Feature Image is of Ollie replacing my motorcycle tires with new biting K60 Scouts. So excited for a new life with hard core treads to eat the mud and gravel
Riding Day: Calma, Chile — San Pedro de Atacama (aka Chilean Atacama Desert) — 220 km — 12 hour day
Arriving and then staying overnight in Chile after spending the last period of time in Bolivia, Peru and Columbia is like coming to a mix of some normalcy in civilization. Not exactly like the mid-west of the USA, but 50% there. I would say that Bolivia, Peru and Columbia are like a mix of Armageddon and ancient times and add a dose of fucked up cultures of laziness and filth — while Chile has an inkling of trying to integrate into the civilized world. Traffic signs are fresh and make sense, busses are new vs the 20 year old busses we have seen for so long and often roads are nice. But I can’t get ahead of myself — Chile is not exactly G20 or anything.
So today we woke up after staying in a hotel which I would say is close to an older Hampton Inn just outside of Oklahoma. It has all the necessities and tries to be clean which is refreshing. But still, its not exactly a Hampton Inn which is not saying much. Anyway, its fine. Departed at 8:30 am this morning — planning for a shorter ride day — only 220 km, but what a 220 km it is to be.
We were heading to some kind of geyser in the mountains. Generally, thats all we know. We have a guide book provided with days events, type of roads traveled and altitudes, but it is usually not exact or in detail. So off to the Geyser we went. Will was so excited to show us a fresh gas station he found while riding into town yesterday. It had an ATM — he was so excited.
I have to go back and tell you in Bolivia, the gas stations are abysmal. They have to log each and every foreigner’s passport, motorcycle plate and then they charge us two-times the amount as local people. This entire process to log into a computer or book takes tons of time and often creates a backlog of cars behind us when 6 or 7 including lead rider are filling up — plus the van. Its just nuts and can take a half hour. Other times, they try to limit the amount of gas we can take on our motorcycles — fuck that — that game never wins and we just keep pumping although the concept of self-serve pumping does not exist in the 3rd world South America. Last, other times, we’re told that the station has no gas. Thats always fun when we need gas and its the only station within a hundred miles or within a town — but it happens too often.
So when Will got excited to see a normal gas station which was clean and had a normal store attached and an ATM, we all rode along with him to get an eye and fill up — and get some Chilean cash. 600:1 is the exchange rate — which means that you are getting hundred’s of thousands of Chilean things to spend on nothing.
After filling up, we kind of buckled back to the valley of the massive snow capped volcanoes. We started the day at around 8,000 feet. I am no longer taking altitude pills and am way beyond that. The ride took us through the most amazing roads and we stopped to take hundreds of pictures — it really was that special. Wide open paved roads – two lanes and no cars in sight forever. It also took us carving through endless mountains and we were increasing altitude pretty aggressively with each minute. The final destination of the geyser was almost 16,000 feet high and that is high. But no more headaches or anything — its normal now which is nuts. Just imagine around us was massive mountains which like yesterday must be well over 20,000 feet since we are so high and have no snow — albeit cold — in the low 40’s, the snow capping happens likely around 20,000 or more feet up there. That alone is not normal to be surrounded by such massively high mountains and virtually untouched with no tourists or cars or busses or anything.
We then got to a cut off where the road split onto a dirt road and that become interesting. Mostly just gravel, some sand, some lose stones for some excitement, the worst again was some muddy areas. My motorcycle as I said is a death trap on mud since my tires are incorrect and worn from riding almost 10,000 km’s so far. That makes for a toxic mix. I got through it — no choice — but it was real scary that I was going to drop at speed — which to date in my riding career has never happened. The mud was sparse but still popped up with pot holes and puddles of the shit. That road lasted around an hour and I could have lived without it.
Arriving at the geyser, what a disappointment. The Europeans loved it. For me, after going to New Zealand and whatever, i thought it was lame. But no big deal, the surroundings were just spectacular and that was good enough for me. I got in the van for the first time and rode down with Oliver to the site because I feared more mud and it was not that important that I ride the few hundred feet.
Checking out, we took a different dirt and gravel road path out which would take us about 75km along only dirt roads to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The gravel got squirly at times because it was lose, but it had limited mud. Will and I booted ahead while the others took pictures every few minutes. My theory on pictures is that if its the environment or surroundings, I will let others take those pictures, unless I see something super interesting. Who cares about another mountain in history of pictures. I like taking people, roads into mountains and stuff like that. But anyway, its all good — they took pictures of Alpacas and terrific scenes and we will share — Will and I were on a mission to get to town and we were riding at a good clip on the off-road tour.
After arriving at San Pedro de Atacama and through the town, we were in shock to see so many young kids in their 20’s. Seems like this town is a mix between Moad, Utah with its young people looking for mountain adventures and Palm Springs because there are some older people and add a touch of a shit hole town and infrastructure which has some touches of Bolivia. No grass anywhere, its a desert town. That said, in Bolivia and Peru, the concept of cleaning up surroundings with grass just do not exist. Nothing pleasant for those countries. This town is the same I guess because we are really in the desert. Not sure how to explain exactly but the volume of young kids were exciting to me. I have only seen disgusting super fat people full of sugar and carbs due to their diets — and throw in weathered South Americans for so long — this taste of civilization and hip youth was impressive.
Ollie informed me that Bernd was looking to change his tires at 5:00pm on his bike because they were bald and I should do the same. Seems that the owner of the shop was having a siesta and would not open until then. I was over the top happy but scared that a town like this would have a competent ability to change tires? Ollie got a bit hot — in a super nice way — explaining that he would oversee everything. I’m in — hooray — fresh tires.
Before that, Will, Oliver, Manfred and Bernd all walked the block into center of town which is a single street with no paving — but with cool restaurants and bars and hostels and lots of people. I had a Pizza which I have not had in months and it was great — it was my lunch and dinner and I was happy. We then went into a bar for a keg of beer to share — and that was even better. It had about 20 tables of 4 but it was super cool inside with posters of everything good — rock bands from the 60’s to 90’s, old great movie posters from the likes of Clockwork Orange, to Scarface and others. Amazing to be with young and familiar surroundings. The cold beer was great too.
At 5, Ollie took the van, Bernt was already at the tire shop starting to change his tire and I rode my bike over the 7 minute ride to the shop. Well, shop is an over statement — more like a shack with a full on mess inside and an owner who really did not want to work — but fast forward, we got my tires replaced and there was a lot of drama — nice drama to make that happen. The shop is not exactly set up to change high tech tubeless tires and I would say Ollie did 75% of the work including taking the tires and brakes off my bike and re-installing them. He took the tires off the rims and the owner often watched and chatted with his buddy. He even turned down business twice because he did not want to work late. So how much was this service call? How about $5 each tire? Amazing and I was happy — fresh tires and I was off but it was now 8:30pm and I was bushed.
No internet at the hotel at all unless I took my phone to the lobby. The bathroom is disgusting and has foam and hair in the sink from the former inhabitant. I am so used to overlooking that stuff — but it still sucks. I just barrel ahead and forget about it. I ended up taking a shower at 9:30pm or closer to 10. The bath tub had dirt and clearly was not cleaned either. That said, we did have hot water which was a bonus — fuck it — who cares these days.
I was so tired and without internet and put my head down and thats it — on to the next day — we have a long ride ahead of us — over 400km and that will take us over the boarder again, this time into Argentina for the first time. We are still way north and have a huge trip south ahead of us — but thats getting ahead of our skis — time for bed now.