Velocross – Paraguay Style

Yesterday I spent some of my St. Patrick’s Day weekend spectating at a Paraguayan Motocross … It turned out to be a Velocross actually …. I don’t know if we have them in Europe, but apparently the difference between a motocross and a Velocross is that there are no jumps in the Velocross.

Anyway, off I went with my friend Gustavo and his son Guiliano to a little pueblo called Nueva Italia 45Kms south of Asuncion, in Paraguay, in his white Ford Mustang.   That was interesting at times because the Mustang is not exactly built for off-road duties and the final approach to the motocross tracGustavo's Mustangk was about 10 Kms of dirt roads.   The Mustang managed well.

Gustavo’s brother was racing in the ‘Seniors’ class … and it turned out, ‘Seniors’ means over 35 … DSC_1246Like me, he qualified for that class about 20 years ago!   And he wants me to suit up for the next outing?? …  Obviously it would be lunacy … of course … I’m too old …. and I really shouldn’t …. DSC_1035

Anyway, there was a large community of Motocross enthusiasts, with a purpose built track in the middle of the sugar cane fields, and a schedule of races in various different classes already in progress.   It was great fun and the health and safety regulations that save you from danger (and from having fun at times) in Europe, didn’t really exist.   Not in the same way anyway.  DSC_1251

The first thing I noticed was that children on mini-bikes with 50cc 2-stroke engines were flying around the paddock and public areas … you needed to be careful not to get a ‘mini-yamaha’ shin adjustment!   The second thing I noticed was that some of the riders had bog-standard trail bikes with the lights and indicators removed.   I liked that – no money – no problem, “run-what-ya-brung”, although there were a lot of good bikes too.   The third and most interesting thing was that all the body armour that I am accustomed to as a rider, and that makes you look like an American Footballer on steroids, was optional.  That is to say – if you don’t have body armour, then race in your tee-shirt and jeans! ….
DSC_1164

One guy in particular caught my eye … He was wearing soft running shoes, a tee-shirt, jeans and his trusty steed was a 100cc comuter bike complete with original mudguards.  10 out of 10 for courage …. was was trailing last by the end of the first lap and clearly, his objective was to get to the end of the third and final lap, before he was lapped. He didn’t make it.  But he seemed to be having a hell of a time – the world needs those guys … nothing is a problem for them.

DSC_1289

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Presidente R.Saenz Pena to Asuncion

6th February 2014

I left the hotel at about 8:00 am, for the final 500 Km run home to Asuncion.   The bike was still as the night before, EXVL error, Fuel Sensor fault, not starting with the keyless starter and the GPS continually announcing that it has lost battery connection and that it was shutting down, only to restart instead.   On this run, it introduced a new twist to that last problemita … it occasionally gave me just a black screen on the GPS.   – Enough said about that then.

The wind was still coming from the North, so it was now a headwind, which was easier to manage than yesterday.  I knocked out the first leg to Resistencia very quickly, the leg from there to Formosa too, leaving me just bit over 100 Kms to Clorinda, which is very close to the Paraguay border and Asuncion.   The traffic on this last stretch was heavier than before, but at least I’m out of the Chaco!

The border crossing was painless, as long as you ignore the guys who want to ‘help’ you through the exit Argentina, enter Paraguay, and Paraguay customs process, for a fee, and also the currency dealers …. who can be useful, but you need to keep your wits about you if you are going to be flashing cash around …. common sense usually works.

I paused for a photo under the “Paraguay” sign and I was glad to be back.   This was a hell of a trip and a great experience, but the tedious 2-day run through the Argentinian Chaco to get to Salta and the same thing to get back, made the start and finish a little less than attractive.   A point to consider for anyone who wants to have a crack at the Andes … flying in to Salta might be a sensible option.

The chaos of the Paraguayan traffic, after my time in Argentina and Chile was great … DSC01751simply no rules, and you manage a motorized vehicle the same way you manage a crowded sidewalk in any big city, you just don’t hit the guy beside you and you go left, right or straight as required to make that happen.   Some find it frightening, I find it somehow natural and enjoyable.   So I landed home in great humor, and thankful that I had the means, opportunity and ability to undertake this trip.  I came back a more experienced and better informed man than when I left.

At times the poor old GoPro Hero 3+ had a lot to deal with ....

