November 03, 2010

¡Perdito! Or; ¿GPS? We don' need no steenkeeng GPS

I actually planned to get lost on this trip, and unlike most plans, this one worked exceptionally well.

I know a bit about planning, planning was one of the things I used to have to do for earning my daily crust. One thing I learned is that the more planning you do, the more likely your plan will fail. This appears so obvious now I write it down, but somehow it has totally escaped the notice of Mrs. Gant, Mr. Critical-Path and everybody's favorite, Ms. Microsoft Project.

I determined that for this trip I was not going to repeat that failure prone exercise of having a detailed plan. I had goals and objectives. One needs to have goals and objectives before one can plan.  The good thing about goals and objectives, unlike planning, it is possible to come up with goals and objectives in a few minutes, freeing the rest of the afternoon for other things, like beverages.

My goal was to have a good time, my objectives, to ride my motorcycle through the entire (Canadian) winter, maybe as far as South America, and to see what there is to see along the way.  That was easy! No route planning required, any reasonably bright sixth grader can tell you South America is south. (That is why it is called South America.)  All I needed to do was to put the sun side of the horizon on the clutch lever in the morning and keep going.

That was the plan.

It  eliminated spending hours and hours poring over maps, highlighting routes, and plugging way points into my tiny GPS.  Planning taught me that setting measurable targets greatly increases the likelihood of missing them.

I did have a Garmin hiker style GPS that I thought was cool when I first got it, I love gadgets, but for my style of traveling I found that nothing beats the old school gas station road map. There is a reason that a roadmap unfolds large enough to half cover the bed in a 20 dollar a night motel room, something that no amount of zooming in and out on a GPS screen can match. A GPS is great if you need to know exactly where to go, and when you will arrive. “In 250 meters turn left,,,,  In 100 meters turn left...” When I have a map I am in control (or lost, the one thing a GPS is good for is telling you exactly where you are).

I was taking one pocket gadget, my Blackberry had GPS and Google and Blackberry maps,  as well as the ability to email, browse and talk to people.   The Garmin was benched and traded, one less thing to have to keep track of.

The phone GPS turned out to be worse than useless once I left Canada, no fault of RIM, the makers, the problem is service providers. I got my 'world edition' Blackberry from Bell Canada, supposed to work almost anywhere.  Until  Bell locks the phone so that it only works on Bell networks and their partners in crime. With an unlocked phone you can switch providers by changing the SIM card. Bell's world is a great deal smaller than the one I was in.  Once you are off the Bell network and you are unlucky enough to find another network that actually lets you use your phone, you are roaming, a license for predatory cell phone networks to rob you blind, which you don't find out until you get your monthly bill.  Even worse, an unwatched 'smart' phone will also try to hook into a data network unless you turn this 'feature' off. When you are roaming on a data network you are going to get billed for data even if you do not use the phone, and 9 times out of ten, the effin data network does not work, which does not prevent them from billing you for it anyway. No working data network means the GPS mapping application does not work either, so no usable GPS when you need it. This all became moot when someone did me a big favor and stole my Blackberry.  Add cell phone providers to the list of those who will be lined up against the wall after the revolution.

About the only times I regretted not having a GPS was leaving cities and a couple of times in the Andes . Letting myself get lost in Mexico almost always landed me in a great spot. It was difficult to get lost in Central America, where North America funnels down to a narrow strip of land. Once I reached South America I did more route planning, and spent a lot more time trying find the route I planned to take, proving my hypotheses, planning increases the likelihood for plans to come to grief.

Oh but, NEXT time, the GPS goes in my pocket and cell stays home :-)

 Lost again.

October 29, 2010

Election day in Bolivia

On Good Friday I crossed the border from Peru to Bolivia. By now I was familiar with the procedure. First exit Peru, get the passport exit stamp and turn over the temporary import permit for my motorcycle. Now I will be in limbo until I can get my entry stamp from Bolivian immigration and the papers for the bike. Desaguadero is a grubby border town on the shore of Lake Titicaca that reminds me of the border crossings in Central America, a collection of shacks and decaying buildings stretched along the highway, a permanent flea market and country fair midway, jammed full of cars, trucks, buses, taxis and push carts trying to get the hell out or in, and the border entrepreneurs will try get a piece of the travellers before they leave.

The immigration officer is courteous and friendly and I have my passport stamped in short order. Unfortunately the Aduana (customs) side of the operation has been waylaid by a dead computer network. It is the Aduana who issue the necessary papers required to legally operate a vehicle not registered in Bolivia. I am directed to another building to get temporary import papers for the motorcycle. I ride up and down the streets and alleys looking for the right place and eventually find my way to a building at the edge of town with a gate and a policeman. I try to explain what I need in my bad Spanish. The officer takes my drivers license and motorcycle registration, copies everything by hand into a ledger and tells me I am good to go, but I still have no papers. I figure this can't be good, and try to explain I need 'papele'. I had been stopped in most of the countries I had visited so far, mostly to ensure my 'papele' were in order. My whining and tears were having no affect, so eventually I leave in frustration, but none the less pleased to see Desaguadero dwindling in my rear view mirror.

