Chile - the beginning of our South America adventure is rather bumpy


So now we are in Chile ... it took almost 24 hours to get here and technically we actually arrive prior to departure from Sydney ...

The flight was an ordeal ... after a sleepless night in Christchurch due to the fear of not hearing the mobile phone alarm clock and getting absolutely peed off because of the NZ customs stealing our camping stove we then arrive in Sydney where we are imprisoned in the transit area for 5 hours with no smoking room (I know that the Non smoking fraction of you feels no pity on this point , but I am almost 50 years old and find governmental education measures annoying...... and also I'm allergic to paternalism). After this we spent the next 13 hours in the have-nots' class of a 747 with another sleepless night squeezed like sardines in a can ....

After being spat out off the plane in Santiago , we wander around like two zombies (including the vacant stare but not dribbeling) . After all the formalities have been completed and even our luggage arrived safely (which I have doubted up to this point, because there had to be something wrong with our half-price flight) our first mission is to organize Peseta. That's a difficult task when one is awake and master of his / her senses, but for us two cabbages it is almost impossible, and our only sentence in Spanish: "dos cervezas por favor" (two beers please) does not help us mucho.

While Kevin is restocking his nicotine levels outside the airport I struggle with the Spanish speaking ATMs and it takes several failed attempts until I actually understand that it can't give me 200000 Pesos (the maximum amount) if it charges a 5 Dollar fee at the same time (Johan would have called this a classic "Murgh") Oh well, we're armed with Pesos now and at least have the financial side of things under control, and then somehow we cope with the journey to our hostel in Valparaiso on buses and taxi. I'm sure there would be more to tell about the ride if only we could remember it, but the first two days in Chile we are lost in the mist of sleep deprivation. Only after 14 hours of sleep we start to feel like human beings again.

Our motorcycle has reportedly already arrived at the weekend and will thus be ready to be picked up during the week, but now as it turns out, Martina from the Villa Kunterbunt (who helps European travelers with the entry formalities of their vehicles ) has gotten things terribly wrong - it is not our bike, which has arrived but the BMW outfit of a Dutch couple .... ours is still cruising around the Pacific until the 20th.

So we spend the first week in this country waiting for news about the imminent arrival of our Liza.

We use the time to get a first feel for country and people and also do some organizing ... like trying to find a substitute for our camping stove and getting the blog up to date.

It turns out that price-wise Chile is indeed on a par with our home country, but the infrastructure is not and despite persistent search in shops and on the Internet we are unsuccessful with the hunt for a new Coleman stove......

We learn that South America expects a very cold spring and summer this year - they think it's because of El Niño, but we all know better don't we?! I only say "Holfordfaktor" !!!!!


There is rarely someone who speaks English - every time I proudly manage to ask for something in Spanish I am being hit with an answer that makes as much sense to me as the machine gun it sounds like. Still - our shopping trips are crowned with success more often than not and sometimes we even get what we want.

On the 20th Martijn and Marie from Holland arrive. They have come for a 4 1/2 weeks holiday and together with Enzo (Martina's husband) and the dutch couple we go to the container docks to fetch their bike. Mateij has built the outfit himself so the assembly is done rather quickly. In next to no time all is done and she stands in the courtyard of the Villa Kunterbunt. We are very jealous - oh well at least we have the news that our Liza is now being shipped around the harbor - so we hope that everything works as well with us and that she fires up as good as the Dutch Boxer .......

After a nice evening of celebrating the start of their holiday with a few cups of vino tinto and a bbq the Dutch couple heads off towards the Atakama with broad smiles the next morning and as we have a lot more time on our hands we don't begrudge their swift departure.

Finally we get the relieving message that we can pick up our Liza as well. We are like two small kids in a candy shop and can't sit still until we go to the container docks.

It is indeed our crate (well you do recognize that when you've built it ), which wobbles towards us on a forklift. It takes ages until the box is disassembled and then the front end of our bike has to be put back together. This takes a lot longer than we thought and when the customs officer arrives for the border control we are just about rolling her off the pallet. Luckily it's the same customs man as 2 days ago - so he just looks at the VIN and license plate and then he bids us welcome in his country , wishes us a good time and disappears - because its his knocking-off time and it's Friday (funnily enough he doesn't want to shake our oil-smeared hands though) ....

