly changed and a million scenarios flashed through my mind. No, he said, you crashed alone. That was some good news at least.



The Atcama desert, remote and dry. Did I mention dry? Spot the bike!

I lay on a rubbery hospital bed, it was blue and smelt like disinfectant. Across an old woman stared off into nowhere and looked like she wanted to die. A handsome doctor swept into the room, he smelt of cigarettes and had a grey salt-and-pepper cropped beard. He said something about x-rays, scans, asked a few questions then left. Sympathetic nurses milled busily about the narrow corridors. You could think that waking up in such a situation would induce grave anxiety, but in fact I found myself strangely accepting of pretty much everything.


Replacing a 600 USD lid is rough but I suppose it did its job!

Yet reality soon began to creep up on me. I had crashed somewhere in the Atacama, and now all I had was my passport, my battered helmet and some money I had luckily stashed in my jacket. It was around two in the morning and I was in Calama A&E. My arm throbbed with pain and my head swam. I could not remember at all why I was in the desert in the first place, nor even where Calama actually was? Concepts like 'countries' or 'places' seemed incredibly abstract to me. The past two weeks and the three thousand miles from Curico, the town I had first left from, lay disordered, memories jumbled up, out of order.

Completely destroyed the 'tablero' - Honda wanted 500 USD for a new one!

It found it impossible to sleep; the hospital lights blurred down and I felt unclean and unwashed in my filthy riding gear. Being in an accident and emergency at four in the morning was something unpleasant to say the least, but it could have been much worse I suppose. I tried to think what the best course of action would be, but everything seemed distant and out of focus. A young man dressed in a police uniform arrived. For some reason it seemed odd to me how a policeman could be so much younger than I was. He looked like a boy scout. He said something about a hostel and I gathered that it was time to leave.


Ouch, my normally skinny swollen arm.

The fact all my stuff and my bike were unaccounted for somewhere in the desert began to leave an anxious impression on my mind. In retrospect, I believe the Chilean police had this young man to escort me out of the hospital and back to their station to assist me in reclaiming my belongings and bike. Chile is not usually dangerous but Calama has a bad reputation. This was extremely kind on their behalf. The Chilean police are extremely helpful to hapless tourists. I cannot imagine anyone doing anything similar if the same were to happen to a tourist in my own country.


This was the last photo on my camera the day of the crash. Still not idea what happened!

... More to come!
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Old 05-22-2015, 05:00 AM   #8
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Waking up in a town called Peine!

It turned out that Peine, a tiny settlement about two hours south of San Pedro de Atacama, would be my home for the next eight to ten days before the insurance company sorted the paperwork out. At first I thought it was pronounced as 'Pain' might be in English. The irony was not lost on me as my shoulder felt like it had been smashed with a mallet and my forearm was horribly swollen. The pain was bad and I felt sullen and miserable, even defeated. The walls of the room were painted lime green and apart from the bed, it contained nothing else but my filthy belongings and riding gear strewn across the floor. Thinking back now, it would have been four or five days since I had showered. I feared my time in this tiny little village was going to be lonely and boring, yet to my surprise Peine turned out to be a pretty interesting place and I was welcoming into the community and invited to community events and gatherings.

After I had been discharged from hospital I took a bus to the police station at Toucana with 'police boy'. The police were amazingly friendly and helped me out much more than they really had to. They showed me to a room out the back; empty room but for an old mattress on the floor. I had not been so happy to see a stained mattress since Paso San francisco, when Chilean customs mercifully let me crash in a room behind passport control, escaping a terrible night of gale force winds and sub-zero temperatures. Later on, one of the officers even made me some lunch! I'll never forget the image of a 6'1ft Chilean police officer wearing one of those 'naked' aprons and branding a spatular. Later, I gathered from a conversation with the station chief that I had to wait until around five pm, when a bus would set off to the mine where my bike and belongings had been put in my absence.