La Paz, Bolivia's major city and administrative capital, is another 100 or so Kilometers down the road, and I am thinking I can probably straighten everything out when I get there. When I reach what I think is La Paz, I stop at the first hotel I see. At first they say I can't stay as the hotel is closing, but then they tell me I can stay one night, as the hotel is not actually closing until Saturday. I ask why the hotel is closing they tell me that Sunday, (Easter Sunday) is an election day. They tell me that everything else will be closed as well, banks, stores, restaurants, everything! My next question is why it is necessary to close the everything on an election day? The reply is something along the lines of 'Because!' as near as I can make out. Provided with this level of information, I make my own conclusions, if hotels, banks, stores, restaurants and everything else feel it is necessary to pull down the shutters, maybe this is not such a great place to be during elections. My imagination is conjuring up riots, bombs, burning buses, and angry mobs shouting "¡Viva la revolucion!'.  I am not in the mood.

I find out that I am not even in La Paz, but in El Alto, a newish satellite city that butts up against La Paz. El Alto does not look like a nice place. Even on Good Friday, two days before the election, the place is completely locked down. All the storefronts are covered by corrugated steel roll down doors. No restaurants are open, the only food to be had is from sidewalk vendors. My supper consists of buns and mandarin oranges.

My options are to carry on to La Paz the next day, with no guarantee that anything would be open there either, or to return to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side and head for Copacabana, a popular tourist destination. I am able to determine from the hotel staff that whatever election drama there might be, would probably not affect the tourists and the industries that cater to them in Copacabana.

Lake Titicaca is the highest 'commercially navigable' lake on the planet, according to Wikipedia. I had already followed the shore of Titicaca on the Peru side on my way to the the border crossing at Desaguadero and would have stopped on the Peru side had I found anyplace I that looked attractive. Copacabana is on the Bolivian side, so I would be going back, but this time I would be on the other shore.

Finding one's way in Bolivia turned out to be more of a challenge than usual, as there are no road signs. I headed back the way I came looking for the highway on my map that would take me to Copacabana, supposedly one of Bolivia's main tourist attractions.  The usual way for tourists to get to Copacabana is by bus or taxi, and presumably the bus and taxi drivers know the way.  It took me about 3 hours to find the right road which ended up being practically next door to the hotel I had stayed the night before. My mistake was assuming that there would actually be an intersection of the two highways as was indicated by my map.  In order to get to the Copacabana road I had to traverse a vacant lot with a creek running through the middle of it. This turned out to be pretty normal for Bolivia, but not like anything I had yet encountered in my travels. The lack of road signs continued to be frustrating even when I was on the right highway, as I was still never one hundred percent sure I was on the right road, and I usually had no idea how far I had yet to go.

By early afternoon I was following the shores of Lake Titicaca again, so now I was fairly certain that I was heading in the right direction. Along the way I passed a small hotel on the shores of the lake, the Hotel Maravilla Natural. I was tired, so I figured I would check it out. Entering, the place appeared to be abandoned, so I turned around to leave, just as a lady popped out of a doorway and ran towards me. I should have kept on going, because once had I stopped, she was not going to let me leave. I wanted a hotel with internet, and she insisted that they had internet, so I figured what the heck.

As it turned out there was no internet, nor much of anything else. The hotel was OK, no stars, and had seen better days. My room had about seven beds in it, fortunately I determined that I was to be the only occupant. The price was definitely right, 100 Bolivianos or $14 US. It appeared that a good part of the hotel's business was of the hourly variety, but even this traffic was pretty light. A large family group came in for lunch and left again. By nightfall I was the sole guest.

The next day, (election day, remember), I headed out again for Copacabana. There was no traffic whatsoever. My final hurdle was a ferry crossing. The ferries are crude wooden barges powered by 40 horse outboard motors, free floating versions of the old style cable ferries of western Canada before they built bridges. Because they are powered by a motor mounted on the transom, vehicles have to either back on or back off, no roll on  - roll off. My ferry only had a few narrow planks to park on. The planks were not wide enough for me to get off the bike, and on the other side I would somehow have to paddle the fully loaded bike uphill to get off without falling off the narrow plank and probably breaking both my legs. Now I know how a cow confronted by a cattle guard feels.

When we get to the other side we are met by the Bolivian Navy. Bolivia is landlocked like Switzerland, but they have a navy, and it patrols Lake Titicaca. Presumably to keep an eye on the nasty Peruvians on the other shore. 

