Tuesday, January 1 – Moquegua, Peru to Arica, Chile 232 km
Happy New Year – Welcome 2019!
We were up relatively early to get ready for our crossing from Peru to Chile. Before leaving Moquegua we had to check out the other vehicles in the hotel parking lot as some of the 2019 Dakar Rally teams were there for the night.
Leaving Moquegua on the 1S to the border was a good ride although this is definitely a desert area. There seem to be a lot of agricultural work being done however. Many olive trees from very small saplings to large trees have been planted in ‘fields’ along the road. I’m not sure where they get their water from, or even how much they need, but there is a large olive oil processing plant south of Moquegua, so I can only assume this is a growing industry.
As we got closer to Tacna there was less agricultural and much more sandy landscapes with nothing growing at all. Then on towards the border after a quick stop for gas and to use up some of our last Peruvian Soles. The border was an interesting place.
Thankfully right after we parked by the first group of buildings we arrived at we spoke with a motorcyclist from Ecuador. He let us know that the place we stopped at is for processing arrivals from Chile and that to exit Peru we had to drive about half a kilometer further south to get the paperwork done. So off we went and found several very long lineups of vehicles and people, apparently all heading out of Peru into Chile. Perhaps NY Day isn’t a good time to cross an international border?!??!
It seemed an odd process here. First step (literally) meant climbing three flights of stairs to an almost deserted cafeteria area where a woman sells food, drinks, and the form required for leaving Peru with a vehicle. We learned this after standing in a line up to get ‘stamped out’ of Peru. First we need the form, then we could exit Peru.
To enter Chile we needed the entry stamp, vehicle import paperwork from the customs office, then we had to pull the bags that were strapped on our bikes off and take them to an area for scanning … a hot and grubby process since the bags of camping gear are very dusty. Then back to the bikes, tie things back on, get into a line on the bikes to present paperwork to another group who were good enough not to want to search the sidebags. They stamped more paperwork and sent us on our way, 50 meters down the road to a spot where yet another person looked at our paperwork and let us pass. Somehow it seems the process could be more efficient!
It took us about two hours to cross which was better than getting into Peru, but somehow there seems room for improvement. When we got into the first line to enter Chile there were about 60 people ahead of us. By the time we finished with Chilean customs for vehicle import there was almost no one lined up where we started, so perhaps we just timed our arrival poorly.
We only had a short ride from the border to Arica where we had booked a hotel for the night. La Pascana del Inka seemed a bit more motel-like than hotel-like but it had secure parking for the bikes. We went for a walk and grabbed a bite at one of the few restaurants that was open. We asked what time they close (10 PM) so decided we would return later for dinner. Except when we arrived at what we thought was 8:15 we were told they were closing. What?!?! We found our way to a high end hotel that had an open restaurant as everything else was closed. This was an act of desperation as I needed to eat!
When we got back to our hotel we learned that there is a two hour time change between Peru and Chile. Woops! This hadn’t crossed our minds. Oh well, live and learn. Everything worked out for us, the only down side being that tomorrow morning will arrive two hours sooner than expected. Looks like it will be s short night, given the fact we were out much later than we realized!
Wednesday, January 2 – Arica to Iquique – 340 km
As we were leaving Arica we rode up a hill that overlooks the town and harbour. The view of the town, surrounding mountains and Pacific from the Morro de Arica was great. It was a bit disconcerting though while riding up the twisty road to come around a corner to find two cannons pointing at the road. No worries of course as these are probably a few hundred years old now. But interesting to be reminded of the long history of development and settlement along the coast of South America.
Our ride today started out on a straight, flat desert highway. A big change from some days when the road has been so twisty. But the landscape still changes, whether colours or the closeness of surrounding mountains. There are several lookout points along Highway 5 where we stopped. The views are of rocky and sandy areas, often deep gorges or mountainsides that look like sand dunes with absolutely nothing growing anywhere.
In the afternoon after we turned onto Highway 16 towards the coast we climbed and descended some huge mountains. There were several high passes along the route and then a final interesting descent into Iquique. The highway follows the side of a mountain sweeping back and forth through 4 or 5 tight switchbacks as you arrive in the city at sea level. The beaches are busy and run the length of the city stretching along the coast. There were many people paragliding over the city which was great to see as this is on our to-do list for tomorrow!
In one spot at the top of a gorge there is a sign with the silhouette of a truck on a steep downhill triangle with ‘21 km’ on the bottom. It seems clear now. The 21 km of downhill roadway was amazing, and of course was followed by a climb, perhaps not quite so long, but still a good distance.
Found our hotel and settled in. It is about a block away from a long pedestrian boulevard that goes down to the beach. From our 30th floor windows we can see the length of the street and have a great view of the city.
As always, we parked and unloaded the bikes, hauled our gear to our unit, cleaned up, then headed out for a walk in the neighbourhood. Tony has bruised his foot somehow, so we didn’t walk far, but found a pub (one of many) where we shared a late lunch of empanadas and a beer while people watching.
Back at our hotel Tony’s foot was causing him more pain so I made a late evening visit to a nearby pizza place to find a bite of dinner for us. One thing about this part of the city is there may be dozens of restaurants on every block but there are no stores selling food or drinks. However the pizza place had water, we had a bit of fruit in our hotel so we certainly didn’t go hungry.
Thursday, January 3 – Iquique – 0 km
We enjoyed a day in Iquique getting a few things done, having some fun, and relaxing.
Good news this morning was that Tony’s foot was feeling much better. We walked a short way for breakfast and all was well. We also made a few stops on our way back to the hotel, including dropping off laundry. While walking into the laundry service we spotted a fellow parking a Vstrom across the street. I’m in need of a new chain as the last one we installed was poor quality. It has already stretched more than it should have and Tony is concerned it won’t make it to Santiago. However we haven’t found a replacement. Tacna probably had bike shops that sell parts but nothing was open when we passed through on New Years Day. Iquique doesn’t seem to have any bike shops that we could find online, so when we saw the fellow with the Vstrom, we asked him if he knew where we could find one.
