Sunday, November 19, 2006

La Serena, Part 2B: Valle Del Elqui

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Monday, August 21, 2006

Second part, section B, of the series of posts about the trip to La Serena. You can read the previous part, where we visited Coquimbo and La Recova, or perhaps the trip from Santiago.

Time was ticking and I wanted to cover as much terrain as possible before the sun set. The route we took was as follows:

My caution and distrust of implicit speed limits made some parts of the ride extrmely slow and frustrating. The thousands of signposting ambiguities present all over Chile's roads because glaringly obvious when the loss of your license depends on the correct interpretation of the actual speed limit, as is my case.

Bit by bit I tried to relax. Sun, warm air. This is what we had come for!

Dryness; a river valley, and those colours, how it reminds me of Perú.

One can stop at the Embalse Puclaro, but I didn't go further than the parking lot. Also, the embalse itself is about 300 m from the car park, and it was hot. Very hot. Rodrigo was on his way; I had gone on ahead and didn't want to lose the advantage I'd gained, not on the paved bit at least. This is the embalse from another angle.

And the tunnel.

I love dry landscapes.

It was windy though. That windsurfer was really flying.

As generally happens with most artificial lakes, land is lost when they fill up. This surreal image of vineyards under water is a good example of this.

Vineyards and fruit trees everywhere.

In the distance, the hills.

Just before Vicuña, this river.

And to get there, this one-way bridge.

I don't have very good memories of Vicuña. I spent some days there with that ex that I mentioned in another post. We met there with Rodrigo, and carried on inland.

As we rode on, things got drier and drier, and now the vineyards were covered or at least sheltered by large amounts of plastic netting, either to protect against the wind or the sun.

A good paved road, few cars, great views and a nice breeze.

In the distance, the first glimpses of the mountains.

And more vineyards. The valley was so narrow at times, that there was barely enough room for the road and one plot of land.

It was quite windy here, so the netting must be for the wind.

On and on, towards the mountains. One or two small towns, small oases of life and humidity.

We decided to see how far we could get. The limiting factor was fuel; we hadn't seen a petrol station in a long time.

Soon there wasn't enough space for vineyards, nothing. Just the road.

And then the paved road ended, and the dirt road started. I lost Rodrigo at some point; he must have stopped to take a picture, and I must have passed him.

Quite a while later, with the sun almost completely set, I got to the Aduana for the Chilean-Argentine border. 20 minutes later, Rodrigo arrived, and he had indeed been taking a photo when I rode by.

Two rivers meet at the Aduana.

We spoke a while with a nice Carabinero. He told us that for many years he was an official escort, the mounted Carabineros that ride those big BMWs. He was called down from La Serena to Santiago, for a big event (Cumbre Iberoamericana?), because they didn't have enough people for all the escorts required. So he rode the big BMW down to Santiago, and visited every single relative he knew of on the way :-)

He said that further down the road there was snow, but about 30 km away. He asked if we would like to carry on, without having to do all the required paperwork, but we didn't have enough petrol. Oh well, for next time. He also told us about a group of BMW bikers that got to the Aduana some time ago, asking to be let through. They didn't heed the nasty weather, and insisted stubbornly despite the Carabinero not wanting to let them through. In the end, he let them go on, they were so stubborn and insistent. Hours later they came back, some of them on foot I think, because they'd been caught in a blizzard.

We said goodbye, and set off towards La Serena.

And the sun finally set, brefly tinting the clouds. I think we stopped for a meal in Vicuña, and then rode on back to La Serena.

That night I slept better than the previous one, because no one partied. Nonetheless, I did have to use one of my boots as a pillow. It wasn't that hard...

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La Serena, Part 2A: Coquimbo and La Recova

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Sunday, August 06, 2006

Second part, section A of the series of posts about the trip to La Serena from a few months ago. See first part if you haven't yet.

The morning after we arrived, some of us emerged from our chrysalis, and crawled towards the light and fresh sea air (some of us also screamed like pterodactyls when the light actually hit us, making us turn around and crawl back into the cabin).

The bit about being in a chrysalis is not a figure of speech; unless the ambient air is relatively warm, I usually close my sleeping bag up tight, until there is just a hole big enough to cover my mouth. As an illustration of this, I offer my gentle readerfolk a photograph of me that a friend took years ago, though in this case the intent was to mimick a giant anus:

Well, more or less like that. When I finally managed to get outside, I noticed a distinct urgency in the groans that my stomach was making. Images of toasted rolls, café au lait, jam, butter and dulce de leche danced in my head, so we set off with Ben to find some local shop that was open. I roused him from his sleeping bag, on the porch outside the cabin, where he spent the night (some rough biker thing he has going on, though he claimed that he felt no cold in his Tour Master trousers and jacket) and wandered off to find food. It was too early, and nothing was open. The pterodactyls were gnawing at my stomach.