Accompanying me on the ferry was a small SUV, that had for some reason not obvious to me, raised the ire of the Bolivian naval forces. There was a lot arm waving and angry Spanish, which I was too far away to hear, and would not have been able to understand anyway. I was somehow involved in all of this, as I had been commanded to remain where I was on the ferry. I was happy to do this, as I still had not figured out how I was going to get myself and the bike off.

As it turned out, all travel is forbidden on election day in Bolivia, which did not apply to me, as I was an extrangero turisto. In Bolivia as in many other South American countries, voting is compulsory, so Bolivia apparently enforces mandatory voting by preventing locals from traveling when an election is held. 

The naval commander gave me his card and said I should give it to anyone who gave me grief .

Not much later I was in front of the entrance to Copacabana, which was blocked by a chain and a guard. The Jefe's card got me inside, and I was safely in Copacabana, a survivor of Bolivian enfranchisement. The elections themselves were anticlimactic. The incumbent MAS party claimed some advances, no riots, bombs, burning buses, or angry mobs.

I ended up staying in Bolivia a lot longer than I had planned. I met people in Copacabana and La Paz who sold me on visiting some of Bolivia's attractions, such as the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) and Coroico at the edge of the Amazon, terminus of the infamous Bolivian 'death road' of Top Gear fame, and absolutely stunning vistas like these;

As I was finally making my way out of Bolivia, I ran into Randy O'Donell, a fellow Canadian and owner of many KTMs, who lives Camiri, and ended up staying another week with Randy and his family.  Camiri is a short distance from the Argentinian border, and Tucuman, home to a KTM dealer I needed to visit in order to get an oil change and some repairs done.

When I left Camiri, Randy came along to accompany me to the Argentina border and help me get across without benefit of the Bolivian temporary import papers which I had never gotten around to straightening out. About 100 Kilometers out of Camiri we came to a long line of trucks stopped in the middle of the highway. Nothing was moving. As it turned out the town ahead was having municipal elections, so naturally all traffic through town had been stopped, never mind that this was a major highway leading to the border.

The police were not allowing any vehicles through, not even to enter the town. It would have been fairly easy to circumvent the road block, but Randy explained that would be a very bad idea and would likely end with a stay in the local Crowbar Hilton. I was able to find a crappy hotel-motel on the outskirts of town, and Randy headed back to Camiri, while I waited out election day in a small town with everything closed (of course), really looking forward to putting Bolivia behind me the next day.

July 14, 2010

The what I learned posts; Driving in Latin America

One of my earlier blog posts was on driving in Latin America, I don't have much to add, so here is the link

In that post, dated March 25, I made the observation that despite the apparent anarchy (strike that, there is nothing apparent about it)  I saw almost no accidents. 

So I did a bit web research to see if my impressions were accurate.  According to W.H.O. statistics (Abbot and Costello,  please! Be quiet!), the number of deaths due to car collisions is a lot lower in Latin American countries than in the USA.  I was a bit surprised to see that the USA was not the most dangerous country to drive in, even though it has the largest overall number of deaths by car, the USA drops to 15th of 49 nations when the measure is adjusted for population (the US had 17.5 car deaths per million population).
See for yourself, and oh, don't drive in Hungary.   The deadliest South American nation listed is Paraguay at number 18 or 13.2 deaths per million.  To my surprise, Canada is much safer than the USA, which I never would have guessed.  Canada comes in at number 29 (7.4 per million), just ahead of Argentina and Panama.  Mexico is way back at number 40 (0.7!!! per million), riding in that Tijuana taxi is safer than you think.  Also contending for last place are Chile (41), Costa Rica (42), Ecuador and Uruguay (45 & 46).
P.S. Apropos of nothing in particular, if you check gun death mortality on that death site, you will find that you are nearly 5 times more likely to be killed in a car crash in the US, than to be shot by a hand gun. If you visit the Dominican Republic, stay in your bullet proof car,  number last in car deaths is numero uno when it comes to muerte por la pistola.

July 10, 2010

The what I learned posts; You can take it with you.

