Observations on 31,000k through Bolivia, Chile and Argentina on a Tornado XR250

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by RageAgainstTheFence, May 18, 2015.

  1. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    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;

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    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!

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    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!

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    Equipment before I started.

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    How not to load a lightweight tourer.

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    Likewise.

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    ...I got there in the end!

    More to follow...
    #1
  2. Trip Hammer

    Trip Hammer It's not the years, it's the mileage Supporter

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    Count me in, I'm subscribed!!!!:clap Sounds like one hell of an adventure!
    #2
  3. top_dog

    top_dog ADVrider wannabe

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    I'm in!
    #3
  4. oceanluvr30

    oceanluvr30 Adventurer

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    count me in...
    #4
  5. Slowphil

    Slowphil Big Man in a very very small pond

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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

    Slowphil
    #5
  6. garwhal21

    garwhal21 n00b

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    Rage, my dream trip. I love your platonic point of view.
    #6
  7. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    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. 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!


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    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. 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. 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.
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    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. I could not remember at all why I was in the desert in the first place, nor even where Calama actually was! 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.

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    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. 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. He said something about a hostel and I gathered that it was time to leave.

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    Ouch, my normally skinny swollen arm.

    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. This was extremely kind on their behalf. The Chilean police are extremely helpful to dumb tourists. I cannot imagine anyone doing anything similar if the same were to happen to a tourist in my own country.

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

    ... More to come!
    #7
  8. Trip Hammer

    Trip Hammer It's not the years, it's the mileage Supporter

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    Wow, RageAgainsttheFence.. This is a harrowing story so far:eek1 Keep it coming!!! Glad you're on the mend and that the Tornado survived:D Love those bikes.
    #8
  9. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    Thanks Captain Frantic, in the end everything turned out okay :D
    #9
  10. c-m

    c-m Long timer

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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.
    #10
  11. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    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.
    #11
  12. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    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. Did I listen? Nope! 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. Forever am I the optimist when it comes to cutting corners.

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    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.

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    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. 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. Once the road leveled out, it swept away across a rural landscape and took me to the more industrialised north towards Vina del Mar.


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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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

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    The famous red rocks of north-western Argentina.

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    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.

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    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
    #12
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  13. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    [​IMG]

    Paso San Francisco is a long, remote stretch across the Andean mountains between northern Chile and Argentina. Here are my experiences of driving it last year. It's been ages since I last posted as been working like crazy, saving up for the next part of the trip. From now on, less words more pictures!

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    The road was slick, curvaceous; a black ribbon fluttering through an austere, red mountain landscape. All the fuel I had tied to the bike made me feel nervous and so I stopped every forty miles or so to pour another few litres into the tank to re-distribute the weight. Along the way there are little triangular buildings where you could stay the night. Despite a nagging feeling that I should stop early I rode on. Always stop and listen to your gut feeling.

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    Soon the narrow and twisty road up from Fiambala fell away to reveal a desolate, high-altitude plateau and me and the bike suddenly felt small. It was a fantastic drive however, through landscapes I had not quite seen the likes of before. There are beautifully clear lakes and the smoothness of the mountains, along with the strange colour of the grass gives everything a dream-like surreal quality.

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    After the border, the paved road soon disappeared, setting off into a vast, windswept wilderness set against dark blue skies. The smooth, rolling mountains reminded me of Christmas puddings, topped with powered sugar. For every valley I raced through, the next seemed to be bigger and even more desolate. It was hard to enjoy the ride because I was anxious that I'd be forced to camp in that freezing nowhere; exposed to the cold, the winds, the extreme altitude. Now the hundreds and sixty miles to Copiapó suddenly seemed a very long way.

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    The pressing need to escape that incredible landscape became overbearing. As I climbed another pass and struck down into yet another featureless expanse, one of those Atacama winds came from nowhere and compounded my troubles, slowing the bike down to a crawl, the little 'EFI-less' engine already choking miserably with the altitude.

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    Of course, with retrospect how silly it seemed not to have stopped at one of the warm, comfortable looking refuges on the Argentinian side! I think it is the sealed road and Argentinian day trippers that lull you into a sense of false security, for once you pass into Chile there is only barren wilderness and driving winds until Copiapó. Just as the sun dropped beyond the horizon I saw a small collection of buildings in the distance. It was the Chilean customs office and as ever the Chileans were very accommodating and friendly, offering me a room to sleep in.