I wanted to take full advantage of the available daylight, and since it was winter, the sun would set at 18:00. I wanted to do the Valle del Elqui, and if we didn't set off soon, we wouldn't have the time. When we got back to the cabin, some more people had risen, and we set off to find breakfast on the bikes with FuturoAs, Ben and DreamT.

The search for breakfast turned into a morning ride around Coquimbo, much to my dismay.

In the distance, the Cruz del Milenio:

I'm not sure if it's still there, but a few years ago, on several occasions, I remember having seen a billboard on my way out of Coquimbo. It said: "HOW BIG IS YOUR FAITH? MILLENIUM CROSS DONATIONS HOTLINE". Yes, really. Disgusting.

We didn't go up. Years ago I went up with my then-girlfriend (a wacko druggie, but that was a whole life ago), and it was an interesting experience, but I have never been comfortable around mixtures of religion and money. Or just around religion, as a matter of fact. Unlike many temples that have been built throughout human history, this thing doesn't even look like a temple, its just a giant pissing match against no one in particular. Look at the size of our cross, tee-hee. Now, from the engineering and geeky point of view, it is in fact quite cool to shove a giant something on top of a hill in Coquimbo.

We came down, and carried on riding around. The group split up at a Stop sign or something. In the end FuturoAs & son and I stopped and had a look at the view.

Sooner or later we met up with the rest, and we went to La Recova, in La Serena. It's part tourist-trap, part... no, wait. It's a complete tourist trap. Cheesy artesanía shops on the ground floor (though I must admit the stuff is novel if you don't live in South America) and utterly atrocious restaurants on the second. Which is where everyone decided to have lunch.

I wasn't too swayed by the menu, so I asked for something as innocuous as possible, and that would least be influenced by the general air of crapulence that there was. I ordered a toasted cheese sandwich, and finished it quickly. We were on the second floor, sitting on the balcony, and below, the car park and our bikes, in clear view. Ben had ordered a churrasco palta, basically a meat and avocado sandwich. I then felt a sudden movement beside me, and looked over. "A la mierda con esto! Este es el peor churrasco que he comido en mi vida!" Ben exclaimed, which would loosely be translated as fuck this, this is the worst churrasco I've had in my life, and without further ado, grabbed the piece of meat and launched it into the potted bushes beside us. On its parabolic flight, its many lines of gristle and fat gleamed in the noon sun.

I needed to buy some masking tape, to keep the front flaps of the sheepskin against the tank, so I went over to the supermarket. The cashier was, as best as I can describe her, the Chilean Britney Spears. No, really. I was shocked. I went back to the table, sat down, and gave Ben her coordinates. "Register 12, west side, Chilean Britney Spears. Go! Go! Go!". The tablecloth waved slightly in Ben's slipstream, and he was nowhere to be seen. I went down to the bike, and soon everyone else came down. It was time to set off to the Valle del Elqui.

Don't miss the second part, coming soon: La Serena, Part 2 B: Valle del Elqui!

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Brake Pads

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Friday, August 04, 2006

And continuing with our series of articles called "Posts that are interesting to a grand total of three people, two of which found them via a Google Search for "Britney Spears", we offer you the following pictures of my brake pads. Be still my beating heart.

Brake pads are what press against the brake disc, and through friction eventually stop the bike.

Right, now that we've got that crappy definition out of the way, let's have a look.

I wanted to see what state they were in. I bought the bike (XR 250 R) with 4000 km on it in April, and I then changed the front pads, and not the rear ones, which had a lot left on them (and, at the time of translation, in November, way past the 20000 km mark, they still do). It would appear that these are the original pads that came with the bike.

These are the parts. The two upper rows are from the back brake pads. From left to right, the pads themselves, then a metallic protector, and then a piece of synthetic insulation/backing (?), which sort of felt like plastic. It goes between the pads and the metal bit. The bottom row: the front brake pads. The front ones are AP Racing, and cost about 16000 pesos. The rear ones are Nisin pads.

You can see clearly that the front brake caliper uses two pistons, and the rear one uses one.

This is a pic of one of the rear pads. The slot indicates the wear on the pad. When they are worn all the way down to the slot, you should change them.

And this is one of the front ones. Note the "pasty" texture, and how they are darker. What does this mean? I haven't the faintest clue, but this article sounds a lot more "pro" if I say things like that.

And that's that.