Well some of it anyway;
Once you have your bike it should be fitted with luggage.  I am totally satisfied with the Givi three bag set up I had on the KTM.   The de rigueur adventure look requires those boxy aluminum 'I made it myself in shop class' cases.  If you like em, more power to ya, but I don't and here's why.
Square metal edges can do a lot of damage to whatever they hit (including el piloto).
Lid style covers means the whole bag needs to be emptied to get whatever is on the bottom.  This is important, because you need to pack the heavy stuff (tools) on the bottom, and they may be what you need access to most often.
They are generally not easily removed from the bike.  This is important because you may need to remove the bags to get your bike unstuck, get your bike through a narrow doorway into the hotel lobby, or be able to take your bags into your room.  All three of my Givis are off the bike using one key in less than a minute.
Givis are also very strong, nearly unbreakable, and because they are made of ABS plastic, the same material used for most car bumpers, if you do manage to crack them, they can be repaired at most body shops, or you can learn how to fix them yourself, it's easy.   
Another good choice is soft luggage, but only the kind that is 100%, throw it in the river and it comes out dry  waterproof.   The last thing you need to find after riding hours through cold pouring rain is that you have no dry clothes to change into.
Whatever you choose, the good stuff is going to cost more and is definitely worth paying for. Beware of shoddy knock offs selling for 1/3 the price of the real thing.
This is no place to cheap out, consider buying quality secondhand luggage before wasting money on  poorly made imitations.

July 07, 2010

The what I learned posts; Choose Your Weapon

If you are going to ride to South America, almost any motorcycle will do, but some will do better than others.  Where are you going, and what would you like to see?  Central and South America have good roads and bad roads, mountains, plains and deserts.  Some areas are densely populated, and in some you may travel for hundreds of miles without seeing a soul.  If you are going all the way, you will be racking up many odometer digits, you will encounter every kind of road, including no road, just about every kind of weather short of a blizzard, and you will be gone for months. 

We gringos lean towards bigger is better, and too much that is never enough.   Choose a bike that is light, 650 cc or less, has excellent suspension, some form of wind protection, can go a minimum of 300 km (200 miles) on a full tank, runs OK on regular gas, has simple maintenance requirements  and long service intervals.  Low speed handling in tight spots is going to be more important than extended high speed capability, you won't be able to go very fast most of the way. 

In heavily populated areas, your average speed will be closer to 60 kmh (35 mph) than 60 mph.   The distance between towns is only a few miles, and the road goes right through the center of them all.  Speed bumps are used to slow everything down, big trucks and buses will come to a complete stop at each speed bump.  Roads are filled with pedestrians, buses, taxis, animals, pushcarts, wheel barrows and street vendors.  In 'el centro' you may find yourself threading through an open air market at walking speeds.

Avoid heavy bikes (more than 500 pounds) unless you are an Olympic weight lifter or are traveling with many strong friends.    The mere thought of muscling an over 500 pound  unladen  bike through the sand in Bolivia or the Argentinian mud  makes me want to take up knitting for a hobby.  Another reason to stay away from heavy and or powerful bikes is tire lifespan, sub 100 horsepower bikes go a lot farther on a set of skins and use less gasoline.  

You may need to fix flats or repair damage resulting from tip-overs and crashes.  If you are going all the way you will rack up many thousands of kilometers, wear out tires and chains, need to change oil and filters. What service will your bike choice require over this distance?  Even if you plan to do your own maintenance and repairs, you will still need access to parts, tools, and a place to work.  All information is available on the internet, you can research dealer location, model availability, sources for chains and tires before you leave.

Is your bike sold in South America?  If  so, parts and service should be easier to obtain.  There are many more bikes in Latin America then in most parts of the US and Canada, but not the same makes and models.  The typical Latin American two wheeler is a small scooter,  standard,  dual purpose or  cruiser, of 200 cc or less, made in China and sold for the equivalent of between 2,000 and 3,000 US dollars.  Japanese brands are well represented, but the models they sell in South America are not the same  ones they sell in the US and Canada.  Check the internet to see if your bike is sold where you are going.  In many South American countries cops ride Kawasaki 650 KLRs.   BMW and KTM sell the same models in South America they sell in the US and Canada and have dealerships in in most of Central and South America.   I saw a few Aprilias, mostly in Argentina, and the odd Harley, usually a Sportster.    Having said all that, if you must ride your Gold Wing or Road King to Tierra Del Fuego, you can probably get away with it, but you will be restricted as to where you can go.

One thing to consider,  if your goal is to reach some destination in South America, how important is it that you ride all the way?   I spent three months in South America and two months getting there.  Riding all the way was the goal for this trip, but I enjoyed South America far more than the stuff that was in between.  If I was going back (and it is likely I will) I don't think I would ride all the way again.  Flying the bike in sounds expensive, but it will be cheaper than riding it when you factor in that you will be on the road for weeks or months, and you still have to get across the Darien Gap.  Flying the bike back from Santiago was not much more than flying it from Panama City to Bogota. 

I will also be seriously looking at buying a bike down there and selling it when I leave.  The hitch is to find a country that will allow you to register the bike without having resident status.

June 14, 2010

Home Again!

