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.

May 13, 2010

One Day in Paraguay

As I reluctantly leave Brazil for Paraguay, according to my guidebook, the most corrupt nation this side of Africa, it is foggy, but looks to be a warm sunny day.  Yesterday and today I am riding through more forest and less field.  There is always something to look at and photograph.  The forest is, according to my guidebook, 'sub tropical', hardwood, with the odd banana tree, there is a lumber industry here, and I see the first wooden houses since leaving the US.

Portuguese still has its challenges, which little door would you choose?

Plan Alta, where I stayed overnight in a 20 Real Hotel (~12 bux) is only about 170 km from the Paraguay border at Foz du Iguacu.  I was a bit nervous about Paraguay, given its reputation.  The border is a large river, Rio Paraguay natch, which flows into the Rio Plata and the ocean.   I have to check out of Brazil, get my exit stamp on my passport and hand over my temporary import certificate for the moto.  This is all pretty much up to me, as there are no barriers, one can drive right on through.  You would be in deep trouble if you did this, as the cops will want to see your documentos once you are in.  Same thing on the Paraguay side, turistos must find the proper place to get documentos in order on their own. 

This is a very busy border.  The motos in the picture that are carrying passengers are moto taxis ferrying pedestrians across the very long bridge.  There is a special moto path that runs alongside the grid locked cars, and these moto guys move.  The path is narrow, and has chicanes with cement barriers that will knock your givis off,  presumably to slow down the kamikaze moto-taxi pilots.  I was holding up the parade, banging my bags on the curbs, and hearing angry moto beeps behind me, but every so often I could pull over into stalled four wheeler traffic, catch my breath, and let about 100 moto taxis zip  by before getting back in the moto lane.  

I have to find migracion for my passport stamp and aduana for my moto tramite.  A young cop is standing where I park, he admires the KTM, he tells me he will watch it for me while I complete my paperwork.  It takes about 20 minutes, and sure enough the cop is standing beside my bike when I get back.  He is interested in my trip and we chat a bit. 

I am now officially in Paraguay and headed for Asuncion, 300 km west.  I have swapped my 180 Brazilian Reals for 450,000 Guaranis(!!!) .  A Guarani goes for about 5,000 to the dollar, so 450K is about 90 dollars.

Paraguay has 'check stops' cops are stationed at certain spots and randomly select people to pull over and check.  My number comes up and get pulled over.  The cop sees that my papers in order, asks me a few questions about the bike (I think he wanted to know how big the gas tank was, anyway that was the answer I gave), and wished me buen viaje.  A little farther on I stop for a pee break and pull in to park, a sharp police whistle tells me I just went the wrong way down a one way street.  The cop comes over to give me hell until he realizes that I am not from around here, right away he transforms from pissed off to friendly and wants to know where I am from, where I am going, etc. etc., he is interested, not being official.  So much for corrupt cops.   Everywhere I go in Paraguay I am made to feel welcome.  I will only be here for a short time, but it looks to be a good time.

I am stopped for the night about 130 km from Asuncion.  Asuncion is a big city, well over a million, and I do not want to arrive there at sundown, so here I am in a motel by the roadside.  The highway from Foz Du Iguaca has to be the busiest road in the country, if it ain't I don't want to see the busier.  It is two lane and straight, with a maximum speed limit of 80 kph, that everybody ignores.  The trucks go slower, between 60 and 70, and new expensive cars zip along at 120 or better.  Nobody checks in front or behind when passing, which keeps everybody on their toes, especially this gringo motorcyclist.  Anyway, back to the motel, I always go for a walk if there is daylight and look for some pictures to take.  Behind the motel is a whole other side of Paraguay that can't be seen from the highway.  This pastoral scene was taken not 50 meters from the busy road.  More pictures here

May 11, 2010

Rio Grande do Sul

It rained all day today, but I was warm and dry thanks to my rain gear.  It is very beautiful open country here, but the rain makes it hard to take any pictures.  I got lucky with this one, I had just pulled off during a brief respite from the rain when these gauchos appeared on the hill above the road.  
This cat below I saw in downtown Cruz Alta, where I am overnighting, so he might be a 'farmacia gaucho', or not, apparently to be a gaucho in South America is not as romantic as being a cowboy in AB, according to wikipedia, gauchos are considered by many South Americans to be a troublesome pain in the.., which come to think of it, could also apply to cowboys back home.

Guachos are famous for consuming mate, a collection of herbs that may consist of coca leaves among others, ground up and put in a pot with hot water, like tea, except that mate pot is filled to the top with the green stuff.  The mixture is consumed through a metal straw that has a filter thingy at the bottom to sift out the leaves.
Cruz Alta has even made a statue of a mate pot. 