He was helpful and sent us a short walk to a small shop operated by a fellow who is a passionate motorcyclist, mechanic, technical wizard, amazing welder and former tour operator. He’s also fluent in Spanish, English, French, and German. A very interesting fellow who went far above and beyond to help us out. Although he didn’t have a chain that would fit my bike he called a friend in another part of the city, confirmed he had one, then gave us the address and directions. He also provided many suggestions for our travels in Chile. Connecting with Sergio was a very serendipitous and enjoyable time.
Back we went to our hotel to get ready to go paragliding – this was a blast. We were picked up at our hotel and then stopped to pick up our pilots and gear. Then off to the top of the hill/dune where it didn’t take long for George (Tony’s pilot) and Leo (my pilot) to get ready to go. Into a jump suit, helmet and gloves, then hooked into a harness and asked to walk towards the edge of the dune. Don’t run, just walk! But after about three steps we were airborne and rising. Leo was great at moving the glider to give views inland, city views, and the ocean. It was great fun, rising on thermals, swooping around as we changed direction, and being amazed at the physical feeling of gliding. It is definitely something we would do again – perhaps I have to give up motorcycling and take up paragliding!
We landed on the beach at the south end of the city and carried on with a busy day, although I kept grinning every time I thought of the feeling of paragliding. Gee, it only takes 15 days to get a licence ….
We caught an Uber out to the duty free zone (zofri) where the shop with the bike chain could be found. We were glad to pick it up and then walked over to a huge duty-free mall. But you need to go through a turnstile and register to shop there and we really didn’t need anything that badly. So we cabbed back to our hotel and Tony spent some time installing the new chain. Thank you!
While Tony was working on my bike I was plotting our travels for the next few weeks. Calculating distance, researching things to do, as well as things to be aware of, trying to make a plan to ensure we get to Santiago in good time to arrange to get bikes and ourselves shipped home later this month. So Calama, San Pedro de Atacama, Salta, Mendoza, Santiago are all in our plans, although those may change based on weather, road conditions, energy levels, bike conditions, etc.
Dinner was excellent this evening, a ways down the Baquedano at das Bierhaus, a restaurant our host had recommended. It was well worth the stop – excellent selection of great beer. Food menu isn’t huge, but the two sandwiches we ordered were both great. Mine was not just dinner, but provided breakfast as well.
Good walk back to our hotel along the well lit, busy, fun Baquedano. I wish Whyte Ave in Edmonton had a similar fun and welcoming feel. Anyway, a good day, great fun, and a potential new hobby discovered!
Friday, January 4 – Iquique- 0 km
A good day in Iquique getting things done. We spent the morning doing some shopping including picking up a bottle of wine as a thank you for Sergio. When we dropped it off he was very surprised and flattered. We also picked up an electrical adapter for our plugs as we had forgotten to bring one and we have many things to be charged. Also picked up a purse that will hopefully be big enough for all my stuff when we fly home. Doesn’t sound exciting but it was enjoyable getting things done.
Continued trip planning and will leave tomorrow for San Pedro de Atacama. This will be a short ride, but we are planning on crossing into Argentina over either Paso de Jama or Paso de Sico. San Pedro seems a good point to start from, and looks like an interesting town as well.
In the evening we were happy to meet up with Eva and Steve, the couple from Tucson that we met in Panama. They arrived here this afternoon and we met for a beer (das Bierhaus) and then walked to a wonderful Peruvian/Chilean/Japanese restaurant, La Mulata. The service, food, and company were all great. It was fun to compare notes on our respective trips, share some things we’ve all learned, and share some laughs as well. A good evening and a much later one than usual. We left the restaurant about 11:30 which is the latest we’ve been up for quite some time.
Saturday, January 5 – Iquique to Calama – 389 km
Not surprising but we had a late start this morning. But once on the road we headed south. The ride was a bit boring I thought, not especially scenic, but perhaps I’d been expecting more. With the ocean on one side and a desert mountain on the other, there wasn’t a lot to look at.
When we turned inland towards Calama we were in true desert on both sides of the road, but this was a better ride I found. The shapes and colours of the sand and rocks change continuously and the views of volcanic peaks on the horizon kept my interest. The road was arrow-straight for the most part so it didn’t take a lot of concentration.
We got to Calama about 4:00, settled into a small apartment hotel and rode over to mall to get a few groceries, some beer and a pizza. For a change from restaurant food we had dinner on the patio of the apartment, several local felines seemed to think they should get a share of our pizza too ….
A quiet night catching up on email. Not a great night for sleeping as the apartment was hot and seemed to get hotter as the night went on. A reminder we’ve been pretty spoiled with air conditioning most stops along the way.
Sunday, January 6 – Calama to San Pedro de Atacama- 98 km
A fairly short ride today into San Pedro with a few stops along the way at scenic lookouts. We got into San Pedro in the early afternoon and the town was a bit of a surprise. The roads are not paved, it seems every building is a hotel or hostel and every building is surrounded by a high rock fence. The roads are very dusty, some quite narrow, most have no sidewalks, and the town is certainly not set out on a grid pattern. More of an octopus style layout with no seeming logic.
Thankfully google helped us find our hotel and after settling in we did our best to catch up on our sleep! One benefit of a short day, that’s for sure.
We walked into the town centre with no real idea of where it is. Finally found this happening place with a few cobbled streets, pedestrian-only roads, and heaps of restaurants and tour operators. We grabbed a beer and small bite in the late afternoon, roamed around a bit, and booked a day tour for tomorrow to Chaxa Lagoon and several other stops. We had decided the tour option would be more comfortable than riding in full gear if it was hot out, and that we’d get better information about the various places we would see. So very touristy, but hopefully a good plan.
