Monday, November 12, 2007

Carretera Austral Part 11: Camilo's Adventure

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Monday, March 19, 2007

Days 14-15-16: Camilo's trip to Chile Chico and Perito Moreno with Tom, the return towards Puerto Ingeniero Ibáñez. 

Previous Chapter - Next Chapter

Before we leave the Great Continental South behind, there is a story yet to be told: Camilo and Tom's adventures as I rode to Villa O'Higgins. 

I now leave you with Camilo as narrator. 

* * *

Just as we had been told, the ride to Chile Chico was one of the most fun and beautiful roads in the area. 

I asked Tom if he had enough gas to reach Chile Chico. "Sure, it's 110 km". I looked at him. "Tom, it's more like 170 km".

We stopped at Puerto Guadal to find a bottle and a hose. To my surprise I realised that the only way Tom knew to get a siphon going was by sucking on the hose.  He told me he hated to do this, since he always ended up swallowing some. I let him choke a few times, and then showed him how to use the plastic bottle as a bellows to get the thing going. 

After spending half an hour transferring the 4.5 litres the KLR needed, we carried on towards the plaza, and saw the large sign of an Esso gas station. No comment. 

On the road we met two English guys, Will and Norm. 

We stopped for a pic. The wind was unbelievable. "Tom, your bike is going to get blown over", said I. "No, it's fine" said he.

We got to Chile Chico and found a place to spend the night. The area's microclimate is fantastic: it was sunny, and the temperature was around 24 ºC. Not willing to let a day like this go to waste, we put on shorts, tshirts and flip flops. As soon as we had left the building and advanced a few metres, the day turned foul and it started to rain lightly. We would spend the rest of the day frozen, but with our heads high. 

Time to eat, so we found a place that had empanadas. From there, we managed to find the worst internet shop in the world (the girl was clueless, no devices were recognized, expensive), so we went to another one. It seems we were a little to hasty with our previous classification. This one was certainly the worst. Tom spent three hours trying to check his email, while he places his pics in a zip file for me (which ended up getting corrupted anyway). 

One notable thing about Chile Chico is that the main avenue has speakers installed outdoors along its whole length. We were treated to cheesy romantic ballads all day. Tom was beyond comment.

Later we went back to the residencial, only to find that there was a pickup truck where my motorbike had been previously. I asked the owner, and he said he hadn't moved it. (Strangely enough, I too have had to face this kind of shameless lie before - Ed.).

The next day, as I was loading the bike, it fell over. The result: scratches on the top case and paint off the crash bars. 

After passing through the Chilean Aduana without a hitch, we got to the Argentine one. When I was asked for my papers, I was told that I didn't have any temporary international insurance. I had forgotten to get this little gem, so I told the guy that he was right, and that I would be back in Chile the same day. He insisted, so I asked where I could buy it. "Chile Chico" came the answer. "You require this insurance and yet you don't sell it?". Back to Chile Chico.

I didn't want to do the Chilean Aduana paperwork all over again (entering the country only to leave it a few minutes later), so I sped by Policía Internacional at 130 km/h, and bought the insurance at a supermarket (and paid the price for a car since, as the clerk explained "Your bike is a Suzuki and that's a car brand").

Back to the Chilean aduana. "Was it you that just flew past into Chile?" he asked. I didn't want any more complications, so I just said it was easier to do the whole thing once. Strangely enough, the guy just laughed and said nothing. 

Empanadas and pics at Los Antiguos, and on we went to Perito Moreno on the paved road. There we bought "Special Chain Lubricant", a copy of WD40 called W80. It was all we could find in the small town. 

Tom went to find a place to stay (the municipal camping, probably about a dollar) and after squeezing 21.97 litres into the V-Strom's tank (since gas here is less than half the price it is in Chile, at $278 pesos per litre), I said goodbye to Tom. 

I asked what the best route back to Chile was. I was told there was one that went through Río Mayo, but I saw a more direct route, via Portezuelo, and asked what it was like. I was told it was in pretty good condition, so I set off. 

The road cut through pure and simple pampa, windier now than it had ever been on the trip. Some stretches allowed for 100 km/h, some less. 