I arrived at the mine at around eight o'clock that night. It took the bus, plus two lifts in the red pickup trucks used by the mining companies which you can see everywhere in the north of Chile, to arrive at the clinic where I was first treated though I remembered nothing of it. It is strange to be greeted by vaguely familiar faces that you can not quite place. They were actually the paramedics that had treated me when I was first brought in. I could not thank them enough, along with the people who found me, it is very likely that they saved my life. In retrospect, if I hadn't have been found, I am honestly uncertain of how it would have went, as I remember, very stupidly, having little water.

According from the police reports and from what my then very sketchy Spanish could grasp, I built up a picture of what had happened. It seems that I had been found alone half-conscious in the desert by miners. They had then taken me in their truck, and lifted the bike and my things behind the cab, before transporting me to their on-site clinic. It was probably then decided that I should be transferred to Calama, the place where I woke up dazed and confused. After a talking for a while, I was led out and shown to my bike. It looked pretty disheveled; the handlebars were bent and a lot of the fairing was damaged. It was then clear that I must have come off pretty hard. That said, she started first time and ran fine, with nothing being seriously damaged ro out of shape.

With the sun down and me clearly not able to drive, I asked the miners if I could camp behind a container and continue tomorrow. One of them them exchanged a few words over his radio and before I knew it, they were loading my bike into the back of a pickup. We arrived in Peine about an hour or so later and said our goodbyes. I will be eternally grateful for all their help.
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Old 05-22-2015, 06:13 AM   #9
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Wow, RageAgainsttheFence.. This is a harrowing story so far Keep it coming!!! Glad you're on the mend and that the Tornado survived Love those bikes.
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Old 05-22-2015, 07:41 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Captain Frantic View Post
Wow, RageAgainsttheFence.. This is a harrowing story so far Keep it coming!!! Glad you're on the mend and that the Tornado survived Love those bikes.
Thanks Captain Frantic, in the end everything turned out okay
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Old 05-22-2015, 08:23 AM   #11
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This is going to be interesting.

What did you not like about Patagonia? Was it just the Argentinian side or the Chilean side too that you didn't like?

I'm planing on mainly riding the Chiliean side then once I cross the border start heading to the coast after Perito Moreno.

I don't see any point in going to Ushuaia unless you're planning on getting a boat to Antartica.
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Old 05-22-2015, 11:56 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by c-m View Post
This is going to be interesting.

What did you not like about Patagonia? Was it just the Argentinian side or the Chilean side too that you didn't like?

I'm planing on mainly riding the Chiliean side then once I cross the border start heading to the coast after Perito Moreno.

I don't see any point in going to Ushuaia unless you're planning on getting a boat to Antartica.
The Carreterra Austral was incredible and one of the highlights of the trip. I didn't like Patagonia so much becasue of the extreme winds. It was very cold and just rather dull, with long stretches of 3-4 hours with nothing to see or nowhere even really to stop, just a straight road fenced in. I'm not sure there is much point going down there at all really unless you want to hike! Torres Del Paine was incredible of course, and Perrito Moreno was spectacular, but well, that's about it imo. Sometimes the landscapes have a stark beauty to them, but if you've come from up north, you'll have been very spoiled by the atacama, altiplano, etc. I loved the section between Mendoza and Esquel too, criss-crossing between the passes and taking the small, mountain tracks. Heaps of fun on my Tornado and great camping, amazing lakes and nice towns to see along the way.
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Old 05-22-2015, 02:00 PM   #13
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Towards Argentina and the North....

Retrospect is the most useful tool in your kit a seasoned biker once told me and time has proved this to be absolutely true. Thinking back now to the days spent in the garden loading and unloading the bike, if only I knew then what I know now! Keep weight low and forward, another biker told me. Yet knowledge without experience seems an abstraction; something to be considered but not something that can be intimately known. So on went the heavy racks and a big stupid top box, with the rest of the other stuff thrown into a duffel bag and tied to the back seat. I am forever the optimist when it comes to cutting corners.




My original plan had been to leave Chile immediately but snowstorms over the passes in the south forced me to head north. It was easy going the first day, as I took roads known to me during in my time in living in Chile. Maule and O'Higgins are beautiful regions, with sweeping roads that cut through lush green valleys and wind across rolling hills. Leaving the house on a fairly sunny day, I was not nearly as nervous as I thought I would have been, in fact I was eager to be on my way after so much planning.