Later in the evening we walked back into town for dinner at a restaurant Tony had found recommended on line. The Adobe is huge, but has great staff and food. It was very busy and we were lucky to get a table for two when we did. When we left after our excellent meal about 9:30 there was a line up waiting to get in. The streets were packed with people (where did they all come from?,?!) who primarily look like tourists. We heard many languages being spoken as we strolled around a bit before heading back to our hotel.
Before calling it a night we had to sit by the swimming pool and do some star gazing. Amazingly clear skies are the usual thing here and with almost no ambient light it was easy to see constellations. Although I don’t know what the Southern Cross looks like! Tomorrow night if we’re not worn out we will ride a bit out of town to see the skies even more clearly. In the meantime I hope the hotel gets its wifi working so I can learn what constellations we should be looking for.
Monday, January 7 – San Pedro de Atacama- 0 km
We were picked up about 7:30 for our tour today. It seemed the van drove all over the town and back again picking up other passengers before finally heading out of town south towards Miscanti and Miniques Lagoons. Along the way we stopped at a small 17th century church where we had views of salt flats and volcanoes in the distance. While parked here, our guide and driver set up a table and offered breakfast. Not the best meal we’ve had, but it kept us going!
Our next stop was at Piedras Rojas, an area renowned for its red rocks and odd formations, but somehow the rocks didn’t seem all that red, nor the formations all that interesting. It might be because tourists are no longer allowed into this area due to twits damaging the rocks in the past few years. Anyway I guess we can say we’ve seen the Atacama’s Piedras Rojas, but it wouldn’t qualify as a high point for this trip.
We stopped for lunch in the village of Socaire then carried on to see the flamingos at Chaxa Lagoon. At times there are thousands of them here. Today there were a fair number, but not thousands, that’s for sure. But the lagoon is an interesting place – it is surrounded by desert and mountains and offers some great views. The birds – flamingos (now we know there are three breeds, James, Andean, Chilean), sandpipers, many ducks and others – were numerous. The water reflected the blue of the sky, and the sand surrounding the lagoons are muted but varied in colour. The lagoon in the middle of huge salt flats made us wonder how anything could live here, but lots of creatures call it home, despite the salt, potassium, borax, lithium and other minerals present here. This was an interesting stop, even though most of the flamingos we saw were the white ones, not the pinker James Flamingos.
The last stop of our tour was the village of Toconao, a stop on many different tours. There is an 18th century bell tower in the main square and many shops selling souvenirs and traditional handicrafts. Given space limitations on the bikes we didn’t buy anything here but several others in our van did!
After this stop we headed back to San Pedro. Tony and I grabbed a quick dinner in town as we wanted to do some stargazing tonight. While downtown we stopped by the local police station to ask about the state of Paso de Jama and Paso de Sico so we can decide on our route for tomorrow. Our tour guide today told us that Paso de Jama is closed and that the pass further south, Paso de Sico is open. He also told us that Salta is about 4 hours from San Pedro – this isn’t what google maps said earlier, so we have to do some more research to make our plan. The police confirmed both passes are open, so we decided we will take the northern road out of San Pedro, over the 16,000 foot Paso de Jama.
As the sun was setting we took the bikes a few kilometers out of town so we could watch sunset and do some stargazing. It is astounding to see so many stars so clearly. Orion was bright and central in the sky with what we think was the Southern Cross to the south east. Not knowing a lot of constellations we didn’t identify a heap of them, but it was fascinating to see SO many stars in the sky. A great mini-adventure for us.
Tuesday, January 8 – San Pedro de Atacama to San Antonio de los Cobres – 420 km
One of the longest days we’ve put in on this trip. It all started out well, but got a lot tougher along the way.
We headed out of San Pedro about 9:00 AM heading east towards Jama Pass and Argentina. The bikes struggled a bit leaving town – about a 10% grade going up, so they worked hard. But the pass itself was almost anticlimactic. At 16,000 feet there’s a look-out, but no marker or signs to indicate that this spot is the actual high point. We were glad to see there was also no snow, nothing but sunshine. It was cool certainly, but nothing risky for riding.
The border crossing had great promise for winning an efficiency award – go through Lines 1, 2, 3, 4 to get a multitude of stamps on a piece of paper and we’d be checked out of Chile and into Argentina. Oh, except there was no one staffing Line 2. And there was no question of getting stamped in Line 3, unless the appropriate stamps had been added at Line 2. There were many very angry people standing in the ever-growing line 2 watching the staff at 3 and 4 play on their phones and talk to each other ….. finally Man #2 arrived and started processing paper so quickly I don’t think he looked at any details, he just wanted to get the angry mob to move on We got on our way with no other problems and enjoyed the gorgeous country we were riding through. At Susques we decided (okay, Tony thought it would be a good ride!) to take Ruta 40 south from Susques. So off we went with 120 km to go to get to San Antonio de los Cobres.
This afternoon ride included sections of deep washboard, soft sand, pools and puddles, and a few washouts. Amazing scenery too, but not much time to look around as we were trying to arrive in San Antonio before sunset. Nope, that didn’t happen.
Tony got a flat which had to be repaired in the blazing sun. Happily we have tubeless tires, so he ‘just’ had to put in a plug which did hold. Thank heavens. But we lost time.
Then I dumped my bike in soft sand a couple of times so we lost more time. This section of Ruta 40 was tougher than any sections we rode in Patagonia in 2013. It was more of a goat trail than a road. Narrow, many sections with the roadbed washed away, steep rises, sharp corners, steep drops off one edge, loose gravel and sand, and no signs of civilization along the way. Thankfully it wasn’t raining today or this trail would have been impassable in places.