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    The following couple of days took me through northern Chile, stopping at Copiapo for an oil change and then north on the coastal route. The road until Copiapo was remote and hauntingly beautiful. I visited the national park of Pan de Azúcar, a detour from the Ruta 5 that was well worth it; I never imagined that there could be so many different shades of the same coloured rock! The Ruta 1 past Taltal was a dramatic coastal road that rises, falls, twists and turns until it snakes up to the Atacama. It was great fun to drive.

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    Thanks for reading will update soon!
    #13
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  14. Trip Hammer

    Trip Hammer It's not the years, it's the mileage Supporter

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    Fantastic update, RATF!!!!:clap These images were made for daydreaming at work. Thanks for bringing us along!! :-)
    #14
  15. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    Thanks Captain Frantic! More to come!
    #15
  16. lakota

    lakota Geeser

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    Wow! This is really interesting. Looking forward to more.
    #16
  17. Westbay

    Westbay Adventurer Supporter

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    Hooked and subscribed. Thanks for the excellent RR and photos. Glad your ok!
    #17
  18. donuk

    donuk n00b

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    I am eagerly awaiting the rest of this post, I am flying into Santiago in 5 weeks to start a similar journey, and also planned to buy a 250 Tornado, This is really interesting. And as it happens I also have a Giant Loop Great Basin saddle bag and a smaller ortlieb waterproof bag for luggage, very interested how you got on with that and to hear more of the stuggles the carbed 250 had with the altitude.
    #18
  19. RageAgainstTheFence

    RageAgainstTheFence Been here awhile

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    Hi Donuk - I called myself Ridetheworld on the HUBB, did we already speak? As for the Tornado and luggage setup I'm really excited to be back home now and able to source a decent tank bag/pannier solution. I'm looking at the following:

    Giant Loop Fandango (8lt?)
    Enduristan Sandstorm 4H (7lt)

    I was looking at Wolfman products but no stock in the UK now. Distributors all say they have 'epic' stock problems. The issue is with the tank on the XR250 - wow it's extremely narrow and basically no room further than the actual tank cap itself. I'm not sure most bags fit properly. You can see I threw one over but it was far too large and sagged, in fact by the end I despised it and can't wait to throw it in the trash. If anyone has any experiences with the XR250 and tank bags I'd love to hear from you!

    Beyond that the setup was great. The only place you can buy racks in Chile that I knew of is MaxMoto in Santiago but the ones they made were very heavy and designed for topboxes. Not cheap either, around 70 USD but sturdy enough. The big issue was they made accessing the battery and air filter really awkward as they got in the way of the plastic side-panels. I replaced it in Bolivia with a very lightweight, simple and cheap (25USD) solution which I still use now.

    Giant Loop saddlebags are really well known and lots is written about them online. I'd only add that they are a pain in the ass to keep organized unless you divide everything up into 3 or 4 dry bags. If I could redesign that bag I'd have personally 'compartmentalized' the bag into 3 sections and had individual access points to each. I found it annoying that when I needed to get something out from either side I had to remove the contents of the top.

    Regarding the jets, well, stock is 132 and this runs poor over 2,300m and between 3 and 4k like garbage. Forget it over 4,000k the bike barely moves without spluttering and jerking in and out. Changing down a size to 128 was fine but around 2,500m to 3,000 but higher you probably ought to drop to 125. I know a guy who had 110 and he ran this all the way back to Santiago (!) without cracking a piston, but even at sea level with a 128 it was too lackluster for me. Running a clean air filter or even removing the air filter panel cover helps a lot but make sure you zip tie the actual filter in place as the panel has little fins on which keep it secure.

    Hope this all helps - I'll post the next episode soon!
    #19
  20. donuk

    donuk n00b

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    Hi Rage, Yes I think we did speak a little while back, thanks for the good info then and now, I get the same feeling about the Giant Loop, mine did come with the three dry bags so i'll see if I can manage to keep it organised, with any heavy, less used items in lower sides.

    As it happens I have an old Wolfman Enduro tankbag which is pretty small, just trying to find the harness for it and the see-thru map pocket, hopefully that will turn up in the next few weeks as I clear out the junk from my flat.

    I just sold my GSXR-750 the other day (quite sad about this, wont have another sports bike like that for a while) for a bit more than I had expected so Im umming and arring about splashing out on an XRE 300 (Fuel injection) as I think they are another 1200 GBP over the Tornado. I have never owned a bike that expensive, i'll probably just see the lay of the land when I get to Santiago and what is available.

    Look forward to your future episodes.

    Cheers
    #20