We connect the battery - good there is juice in it - put everything else together and then comes the big moment .... Will she start? Nope, she doesn't even try. No klick, no nothing - looks like a electrical problem somewhere between the ignition, start button, idle switch and starter - we both hate electrics! Now we trying all kinds of things even to kick-start her, which is a rather desperate move after such a long time of being stationary. The tank gets removed again and all connections checked - of course without success. At some point I press the start button - just for the sake of it really and suddenly there is a response, a weak asthmatic rattle is being heard. We do not know, what reanimated her but with new vigor the starting attempts a being repeated with the result of a running engine ... ah well such an old lady surely has a right to be a bit bitchy sometimes (I should know).

Although the engine does sound quite rough, we smile as if we won the big roll-over jackpot. The paperwork holds us back a bit longer, but in the evening we and our Liza are in the yard of the Villa Kunterbunt. This calls for celebration so we march to Botteleria and get armed for our official South America here we come party......

Chile beware, we're on our way!


Monday we are ready to leave I've handed Enzo our camera so he can document the glorious beginning of the South American tour right from the beginning .... and then the bike does not start! She is not even trying and all the electrical components are playing silly tricks: sometimes there is power , then not , all the lights are flickering and then dead again, the starter relay is buzzing like crazy ...

First, we try it with a jump lead, without success. With the multimeter I check the voltage on the battery - which is ok, it has 12.5 volts. We try all sorts of approaches and decide that the error is possibly in the cable clutter behind the headlamp. For hours we struggle to take the faring off - 2 screws rotate in the housing and at the end we just saw them off and after all drudgery we can still find no loose, broken or otherwise incorrectly connected cable.

At some point Kevin, out of frustration, waggles on the cables going to the battery, and lo and behold, the negative pole is loose ... .After this is resolved our bike starts, as if nothing had happened, we feel like two right idiots and now have the problem to somehow get the faring back in place.... What would the world be without cable ties?

Now it is too late to go anywhere today so we spend another night in the Villa Kunterbunt.

Martina invites us to an asado and Enzo is grilling good Chilean beef, chorizo and black pudding - how cool is that?

When I want to pay for the extra night the next morning, Enzo waves me off and we even get a free t-shirt each. Again we say our farewells and this time we really leave.


In Vina del Mar, the next town, we try to get insurance for our bike - appearently this is needed to get into Argentina. After a long search we find the insurance district and then drive around for ages until we're at the right building but the person who deals with this kind of insurance is on their day off. This follows a random walk from one insurance to another, with the result that no one else is capable to issue a cross-border insurance policy. Finally, we leave empty-handed and decide to do everything in Santiago - we're sick of hanging around. According to information from other travelers we also need to stock up on dollars here in Chile, which you can then change again on the so-called blue market in Argentina to a get better exchange rate for pesos . Due to the economic situation there is a high inflation rate in the country, and there is no legal way for Argentinians to get dollars. The Argentine peso is internationally not worth much so we are told. Using cash machines inside Argentinia you get up to 6 pesos less for your hard currency, than on the black market, which makes a stay in this country by one third more expensive ... too expensive!

In addition, we hope to obtain our sorely missed camping stove in the capital, because we do not want to live exclusively on empanadas (they are cheap, delicious, filling and remind us a bit of Cornish pasties) - we love them, but not in the morning, noon, evening and night.

So we make our way to the capital. Instead of using the highway I navigate us along small roads through a hilly landscape and now people are waving at us everywhere again. Once a truck has pulled into a parking lot and the driver is in the middle of the road, waving us aside. With hands and feet and our 3 words in Spanish, we explain who we are and where we want to go and he is so excited that he climbs into his cab and returns with a little dusty plastic horse that he gives us - we are very moved by this nice gesture.

In the evening we knock at the gates of a campsite at the outskirts of Santiago. The first one dismisses us but on the second site we are welcome. They are extremely nice and helpful here and as I mention that we would like to make a fire we immediately get a small tractor load of wood and they guy from the gate even lights the fire for us after he carries a heavy half oil drum in the metal frame to our tent .

Gradually, some visitors come over, inquire about our origin and our plans for the further journey and one even speaks fairly passable English.