Then we came across a family stranded with a broken down car. A broken axle wasn’t anything we could help fix so we helped push the car to side of road, got them to write a note explaining the problem that we brought to San Antonio. We were back on the bikes as the sun dropped below the horizon and the road got worse in the pitch dark. It seemed at times we were riding in a washed out river bed (maybe we were) but there were still lots of rises and drops in elevation mixed with off-camber slopes on the road surface with big drops on one side. We were glad to see the bridge we had been told we would ride under (found out later it is a viaduct). It might be an amazing feat of engineering, but the road wasn’t. It got worse at this point. Finally we could see headlights of a semi blasting along what was Highway 51, so we knew there was a junction ahead and we could get off of #40. Except 51 was not an improvement – nothing but washboard and/or loose gravel and sand. Finally we got to town which we were starting to think was a mythical place and didn’t exist.
We arrived at a hostel where we handed over our note and someone took off, presumably to get help for the stranded family. We were very glad to arrive somewhere warm where the promise of hot water came true! The staff kept the kitchen open for us even though it was almost 10 PM when we arrived. We hadn’t had dinner – or lunch – so we appreciated the food. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful to get to a destination and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired after a 420 km day. I just hope the family we met is helped before it gets really cold in the desert. It would have been a long wait for them.
After a quick meal and a hot shower we both collapsed for the night, very thankful to have finally arrived in this small town in the middle of a huge desert.
Wednesday, January 9 – San Antonio de los Cobres to Salta – 175 km
We thought our ride to Salta would be much easier than yesterday’s trek and it was. But it wasn’t as easy as we had expected. Only 175 km, but loads of construction areas (no one working though) with many sections of single lane gravel. The valley we rode through was beautiful but it was a hot day with not a cloud in the sky.
Today was my turn for flat tires. Twice my rear tire had to be repaired in the blazing sun. We haven’t had any tire troubles at all this trip, but now a bunch in a few days – obviously it is past time for new rear tires. So our short ride to Salta took lots more time than expected.
We were happy to check into the Sheraton although they probably wanted to deny us entry when they saw the grubby, travel stained state of our bikes and selves! But they let us in (!). We checked out a bit of Salta by walking to a nearby mall to find a SIM card, then cabbed over to a bike shop that had good on-line reviews. The one fellow working there assured us their mechanic could help us out with our wish list of new tires, oil changes, air filters cleaned if we come by in the morning at 8:30.
We walked back to our hotel (a long walk!), grabbed a drink and dinner on site and called it a night.
Thursday, January 10 – Salta – 20 km
Today was a great day and we felt we had accomplished a lot. We were back at Bienvidas Motos at 8:30 only to be told they can’t help with the work we need done. But they referred us to a tire shop, so off we went after pumping up Tony’s tire again. Neumaticos San Agustin has a good selection of bike tires and got to work immediately on replacing back tires on both bikes. They had the work done in less than an hour but this gave us time for coffee and breakfast a few doors down the street.
Then we went on a quest for oil change and air filter cleaning. There are no Suzuki shops in town, and the BMW shop won’t touch a Suzuki. But but they recommended Dr Bikes, a business for which I’d read positive reviews . Google maps took us there, and the good doctor agreed to service both bikes this afternoon. Yay!
We again walked back to our hotel, via Salta’s town center. This included a stop for a badly needed haircut for me. With all of this walking we should be in great shape! We were happy to return to Dr Bikes at 7:00 PM and to find the work had been done. A great shop with an excellent reputation for their work. Although our bikes didn’t need anything out of the ordinary, we appreciated their ability to get the work done quickly.
Quickly is a relative term though. We were glad to have gotten to Dr Bikes before 1:00 PM as most businesses here close at 1:00 and reopen at 4:00. So happy to have got into the queue before siesta time!
Another late dinner and good sleep with plans to head towards Mendoza via San Miguel de Tucumán tomorrow.
Friday, January 11 – Salta
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, to take a bit of liberty with Robert Burns poetry. We slept in a bit, went out for breakfast and then loaded up our bikes and checked out of the hotel. We didn’t go any further than a nearby gas station with an air pump because the rear tire was flat on Tony’s bike. When we were riding into Salta he hit a huge, deep pothole with a soft tire and dented the rim of his back tire. He wasn’t happy about this, but when we got the new tires installed yesterday the guys at the shop thought the tire would hold. They had pressure tested it and it seemed fine. But this morning, it wasn’t.
So this morning we pumped the tire up and headed to Dr Bikes, as they had been repairing an aluminum rim yesterday. But they couldn’t take on the work for a few days so the recommended Neumaticos San Agustin – the place that put tires on. Off we went, and discovered there are two locations with almost identical names. We went to the wrong one first (I’d like to blame Google Maps but probably can’t really point the finger at the program) then headed off again, worried about ruining the brand new tire by riding it at such low pressure.
We got to the right place about 12:30, just before they close for siesta. But they took the bike in and got the tire off, then sent the rim off somewhere to be straightened. We were told the bike should be ready by 7:30 this evening. We crossed our fingers that the big dent is repairable and the time estimate is accurate!
Since almost all businesses close at 1:00 we found a place for a bite of lunch and spent some time checking out accommodation options We found a room for tonight in the city center at the Gran Hotel Presidente which sounds much higher-end than it really is. But as always, we booked partly because of secure parking and partly because it is closer to restaurants than the Sheraton had been.
We spent some time strolling around downtown Salta before heading back to the tire shop in the rainy early evening. It was wonderful to see Tony’s bike almost ready to go (they were balancing the tire when we arrived), then ‘our’ technician, Martin, put the tire on and this was when Tony got a chance to see the repaired rim. It is amazing – he could hardly tell where the dent had been. A second smaller dent had been repaired too. A great job, and it looks like the tire will seal properly and hold air – a big relief for us both.
