Flat Tire, Gimpy Dogs and Axle Blues
July 6, Pozo Almonte, Chile
From Antofagasta I took a cold, foggy ride up the coast to Tocopilla, a small, dusty, dirty little town at the foot of the same very steep mountain range that runs parallel to and just 1-5 miles inland from the coast line. The mountains form a natural barrier that keeps the coastline cold and foggy in the winter, while everything east of it stays warm. Tocopilla's dirty funk seems to come from everywhere; road signs are dirty, things that were once white are now a yellowish brown color and everything in the town just seems to have an extra layer of muck. The muck-funk ambience was accentuated in a unique way by the worst and most spazzy high school marching band I've ever seen or heard; they were "practicing" the night I arrived and the morning I left.
From Tocopilla I went back to Calama; I started the day with Iquique as a goal but it's a very long trip and after spending a couple of hours in a small town called Maria Elena, Calama was the closest and most reasonable choice to get a good start for Iquique the next day (today). Plus, I wanted to take the inland route instead of spending another long day riding up the cold foggy coastline.
I left Calama this morning with plenty of time to take pictures and make the trip to Iquique. I was told by a couple different people that there would be fuel at Quillagua, a good midway point for the trip, but there was nothing at all in that tiny little oasis in the desert except some folks that told me about a guy who sometimes has big tanks of gas that he sells fuel from but he's not here today. A little while later I had gone 190 miles on a tank that gets only about 200 miles [I've got an extra gallon with me so it would've been fine] but out of nowhere I saw, from about 3 miles away, what I thought was a gas station sign. It was a small town called "Victoria" that had a gas station and a restaurant. Victoria wasn't on my map but my map is from Argentina and it seems that they purposefully miss little details and miss-spell names of towns in their little passive-aggressive show of distaste for all things Chilean (they don't like each other very much).
As I was leaving Pozo Almonte I pulled over to put a sweater on under my jacket because it was getting late and cooling off and would only get colder the closer I got to the coast at Iquique. I was glad to be leaving Pozo Almonte because it's just an ugly little truck stop town with dirty, gimpy stray dogs running around and tons of semi-trucks driving through its somewhat narrow main road and only one hotel I saw which also made me glad to keep on going.
I got back on the highway and felt the unmistakable squishy flat-tire feeling that is immediately recognizable, even though I've never had a flat tire on a motorcycle. Denial is a very funny thing because for a moment I actually thought that if I pulled over and checked the tire that it would almost certainly be flat, so I began rationalizing that if I kept on going maybe things would actually be okay! Logic beat denial today so I pulled over, unloaded the bike, looked the tire over and found where the hole likely is, then used a can of that "fix-a-flat" that seems to be holding for now but I didn't want to ride another 30 miles on a tire that may or may not make it. So here I am having dinner in this greasy little gimpy dogged town, hoping that my tire still holds air tomorrow so I can make it to Iquique for a real patch, or new tire...
July 8, Iquique, Chile
Iquique is a city of about 150,000 with the same cold foggy winter climate as Antofagasta. When I arrived yesterday I went to get ceviche at a restaurant and they told me it was against the law to serve uncooked fish so I couldn't have ceviche; then I went into a deep, dark, extended period of agonizing depression; but today I went to the fish market and they had ceviche so I snapped right out of it and I'm happy again! I guess it's only against the law to serve ceviche in places where they cook things? I don't know and I doubt I'll figure out the complexity of the ceviche regulatory systems down here before I get my tire fixed and head north toward the Peruvian border.
The mountain range that parallels the coastline of Northern Chile actually reaches the coastline just north of Iquique, which means that between here and Arica there are no beaches, and no coastal towns, because the mountains drop very abruptly into the sea (you can really see this from the satellite view). Arica is just south of the Peruvian border and will be my last stop in Chile.
I finally finished that page of pictures from my very cold high altitude crossing of the Andes...
July 10, Iquique, Chile
Yup, still in Iquique. I got a new back tire today - the other one still had enough rubber to get me to Lima and further but I would rather have a new tire than be constantly wondering how long the patch will hold up on the old tire. Alberto Arayo, "Beto", who owns "BeMoto" hooked me up with a Pirelli and it seems that $300 is the going rate for a back tire in South America. You can email him if you get stuck in Iquique and need help with your motorcycle: email@example.com. It was mid-afternoon before all was taken care of so I decided to stay for another night for more ceviche and other seafood before the 4 hour trip to Arica tomorrow.
Last night I got my first taste of what seemed like poison air. There was some sort of "police activity" near my hotel and a crowd needed to be dispersed so the cops used one of those tear-gas smoke bombs about a block from my hotel. I was just returning from a long afternoon of wandering around taking pictures and checking out the town, and the closer I got to my hotel the more my eyes, nose and throat burned. I asked about it at the hotel and they told me about the smoke-bomb that had been set off 5-10 minutes before. The funny thing is that I never saw any police, or any indication of bad things going on in the area, or anywhere around town for that matter and still have no idea what it was about.