At times the poor old GoPro Hero 3+ had a lot to deal with ….

So did the Ducati at the end of the day

So did the Ducati at the end of the day

Back in the front room .... nice and snug

Back in the front room …. nice and snug

Home

Home

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Purmamarca to Presidente R. Saenz Pena

Colourful restaurant in Humahuaca

Colourful restaurant in Humahuaca

Wednesday 5th Feb 2014

Left Purmamarca at 8:00am … knowing it would be a tough haul to get to Saenz Pena … was hoping for two things, good weather (100% success rate so far) and good behavior form the Ducati.    I didn’t get either ….

There were storm force northerly winds all day and part of my route was going to be about 500 Kms through the Chaco region – running West to East …. So the last thing I wanted was a Northerly wind … but I got it …. Seven hours of gusting onto my left shoulder non-stop …. And the Ducati …. Well she was just a thundering bitch today …. Everything started off fine in Purmamarca, but after the first fuel stop in San Salvador De Jujuy, the usual nonsense with the range computer started “Faulty Fuel Sensor”…. And it flashed that warning at me for almost all of the seven hours, making in harder for me to work out my fuel stops.   However, I’m used to that now and I ignored it, so Mrs. Ducati decided to throw in the orange engine warning light again “EXVL“   …. Ok, two warning lights flashing at me, all day.   I continued to ignore that too, so Mrs. Ducati decided I needed another prod and she started announcing “lost power to the GPS ,” (she hadn’t) “shutting down in 15 seconds.”   Then after counting down the 15 seconds, she would restart the GPS instead of shutting it down and take up where she was before.   I tried to ignore this too, but it was a problem because the whole process would take about 30 seconds, by which time I had would / could have passed a couple of key junctions when I was in cities / towns.    I was not a happy bunny.   To top it all off, the Ducati decided it wasn’t going to start with the keyless switch anymore …. So I had to go through the ‘enter your pin’  process EVERY time I wanted to start the bloody thing.  Hmmmm.

Big llama

Big llama

Colourful restaurant in Humahuaca

Colourful restaurant in Humahuaca

Despite all this and also a key fuel stop in Monte Quemado failed resulting in the two garages in town being closed due to no fuel, where I eventually bribed the guy in one of them and suddenly there was fuel enough in the village for one Paraguayan bike after all, I was making good progress (basically by not stopping for anything except fuel) and my scheduled arrival at Saenz Pena was coming up at 15:30 – ahead of my self-imposed curfew of 16:00.    I had a good rhythm going … about 750 Kms done, so 150Km more would take me all the way to Resistencia.    I decided to take advantage of that and keep going for another hour and a half.  I had just enough fuel and although I was tired, I was still good for it and it would have made my last day very pleasantly easy.   The minute I made the decision, the GPS announced, “low power – shutting down.”   Bollix … bollix … bollix, I have had enough F*****g Ducati today to last me a lifetime.   It would now now be a much harder task to find a hotel when I got to Resistencia, so I pulled in to Presidente R. Saenz Pena, drank a couple of beers and went to bed !

This was disappointment to me, because if you noticed in my early blogs, the original decision to buy the Ducati for this kind of long distance touring carried some risk and I volunteered to take that risk.   And the bike (engine and suspension were absolutely in their element … it performed like a dream except for these electric / computer niggles, which when they all happened simultaneously today, were a problem.   

I got away with it over the last week because they only happened sequentially and on the second last day when there was no real need for the GPS, but if it had happened earlier, in the mountains, that wouldn’t have been pretty.   I had a backup plan of course, maps and a compass etc., but the cold reality – and it kills me to say it, this simply doesn’t happen with the BMW.   

Not a good day … and not the end I wanted to a fantastic trip either.   However, I’m writing this in the heat of the moment and after a relatively hard day in the relentless infierno verde at 40C …. so maybe it wont look so bad tomorrow, but the writing is definitely on the wall.   Do I go to the Ducati guy and say “new fuel sensor, new keyless starter system, new EXVL exhaust valve, oh – and fix the GPS under warranty please (I can hear them laughing already)” …. OR … sell the Ducati and buy a BMW.   Right now it’s the latter.

Adios amigos ….