If you’re ever in Salta and need tire work done, check out Neumaticos San Agustin on Avenida Sarmiento. Incredibly helpful admin staff and great technical staff too. They obviously have good connections with whatever company did the rim repair to get the work done so quickly and so well. The astounding thing about this repair is that we were charged the equivalent of less than $50 Cdn for the work.
We gladly rode back to our hotel on this showery evening and headed out for dinner at nearby Don Salta, an excellent restaurant where we both enjoyed some Argentinian beef as a feast to celebrate NSA’s great work!
Saturday, January 12 – Salta to San Miguel de Tucumán – 322 km
It was good to be up and on the road this morning. Today was another cloudy day with rain threatening, but we shouldn’t complain given the fact this is rainy season!
As soon as we left Salta on Highway 9 the landscape changed dramatically from desert-like conditions to lush and green hills covered in trees and shrubs. The sudden change was a bit startling.
At a coffee stop along the way we met a fellow from Guelph who was born in Argentina. He and his wife are heading to Salta for a flight home this evening. He encouraged us to see some of the area around Cafayate- as several others have done – as it is so beautiful. We had talked about taking Highway 68 to Cafayate but once there the only option for continuing south is Ruta 40, and despite its reputation as the highway motorcyclists should ride, well, I had enough of it a few days ago! If it was paved as it is in much of southern Patagonia I would have considered it, but we couldn’t find confirmation of the state of the road, so we stayed with Highway 9 and perhaps missed some amazing scenery.
Anyway, we enjoyed the brief visit before continuing south. As we got closer to Tucumán we moved into serious agricultural areas. In some areas we saw horses tethered on the roadsides, grazing. In other areas horses were working, pulling carts and carrying loads. Even the tractors we passed on the highway weren’t very new, so although ag is a key industry, it doesn’t seem to be big producers here but smaller operations, although the fields are definitely much larger than in some areas we’ve seen.
After arriving in Tucumán we followed our usual routine – unloaded the bikes, cleaned up a bit, went for a walk to explore the town a bit. There are some huge historic buildings in and around the central square, there are several pedestrian-only streets and lots of signs and murals outlining the history of the town. Although we started our walk about 3:30 when the streets seemed deserted, by 4:15 there were lots of people out and about as stores started reopening.
Had a relatively quiet evening with a walk, dinner out at a mostly forgettable restaurant, and a bit of planning for tomorrow.
Sunday, January 13 – Tucumán to La Rioja – 389 km
Although we started a bit later than we intended, we had a good ride today. While loading up the bikes we met a couple from Italy who are doing a much longer ride than us – they crossed most of Europe, east to west, shipped their bike to Asia, then they went to Australia where they rented a bike for a couple of areas, then to Asia to pick up their bike and continue their trip. They are heading north from Argentina, heading to her sister’s place in Golden, BC. Had a good chat and shared some information with them about things like crossing the Darien Gap.
Today’s ride took us through a huge valley surrounded by mountains. Crops were lush and thick, everything from tobacco to fruit trees. As we got closer to La Rioja there were many orchards of olive trees beside the road as well as an olive processing plant on the edge of town.
The weather wasn’t great for photos today with cloudy skies for much of the day, but we didn’t see rain until the early evening. The mountains in the distance were lovely to see, dappled sunlight creating varying shades of green marching off into the distance.
Our hotel tonight, Qhawana Lodge is a lovely resort a bit outside of town. Given the rainy evening and the challenging approach up a steep and rocky roadway with several deep divets and eroded tire tracks we decided to stay here for dinner, even though there are some highly rated restaurants in town. We opted for a quiet evening and an earlier dinner that usual – we’ve been dining at 9 or after, and this makes for a very long evening! So an earlier meal tonight was in order.
Following dinner Tony challenged me to several games of fooze-ball which I gamely tried, but lost badly. He had much more experience playing in his youth than I did and perhaps I should credit him with better hand-eye coordination too. Like pool, this seems something I will never best him at!
A great sleep in a very quiet location.
Monday, January 14 – La Rioja to San Juan – 480 km
Today’s ride seemed like a long one. We were on our way by 9:00 AM and seemed to make good time, but the kilometers didn’t seem to add up as quickly as we would have liked.
This morning we headed south on the #38 through a relatively flat-bottomed valley with a range of mountains to our right. As the road marched closer to the mountains they changed in colour from tree and shrub-covered greens to bright but barren red rock. And red is too simple a word for the many hues ranging from bright orange to dark red to almost burgundy. We were riding under cloudy skies, but for a few minutes as the road took us through rock cuts in this colourful area the sun came out and the amazing colours came alive.
We turned west on the 150 and entered Ischigualasto Provincial Park where there were some interesting sandstone walls along the road. A short ways into the park a sign pointed south towards San Juan so we turned and followed this highway which we later learned was a secondary highway, thankfully paved, but a bit rough in sections. In some parts we could see that water flows across the road frequently and with today’s rain we were a bit concerned about the depth of some of these water crossings. But we had no trouble and enjoyed some stretches where there are regularly spaced little hills. As we rode over the crest of one I’d feel like I was getting air time and half a second later, at the bottom of the hill going through a little dip, I’d feel like I was at the bottom of a roller coaster track and heading upwards. Up-down-up-down-up again for some extended stretches of road, none of the hilltops more than 10 meters above the bottoms, made for a fun ride. I’m not sure what the technical name might be, but I called them ‘whoop-dee-does’ as they reminded me of a roller coaster ride. Great fun in an area of not really fabulous scenery.