Once in Santiago we wonder quite quickly if this was really such a good idea, and while we jam around the city center we don't find anything that looks like a carpark. How should we know that E or Estationamiento does not represent a subway station but for a carpark? Eventually we find a nice young man who shows us where we can park our bike (which apparently would not have been allowed on carparks anyway but there are free parking spaces for bikes at certain corners .... )

Fernando speaks a little English and decides without further ado to help us with our errands. Once we have clarified with Google Translate, that we need insurance for our bike, which is also valid in Argentina he takes me to various insurances, while Kevin remains behind to take care of our stuff.

However, we have no luck - here in the capital there also appears to be no one who can insure foreign vehicles across borders - at the end we arrive back empty-handed, and I decide to present our green card at the border – which they won't be able to read anyway and then we'll just say this insurance from Germany applies everywhere ....

Now poor Fernando takes Kevin into a thousand outdoor stores trying to find a new camping stove for us while now I watch our belongings. This also proves to be a mission impossible.

We should change Pesos in dollars here but now we've just had enough of all the running around. Fernando says there are good places for camping in the nearby Maipo valley and despite our assurances that our navigation system will find the way he insists, to lead us out of the city before he has to go to college.

At some point I tell Fernando that we need to make a few purchases, so we turn into the parking lot of a supermarket ... and are immediately surrounded by a gang of motorcycle mechanics who have their business here at the precinct and now of course we have to have a coffee in the bike shop and a photo session. Our new Chilean friend and guide knows the owner of the store, he tells our story and all seem mightily impressed.

After a while I sneak off and go shopping, I'm slowly getting a bit nervous because it's getting late and we have not yet found a place to camp - experience has shown that this is difficult in the dark especially in unknown territory. When I come back Fernando has disappeared and one of the mechanics wants to take over the role of tourist guide. He asks the boss if he can finish work early today and quickly it is decided that all will join us and therefore they all leave early today. Bikes are being shuffed inside and shutters locked down - when all is done dusk is already well advanced and it turns out that all the campsites in the nearby Maipo valley are closed. We stop at a police station and clarify that we're ok to set up our tent somewhere on the roadside.

Again, this turns out not to be as easy as one might think because the free areas are either inhabited or there is not enough space to accommodate tent and motorcycle before the ground drops steeply down to the river at the side of the road. On the way we are all stopped by a police check for the first time and have show our papers. I do not think that the police really can understand anything much from our bike papers but he still inspects them as if .... and then waves us through.

We have to search for quite a while and the view of the high snow-capped peaks in the distance fades into the night. Then we find a gravel parking lot and decide this is where we stay. Our escort helps with flashlights to put up the tent before they leave.

Behind the tent is a huge pile of rubbish and loads of broken glass and on the side is not much space before the steep drop down to the roaring river. We decide its too dark and dangerous to cook so it's just bread and cheese inside the tent for tea.

Early morning the trucks thundering by wake us. They are loaded with stones and gravel from the valley. We follow the road to the very end and get our first taste of the Andes - after all, we're already at 1800 m altitude here and there are a lot of picturesque places where it would have been nice to spend the night. Never mind - somehow the narrow filthy parking lot where we could hear the roar of the river at night had something adventurous.....those kind of places give you the seasoned rough overlander feel....

The road turns out to be a dead end and now we do not know which way to turn next. Before heading for Argentina we still need to organize dollars. Luckily I find a way teeing below Santiago to the south, so that we do not have to go through the city again and now we ride through wine and fruit-growing areas. There are an incredible number of fragrant flowers and trees, and although we are black in the face from diesel fumes the smells everywhere are gorgeous.

In the evening we arrive at the only camp in the radius of 50 km, and it has closed - we really could do with charging batteries for the GPS and also there are fences everywhere, so there is no place to bush- camp either.... Two young motorcyclists show us the way to another campsite, small, dusty and without showers (which we could use), but with a really nice owner, who receives us warmly and even gives us a lettuce for supper as a present.

It doesn't take long and we have three dogs and two cats gathered around us, which we then feed on remnants of our meal (grilled meat and mashed potatoes). There is one cute little dog that we both really like and she even manages that we let her sleep in the awning of our tent (she tries to get in with us but there is no way we let the flea mother-ship in there)

The night is short and loud with drunken fishermen at the river and thundering trucks rattling across the bridge. So there is little sleep for us and early in the morning small vans advertising their goods with blasting loudspeakers make for an early waking up - well, you can't have everything, at least all the batteries for navigating are fully charged.