When you go to the gas pump in Brazil you get to choose between grades of gasoline, diesel, and pure alcohol.  Gas is very expensive, a Real is worth about 58 cents, so premium, which I use if it is available, is costing about 1.60 a liter.
What I need for Brazil is a bike that will run on beer, figuring in the deposit refund.....

Brazil is turning out to be a great visit.  The no Portuguese thing is turning out to be less of a problem than I thought it would be.  I say something in Spanish and about half the time it is understood, which is about the same performance my Spanish has where they speak Spanish.  I get a totally incomprehensible response, which is also par for the course so far, as there are so many regional Spanish dialects, I can never really understand anybody anywhere anyway. 

The food is good too, for lunch just about every restaurant serves 'buffet livre', which in Alberta would be called a smorg.  You load up your plate with whatever you want, they weigh it (if they have a scale) and you pay for what you have chosen, or just a flat rate if there is no scale.  The typical choices are rice, beef, pork, chicken, various vegetables, salad items, and beans, very nice, and no problems with interpreting menus.

The countryside is consists of wide open vistas, meaning that there is plenty to see, the roads are excellent and traffic is light, couldn't be better, I don't even mind the cool weather and the rain, as sooner or later I will be in the hot desert again, thinking that a bit of cold weather would be very nice indeed.
More pix.

May 10, 2010

No speekee portugee

 This is my view heading north in the morning, the sun will be in my eyes until I cross the equator again.  Surprisingly, it is not at all disorienting to have the sun on the wrong side of the sky.  It heads up that way every summer in Edmonton, that must be why I don't find it strange.  

The border crossing at Acegua was great.  here I am getting my oficial welcome from the Brazilian Police, so far the only Brazilians I met who speak English.  They were pretty chuffed about me being from Canada, the head guy on (on the left) wanted to take my picture with his camera, "Make sure  to get the license plate,",  I was worried it was going to end  up in all the Brazilian Post Offices, but no, he wanted it for himself.  So I handed over my camera to the oficial police photographer designate and got a pic of me as well. 

There are no barriers or anything looking like a border in Acegua, so I actually drove into Brazil had breakfast and coffee before I found out I was in Brazil.  I had to go back (across the street) to Uruguay to get my exit stamp and hand over my temporary permit for the moto, but everybody was super relaxed about it all.  At least part of the reason must be that Acegua is a very small crossing with few people coming across, always better.

Now that I am in Brazil, the fun begins, not speaking a word of the local lingo has its challenges.  So far so good, Brazil seems to have some customs I have not yet encountered in South America, such as a hotel advertising its presence with billboards long before you arrive, I wonder where they learned that trick? 

It was a welcome relief for me, one less problem to deal with.   If only they had restaurants that are open at 6 PM.  Signing off in Rosario Do Sul, the coolest spot in Brazil (that title refers to the town's climate, but the town is pretty cool as well if you are into agriculture).

May 09, 2010

Election night in Melo

Another Sunday election, this time in Melo, Uruguay, about 70 km from the Brazilian 'frontera'.  There were other elections as well, Maldonado was having one too.   They don't shut down the road through town here, but judging by the excitement, elections are an important sport, the level of excitement and activity outside my window is about the same as an Oilers playoff game in Edmonton, flags on vehicles, horn honking, everybody doing loops down the main drag on their unmuffled motos.  I think they are local elections (intendente, whatever that is).

This part of Uruguay is cow country, and Melo is a typical cow town.  Here cowboys are gauchos, they look the same, drive pick up trucks and drink Mate.
A young guy stops to admire El KTM in Maldonado tells me his girlfriend is from Calgary, bet she's a cowgirl too.   Uruguay is also 'big sky country' south.
Rolling hills, cows, high clouds, and dusty little towns, hard to believe that just a few hours away I was on the South American Riviera.

Uruguay is full of very cool very old cars and trucks in running condition, apparently due to a historical difficulty of getting cars into the country, they have become very adept at keeping these old bangers running.  The best ones come out at night when it is impossible to take good pictures of them.  

I looked at the map when I left Punta Del Este and figured that Melo would be a good place to stop before crossing into Brazil.  I was calculating that my many thousands of Pesos would get me a full tank of gas and hotel on the Uruguay side and I would not have to Cambio any into Reales.

I may have mentioned from time to time how difficult it is to find a hotel in a strange town in South America.  I was just warming up to the job in Melo, when I guy on a moto with a big flag stuck on, pulled up and asked me if I wanted a hotel.  That was a first!  He indicated that I should follow him and off we went.  It turned out he was the owner, and the hotel is pretty much the worst dive I have been in so far.  But it was cheap, 200 Pesos, or about 10 dollars, and either the roof does not leak or it is not raining, cause it is dry.  My room has five beds in it, but my host assures me that I will have em all to myself.  BaƱo down the hall.  Looks as if I will be cambio-ing mi dinero after all

More Pics!