For those who don't know about it yet, I am safe and sound and back home again.  Arranging for the bike for to be shipped back to Canada was rather anticlimactic compared to getting it out of Calama.  I arrived in Santiago on Friday afternoon, so did not return to the airport until the following Monday.  I had just planned to find out where everything was and prepare myself for the ordeal that was sure to follow, based on my experiences to date.  As it it turned out, the bike boxes were waiting for me when I arrived and it was a relatively simple matter to arrange for having them transported to Canada.  LAN Cargo gave me a choice of three Canadian airports, Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary.  Calgary is a mere 3 hours south of Edmonton, so that is where the bike will go.

According to the LAN cargo tracking thingy on the internet the bike left Santiago today (the 14th), so it should be in Calgary by the end of the week.  The cost will be a bit over the USD 1500 and change LAN Cargo charged, as I had to pay additional fees for having it shipped as 'dangerous goods', which involved having a third party prepare paperwork and labels.  I also had to pay a warehouse fee to the warehouse company LAN uses.  No doubt there will be additional fees when it lands in Calgary as well.  It seems like a lot but it would have cost more, (a lot more) to ride it back, and I was running out of time, as I would only have medical insurance until the end of June.

As soon as I had the bike taken care of it was a simple matter to arrange for a flight back.  My flight left late Wednesday and landed me in Toronto the following morning, where my good buddy Ken was waiting for me, he dropped me off at my mom's house where I could rest up from the 10 hour flight before catching a plane to Edmonton late the next day.  Saturday and Sunday were unwinding days, catching up with the kids, and watching the sun go down at nearly midnight.  Yes it will be summer in the North, and with daylight savings time there is still light in the sky at midnight.  Quite a switch from South America, where it was pretty much a 6 to 6 daylight no matter the season.

So what to do now?  Obviously the KTM will be getting some attention when it arrives, as there is a lot of riding to be done yet.  I also dusted off the old Norton Commando and fired her up (first kick!) after it had been placed in suspended animation for the last two years.  It sure is a fun bike to ride around town, but it is a bit of rat, and it needs a lot of work before I dare to ride it a greater distance than I can push it home, not to mention the limitations of a 2 gallon gas tank.

I will be maintaining the blog, turning it to less about my days and more about my thoughts about bikes, in particular old bikes and old bikers.  I will also be overhauling the South America blog to turn it into a beginning to end narrative instead of the blog format where the last post is first.  I have well over 3000 photos to sort, some of you have said that you liked the pictures I have taken.  I hope to do something with the best ones.  My secret for getting a few good pictures is the machine gun strategy, take enough photos and one or two will hit the target and turn out not bad.  I would certainly appreciate your suggestions and comments on the pix, especially the ones you liked the best.  My two favorites are posted at the head and tail of this post.

According to the counter thingy I put on the blog in April some time there have been about 1600 page hits on this blog, so somebody is reading this stuff.  Don't be shy, email me with suggestions on how to make the blog better and what will keep you coming back.  I already know that frequent posts makes a huge difference, and I apologize for taking a break and leaving everybody in the dark. 

June 06, 2010


Santiago is probably the most 'complete' city I have visited in South America, in that it has everything a city is expected to have, fine parks, a comprehensive public transportation system that includes modern buses, subway system, LRT to suburbia, excellent limited access roads that do not take a back seat to any in Canada and the USA, modern buildings and well kept old ones.  I was expecting to see more evidence of the recent earthquake, and really have seen nothing yet.  In my hotel they tell me it brought down the ceiling on the fifth floor, but apparently it is fixed now.  Some of the older buildings have hoarding on them, but nothing more than you would expect to see in any city that has old buildings, which do need maintenance from time to time.

One somewhat interesting thing I have noticed about Chile, based on my staying in hotels and eating in restaurants, is that Chileans can give the Scotch lessons on tightfistedness.  Restaurant portions always leave me hungry and I am not a big eater.  Hot water was strictly rationed in Calama, the hot water heater pilot lights are turned off in the daytime and sometimes they forget to turn them on again at night.

It is not like nobody can afford it, I see more evidence of wealth and less of poverty in Chile than in most of the other countries I have visited, to be fair I have not seen much, as I flew here from Calama, a place where there are lots of jobs and a rich mine, to the capital, where I suspect, as everywhere else, the golden apple (government revenue) tends to fall fairly close to the tree.

El Centro has plenty of interesting things to look at, museums, government buildings, and public art that goes beyond the usual hero on horseback that can be found in every Latin American City.  I have added Santiago to the list of places to come back to. 
Keep checking Picasa for more Santiago  pix, as I will  continue to add more.

June 05, 2010

The Great Escape

Finally I am out of Calama, and hopefully so is the bike.  I am now in Santiago,  after 14 days and 14 nights in the desert, I have reached the promised land.  PTL! Woohoo!  Santiago is great, especially after Calama, which was nice enough, but hardly one of the world's great places to visit.  In an earlier post I compared it to Fort MacMurray, it could also be Flin Flon or Thompson Manitoba.  It is a mining town, full of hard working people, who probably look forward as much to putting Calama in their rear view mirrors as I did.