We keep heading south, but still on the Chilean side, and try to avoid the Panamerican Highway (Routa 5) as much as possible because it's like everywhere, you do not see much of the country if you are traveling on the highway. Again and again I have to outsmart the Navi, because it seems as if it recognizes no passable roads there except the Highway and at some point we have actually reached a dead end, or better a road that is impassable for us. It goes steeply uphill and that with a coating of loose gravel and sand. We do try to get up and take a run at it but we only make a couple of hundred meters and then the sidecar pulls us unstoppably to the right until we give up, it's too steep and to push is out of the question so we give in and turn around.

Despite the defeat, we are still trying to steer clear of the highway, which indeed leads us through a nicer landscape, but sometimes raises doubts about whether we are going to make the next section. Again and again we have trouble finding a campground - we would not at all mind to bush camp but unfortunately, all tracks lead to either houses or closed gates and all the fields are fenced in. One of these fruitless searches for a campsite leads us on a track of thick loose gravel pebbles. We fight our way along this road for ages only to end up in front of a locked gate again... all for naught, and now it is already getting dark. In the next town we find a hotel and although the prices here make me swallow we now see no other alternative than to stay here.

The poor girl behind the desk is struggling to sort us out - her English is even worse than our Spanish and that's saying something ...

Price and performance are a bit of a mismatch in this place but at least we can park our bike in an enclosed courtyard and don't have to carry the entire camping equipment inside and we can finally take a shower. I find it always quite embarrassing that hotels only have white towels, because they always end up black, no matter how thoroughly we have scrubbed ourselves previously. It's no different this time - even after shampooing my hair 3 times there is still black foam coming out of it ..

The next morning we decide to take the highway to Valdivia - at least there are some campsites. We make good time and arrive in the early afternoon. 13 km outside the city we find a nice place where we are the only guests and therefore have the free choice of campsites. There are power outlets where we can charge all our batteries, wood and fireplaces where we can cook, there's even WiFi and one speaks GERMAN! We immediately decide to stay at least 2 nights.

After one day of lazing around we head into town, again on our quest to find a camp stove - there are 3 outdoor shops which we do find - but no cooker. On the way back to the tent, we fill up with petrol and here the attendant points out that we are losing oil - and not just a few drops - no it really squirts out like a cut on a major artery and it's coming from the cylinder head gasket!

On our return Kev opens the valve cover and one of the screws is loose (no not Kev's) ... that should not be ... The probable diagnosis: a stud thread is gone. We now need a torque wrench, to find out whether this is so. The campsite owner is incredibly nice and tries to help us, but he can't locate a torque wrench for us anywhere.

I find a motorcycle workshop in Valdivia online and write them an email, asking for the tool. Now - admittedly with the help of Google translate so I am not to sure what I really wrote to these people, but in their reply they ask us what a torque wrench is and tell us we are welcome to come by and then we can see if they can help us .... I don't want to sound arrogant here, but a mechanic who does not know this tool does not rate as quite trustworthy in my books...

The upshot is that we buy ourselves a torque wrench - well and now we also have the feared fast confirmation - a stud pulls out of the threads.

So now with the help of Mr Google I explain to the campsite owner that we need a workshop that has helicoils or is able to turn a threaded bush - which is found soon but no work can be done before Monday ....

The next 2 days we kill the time by slouching around on the campground, going for a walk here and there and battle with the 4 golden retrievers who are constantly around us. The dogs just steal everything that is not nailed down, a sausage from the grill, a carton of milk from the table, even tobacco and filters ... .. They also permanently want to play and jump at us with mud paws - if we try, to drive them away they think it a new marvelous game.

On Friday Oskar (the campsite owner) comes with the joyful news that he has found someone who can fit us in today but we have to be in his workshop at 8 in the evening.

He toes us through the city and rush hour traffic and then Kev and I take the engine apart on the roadside . One of the omnipresent dogs pees in our the tool box while we are busy - I hope his willy drops off ....!