G

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Tilcara, Humahuaca and Purmamarca

Ruta 9 near Tilcara

Ruta 9 near Tilcara

On the way to Gargante Del Diablo

On the way to Gargante Del Diablo

I wasn't sure what the "drawings" on this Restaurant meant

I wasn’t sure what the “drawings” on this Restaurant meant

Tuesday 4th Feb

Slept in a little longer than was planned due to the fact that it was the first decent bed I slept in for about 10 days!  Gracias Hotel Manantial Del Silencio.   My first port of call was Tilcara, 22Kms north on Ruta 9, through the Quebrada De Humahaca.      One of the sights there, quite apart from the interesting adobe town, is Garganta Del Diablo.   They gave me instructions on how to get there in the visitors center, and said I could get there with the bike no problem.   Ehhhh …. It was a problem.   I think they didn’t realize that there are bikes bigger than the standard issue 100cc Yamazukis that are standard issue here.   Anyway, again I have video footage to post when my trip is over, to show my valiant but failed attempt to get up there … But 250 kilos of Ducati, with 90 kilos of Irishman on top wasn’t a realistic prospect on the unsurfaced climb, 2 meters wide, climbing 4 Kilometers at the angle of your average household stairs, with a precipice on the right side.  I made it about 2 Kms up, then decided the town was interesting enough and went back!   Tilcara was very pretty and fully of young backpackers, and so cheap restaurants and internet cafes, in addition to the usual host of artisan produce in the plazas.

After Tilcara, I filled up and went on to the next town, Humahaca.  It too looked like something from Peru or Bolivia, but was also full of young backpackers – mostly Argentinian I think, but I couldn’t tell, because everybody speaks Spanish and I can’t pick up on accents yet.

DSC01711But there was an atmosphere of happiness and festival in all of these little towns which was pleasant to experience.   The array of colors in the artisans stands was an assault on the senses and very beautiful, and to my surprise, when I rounded a corner into one particular Plaza, there was an enormous monument atop long wide stone steps, towering over the whole town, with artisan’s stalls lining both sides.   DSC01717

As I walked up to get a photograph from the top, I think I must have had conversations with about 50 different people …. Sometimes I forget that I look like an astronaut to some of the people I encounter, and whatever chance they have of making sense of my appearance when I am beside the bike, when you take the bike out of the picture, they simply don’t know what to make of this Gringo with the strange suit.   It was a very pleasant day though and I enjoyed every conversation.   I only realized for the first time on this trip, without any of my friends, that I can speak “understandable” Spanish and to my delight, nobody asked me to repeat anything.   DSC01721

The day wore on and Mrs. Ducati in fairness has had a tough 48 hours and was caked in mud from the Salinas Grandes, the Andes mountains in general and now a goat track at the Garganta Del Diablo.   So she started to kick up a bit on the way back to Purmamarca.   In addition to the flashing ‘Fuel Sensor’ warning, to which I am now accustomed, the engine warning light came on and announced an EXVL warning.  This is an evil little valve in the exhaust system that does that sometimes on Ducatis in general and Multistradas in particular.   I knew what it was and I didn’t like it putting the engine warning light on, because if there was a serious engine problem, I wouldn’t know about it.   Anyway, I came back to Purmamarca, drank two litres of some sort of local lemonade and made friends with a baby llama in the town center.   Then I went back to the Hotel and borrowed the gardener’s power washer and that solved the EXVL warning light problem (for a while).

My little furry friend ...

My little furry friend …

Tomorrow is time to say goodbye to the Andes and start the tiresome trek back across Argentina through the Chaco.   I’ll try to make it to Presidente R.Saenz Pena I think, but that would be a big day, something around 800 Kms, so I’ll just have to see how it goes.   The problem is once I commit to the trip, there isn’t much prospect of accommodation along the way until I get there.   All part of the fun!

Adios

G

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San Pedro De Atacama to Purmamarca

Security was tight at the HotelMonday 3rd Feb 2014

Got up about 9:00 am …. Decision made to ride the San Pedro De Atacama to Pumamarca leg again, for a few reasons, firstly to go on further into Chile means lots of long straight roads again, and I had enough of that on the leg from Asuncion to Salta!   Secondly, that 400 odd Kilometers (Ruta 52 on the Argentina side) has to be simply one of the best stretches in the world for motorcycling.   Besides, I have already done my photography on the way out, now I can take advantage of the Ducati and use it for the purpose it was designed.    Back over Paso De Jama - Yipee!

