Although getting into Chile had many steps, everyone was very friendly and helpful and it was quite easy and expedient. Possibly the easiest crossing we’ve experienced.
We rode about 20 miles into Chile and decided to spend the night in a town called Arica. A very nice beach town with a really good feel.
It was clear to me that there was going to be quite the celebration with the amount of fireworks that were being sold out of cardboard boxes along the streets.
By 11pm the promenade along the beach and the beach itself started filling up with families and friends for a big fireworks display. Everything in South America happens much later than eveywhere else, it seems. Most people set up tables and had somewhat fancy and elaborate food and drinks for everyone in their party. And many people dressed up in fancy clothes, despite being on the street and on the beach.
A fairly famous Chilean band named Amerikan Song, played from about 11pm until 2am right along the beach. They were actually quite good and had everyone
The beach was even quite filled up with people.
There were three fireworks displays in three different parts of town. From the beach I could see all three, which were all equally impressive.
It was certainly something to sit on the beach and see fireworks over the Pacific. I don’t think I’ve seen that before.
By 3am, most people were gone and there was quite a mess to be cleaned up. This was a great place to ring in the New Year.
Happy New Year!! We had a late start as we said goodbye to the friends we had met in the hostel we were staying at. Other travelers and another motorcyclist. Of course, I neglected to take a picture of the group as they saw us off from the hostel.
There were several sections of roadway through big sand dunes that were quite interesting today. It’s clear there is no shortage of sand in this place.
This part of Chile is all desert. Long, open roads. Vast, dry, hot, flat nothingness. It’s impressive in many respects, but the riding can get quite monotonous.
There were dust devils like I have never seen. So many that you couldn’t count them all and many of them quite large.
More roadway though sand dunes as we headed towards Iquique.
Iquique is quite a dramatic city of about 300,000 people. It sits right on the ocean in a giant bowl surrounded by sand dunes. It’s very cosmopolitan and it was clear they had a big party here last night as well.
After leaving Iquique we spotted a bunch of rust across the desert, and so we had to go investigate. It turned out to be an abandoned Saltpeter works site that started in 1872 and was abandoned in the 1960s. In 2005 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Needless to say it was pretty impressive to see.
There are numerous similar sites in this area, some much larger than this one. At Santa Laura there were 1000 residents that lived in a company town. The school alone had 130 students at its height. It’s very hard to imagine living and working so remotely in such a harsh and hot environment.
The desert is slowly overtaking the site, but it was impressive to see none the less. To say it was hot at this place, would be a bit of an understatement.
We drove more straight, long desert roads headed towards the town of San Pedro de Atacama. We battled a cross or head wind the entire afternoon. Someone must have noticed that it’s often windy in this area, as we passed through a very large wind farm along the way.
As we worked our way south we entered into the Atacama desert. This is a 49,000 square mile desert situated between the Andes and the Chilean coastal mountains. It is the driest non-polar place in the world. There are indications that it did not rain here from 1570 to 1971. That’s quite a dry spell! Today it averages only .6 (that’s POINT 6!) inches a year. It could be the oldest desert in the world and it is so dry that several peaks above 20’000 ft. in the area are glacier free. We were regularly at 10,000′ as we drove into the Atacama region.
The further we got into the region the hotter it became, registering 95F on the thermometer. Although the road was generally straight for as far as you could see, this one particular corner was painted red and had several memorials and wrecked cars, scattered about. Obviously it gave drivers used to the straight roads some problems in the past.
Just before we arrived in the small town of San Pedro we passed the Valley of the Moon. A very Grand Canyon looking area. It’s seems like maybe this is how big canyons get started.
We had plans to explore around San Pedro and the Atacama desert today. This morning before we left, I checked my tire pressure and realized my back tire was flat. I found the bad spot and it appears to be split all the way down to the cord of the tire. So we had to deal with it. I pulled the tire off and upon closer inspection found several other areas that it is starting to split. The best we can figure is it’s a defective tire. So I found a shop in town that could patch it and at least get us on the road again. The closest tire for a bike this size is in Santiago, over 1000 miles away. So hopefully this tire makes it that far before it falls apart.
The tire shop was quite the experience and certainly not up to US standards. And as always trying to have a conversation in Spanish can be challenging. Some countries the Spanish is easy, but Chile isn’t one of them. Their annunciation and truncating of words makes understanding Spanish in these parts a bit of a challenge. None the less, the tire guy was excellent if not a bit distracted. He got the job done.