July 12, Arica, Chile
Yesterday's trip to Arica was warm, then cold, then warm, then cold again. Route 5 runs right down the middle of Chile, just like I-5 runs north and south through Washington, Oregon and California. But in the northernmost province of Chile, the Arica Province, the road passes through two very deep canyons and toward the ocean. As the altitude descends from 4,000 feet toward sea level, the warm air of central Chile is replaced by that cold coastal, foggy winter air of the Chilean and Peruvian coastline. As the road climbs the other side of the canyon the air gradually warms up again.
I decided to stay two nights here instead of one so that I could work on the bike a little. I noticed the chain was lose and when I went to clean and adjust it I realized that "Beto", the guy mentioned below who put my new tire on, seems to have somehow reversed things and as a result nothing can be adjusted appropriately and all the "notches" that indicate when the tire is straight are all way off and I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out. The new chain has never been loose and changing the tire shouldn't have made it loose unless Beto somehow rearranged everything and then re-adjusted it according to some bran new northern Chilean specs because it doesn't work by the regular methods. In order to adjust the wheel to the straight position it rubs against the back brakes so bad it'll never move. Yada yada yada, I'm pretty pissed about it right now but hopefully I'll figure it out and not have to stay here too long. Arica isn't a bad city to be stuck in, but I really need to make up some time and get back north again...
...Okay, that wasn't bad. I called Beto, he called a friend here in Arica, Piero Aratto, and I got schooled on how to return things back to the way they were. Beto typically works on Motocross bikes and they are usually set up the opposite of big street bikes on the back wheel's hub area and Piero guessed that Beto just followed habit and set it up like motocross [I still don't understand how he readjusted everything to make it straight, with a looser chain, but it's better now so who cares]. It looked to me like many more parts needed to be removed and would have been a huge project but using a screw-driver as a mini pry-bar to remove a certain part made it a fairly quick job. So tomorrow I'll see if they'll let me into Peru...
July 12, a little later, Arica, Chile
Okay feel free to take that happy horse-shit ending to this little mechanical scenario below and just replace it with the worse case scenario. After Piero left I went to finish up and make the last adjustments and then tighten everything up and when I went to turn the nut it just kept turning and turning and turning and turning and I'm sure you get the point. Not only is the inside of the nut completely stripped but the threaded part of the axle it grabs onto is also destroyed. Bad.
Two possible scenario's: Scenario one - Force fitting it in the backwards position like Beto did somehow tore everything up. Scenario two is that the parts on this bike are weak; I have always said that the absolute worst thing for this motorcycle is maintenance. Some of the only real damage to this bike has occurred while fixing or adjusting something because the nuts and bolts are very easily stripped. It may be a combination of Beto's reverse fitting and cheap metal parts (I don't know if their being backwards would make any difference at all, and I do know that the metal on this bike is cheap so it's all really hard to say) but it really doesn't matter because liability has nothing to do with what needs to happen now to make it all better. I'll start by emailing the two aforementioned mechanics and then check out Horizons Unlimited for more clues and connections, and Mariano's team in Buenos Aires...
July 14, Arica, Chile
I guess I celebrated this Friday the 13th on Thursday the 12th because on the actual Friday things worked out pretty well. I sent an email to 5 different mechanic connections (including Beto and Piero from the updates below) in Chile and Argentina on Friday morning asking for help with my stripped axle and nut. Mariano, the guy in Buenos Aires from Motocare [www.motocare.com.ar] was the only one to respond. He said he'd be glad to look for new parts but suggested that the quicker and easier solution would be to see a "Tornero", or a machinist, and have them re-thread the bolt and buy a new nut.
$4.50 later all is well and the only thing remotely bad about this Friday the 13th is that I'm just a little embarrassed that I didn't think of that common sense solution on my own. I mentioned my new Spanish word [Tornero] to Rodolfo, front desk guy at Hotel Americano, and he happens to have a good friend that is a Tornero on the other side of town; good coincidence. The axle threads weren't stripped, they only looked bad because the threads from the nut were completely stripped and their remnants were left on the axle threads. The axle threads were damaged, which is what caused the nut to strip, but the axle threads were easily fixed by the Tornero [$4.00 for fixing the axle threads and .50 for a new nut, definitely the best money I've spent all year!].
I still haven't heard from Beto or his friend Piero. My guess is that Piero knew that something was wrong because when he tightened the bolt it wasn't very tight and he probably didn't want to get into a whole new mess since he was just there as a favor for Beto. He must have called Beto and told him there were bigger problems and Beto decided to cut his losses and not respond. I don't know if Beto damaged the axle threads or not but his not responding makes me suspicious of a guilty conscience and earns him the title of "punk-assed-bitch".
I also met a biker couple here in Arica waiting for parts, Adam and Valerie from California, and we went out for beers, stories, laughs and great conversation. Not a bad day for Friday the 13th. Today, Saturday, I decided to stay and change my oil and catch up on some pictures. Here's the first batch from the Atacama Desert region: