Entering Laguna del Laja National Park, Antuco Volcano in the distance.
Discovering Chile and Argentina (and our limits) on an Adventure Motorcycle.
My wife and I spent two weeks touring Chile and Argentina on a BMW R 1200 GS.
It didn’t go as planned, but that didn't matter.
As the pilot announced our final approach into Santiago, we got our first stunning view of the Andes Mountains, ominous, even at this altitude. I imagined us riding through their peaks and valleys and was filled with a mix of sheer excitement and nauseating trepidation. In 20 years of riding, and eight years of adventure touring, this was likely to be the most challenging trip yet and the lead up had cost me many sleepless nights. I had rented a bike in Santiago with Paola, my wife, riding pillion. My plan was to head south, deep into Patagonia, crossing over the Andes four times, through Argentina, and eventually returning via the infamous Carretera Austral and the coastal road. Thirteen days and over 2,500 miles of mixed terrain. I would soon discover that South America had its own plans for us.
After a superb steak with a bottle of local wine, a minor earthquake (welcome to Santiago!) and a good night’s sleep, we set off the next morning for Ride Chile,a Santiago based Adventure Motorcycle rental firm where I’d booked a BMW R1200 GS, ten months earlier. First impressions of Ride Chile were alarming. Our taxi had come to a stop outside a house in the middle of a distinctly suburban neighborhood, not the professional, commercial space expected (hoped for). I readied myself for disappointment as we were invited through a set of tall gates. Among the many bikes was our pristine R1200 GS, with brand new semi-road tires, just as Tomás had promised. Hugely relieved, I got to packing the bike and completing the arduous Chilean paperwork. It was 12:30 PM by the time we wobbled off on our heavily laden Beamer.
The Adventure Begins
Even with all that weight, the GS had plenty of grunt. We made our way out of the city. Our first destination was Viña Chillán, a vineyard and guest house near the village of Bulnes, 300 miles south. As the blacktop rolled by, the Pan American Highway offered some tantalizing glimpses of what was to come. It was a little after 7 PM when we finally made the exit for Bulnes. I had no idea where exactly the vineyard was and had figured on asking directions. I hadn’t shared this detail with Paola and so I made a 'confident' left at the first T-junction. A mile later we rode into a street party in full swing. All the motorcycles in the village had been commandeered to provide Christmas rides for the local children. Riding pillion, on all manner of machinery, they zipped up and down, some as young as five or six, helmets down to their eyelids and broad grins across their grubby faces. The drivers, all in Santa hats, were making sure everyone got a turn. Paola took the opportunity to ask directions from a group of older men, wine bottles in hand, watching the spectacle. Despite being wasted, one of them apparently knew where we wanted to go, and hailed down the dusty street to one of the Santa riders. Our newly acquired guide beckoned us to follow him and a few miles later delivered us to the long shingle driveway of our hotel. He screamed away in a cloud of blue smoke with the $20 Paola had tipped him and a big smile on his face. After a long shower, I stepped out onto the patio of our powder pink guest house, the evening sun still warm on my face and the neat rows of bright green vines trailing off in all directions. To the east there was a haze, giving the towering Andes a ghostly appearance. Somewhere up there was our destination for tomorrow.
It always takes a few days to get into a packing routine.
Into the Andes
By the time I packed the bike the next morning it was already getting on for midday, the excellent wine at dinner being the chief culprit. We set off with our sights set on Antuco, a massive volcano that dominates Laguna de la Laja, a glacial lake and national park near the border with Argentina. Our only constraint was that we had a hotel booked in Pucón (240 miles south-east) the following night. The plan today was to cross the Andes, into Argentina, and find somewhere to camp before dark. It was a great ride. The asphalt was good initially, lined with wildflowers, sweeping through undulating wheat fields dotted with bright green copses. The flat-twin effortlessly propelled us along the deserted black ribbon. It could have been France, except for the villages, which were mostly single-story, wooden shacks laid out in dusty grids. We soon encountered our first gravel track but it was hard-packed and my confidence grew as the big GS ate up the miles. As we climbed out of the lush valley and, into the Andes for the first time, Antuco’s snow-capped peak loomed in the distance.
Eventually, we rejoined the main road, now high in the mountains, the tarmac lasted only a mile or two before disintegrating into a rubble track. As we wound our way up, it was clear there wouldn’t be many options for food, so we stopped for a late lunch at the first place we saw that showed any sign of life. This transpired to be Anthucalhue Mountain Resort. This was a rather grand name given to a little group of cabañas in a patch of stunted pines and Rhododendron. The ‘resort’ sat up on a bluff, carved out of the bend in a steep-sided creek to the north and flanked by the track to the south. The eastern sky was dotted with pale grey spires, ice clinging impossibly to their faces and, towering above these, the volcano, jet-black where the snow had melted. As our host prepared a meal, I studied the map. We’d only done 80 miles and I could only count on another 50 in the tank. It occurred to me that we would have to take every chance to refuel, gas stations were sparse. One tiny dot on the Argentinean side of the mountains marked the only village for miles, virtually all unpaved, and with no guarantee of finding fuel, assuming we made it that far.
Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja, Antuco, Chile
Livestock are a common sight on Chile's roads
Revising the Route
I devised a new route that cut back down to the Pan American Highway, then south to Victoria where we would pick up the road to Pucón. According to the map, it was mostly tarmac (although I was already starting to question the accuracy of the maps) and I figured if we left early we could cover the 220 odd miles by late afternoon and still have time to take a look at Laguna de la Laja in the morning. So, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon. December is still the low season and the place was nearly empty. We picked wild cherries and followed a steep path down to the Rio Laja, where we sat on boulders, eating the fruit in the evening sun. Our feet cold in the crystal green water, Antuco soaring over us, and the stress and bustle of New York far from our minds.
Eleven Hours to Pucón
A pretty spot for a nap
Early the next morning, we followed the steep road the few remaining miles to Lago de la Laja. As we passed through the park entrance the rubble track gave way to black volcanic ash, eventually leveling off to reveal a stunning, milky turquoise lake, two hundred feet below us. It disappeared among the sharply ridged headlands and deep valleys that carve this rugged region. The ‘road’ beyond this point was poorly defined and I was grateful for the rational part of me that had revised the route yesterday. Photos taken, we headed back down the valley making quick time of the one 120 miles to Victoria - imagine Scranton. So, we decided to push on and get lunch in the next town. A meandering, tree-lined road, reminiscent of the Virginia countryside, gave us a fantastic sweeping ride into Curacautin, a shabby village in the foothills. Our party of three refueled, we headed out on the only road south toward the massive Volcano Llaima and, in its afternoon shadow, the spectacular Conguillio National Park. Here the road became a shingle track, just wide enough for two vehicles. I would learn over the coming days that this was the standard in unpaved Chilean roads. What little traffic there is creates three, harder packed ruts (yes, only three). The center rut is inevitably shared by all four-wheeled vehicles, regardless of direction, and so when any opposing traffic meets, it's a game of chicken. Whenever possible, I kept the bike in the right-hand rut. It went on for hours. Any cars left a dust cloud that would hang in the air for a mile ahead, seeping into my helmet and playing havoc with my contact lenses.
I tried to remember all I had learned at the BMW Adventure Rider Academy in North Carolina. I forced myself to look up the road - the very first thing they teach you. Picking a line way ahead and trusting my ability to react to the road through feel rather than sight. I reckoned that the total weight of the bike, fueled and loaded, with us and all the gear, was around 900 pounds. Riding over the loose shingle was hair-raising at first. The front wheel followed a random line of least resistance, whilst the rear gently fishtailed, continuously seeking the lowest point in the rut. I relaxed my hands, kept throttle and braking adjustments smooth, and adjusted my weight and steering with the pegs. I remained seated, something that the BMW instructors would have frowned upon, but I didn’t have my wife riding pillion at the off-road academy. My confidence grew and I kept up a steady 40 mph. All the while the shingle would ping off the manifold and the swing-arm, panniers flexing and rattling under the beating. It hadn’t occurred to me to soften the setting in the ESA suspension system, and the consequences would prove to be significant.
The beautiful Chilean countryside
An Oasis in a Lava Field
Volcano Llaima had peaked above the horizon a while back but, as we crested the valley head, we could see its entire enormous extent, soaring well over 10,000 feet into the palest blue sky. With a jarring immediacy, all the vegetation disappeared, and we found ourselves riding through a barren moonscape (which I later learned had been created by a huge eruption in 2009). A few miles in, the lava flow ended as abruptly as it had begun at a gate marking the entrance to Conguillio National Park. The track became sand, the enemy of adventure riders, and expletives followed, but thankfully it was mostly packed, although sometimes deep enough to sink us to the hubs when we pulled over. The rainforest was so dense that at times it felt like we were riding through an unlit tunnel. ‘Monkey-Puzzle’ trees, some 80 feet tall, with their distinctive umbrella canopies could be seen through the breaks in the vegetation, stooped over ancient, glassy black cenotes. An extraordinary patch of jungle only tempered by the tedium of gingerly picking a route through the sand. The vegetation fell away once more, and we found ourselves on another ash track, riding on the moon. It wasn’t until 5 PM that we departed the park’s southern gate and joined the asphalt (raising our spirits immeasurably). We were still 80 miles from Pucón, but according to the map, it was all paved. I confidently reported to a weary Paola that we would be at the hotel by seven, gin and tonics in hand.