At one small town we stopped for gas and met a family from France. They are much more energetic than we are as they are spending a year riding on three bicycles built for two from Buenos Aires to Bogota. Two adults with four children, the youngest probably 5 years old – this seems like much more effort than the trip Tony and I are on! None seemed disconcerted by the continuous rain showers at this point, they were just carrying on. I can’t imagine bicycling on this highway with narrow to non-existent shoulders.
As soon as we turned onto highway 141 to head west towards San Juan the fields changed to nothing but vines. Some of them have huge stalks right at the roots; obviously they’ve been here for a long time.
The city of San Juan seemed quite touristy, like many of the towns in wine producing areas. We stayed in the center of the city at the comfortable Gran Hotel Provincial. We headed out for dinner about 9:00 PM and could only find one restaurant that was open. We were among five people in a huge space. The food here was fine, but the beer selection was quite poor with no local beers at all. What’s up with that?!? It was good to see that by the time we finished our meal the place had filled up with families and couples. We haven’t yet gotten used to the late dining hours here in Argentina. It just seems odd to see young kids in restaurants at what seems a very late hour!
Tuesday, January 15 – San Juan to Mendoza – 185 km
We knew we had a short ride today as we continued through wine country. The fields along Highway 40 are primarily grapes with some sections of olives and others of garlic. The highway was in good shape and the day was a hot one. The ride didn’t take long and we arrived in the early afternoon. Thankfully our hotel had our room ready so we didn’t have to wait to check in.
The Diplomatic Hotel is in central Mendoza so we went for a stroll and stopped to grab a bite and a beer at a nearby cafe. While enjoying the tree shaded street and the breeze as well as the beer, two of the three people we know in South America happened by! Small world indeed. Fellow riders Steve and Eva from Tucson with whom we’ve dined in several cities en route, and with whom we had talked about meeting for dinner this evening, were on a quest for a particular ice cream shop when they walked past us. We had a good visit, agreed on dinner plans and talked about a wine tour for tomorrow. Our hotel concierge will be busy helping us out once we return!
Our very helpful concierge had great suggestions for dinner and booked a table for the four of us at Siete Cocinas and also booked a wine tour for us tomorrow. We confirmed details with Steve and Eva, walked to pick up laundry that we had dropped off on our way into the city, then met for dinner. A good restaurant with a few things on the menu outside our comfort zones … the cow brain ravioli might be fabulous, but none of us ordered it!
Dinner with friends was a great way to wrap up the day. We look forward to seeing them tomorrow for our wine tour.
Wednesday, January 16 – Mendoza area wine tour
A fun and interesting day touring wineries and learning a lot more than expected. We met our van, guide, and Steve and Eva at 9:00 AM, picked up one other couple, Doug and Bonnie while heading towards two key regions, Luján de Cayo and Maipú. Our guide, Matthias was excellent – very personable, knowledgeable, interesting, and passionate about wines. Of the wine tours we’ve done in this and other areas in the past, Matt stood out as the best guide we’ve toured with.
Our first stop at Pulmary, a very small organic winery that produces some of their own wines and contracts with some growers as well. In addition to the great presentation on wine production by the vintner, we tasted Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Rose and a blend. All excellent, and sadly not available in Canada. The highlight of this stop though was to sample some excellent beer as well. The son of the owner set up ‘champagne method beer production’ at a fairly small scale. The beer is excellent and is in great demand locally. The beer is fermented in the bottles as Champagne is, bottles are turned upside down for yeast to settle out in the necks, then the neck is frozen and then uncapped to allow the release of the sediments, recapped, and ready for sale. The end product is excellent and the old process with new technology was fascinating.
Another stop in Luján de Cayo was fabulous. The owner and winemaker, Carmelo Patti, greeted us and proudly showed us around his facility. He is renowned as a winemaker and insists none of his wines be released for sale until he deems them to be ready, often 4 or 5 years after bottling. He is a charming, passionate host and a delight to learn from.
What did we learn? That if we are aging wines in a cellar that the plastic cap should be removed from the bottle so once a year the cork can be examined to ensure there is no oxidation or cracks in the cork – if there are, the only solution is to drink the wine right away! But without removing the cap, you cannot tell if the wine is still healthy or if the cork is in good shape. Malbec (French for ‘bad taste’!) should be decanted for an hour, preferably into a flat bottomed wine carafe. To keep the wine cool after decanting set the decanter in a shallow dish with a bit of ice and a bit of water to maintain a temperature of about 14 C.
Carmello had recommendations about types of corkscrews, racks to age wines, but was in no way snobby about his opinions. He seemed to just want to ensure people enjoy their wines! The tasting was excellent, and we tried some fabulous wines. Again though, none are sold in Canada. This is unfortunate as the wines – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as an excellent blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec – were all ones I would have been happy to purchase. However, motorcycling does limit our ability to buy and transport things. Even if we could strap a case on, I’m sure the 30 degree temperatures wouldn’t do it any good.
But Carmelo was an entertaining, gracious and fascinating host.
Our third stop was at another small vineyard, this one in the Maipú area of Mendoza. Owned by a French couple, Philippe and Brigitte who purchased the winery relatively recently as a retirement project, they delight in the whole process of making wines as well as olive oils. We sampled both while visiting and would have loved to bring some home. Carinae is the brand, and they do not produce enough wines or olive oils to ship abroad. Unfortunate as the olive oil was especially good.
Our final stop in mid afternoon was at a larger and beautifully landscaped vineyard, Finca Agostino. A wonderful three-course lunch was served, each course paired with a wine to compliment the flavours. The setting was beautiful and the food and wines were excellent.
The van ride back to Mendoza was quite a quiet one! And once back at our hotel, a nap was in order as either of us are used to drinking all day long. The evening was cloudy and showery so we headed out about 10:00 for a small bite at an excellent restaurant a few doors down from our hotel. Oregano had been recommended by the ever-helpful concierge, Martin, and we were very impressed with this tiny restaurant with a clay oven and excellent service. Our light and simple meal of appetizers and one small pizza was one of the best we’ve had on this trip.