In order to leave Calama I had to get the bike shipped to me in Santiago.  The LAN cargo people were unable to figure out how to get the bike shipped to Canada and were going to involve in DHL.  I have had experience with DHL in the past, and I would not want to use them to send a post card to someone I did not like, let alone ship my bike.  They have an office in Calama, I had already walked in there asked what it would cost, they quoted me $6,000 (!!!!), which is totally ridiculous.  One of their tricks is to take your money when you send it and then demand more went it arrives  (fake fees), holding your stuff for ransom.   I have no idea why these robbers are still in business, you would have to be an idiot to use them for anything.
End of rant, I hate DHL, go ahead and use them, tell me I am wrong :-)

SOOO, as far as I know the bike in three cartons arrived at Calama Friday afternoon same as me.  It is now Saturday, LAN cargo is not answering their telefono, so I am taking the weekend off to enjoy Santiago.  I have already contacted a freight forwarder who quoted me a price of roughly $1000 to ship el moto to Vancouver by sea.  If I use these guys I will have to repack the 3 cartons back into one, which will not be a problem as everything will fit, but it will be a problem in that I will have to move the stuff somewhere, where I can do the repack and then move the single carton to the freighters.  Another option is to discover whether LAN cargo in Santiago will ship to Canada assuming the people here are more knowledgable about procedure than their country cousins in Calama.

Meanwhile enjoy Santiago here.

June 02, 2010

Still here in Calama

It has been a stressful week and a half for me here in Calama, I never know what is going on, I can't communicate adequately when it comes to my now much more complicated needs.  I can order food, buy stuff, get hotels, ask for directions, but when it comes to the complexities of international shipping arrangements for motos, I am perdito (lost).  I am still not sure what is going on, but at least the bike is packed and at the cargo terminal at the Calama airport.

I am being helped  by the 'jefe' of Hosteria Taira where I am staying.  He has been great, he has taken me to the local building supply outlet for crate materials and we used his truck to take the bike to airport, twice.

I had all the stuff packed into the bike crate except the engine and we took it to LAN carga.  Turned out that the bike crate was overweight by 20 kg, the limit is 170 kg, and it was 190.  I took some stuff out of the crate to bring it to 170 but they said that the cardboard cover of the steel frame crate had to be covered in wood.  So, back to Hosteria Taira to fix the crate and repack.  Back again to the airport with three boxes.  This time they accepted it, but I am still waiting for the paperwork. 

If all goes well the bike and I will meet in Santiago for the journey back to Canada. It has been a stressful week and a half.  Jefe is making all the arrangements and I don't really know what is going on because I can't understand him.  The dialect here is very difficult, I am using babel fish and my computer to translate, but even that is not working, he is using words that may come back translated as 'breadfruit' or not translated at all.  All in all it has been pretty frustrating, maybe today I will be outa here.

May 27, 2010

End of the Ride

I suppose everybody is wondering what is going on.  The engine is full of iron filings from the trashed cam follower, so the best option is to ship it home.  I was planning to return in June anyway, and I am pretty far away. 

I spent a bit of time spinning my wheels, getting nowhere.  Chilean Spanish is very difficult to understand for me, and they don't understand my limited Spanish either.  I was trying to find a shipping agent, but that was not working  out.  Finally I tried the obvious, contact the local airline.  Turns out that their web site even says they ship motorcycles, duh.

They charge by the kilo, they don't care how many pieces there are, but they don't want anything to be heavier than 170 Kilos, which is why the engine is out.  My manual says that the bike weighs 150 kg, so it would have been close, but with the engine out it should be no problem.  It had to come out anyway, so I have a head start on that chore.  The local bike shop donated the crate, which brought a Chinese 200cc cruiser style MC to Chile.  It is not a bad fit, as the KTM is very light for its size and the cruiser is very long for its size.  Bringing the height down is the biggest challenge.  I will have to raise the crate slightly, and squash the KTM down. 

Meanwhile I have seen pretty much all there is to see in Calama.  This place is sort of the Fort MacMurray of Chile.  Lots of transient workers, lots of activity, high prices (supposedly, I have not seen the rest of Chile to be able to say for sure, but they seem high to me).  Neither is it the most photogenic place I have visited.  Calama is one of the driest cities in the world, less than 5 mm (!!!) of  annual rainfall.  Not much work for roofers I suppose.  It is surrounded by an extremely arid desert, nothing grows out there, just a giant sandbox. 
More pix here

May 22, 2010


Well I have determined what the problem is.  You are looking at the underside of the valve cover, in the middle is one good cam roller follower on the right, on the left is one that no longer rolls.  The overall effect are intake valves that do not open as far as they should, causing power loss. 