We have come across quite a few other travelers in San Pedro as it is quite touristy. Nicolas is from Argentina and has been on the road for two years. He said he needs another year to complete his travels of South America before he heads for home. We are consistently amazed how much stuff some of these other motorcyclists are hauling around. It’s unfathomable. Oddly enough Nicolas had the spare tire that I needed, but wasn’t interested in selling it.
I went for a sunset ride around the Atacama desert to see how the tire would do and it worked great. The views were quite immense across the desert and the surrounding volcanoes.
The 1100GS has been performing quite well despite being 18 years old!
In the morning we rode out to the Salar de Atacama…the Atacama Salt Flats. It’s the largest salt flat in Chile encompassing 1200 square miles. It is the third largest in the world. Because it has no outlet from the surrounding mountains and gets very little rain, most of it has a rough surface. It is also home to a large pink flamingo reserve. The roads leading into and around are quite desolate.
We were popular guys here as several buses pulled in with tourists showing up noticing our Alaska plates. Both these guys were motorcyclists back home and asked to have a picture with us……one from Italy and one from Costa Rica
The salt flats are immense and you could easily wander around out here for days in the stifling heat, if there were not marked trails.
There were several areas that had standing water, but it of course is highly saturated with salt.
Having never seen flamingos before, they were pretty interesting to learn about.
After several hours on the road, my tire gave out. Four more splits in the tire developed that were leaking air. Fortunately it happened right near a gas station, but in the middle of nowhere. A few guys passing through called the next big town an hour and a half away to try to track down a new tire for me. Meanwhile I strapped my tire on Tracy’s bike and rode 20 miles to the next small town that had a guy that repaired tires, to see if we could put a tube in mine and limp to town
Don Carlos got me all fixed up, but it was an experience. You can see all his certifications on the wall behind him…..tire repair guy, carpenter, welder, and fireman. He was pretty proud of his skill set and took good care of me. He just shook his head when I told him I had ridden there from Alaska
None the less, the tire repair didn’t work. So, as it turned out, one of the guys that stopped earlier, Christian, waited to make sure we had the tire fixed. He and his girlfriend both ride BMWs, so he was pretty keen to make sure we got back on the road. He convinced us to load the bike on his truck and he drove us the hour and a half to the next town, Antofagasta. AND took us straight to his friends new shop, who specializes in BMWs. They worked late for us, as we didn’t arrive until after 6pm. We are consistently amazed by the generosity of strangers. We were really lucky today that things worked out as they did
I had several issues with my bike that they took care of. Most notably my tire that was splitting down to the cord in four or five spots and not holding air.
I also noticed a few weeks ago that the lower bolt holding my rear shock to the frame was broke and needed replacing. I haven’t come across a suitable replacement yet, but riding for too long like this could be problematic and dangerous.
The guys at the shop put on a new tire and even rounded up a replacement bolt for the shock. What an amazing shop experience we had at Big Trail Service Chile. And we made four great new friends that even led us on their motorcycles to a great hotel right on the ocean. A huge thanks to Ceferino, Luis, Christian, and Manuel. Hope to see you guys in Alaska when you ride North!
Antofagasta turned out to be a really neat city and we had a great view from the hotel.
With Tracy having a bit of a stomach bug, we decided to stay in Antofagasta for an extra day. Even in daylight, it’s a beautiful place.
This city is very metropolitan and full of color and differing architectural styles.
I decided to ride North along the coast for a few hours to the tiny fishing village of Santa Maria. This was a very tiny town and seemed to only exist from it’s small fishing fleet.
Yes, very small indeed.
Several of the boats here were bringing in a type of seaweed or kelp from the ocean and laying it out to dry. It looked like hot, slippery work in the mid day sun.
It was unclear to me what happens next in this process or what it is used for.
I then rode to another side of the bay to a town called San Luis, which was much bigger and had a good beach. I was told people from the big city come to this place on the weekends for the nice and uncrowded beaches.
I did stop at one roadside stand to have a cold drink. There was no one there, but when I started yelling Hola, a few gals came out and helped me. When they kept laughing at my lack of Spanish speaking skills, the rest of the family heard them and had to come out to have a laugh as well. Before I knew it I had nine people in front of me, peppering me with questions about where I was from and what I was up to. I tried to keep up with equal questions back at them. So, we had Grandpa, Grandma, several kids and spouses and three grand kids. They ALL worked the little food stand during the summer. In the winter, back to the city a half hour away, as the kids had to be back in school. A very fun half hour was spent with this generous and laughter filled family.