That day I stopped for a simple lunch at a rustic looking roadside restaurant around two o'clock, out towards the coast. `How far can you travel in a day?`an old man asked, emerging from the house. He had a straw hat on his head and a big smile across his face, clearly impressed by the sight of me and the bike. The owner let me eat outside under an enormous tree, it was a beautiful and peaceful spot; the sunshine falling down, broken by swaying branches above me.



Later that day I reached Puertecillo, a tiny settlement of houses on stilts strung along a huge bay. The road plunged down a set of sheer cliffs to get there, tumbling down to the windswept beach with wavy, rolling dunes. I found a place to pitch my tent. It took a while due to my inexperience but once it was up I stood admiring it and I could not remember feeling happier. That night, everything was illuminated by a brilliant white moon and the sea breaking against the rocks was so loud it terrified me. The morning after I awoke and it took me far too long to pack the bike and I cursed having so much stuff. I left soon after and struggled up the steep road. I had to ride the clutch in parts which did not bode well for the Bolivian altiplano at all. Once the road leveled out, it swept away across a rural landscape and took me to the more industrialised north towards Vina del Mar.



Municipal campsite, freezing, empty, noisy!

In August, the municipal campsite in Uspallata was freezing cold. Every so often somebody would drive past with a ridiculously loud exhaust and wake me up. Why the obsession with loud exhausts in Latin America? I left early the morning after and felt a biting cold in my fingers and toes, hoping dearly for the sun to appear above the clouds. I headed north on a desolate gravel road intending to take the road that runs parallel to the Ruta 40, but somehow ended up taking a road east by mistake, though I had nothing to complain about as it was a spectacular road, zig-zagging down two thousand meters towards a much warmer Mendoza.


That road was a great ride.

The day earlier I made the pass from Chile without issues, although the bikes performance was obviously slowed by the altitude. The road on the Argentinian side was fairly impressive, expanding out from the narrow pass into a great valley with looming rock formations of orange and red. It is probably not the best pass between Chile and Argentina in terms of riding, but it is quite an interesting one given its history. The road runs alongside the old railway track, its former infrastructure now a set of relics littered throughout the valley. On the Chilean side, the traffic shares the side of the mountain with skiers! It is odd to drive up there, as for a part of the road, skiers literally pass overhead riding ski-lifts; the road having been built into the side of the mountain. At one point a ski-lift passes just above the road and I waved at some skiers as they passed overhead.


The Los Andes Mendoza pass is probably the ugliest of them all, but it's still pretty amazing!

As you head north, the landscape of Argentina has a sort of wild west feel to it, totally different to Chile, with massive great plains resting between huge pillars of rock, a series of dry, arid and prickly landscapes where life buzzes at the seams. I was supposed to cross back into Chile by the Agua Negra pass, but it was closed for winter. No matter, the ride across back to the Ruta 40 was incredible. I thought Argentina was great, and the people were extraordinarily friendly too. They always seemed interested and had a lot to talk about. The Argentinians are were absolutely great.


After a while you realise there are a lot of such stretches in Argentina...


The famous red rocks of north-western Argentina.


My first wildcamp of the trip, it took me ages to feel at ease being in the middle of nowhere, alone.

My trip took me across the wild and expansive landscapes of Argentina, back towards Chile; where I would cross the Andes for a second time. The last town on the way to Chile is called Fiambala, and there I remember filling up a load of soda bottles with gasoline. I got a lot of attention from a group of passing Argentinian bikers in the gas station as I stacked liters upon liters of fuel onto the little 250. The Ojos Del Salado route is simply incredible and is a must-see for anyone traveling around that region. The night before I found a great spot to camp, in some hills about 20k outside the town. Wild camping is a weird mix of elation, trepidation, and something else that is difficult to put into words. It took me months to get any 'good' at it, or at least fairly confident anyway.




In the beginning, I would go to extraordinary lengths to make sure I was hidden and well away from the road.

Thanks for reading, next post will discuss my experiences crossing Paso San Franciso.

Ross

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