The 40 Kilometer climb out of San Pedro was no less impressive going east than the descent was coming west.   Also, experience had now taught me to breathe deeply on the way up this time, so there would be no problems with altitude sickness at the top – although it was odd having to constantly remind myself to breathe!    I got to the Paso De Jama in no time, only to be greeted, with some surprise, by my friendly customs official / foreign exchange dealer, and he guided me into the hall where I had to face the same lengthy procedure of ‘exit Chile, enter Argentina, Argentinian police check, and finally Argentinian customs.  Not only that, but a double decker bus had pulled in just in front of me with about 80 Chileans on it and they were all in the queue.   Fortunately, the Chilean police official noticed me standing behind (and towering over) all the Chileans, and for some reason, he called me in front of everyone and processed my papers.   Muy amable …. I don’t know why he did that, but I’m guessing maybe he is a biker.

Just when I thought everything was going well, I pulled into my favorite service station on the Argentinian side of the border and the guy tells me “estamos cargando senor “…. And sure enough a big petrol tanker is filling their tanks … “Una hora mas o menos Senor “…. 90 Minutes to fill up!Hmmm …. I’m sorry now I flogged the Ducati up to here, because I would have had enough fuel to reach Susques if I hadn’t.    “Una Hora” turned out to be about 90 minutes, and I decided to wait rather than chance the leg to Susques with the remaining fuel on board.  I discovered later, it would have been enough.   Not to worry, still plenty of time to make Pumamarca.

While I was waiting, I met a man from Paraguay who was a friends of President Cartes of Paraguay and he asked me to give him his regards when I got back to Paraguay.  I assured him I would.The President's friend

Close encounter !

Close encounter !

The Multistrada was really flying and I got into a nice rhythm in the curves, enjoying every one more and more, until Argentina proved it has an animal more dangerous, and more stupid than the standard West of Ireland sheep …. the deadly Llama.   Like our sheep, the llama, given 99 safe options and one for self destruction, will ALWAYS take the latter.   As I came around one particular bend, there were a herd of llama about 500 meters in front crossing the road.   I slowed down and when all but one were across the road and he was 95% of the way there, he decided it was a bad idea to cross the road and went back, 5 meters in front of me.   I had no option but to grab all the brakes with death’s grip and let my good friend Mrs. Ducati use all her high technology to ensure I was still in the seat afterwards.   It was a little close for comfort, but nobody died.   You need a touch of good luck now and again     hehehehe.

Las Salinas Grandes

Las Salinas Grandes

Soon I came upon ‘Las Salinas Grandes ‘ once again and there were a lot of tourists there this time.

Salt anyone?

Salt anyone?

I pulled up for a couple of photos and one of the buses was full of Brazilians, all of whom wanted their pictures taken on the Ducati against the backdrop of the slat flats, which look more like a lake at the moment due to the rains.   That was a lot of fun and I had to answer a million questions about the Ducati, and what it was like and wasn’t I afraid travelling alone in these mountains.   My standard reply to that last one,  “afraid of what?” is always greeted with the usual silent raised eyebrow without further comment.  I still haven’t quite figured out what people are actually thinking when they ask me that.

On the road again after the obligatory rapid departure on one wheel for the Brazilians’ benefit, (I don’t mind growing old, but I’m not even vaguely interested in growing up).

DSC01644Shortly afterwards, I rounded a bend at the foot of the next mountain range to find a distraught native with his bike at the side of the road, frantically waving me down.   Having slowed enough to ensure he was alone and that it wasn’t some kind of threat, he explained he had run out of fuel.   So I got off and we siphoned 5 liters out of the Ducati into his spare fuel can.   It did cross my mind as odd that he got so far into the mountains on a little 100cc moto, but he was a nice guy and I felt good helping him.   However, when I was about to leave, I noticed four more fuel cans hidden in the bushes near where we were.   I guess that’s how he gets his fuel.   Ahh well, good luck to him.

I went on and I was really looking forward to the descent of the mountain into Purmamarca without having to stop for photos this time.

Descent into Purmamarca

Descent into Purmamarca

And with good cause …. It was exhilarating, and I caught the whole thing on video …. Except when I downloaded the video to the PC later, another bloody butterfly had decided to end his days on my camera lens …. Its still viewable, but I am coming to hate butterflies.