The coastline here certainly had some beautiful places
Heading back towards the city, the entire coastline is composed of sandy cliffs
Meanwhile back in the city, the kids must be out of school for the summer as the one small beach in town was packed with families.
There was not a bit of sand left to put another umbrella on!!
With several piers and causeways around, the kids were having the time of their lives jumping off.
As you can see…not much beach and a whole lot of kids. I couldn’t resist and did go for a swim for an hour or so. It was just to fun to watch all these kids enjoying themselves.
If you look close in this picture, just to the left of the tall building in the foreground you can see where the beach is. The rest of the waterfront in this town is rocky. All in all a very active city with a lot of people out and about.
We put in a lot of miles today as we traversed further south across the Atacama desert. We have seen our fair share of long straight roads. Did I mention long and straight??
We did stop at Manos de Desierto…..which is an artists sculpture out in the middle of nowhere. It’s an iconic piece that I have seen in pictures of other travelers for years and years. Oddly enough, it’s pretty anti-climactic. It’s a big hand sticking out of the sand. It’s been in place since 1992. AND a popular stop. We were there for about 15 minutes and there were four other vehicles that stopped in that time.
Our route finally cut back towards the west coast off Chile and ran along the Pacific for quite some time. The roads remained long and straight. We’re in Vallenar tonight and we’ll be in Santiago in a couple of days.
When we headed South this morning it was fairly cool out. As we parallel the Pacific coast we have been seeing very large wind farms quite regularly. The closer we get to the big city of Santiago the more the driving here is like doing a road trip in the States. Great roads, nice gas stations with convenience stores, and more traffic. And on this stretch we have been seeing a lot of other travelers on motorcycles as well as riders out for a day ride from Santiago.
We even saw our second array of solar panels. This one was by far LARGEST solar farm I have ever seen. It was huge fields and then more fields of solar panels.
At one gas stop today we noticed a couple flashy BMW’s…nearly the same bikes as ours, but for the police. His was the updated street model of my bike and hers s the same bike that Tracy is riding. I’m not sure a police woman in the US would get away with bright red lipstick and very form fitting pants, like they do in Chile.
For quite awhile we were about a half a mile behind a group of six riders, also on BMW adventure bikes like ours. After cresting a small rise on a corner they were all stopped. I immediately pulled over and saw one of the bikes laying in the middle of the highway and rider the face down by the guardrail not moving. We started slowing down traffic and lots of other cars and trucks were stopping to help. A mangled bike in the middle of the road and a fellow rider helmet down in a pool of blood was about all we could handle. It made us both realize the fine line we are on by traveling on two wheels in foreign countries. It was on both of our minds for the rest of the day.
A few hours later, a one armed guy came up to us at a gas stop and mentioned the accident. He was there shortly after we were. He said the rider had a hinged helmet and that cut his head somehow when he went down. Thus all the blood. The rider was alive, but I don’t think we’ll ever know the outcome. The other motorcyclists thought that the rider fell asleep due to the drowsiness caused by his diabetes medication, and hit the guardrail. It was a bit of an emotional scenario for the one armed fella, as he lost his arm in a motorcycle accident several years ago. Needless to say, a very sad deal on both counts. Tracy and I rode off in silence with being extra careful at the forefront of our thoughts.
We continued South along the coast with fantastic ocean views. We’ll spend the next few days in the colorful town of Valparaiso.
We spent the day exploring Valparaiso. It was an important port town before the Panama Canal was built. Today it is the second largest municipality in Chile and has become a popular tourist destination. It’s known for it’s colorful buildings and graffiti that is everywhere.
Some of the graffiti looks just like graffiti anywhere, but some of it are works of art.
People here were quite friendly but I was stopped at least six times on the street because I was carrying a camera that was exposed. I was told over and over again that it was a friendly but dangerous city and my camera would be stolen if I didn’t put it away. It was a Sunday so there wasn’t a lot of people around, but I never once felt threatened.
After a day of exploring we were treated to a stunning sunset over the city.
One of our requirements for any place that we stay is it has to have secured parking for the bikes. For the past two days we’ve had them in a courtyard surrounded by bougainvillea and a row beautiful roses.
The ride into Santiago was short and uneventful. We are up against the Andes again, so the mountains are ever present on the horizon, often times with snow on them.
Tracy is flying back up to Quito and Cusco for three weeks to do some traveling with his wife. I’ll be staying on the bike and heading out exploring solo. From 1/10/16 on, I’ll be posting under the tab titled “SOLO”. Please go back a page and click there for the latest updates.