May 08, 2010

Uruguay blows me away

If you are 'a man (or woman) of wealth and taste' do not go to Uruguay, because if you do you will never want to leave.  If I had to describe the Uruguay I have seen so far with only one word, it would be 'manicured'.  The cities and towns look like what would be wealthy suburbs in North America, and the countryside looks like a well groomed park.

I am on the east coast, which is a major resort area for the rest of Latin America and Europe.  Apparently the only Canadians who frequent Uruguay are Quebecois.  "Non, je ne parle mucho Francais either, gracias very much."  As it is the beginning of what passes for winter in a place where palm trees grow outside, the resorts are pretty quiet, which is nice for me, as I pretty much have the place to myself.

Atlantida looks like it fell out of a "Leave it to Beaver" episode, the architecture appears to have involved actual Architects, who seem to nearly outnumber Lawyers and Doctors.  The house style is kind of 60's Frank Lloyd Wright-ish.
This style is familiar to my North American eyes, houses with exterior 'features' set back on mowed lawns without walls for a fence.  They even burn their autumn leaves in front of the house, a flashback to my youth for this 60 year old man.

Further 'Este' is Punta Del Este and it's famous Bikini Beach.  It is a bit chilly for bikinis at the moment. This is my first view of Oceano Atlantico.   Here, I am in time zone GMT -3, or three time zones from Europe, and four from Edmonton.  The tourists are mostly Euros.  Here is a euro traveller's site you may want to check out, an amazing 'RV'.  I wanna see this one pull up in the local KOA, and watch all the 'class A's' be demoted.
Plenty of fancy yachts, big hotels, stores selling Rolexes and Mercedes her in Punta Del Este.  I am going to enjoy this sybaritic scene, because I am pretty sure I won't see the like again on my return trip. 

I went to this store, but all they had was ladies dresses.

Tomorrow I head inland and see what there is to see in the rest of Uruguay.  Uruguay is very small, I could have blown through it in half a day and been in Brazil, where they speak Portuguese and I don't.  Maybe I will stay here a bit longer, I don't speak Spanish much either, but at least I know how to ask where the bathrooms are.

More pictures posted here.

May 06, 2010

Go North Old Man

This morning I woke up to rain and about 10 degrees C.  It really is fall in every sense here.  My bags were packed, all I had to do was swing by the Embajada de Paraguay, pick up my visa and passport and find the ferry to Uruguay.

The previous night Marcello from Informoto interviewed me for his  revista, an Argentine moto mag.
I had sent them an email after I picked up the magazine at a newstand. Marcello's English is better than my Spanish which was good for both of us.  I asked him to send me a copy when if the interview is printed.   Fun.

No problems with the ferry, other than finding it.  Did I mention that Buenos Aires is huge?  Trying to find anything is a chore despite well marked streets laid out in a grid pattern, it's the diagonals that get me.  Fortunately for lost Gringos, a much larger proportion of people in BA speak English than most other places I have been except maybe Colombia.  

The ferry ride is about one hour and takes me to Colonia.  This was the best border of all, even better than Canada and the US.  The ferry is the upper crust way to travel, nothing but fancy cars and well dressed, well behaved people, so the customs and immigration people are polite and laid back as well, even the droga perros were relaxed.

The weather continued to stay cool in Uruguay.   Colonia, where the ferry landed me is 176 klicks of cold and windy riding from Montevideo, the capital.   My chain and sprockets need replacing and there is a dealer in Montevideo.   It was a ride I would expect from Alberta in the fall, (or the Demptser Highway in July). 
This is not what I came to 'South' America for, time to re-cross the equator where it is coming up summer.  The next border will be Brazil. (In case anyone was still wondering, Tierra Del Fuego is not on my 'go to' list.) 

First impressions; Uruguayans could give French waiters lesson on how to abuse turistos.  Monopoly money is worth more than the Uruguay peso.  I had 3,000 Pesos before dinner, which took care of 250.00 of them. A thousand pesos are worth about 50 US bux, which seems to be the preferred currency in El Rip Off Hotel where I am staying tonight.  El Rip Off is located right on the water (the final picture was taken from my window) and is very modern and fancy, but the price is high, and they surcharge for everything, wifi, parking, all extra, which was always included if it was available at the less pretentious hotels I prefer to stay in.   I ate in the hotel restaurant, the meal was nicely prepared, but if I hadda sneezed, it woulda ended up on the other side of the room.  Maybe I am just grouchy cause it is cold and damp, tomorrow is another day, and definitely another hotel!!