I soon reached the start of a grader's run. That was the end of quiet and fun riding. (This was clearly karma from setting off that other grader's alarm - Ed.)

I stopped for a pic, but the wind blew me over as I came to a stop. I tried unsuccessfully to get the bike up for twenty minutes, but it was only with the help of people in the first car I'd seen since I left the town that we managed to get it up. 

There was no part of the road that was compacted or solid. Everything was loose, and the wind made riding extremely difficult. 

The scenery was spectacular, but with the sun in my eyes I could hardly see anything. It started to get late, and I began to worry about the Argentine aduana being closed, which would mean having to return via the same road at night. 

On an uphill curve, where there were more loose stones than was usual, I had my second fall. Luckily the last car I would see that day was passing by, and they helped me pick it up. That was at 21:00. 

I called home, to see if they could call the Chilean aduana and ask what time it closes, but they couldn't get through. I finally reached the Argentine aduana and mentioned that I was surprised at how few cars used the road. In an unmistakable Argentine accent I was told "No, there's lots actually; some days there'll be five or even eight cars passing through".

I set off again, assuming that the Chilean aduana was near. 

Somewhere around the tenth kilometre of "Where the fuck is the Chilean aduana?" I had a rather unpleasant fall on another rocky climb, since the road surface after the Argentine aduana was much worse than before. 

Night had fallen, knowing I was the last to have come through the Argentine aduana, no strength to even attempt picking up the bike (which had fallen with its wheels up-slope), I began unpacking warm clothes and a reflective safety jacket. It was getting very, very cold. 

I set several things around the bike, which lay in the middle of the road, so it was more visible and didn't get hit by a car or trampled on by some animal. I looked around for somewhere to place the tent. Not a single square metre lent itself to this task, but it had to be done. 

After resting for twenty minutes, I saw lights in the distance, coming from the Chilean side. I waved my arms around, using my cellphone as a torch so they'd see me before hitting the bike. It was the Carabineros; the last car had casually mentioned that a bike was coming in behind them, and after having no sign of said bike, they set off to investigate. 

They suggested putting the V-Strom in the pickup, but once they say how heavy it was, that idea was scratched. We put all the luggage in the pickup, and they drove behind me, lighting my way. Meanwhile they called the station and arranged for coffee, cookies and water to be waiting for us. 

When we finally got there, after 10 km of skids and near-falls, I had coffee and rested. It must have been 23:30. The aduana was closed, but they told me to leave the papers with them and they'd get everything done. 

They suggested not to go on to Coyhaique, and so began calling residenciales, all closed at this time of night, until they found one that had space. They told the owner that a very tired motorcyclist was on his way. As I came in the doorway I saw how a guest was getting shuffled out of the ground floor room and up to the first floor, all so I wouldn't have to go up the stairs. That night I watched the Festival de Viña; I needed to disconnect from the real world for a bit. 

These are the two Carabineros, and I am deeply indebted to them for their help. 

The next day I had a nice and simple ride to Coyhaique, with beautiful views of Cerro Castillo. On our way down it had been cloudy and somber, but now, in the sun, it was completely different.

In Coyhaique I met the English lads by chance: I had gone for a walk the second day I was there, and while I was out, they had checked in to the same residencial

I was then treated to the horrible process that is changing the chain on a BMW F650 GS. 

One thing that's worth mentioning is the excessive caution of Will and Norm: Their pan-american travel kit included two torque wrenches and a plastic tarp on which to work. Since in England you just take the bike to the service centre (and get a nice CBR 600 meanwhile), they lacked what one might call "precision Chilean mechanical knowledge": a stuck bolt resulted in several calls to BMW UK and much hesitation. I suggested a bath of WD40 and a good whack with a mallet. The official response from BMW UK? A bath of WD40 and a good whack with a mallet. It finally came off (with the help of five hammers and five large pieces of junk metal, and ample amounts of WD40). 

And that night Paul called, past midnight. He had come all the way from Villa O'Higgins in one day, and his sanity seemed to have been affected by all those kilometres riding alone, at night, in the middle of nowhere. 

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