To disassemble the engine is the smallest problem, also to turn and insert a threaded sleeve is not so tragic - to make sure that the oil channel is still free is a bit more difficult - especially the explaining part .. It is a bit fiddly but in the end everything is right and then we “just” have to reassemble the engine and set the valves in the pitch dark - ah well what counts is - we have no more oil leaks and a sweet sounding engine in the end

We have decided to stay for the weekend, even if everything works fine again, because on the one hand we have not seen anything around here so far and on the other our credit card limit has been used up for this month and we can only "buy money" again when the card is paid up so therefore it makes sense to save at the moment and that starts with the fuel.

Saturday we take a trip into town, where we stock up with food again. We stroll through the city center, look at the fish market, try Mote con Huesillo (a drink made from fruit juice, pearl barley and a canned peach which fills you like a meal), and then we mingle with the locals, who watch a group of young people performing folkloric dances in matching costumes .Since our bike is repaired we are in high spirits and for the first time since reaching this continent we are in a relaxed mood and Valdivia is a really nice town with plenty for the eye. They also brew the famous Kunstmann beer here, by the descendants of German immigrants and supposedly the best beer in Chile - ah well it's definitely one of the most expensive ones ... ..which is why we stick to the cheap and especially good Chilean red wine.


In the end we wait until Tuesday morning, a look at the account movements tells us that the Visa card is still not settled, but now we have ants in our pants. Kevin urges to continue and we decide to venture at least the one hundred kilometers to Osorno - our tank is full, we still have about 40 000 pesetas, it'll have to do.

In Osorno the one and only campsite is closed so we have no choice but to continue to drive towards Puerto Varaz. We constantly try to find some bush camp but the whole country seems to be fenced in and locked up - in the end we find about 20 kms before the newest goal a nice small campsite, which is open and most important within our budget and reach the town the following morning

Puerto Varaz and the surrounding area has quite a lot of German roots and in some areas you feel almost as if you're in the Black Forest. Though the city is much smaller than the nearby Puerto Montt just about everything a travelers heart desires can be found here and the place is pretty and relaxed. Today we get money again (thank god) and also dollars and after the usual wild tennis match in which the customer is the ball that gets thrashed from one end of town into the next we ge sent from an outdoor shop to the next until we do find a Primus multifuel stove - not what we wanted really, but still .... It's just too tedious to light and fuel a fire just for coffee every morning and then to scrub the soot-blackened kettle each time. At the end of this successful day we decide to hit the road again - in other words the "Carretera Austral" which starts at Puerto Montt and runs south into rural Patagonia from here. After negotiating the rush hour traffic in Pto. Montt we start out late once again end in a desperate search for a spot to spend the night. The campsite at which we're finally let in does not really deserve this name. It is a stony meadow with a few ramshackle tables and rickety chairs and two sheds that have been cobbled together from all possible materials. One side is a toilet, on the other side is a shower head, to which you have to switch the water supply from the toilet by turning a wobbly handle then you can take a shower with ice-cold water from the river so we give that a miss.

One of the three dogs immediately climbs into the sidecar, because he can smell our chicken and the zealous owner drags an assortment of chairs across before making himself comfortable on a worn-out office chair in front of his hut smoking and watching us as we put up our tent - ah well at least is his evening program is secured.

From here it is not far to the first ferry of the Carretera Austral - a road, whose construction started under Pinochet and which is still not finished after some 20 odd years … they are talking about extending it – ah well, us offroad lovers don't mind it's current state as most of the road is still gravel. It leads through the rainforest of the Chilean side of Patagonia and is crisscrossed with fjords. The task to get the road sealed however is in progress and will be finished at some point - probably in the more distant future . At the moment the ongoing works present us with more problems than necessary as we have to battle our way across the building site which has been churned up to wet soil and water filled ruts by heavy machinery

We hop-slide through the ruts and across corrugations and our engine sounds extremely bad again. The stony highway ends at Hornopiren, a little town (well what do you call town?) and port of the second ferry on the long road towards the south. While we rattle along and only make the climbs by the skin of our teeth I silently pray to myself that we will get there,. My prayers are heard, and when we arrive Kevin suggests to see if we can still catch a ferry today. I now completely throw the dolly out of the pram and yell at him. Every turn of the wheels will take us further in the wilderness, where we do not know whether we make it to the next campsite or even if there is a mechanic. Here are at least is some accommodation to be found, a cash machine in a container and a few small mini-merkados with fresh fruit and veg once a week (if the delivery truck makes it...). I also want to get down and through Patagonia and then head for the nice warm Atacama Desert, but not at any price and it makes sense to fix what is broken, as long as we can still somehow hope to find help ....