I am sure it is just a coincidence, but it seems that every time I enter a new country they have a national holiday.  Chile was celebrating Glorias Navales on friday, and everything was cerrado (closed).

There is a good bike shop here, but of course they were cerrado as well.  Saturday morning they were open, and there was another KTM in there.  A good sign.  They tried to get hold of the KTM dealer in Chile, but he is cerrado till lunes (monday).  So Calama will be my home for a few days while I arrange to have parts shipped.

Glorias Navales celebrates a naval battle where Chile got their butt kicked by Peru, however that loss inspired Chile to win the war.  Calama belonged to Bolivia before the war and the reason Peru was involved was a treaty they had with Bolivia.

Calama is near the site of one of the worlds largest open pit copper mines, I can see the giant plume of smoke from the works in the distance.  There are  copper statues downtown commemerating a major source of Chile's wealth.

The Chilean Peso can be had for approximately 500 to the dollar.  I find that everything here costs about the same or very slightly less than Canada, I paid 5000 pesos for a haircut today.  An ordinary restaurant meal runs about 4000 pesos.   Calama's population is about 143,000, but it is quite compact, I can pretty much walk anywhere in town in about 15 minutes or less.

I guess I will be sight seeing domingo (sunday) so there should be more pics later.

May 21, 2010

It just gets better and effin better;

So there was no way I was going to stay in San Pedro, who's sole purpose in this universe is to separate stupid but rich tourists from their money.   The bike was running, albeit at moped velocities.  The next town is Calamas, 100 km of desert away.  So I load up and head out of San Pedro. 

Before leaving, I checked the fuel and I could see nothing wrong with it, no water, no dirt.   About 20 km out I came across a big parking area beside the road, looked like a good place to do a carb overhaul, and I was getting tired of crawling along at 23 kmh, so I pulled in and pulled off the carb.  I could see nothing obviously wrong, so I put it together again.  No joy, everything still the same.  Then I got about 100 meters farther down the road when my rear tire decided to go flat.

Good thing I was carrying a spare tube, so out with the bad and in with the good.

It took me most of the day to get to Calamas.  It was definitely the right thing to do, as Calamas is a great place to stay while I sort all this out.  I found the perfect hostal as it is called, for working on the KTM
The carburettor came off again, this time for a more thorough examination and cleaning.  Still no joy.

I have the KTM manual (as a pdf) with me, which suggests my problem is either carburettor related or electronic ignition. 

The nearest KTM dealer is 1200 km south, I have sent them an email, and I will keep plugging away.

Meanwhile I am enjoying Calamas and considering my options.

May 19, 2010

More Misadventures

Well I made it to Chile, just.  I am stuck in a tourist trap, San Pedro, about 170 km into Chile.  This is where the Chilean customs and immigration is, 170 km from the Argentina border.  To get here I had to cross over a 4,400 meter pass (14,400 feet).  Snow at the top, and a bike that would not go faster than 21 kmh up hill, and it was up hill most of the way.  I think I got bad gas, but I don't know for sure. I will have to find out tomorrow, as it was getting dark when I got here.  (It is not the altitude, if some of you moto techies were thinking that, as the KTM has managed this altitude before.)

There was nothing but rocks and sand and snow, between the border and here, and hardly any traffic.  I did not want to stop so long as the bike was running, as I was not sure it would start again.  As it turned out, I found that it will start and run up to about 4000 RPM when I finally stopped at the aduana and migracion to get my documents in order to be in Chile.

Meanwhile here are some pictures from Formosa Province in Argentina where I got rained out.  Stay tuned.

May 18, 2010

Out of the mud, but still no decent internet connection

This will be a post without pictures.  I was stuck in Lomitas till
this AM but now I am in sunny Juyjuy Argentina  and if all goes well,
Chile tomorrow.

It was sunny and warm when I left Uruguay, as it turned out there was
a bridge, so no boat crossing.  That night I stopped in Fontana, a
tiny town in Argentina´s Formosa province.  The land is flat, marshy
and covered with low bushes and mosquitos.  It looks as if it was once
farmland, but not anymore.  Fontana looks like it is heading for ghost
town status, empty buildings some of them falling down.  I asked where
the hotel was, and a kind person led me there.  There is no sign on it
to indicate it is a hotel.  This turned out to be typical for this
area.  I got a nice room but very basic.

The next morning it was pissing down rain, but I figured what the
heck, I will just keep riding until I am out of it.  It only took
about 20 km to realize I had made a big mistake. My Jacket and gloves
work good in light rain, but this downpour was beyond their abilities.
 I stopped in a gas station to wait out the rain, but after 3 hours it
was still raining, so I carried on.  About 60 km down was a restaurant
so I stopped to eat, warm up and get dry.