Thursday, January 17 – Mendoza to Los Andes, Chile – 290 km
Today’s ride was intentionally planned as a short one. With a border crossing required, and with reports about this border between Argentina and Chile (Highways 7 and 60) as one that sometimes has incredibly long line ups, we didn’t want to be riding narrow roads in the Andes in the dark if the border crossing took hours and hours.
The ride west from Mendoza was beautiful although the skies were cloudy and we thought we might see some rain. The Andes present such a range of scenery – rocky mountain slopes covered in grasses and shrubs, tree covered peaks, towering cloud-capped walls of ice and snow – we got to see many faces of the Andes today. My only regret being the poor light that prevented us taking more photos of amazing vistas.
When we arrived at the border an Argentinian border guard handed us two pieces of paper each. On this very windy day, we had to hang on tightly to ensure they didn’t blow away. We were directed to stop in any line up of vehicles (stations 1 through 7) in a huge wide-open gravel parking lot and to fill out our forms while waiting for border staff. They are housed in tiny shacks and we were very glad it wasn’t pouring rain! Despite the wind howling across this space, the whole process went more quickly than at any other border. There might not be a building here, but there is a process! Got stamps on papers, pulled ahead to an inspection station, answered questions to assure agent that we don’t have fruit, pets, drugs, or contraband, got more stamps, pulled ahead and handed over papers and we were on our way. This took less than an hour which was a pleasant surprise!
We stopped just over the border at the Portillo Ski Resort, hoping for a cup of coffee or bite of lunch, but although the hotel is open and relatively busy, the restaurant was not. It was interesting to see the resort today as a venue for hikers and imagine it as a snow-covered ski area later in the year.
Once leaving Portillo we began the very, very twisty descent towards Los Andes. A stretch of Highway 60 has 27 very tight curves, one right after the other. There are great photos online of the curves sweeping back and forth down the side of the mountain. The ride down was fun, but not one we wanted to race down. With lots of truck traffic, lots of loose gravel on the corners, and a concrete road surface, it would be easy to loose traction. I can’t imagine driving up here on a snowy day to go skiing! No guard rails, narrow lanes, and the concrete would be very slick with snow or ice on it.
We arrived in Los Andes in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel. We cooled off a bit and then strolled into town looking for a late lunch-early dinner which we found. On this Thursday afternoon the main square was packed with people, the whole downtown area seemed like a very busy place with lots going on. We were glad to be staying a bit out of the town centre! Not only might it be a more quiet evening for us, but it gave us a good walk to and from our hotel to stretch our legs a bit.
Friday, January 18 – Los Andes to Santiago via San Filipe – 110 km
Today was another fairly short ride and a somewhat sad one too. When we reach Santiago today we will have finished our trip. For an adventure we had spent more than a year planning, and almost 4 months riding, it is hard to believe it is almost over.
We left Los Andes and headed towards San Filipe, a small town north of Santiago. The fields of grapes, olives, corn and other crops hugged the road all the way into the town. We found our was to the Plaza de Armas and parked our bikes in the square on the sidewalk. Parking is managed by wardens (for want of a better word) directing parking on all sides of the square. As we parked our bikes a warden assured us that a fellow would watch our bikes and ensure their security while we enjoyed San Filipe. The fellow who was appointed to watch our bikes was most interested in our travels, had a ton of questions, and probably only gained half of the details he hoped for given the state of our Spanish. But he did keep an eye on the bikes as we roamed the square, stopped for coffee, and enjoyed being out of the heat for a short while. We took a very quiet look inside the cathedral on the square as mass was in session. Then we tipped our guy and headed out of town.
Before leaving though we stopped at a car wash where our bikes received a badly-needed cleaning. While they were being washed Tony dropped by a Claro store to sort out his phone as it isn’t working as it should. So we accomplished a few things while the day got hotter and hotter. By the time the bikes were done it felt very good to be back on the road with some breeze blowing. However leaving San Filipe, we could feel the heat rising up off the pavement so we were glad that Santiago is just over an hour away.
Once checked into our hotel we walked a half a block to find what might have been the best beer of this whole trip. Not that it was artisanal or special in any way, but sitting on a shaded patio on a 32 degree day after a hot ride somehow made this beer spectacular!
Saturday, January 19 – Santiago – 0 km
Today we began prepping for our travels home. On Monday we will meet a broker at the airport to get the bikes crated for shipping back to Edmonton. Given the miles on my bike – over 128,000 km in total – it might be crazy to send it home, but we didn’t want to deal with the challenge of trying to sell them here as that process has its own complications. So home they will go. And we will follow a few days after the bikes are ready to go.
We walked around the Providencia area, enjoyed walking past a large park filled with sculptures but couldn’t get close to any of them as there is a jazz festival taking place in the park so the park was closed to visitors today. But perhaps we will come back another time to check them out.
Stopped for a small bite at the Artisan Bistro – triple cooked fries with a brilliant homemade catsup and a pork croquette that was very tasty and beautifully presented. Atmosphere too on another shaded patio added to our enjoyment.
Sunday, January 20 – Santiago to Cajon de Maipo and back – 212 km
Today was our last ride in the Santiago area on this trip. We decided to head a bit southeast of the city to explore an area several people had mentioned, San Jose de Maipo and Cajón de Maipo. This ride provided us an opportunity to see more of Santiago as the first 25 km or so were through the city. The freeways and streets seem well planned with lots of bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks, well signed ramps and exits from the main thoroughfare.