Purmamarca is a fascinating little town (Note to bikers: no fuel available), overshadowed by the Cerro de Siete Colores and I found a nice hotel nearby “Hotel Manantial Del Silencio”… A very welcome luxury after the relative ‘roughing it ‘of the last few days.   It was now late in the day after my fueling problems, the Brazilians modelling on my bike and my buddy with the fuel cans in the hedge, so I didn’t get time to explore much before sunset.

Descent into Purmamarca

Descent into Purmamarca

Consequently, I decided to stay here tomorrow and take advantage of all the local sights before hitting the road for Asuncion on Wednesday.

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Susques to San Pedro De Atacama

Sunday 2nd February 2014

Had a reasonably interesting night last night … just when I thought I was going to be the only person in Hotel Susques, a 4×4 pulls up with two drenched Scots and two drenched Brits in it.   Turns out they were mountaineers and had been in the mountains for 4 days trying to crack one particular mountain that has yet to be climbed.  These are not your ordinary ‘run of the mill’ hillwalkers …. These guys were up to their armpits in snow at 18,000 feet when they decided the summit was too dangerous in these conditions.    Funnily enough, it didn’t seem to bother them, nor did the obvious hardship they had endured … that’s just their thing!   Anyway we had dinner together and they went back to Britain this morning.

For my part, I headed out with the relatively modest (I thought) plan of San Pedro De Atacama, via Paso De Jama.   The petrol guy in Susques assured me petrol was available at Paso De Jame and therefore I didn’t have to carry extra in plastic.  Relief!   Off I went and I must tell you now, it was the best motorcycling day of my life.

The first 130 odd Kms to the Paso were on perfect roads, with unbelievable views of the Andes, which were all around me I only made an average speed of about 80Kph because I was stopped looking at the vista so often.

North of 52 on the way to Paso De Jama from Susques

North of 52 on the way to Paso De Jama from Susques

I have lots of video!   Things took a slight turn for the worse when I got to Paso De Jama …. It was very high and when I went into the building to go through the border crossing torture, there was a bus load of people in the queue.  It took me over two hours standing in line for Exit Argentina, Entry Chile, Chilean police and finally Chilean customs, who came out with me to inspect the bike.   When there were no witnesses he offered me Chilean currency for Dollars – for which I was grateful and a deal was done.   The two hours was not the problem though, I had built that into my plan …. The problem was after about an hour of queuing, I started to feel dizzy … and even considered feinting for a while!   I knew what this was …. Altitude sickness doesn’t hit you immediately, it takes about 24 hours to kick in.   I recognized the symptoms though and knew coffee etc was not what was required.   What I need was food and water …. Except I had now cleared immigration, customs, police – a 2 hour process, and the only shop for the next 160 Kms was in San Pedro De Atacama, but I could smell the food from the Service station 200 meters away – in Argentina!    Needs must, and I told my Chilean customs agent cum foreigh exchange dealer that I was either going to feint or go back to the Argentinian shop …. He would just have to decide in my absence if that represented a threat to Chilean National Security.   It worked out well for me because he didn’t want me talking to his colleagues having just sold me currency, so I got a friendly wave when I returned – rode 250 meters into Chile and sat down to comsume my food.

Altitude sickness ... even my photographer's instincts abandoned me ... (against the sun!

Altitude sickness … even my photographer’s instincts abandoned me … (against the sun!

It was funny, because I couldn’t concentrate on the simplest things …. It was difficult to get my jacket off !   I made a video of what was going on, and when I tried to talk to the camera, I forgot simple things like what altitude I was at …. Looking forward to seeing that video!  Anyway, within about 30 minutes the food and water worked and I was right as rain.

I left Paso De Jama for San Pedro … and to describe the scenery as simply stunning would be an understatement …. I hope my videos give an idea of it.   Not long after I left, I got to the top of the altiplano, about 4,800 Meters …. With the Pampa De Guayques to my north side,  and again I hope some of my pictures give an impression of how unique and impressive it is.

You had to be there ... the silence and the beauty ...

You had to be there … the silence and the beauty …

Still a bit dizzy, but coming around

Still a bit dizzy, but coming around

Even though I was already at 4,800 meters, a short distance to my north, west and south, I was overlooked by massive snow capped mountains surrounded vast inhospitable plains, inhabited only by Llama.

About 80 Kms into Chile I came across a right turn, a dirt road which read, “limite Bolivia 5Kms”… I was almost tempted, except that I had climbed very high now and like yesterday, discovered that there is a part of me that is not comfortable above 5,000 meters … and when I looked to the north, high as I was, I could only see the dirt track disappearing towards a simply enormous snow capped mountain …. I was glad of my decision to leave Bolivia for another day …. Despite the voice in the back of my head saying “go on … it’s only 5Km …

Go on .. you know you want to ...

Go on .. you know you want to …

Shortly afterwards there was another sign …. Chile ahead, Argentina behind …. I went on.   The road was even more spectacular than the roads I have already described …. It took me about 3 hours to reach San Pedro De Atacama because I was on and off the bike so much with the cameras.   There was a deep blue sky and a searing sun, but it was very cold, even thought the Ducati said it was 9 degrees.   About 70 Kms I came over a crest and in front of me was what looked like all of Chile …. Thousands of meters below me.   There was a 40 Km long, straight descent to San Pedro, with incredible vistas of Salar de Atacama.   Again, I took a lot of video footage.

For the life of me - I couldn't figure what he was eating!

For the life of me – I couldn’t figure what he was eating!

When I got to San Pedro – I was surprised, I was expecting something of a metropolis and it looked like something out of a cowboy movie set at the turn of the 20th century … There was a fiesta in town so lots of people about, and I looked for a hotel, but hotels were very difficult to regognise, because they all look like mud huts.   Anyway after one unsatisfactory exchange with “Juan Gonzales” who took one look at me and gave me a Chilean price equivalent to $150 for one night in a hovel with no bathroom, I found a better option and made no bones about telling Señor Juan what I thought of his pricing policies.   I know – I shouldn’t … but it made me feel good.    (“Señor, puede ser que soy un gringo, pero no soy un idota!).

Now I’m in a very cosy … (1 star?) hotel, with good internet, so I’m catching up on my blog ….   After that, I will figure out how to get back to Argentina and eventually Paraguay.   The same route I came is not out of the question because I could really enjoy the biking – I already have the photos and videos.   Whats more, I know the fueling requirements … so it would be a very nice “concentration-free” spin.   I’ll have to look at all options first.

Adios

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Salta to Susques

Sat Jan 31st 2014

Had an interesting experience last night.   I went to a restaurant bar on Plaza 9 De Julio, relatively early to have something to eat and a couple of beers, so I’d be in good shape to head north early tomorrow and take advantage of the day.   I was amongst a mixture of hoards of tourists (all south American) and some locals and the usual brigade of crooners singing and playing music in the street.   I had a table to myself, at which I ate, drank and read my latest book on my iPad.   About 2 hours into the evening, a young guy (early 20’s North American – unmistakable) approached me and politely asked me if I spoke English, with a kind of pre-assured attitude that the answer would certainly be yes.   I duly obliged, and he volunteered “It’s really not a good idea to use that (the iPad) here – we noticed various ‘types’ observing you over the past hour and you really shouldn’t do that in South America”.   I asked him “how long have you been here?”…. “three weeks“ he replied …. “but I have read lonely planet and South America is dangerous”.   “Where do you come from” I asked …. “Chicago”.    “Well, I think you will find all of South America safer than what you are accustomed to ….  and a good deal bigger!  So try to relax and enjoy the happy atmosphere, you’ll be fine.    They are mostly looking at the Ójos claros’ and we are even still somewhat of a novelty here … Its not necessarily a bad thing.   He’s still wondering.

Got off to a late start – decided to get on the road again, and it was a bad hair day – at the start at least.   I wanted to go north out of Salta to the junction of ruta 52 – then turn west into the (serious ) mountains towards Chile, over the Andes.   I had the GPS set to use “the fastest routes” as opposed to the shortest routes and it took me east of Juyuy because it sensed a bit of motorway.   When it came time to slot left for the Andes, I was having some traffic issues and missed the turn.   The GPS didn’t say anything because it was still happily heading for the bit of motorway it recognized …. Result? … I lost 100Kms and 2 hours.

Decision time - North, West or back?

Decision time – North, West or back?