Kev admits defeat and we head to the nearest campsite. We are once again received extremely friendly and Roberto – the owner - who shows us around his eco camp with great pride. There is a log cabin for communal use with a cozy seating area around a huge fireplace (the fire here as good as never goes out), a kitchenette and plenty of tables and chairs and cozy benches. They also have an organic garden with herbs and veggies for common use and when we explain that we have to repair the bike they let us park it under the canopy of the house.

We undo the left rocker cover and instantly the sight of a loose nut meets the eye. As we fasten the nuts with the torque wrench the the stud is pulled out from the housing. So now we need a turner for another insert.... . Unfortunately the only person who can do the job had to go 50 kms down the fjord for another job and probably won't be back until Sunday.

Well, at least there is one, and so we settle and wait for Sunday, that's only 2 ½ days.

In the meantime, we are taken to the school festival, which mainly consists of food stands where we can taste Chilean delicacies made from fish and potatoes and then Roberto even brings the English teacher from the local school to help so that we can understand each other a little better.

The following evening Roberto heads off for a canoe trip to one of the islands in the fjord, where a group of locals want to clean up the beaches and at the same time a young couple from Puerto Montt arrives who wants to spend the weekend here and so we sit together with Vino Tinto and cook a tasty meal of rice and fish (caught by Kevin) on the fireplace. In the afternoon we make a trip through the fjord in a canoe, where Kev unsuccessfully tries to catch more fish. We get to see a colony of sea lions sunning on the buoys of the fish farm though. The next morning the turner has finally arrived and with the help of our new friends who can translate a little we get some misunderstandings sorted and then a threaded bush is soon made. We once again assemble the engine but somehow nothing fits right and when we try to tighten the nuts of the rockers we find another loose stud. Somehow the limit of my skills in the suffering department are reached, it is pouring with rain, freezing cold, there is no more help, our translators have gone and every bit of communication is hard work! I cry like a baby. Oh well, "turnero" or so they do understand ... .

The good man is thus fetched again and now he makes two threaded bushes and leaves us the tools to fit it in should we need another one along the way.

It still pours down, and even under the roof we get soaking wet while working and of course we don't get finished before it gets dark. The rain is persistent, our tent and pretty much all we have is now moist and the mood continues to deteriorate, but when the big moment comes, where we start the engine it sounds really good.

All night it rains, although the tent holds tight everything feels damp and cold with the high humidity. A young Dutch couple arrives at the campsite with the news that the ferry is fully booked for the next 2 days.

We drive to the port and get the bad news that by now there won't be a place on the ferry until a further 4 days for us - slowly we have enough and play with the idea to go back north and then head south through Argentina. We stop in front of the bank and stock up with a few more pesos and when I get to the bike , I notice a strong smell of petrol and then I see the petrol running down the engine - not from the carburetor, but from the connecting line between the two carburetors. Back at the campsite it begins to rain vigorously again, we can not get under the roof this time because there is now a load of wood so we have no choice but to take everything apart in the rain. The hose is split and now we must try to find a new one. Without sufficient knowledge of Spanish everything is a mission but in the end we find but a new hose, which is somewhat thicker and has a smaller diameter and with patience we fumble the it onto the fittings and squeeze it in the narrow space beneath the air filter – at least we know now why our bike had such a high fuel consumption here in Chile.

In assembling suddenly the carburetor is all wobbly. We reopen the air filter and find that now the screw of the connecting hose inside is loose. Once again we are wet down to the underwear and chilled to the bone. We are rather disheartened by now, definitely had enough of the wet and cold and we also don't trust our bike anymore....

From here to the south, the Carretera Austral is even worse and the area sparsely populated - our decision is made, we turn and take the northern route via Bariloche to the Peninsula Valdez – we think if we can do that without any further damage, we shall decide if and how far we will go south ....


The way back to Puerto Varaz runs smoothly, it is even dry. We exchange quite a few more pesos into dollars, stock up on tobacco and continue until Puerto Oktay, where at least we know that there is a campsite which is open. There is even WiFi, so we finally can get a message to our friends on Facebook, to let them know that we are doing well before continuing on to Argentina tomorrow.