We rode through the town of San Jose de Maipo and turned onto a narrow gravel road which was in pretty poor shape in places. This Camino Embalse El Yeso goes about 30 km to the Elbalse el Yeso (Yeso Dam). We didn’t ride all the way to the dam but enjoyed some great views of the Andes and the Cajon de Maipo along the way. The gorge this road winds through is just beautiful. There were several washed-out sections of road where only one lane remains, often in questionable shape. The hairpin turns around rock faces provided new views of the Andes every time we swung around a sharp curve, but we always had to pay attention to the road surface and traffic. It shouldn’t have surprised us that on a Sunday afternoon there was so much traffic on this somewhat goat-trail kind of road. The Dam and reservoir are a popular day trip for many residents of Santiago.
We rode as far as a viewpoint about 20 km up the Camino and decided to turn around. Part of our reason was based on practicality – we are supposed to bring the bikes for transport tomorrow in clean condition. Given the number of streams that cross the road surface we thought it would be better to turn back before getting into any muddy spots.
The day’s ride was a lovely one and took us to some remarkably gorgeous spots. The Andes seem to present a new vista every time we look. Sunday evening in the area we were staying in, Providencia, was pretty quiet. With not many restaurants open we felt we were lucky to find Nuestra Pizza open, and were very pleased to find the food and service was excellent.
Monday, January 21 – Santiago
We headed out to the airport for our 9:00 AM meeting with Julio to get the bikes packed up for shipping. He seems an incredibly knowledgeable and well-connected person and we felt very confident leaving our bikes in his hands. However we didn’t just get off the bikes and leave them with Julio. We helped prep them and all the gear that we are shipping home with them as well.
Removing the windscreens, top cases and front tires helped to reduce the space each bike will take up. We worked with Julio and several of his staff to secure these parts along with one large bag on each pallet that contained our never-used camping gear. All this stuff that we strapped across the seats behind us that we never used! But there were a few times I thought we might need it, especially and memorably for me the day and evening we rode Ruta 40 from Susques to San Antonio de los Cobres a few weeks ago. However, if we ever do another long ride, I suspect we will leave the camping gear at home! But ship it home we will, and will be glad to not have to check it as baggage.
Once the bikes were strapped down and wrapped in shrink wrap they were taken by forklift into a warehouse and we will see them again in Edmonton in a few days or weeks. The final step for arranging shipping was to go through a customs office. This took a bit of time, most of which was spent waiting with Julio and talking about bikes and rides he has done. But once an agent looked at our paperwork and checked a few details with Julio, we were free to go. So about 1:30 PM we headed back into the city on an airport shuttle.
Tuesday, January 22 – Santiago
Hard to believe that today is our last day on holidays in Santiago – it is hard to believe our trip is almost over.
We spent the day being tourists. A bike tour of some of the city with some history provided and stops at a couple of markets filled the morning. We rode past some amazing murals as well. When the bike tour wrapped up we walked to San Cristobal Park. The area we walked through was one we had ridden through earlier so we had the chance to stop and take some photos of the murals we had whizzed past this morning.
The Park is one of the largest green spaces in any city in South America. And on a hot summer day, it was a very busy place. We opted to take the funicular as well as the teleferico (cable car) to see different parts of the park. There was a line up for the funicular so we had to wait a bit to go up, but as it was a 30 degree day, we didn’t really want to walk to the top of the hill. At the top there is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary as well as a church, sanctuary, and viewpoint with great views of the city and surrounding Andes. Plus, of course, many vendors selling souvenirs.
A short walk away is the teleferico which took us to another peak overlooking the city. From the cable car we could see a huge and very busy swimming pool as well as parts of the park not easily seen from where the funicular stops. As we rode the cable car towards its final stop we figured we were a lot closer to our hotel than we would if we used the return ticket, so we exited here and made a fairly short walk over the river and back to our hotel. It was good to get back and out of the heat, but we were glad to have enjoyed views of the city we wouldn’t have had without ascending the hill.
Dinner was a pretty quiet affair – we returned to the excellent Artisan Bistro and shared a selection of appetizers as well as a dessert. Again, the food was fabulous and beautifully presented and the service was excellent. A lovely way to close our final day in Santiago.
Wednesday, January 23 – Santiago to Edmonton – 11,323 km! Home safe and sound
We have not been good at updating details since we left Santiago. More than a week has passed since we arrived home, and we are indeed settling in.
We left Santiago on a morning flight (Air Canada) to Toronto. It was comfortable enough and happily uneventful (the best type of flight to have!). We had no problems making our connection to Edmonton with only two hours between flights and customs to clear. This all moved quickly and we were ready in plenty of time to make our flight to Edmonton. This flight too went well – I was happy to fall asleep and only wake up when we started our descent. I wasn’t especially happy to hear the temperature when we landed was -24C though.
As I write this note, we’ve been home for more than a week, we’ve settled in although we can’t help but compare the recent and forecast winter temperatures with those much milder ones of much of South America. But despite the weather, it is good to be home, to reconnect with friends, to cook in our own kitchen and sleep in our own bed! To quote “There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireplace.”
Friends have asked if we would do a similar trip again, or would we go somewhere else, or what our plans are. As tempting as it might be to start making plans for some other adventure, for now we will treasure feeling grounded and connected to friends and family.
We learned so much during our ride of over 25,000 km about people, places and each other. One of the biggest things we observed is that although many areas we traveled through are considered dangerous by some, we always felt welcomed when we stopped along the way. Often we would be told the area we were heading towards is dangerous – be it the next town, next country, next continent. Disregarding such information, off we would go and would never feel at risk. We recognize we were lucky and usually kept our wits about us, but also that the perception of risk is not always accurate.
We appreciated the emails and comments we received along the way. Many of those helped dispel the occasional feeling of being unconnected. To be reminded of our roots with family and friends was greatly appreciated.
Thank you for joining us on our journey!
Katherine & Tony – January 31, 2019