I pulled back on the road and rode for quite a distance, as the rain
had let up a bit and the temperature had warmed up a bit too.  Another
town appeared in front of me, Ibaterra.  The only problem was,
Ibattera is about 20 km from Fontana, where I had left that morning.
When I had left the restaurant I had gone the wrong way.  Pretty much
most of the day was shot by this time, I had travelled over 200 km in
cold, wet, miserable weather to get 20 km from where I left.  I was
not going back to Fontana, so big U turn and head back the right way.

In case anybody was wondering how I could make such a dumb mistake,
just imagine you are out on the prairie, you can´t see the sun and the
landscape looks the same in all directions.  The only thing different
here is the vegetation, and it is not that different, it looks similar
to parkland where wolf willow is the dominant plant.  As far as you
can see.

My gas was getting low, so I pulled off at the next gas station.  I
had to go about 100 meters on a dirt access road, which had turned to
mud.  All forward motion ceased as the tires loaded up with sticky
mud.  I headed for the grass, but got stuck in the ditch.  When the
KTM gets stuck I have to unload everything and skid the bike out on
its side, as the wheels get buried and bike sinks into the soft stuff.
 After mudwresting bike, then the baggage into the gas station I
discover that there was a paved entry into the gas station further up.
 I also blew the fuse that controls the speedometer, turn signals and
brake lights. Fortunately I still had headlights and ignition.

When I got to Lomitas, the place where I originally went the wrong
way, I figured enough was enough and headed into town.  I had to ask
where the hotel was, I was standing in front of it.  It looked as if
it was under construction and not finished yet, which turned out to be
true.  Nevertheless they had a room.

The next day it was raining just as hard, but I had learned my lesson.
 I decided to stay put, fix the fuse problem and wait for the rain to
stop.  While taking the bike of the center stand (in the mud), it fell
over and I broke off the left side mirror, a fine end to this episode.
 Fortunately Argentina has excellent cable TV (800% better than the
crap we get),  including HBO in English with Espanol subtitles.  So I
had a day of rest and relaxation after the fuse was replaced.  The
mirror will have to wait for a KTM dealer.

The next morning looked just as grim as the last two, but the rain had
stopped.  I got out of there as fast as I could.  All along the way I
could see the mess, water everywhere, all the secondary roads are
dirt, every town looked like a World War I battlefield.  BUT the sun
was showing on the horizon, and the farther I went the sunnier it got.
 At least I could see that I made the right decision to stop when I
did, (woulda been better if I had never left Fontana). I made 600 km
today, and all of it had seen the same rain.  SO did I learn my
lesson? ..... maybe :-)

May 17, 2010

Email update from Argentina

In case any one was wondering, I am fine and in Las Lomitas Argentina
waiting for the rain to stop. This is a *very* small (and wet) town,
but I have a dry place to stay, more later;

May 15, 2010


Asuncion is another post apocalyptic South American city.  It is evident that at one time there was a lot more prosperity here than there seems to be now.  The town is dominated by tall buildings that I am guessing were built in the 1970's that now look worse for wear.  I am seeing a lot of homeless children sleeping in the streets.  I also see the most expensive cars I have seen in South America, lots of new Mercedes and the latest in SUVs. 

According to wikipedia, Paraguay has a developing economy, but that to me, is a very misleading statement.  Asuncion, like most other large South American cities will be celebrating its 500th birthday in about 27 years.  The land is more populated than either the US or Canada, and in many ways more civilized.  Asuncion and the other large cities in South America are more over developed than underdeveloped.  There is a lesson here, but I am not sure what it is, but I can't help but feeling that we Norte Americanos are travelling down a road that the South Americans took many years before we did.

I am here to find a way across the Paraguay River to Argentina. There is no bridge.  It turns out I will have to go out of town a bit.  I can find very little information on Paraguay useful to me from my usual sources. 

The rivers in South America are still important to transportation.  Paraguay may be landlocked but it does have ports.  The boat in the next picture appears to be loading up with bottled water among other things.
The port area of Asuncion is quite busy, there are large and busy customs and immigration offices it looks a lot like a highway border crossing.

Paraguay has two official languages, Spanish and Guarani, more people speak Guarani than Spanish.  The population is pretty much all mestizo (mixed Indigena and Spanish).  Fortunately my bad Spanish seems to work here.

There are also a number of Mennonites, who are supposed to be fairly wealthy.  Apparently the Mennonites own the big farms.  The towns that I have passed through all have big agro equipment dealers, feed mills, seed plants and agro-chemical dealers.  Farming is big and the farms are big, it is like the North American plains, but with a 12 month growing season.

It  is Paraguayan independence day (May 15), a national holiday, fireworks have been going off all night.  They are gearing up for their 200th anniversary of independence from Spain.