So … back on course and up ruta 9 for the junction with ruta 52, where I would have to make a (late) decision on Bolivia or Chile.   When I got there – the weather was looking a bit dodgy and I had already used 80Kms of fuel with the now very erratic computer telling me I was good for 160 more.   So Susque on ruta 52 was 130 odd … that gave me a margin for error and the computer told me I’d be there by my self imposed curfue .. 4:00PM.   I didn’t really know the impact of having to climb to nearly 5,000 meters on the consumption or the time, but it was ‘go now or forget it and try again tomorrow’.  Decision made – ruta 52 for Chile it is.

Near Pumamarca on Ruta 52

Near Pumamarca on Ruta 52

When I turned onto ruta 52, I wasn’t ready for how high the first mountain was … I actually got frightened at the top I’m not proud to say.   I have been in the French, Italian and Swiss alps on bikes, but nothing prepared me for this.   At 4,200 Meters, it was freezing rain / low visibility and the terrain was more beautiful and hostile than anything I ever imagined – for all my internet research.   I was desperately calculating my “point of no return” and trying to manually figure out the point at which I would have to make the decision to turn back or carry on.   All sounds a bit hysterical, but when you are alone in terrain that drops 24 degrees and climbs to over 4,000 meters in 20 Kms … all sorts of “what-if” scenarios start to go through your mind.

25 Kms into Ruta 52 - and i'm not at the top yet

25 Kms into Ruta 52 – and i’m not at the top yet

At the end of the day, I took my father’s advice and relied on logic and mind over matter – and so ignored my fear.    For this I was later richly rewarded.   After I came down out of the mountains to the salt flats … I was treated to a vista the like of which I never imagined – ever.

On the way to Susques

On the way to Susques

I took video footage with a GoPro and I am hoping it will be good, but I’m guessing there will be a touch of the  ‘you had to be there’s’ about it.

I carried on through the Salinas and I could see more mountains on the horizon … I was sort of hoping that they would be behind Susque, but the weren’t  – so up into the Andes again to get to my destination …. Sleet and rain at the top this time, but now I knew I was going to make it comfortably so my spirits were high.    The Ducati, despite the computer problems was running well – and seems to have a significantly increased range lately … Bueno!

When I knew from the odometer when I was within 5 Kms of my destination and I still had no idea if it was going to be a one horse town, or a metropolis …. but I had no more fuel and we were now over 4,000 meters – I was staying there whatever it turned out to be.   Actually I felt like a guy in a gambling casino waiting for the spinning wheel to stop and I decided to turn on the GoPro video camera to at least record the moment of despair or elation – whichever it may be.   It was despair – initially.

A tad quiet - siesta hour apparently

A tad quiet – siesta hour apparently

A mining town cut into the mountains, which looked like it might even be a ghost town.   Thankfully, first impressions aren’t always great and it had a ‘tourist centre’ – complete with 18 year old Rossie …. who happily told me the village had one hotel with internet and fuel.   Sorted!     The threatening weather was now of little importance …. I was safe and sound and very happy.

Looking east from Hotel Susques

Looking east from Hotel Susques

All I had to do now was book in, download the video to the laptop and find some food.

Looking west from Hotel Susques

Looking west from Hotel Susques

With all that was happening, I completely forgot about the altitude sickness …. I’m over 4,000 meters now and nothing …. Almost feel a bit cheated … had a couple of beers as soon as I arrived at Susque having forgotten that you shouldn’t do that …. And still no problems … maybe later ?   Vamos a ver.

At the end of the day, I am pleased with myself.   We all have aspects (weaknesses) to our characters that we hide and don’t share with anyone.   In a situation like this, they come out …. And you will find yourself out very quickly …. Speaking of weaknesses, the Ducati has a wireless Keyless ignition and it decided today that it would not start anymore.   Thankfully, those clever little Italians anticipated this and there is an option to key in a pin number which allows you to bypass the keyless ignition.   Clever that eh?   Design a high tech keyless starting system that might fail, so also design in a high tech bypass system … Would a simple key have been better I wonder ??

I had llama for dinner – very nice.

The hotel

The hotel

Its very cold here at night ….. wearing a jumper for the first time in 4 years!   Will cross into Chile at Paso de Jama tomorrow descend out of the Andes to San Pedro De Atacama.   I think I’ll take a rest day there and decide how to get home.

Saludos a todo

G

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