Conguillio National Park
Trial By Shingle
When we stopped to refuel, I asked the station attendant about the state of the road to Pucón. “Malísimo”, he said, the worst. This was chilling news coming from a local (the Chileans have a very high tolerance for crap roads). He advised taking a left at the next town instead. We couldn’t believe our luck at first. A newly laid road, smooth and grippy, swept through lush meadows and wooded hills. Clouds of pollen hung in the still evening air, glittering gold in the low sun that sliced through the trees. We picked up a sign for Villarica, a town at the opposite end of the lake on which Pucón sits, and I remember thinking that our trials for this day were over. At that exact moment, the road turned to loosely packed rubble, scary at any worthwhile speed. It took me a while to get the feel of it and after a few miles, I was managing a steady pace in third gear, with my teeth gritted. With the daylight slipping away, I managed to spot a big, loose patch ahead and tried to take off some speed. It wasn’t enough, and the front wheel immediately washed out to the right. I threw my weight over and managed to save it but we washed out left. I managed to keep my feet on the pegs as I desperately fought the bike to a weaving halt. Hugely relieved I hadn’t dumped us. I took a moment to let my heart stop racing. I've fallen off a few times, but it's very different when your wife is sitting on the back. Paola leaped off the bike, fuming.
A Grand Entrance
After some terse words (Paola’s), some coaxing (mine), and some painstaking miles, we finally joined the tarmac and soon made Villarrica, where we picked up the shore road to Pucón and eventually located our hotel. We had been on the road for eleven hours, both exhausted, but our relief was short-lived. The hotel was cut high into the side of a steep ridge and the driveway ran straight up it. Two long lines of impossibly steep paving, surrounded by soft gravel, disappeared into the darkness above me. Who would build such a thing? I took a deep breath and pulled away - big wheelie. I got my belly on the tank and into second - another wheelie, Paola, was not happy and shouted something, but I was too focused to hear and I wasn’t about to stop for anything. We got to the top and I pulled into what turned out to be the overflow car park. The hotel entrance, I realized, was a little further up the track on the other side of the building. I tried to explain this to Paola, but she had vaulted off the bike and was striding off, stiff-armed, toward the hotel. I decided it was probably best if I let her figure it out. Taking the steps in twos, she barged through a set of double-doors expecting the reception. The patio doors had burst open and the dining room fell silent as the hotel’s guests, who had been tucking into their Christmas Eve dinner, beheld the wild intruder, covered in dust, wielding a helmet and wearing a look of total desperation. Later, over drinks, some confessed that, for a moment, they had thought she was part of a robbery. Our sympathetic hostess left her meal and guided Paola to the reception, whereby she immediately extended our stay to two nights. It was a beautiful room with a gigantic window affording a panoramic view of
Welding the rack back together
Lake Villarrica below us. As I unpacked, I discovered our left-hand pannier frame had completely severed at three of the four mounts, shaken apart. We were lucky not to have lost the whole thing.
Revising the Route (Again)
On Christmas morning, after some forcefully presented input (threats of castration) from Paola, I reluctantly devised a drastically reduced route. The new plan would take us on mostly paved roads, southeast and across the border to San Carlos de Bariloche, in Argentina, but this would be the extent of our foray into Patagonia. From here we would head north, through the Argentinian plains, turning west at the Bio-Bio Reserve and back into Chile, returning to Santiago via the Pacific coast. First, I needed to get the pannier frame welded back together but that would have to wait until tomorrow. Pucón is a lovely town (although guidebooks warn it can be heaving in high season) and the little beach is a great place to watch the sunset over the lake. We had the hotel taxi drop us there that evening. Apparently, Raoul is the only taxi driver in town prepared to deliver the guests of Casa Establo to the door. All the others shy away from the crazy driveway and insist you walk it.
Our First Night Camping
On the 26th, we rode into Pucón. Paola went shopping and I started asking around for a welder, and soon found myself at a shack on the edge of town. No signage, just a couple of gas tanks and a rudimentary inspection pit dug into the earth. Within twenty minutes Javier had welded the crap out of the pannier frame and handed it back, assuring me it was as good as new. Greatly relieved, we headed back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage, where we had become the story of the day. We said goodbye to our amiable hosts and set off for Lake Ranco, about eighty miles south, where we planned to camp. That was until we met Ulli Witt, who pulled up on an F800 GS while we were buying supplies on our way out of Pucón. Ulli runs a rental firm called Ride Adventures. He was disappointed we didn’t have time to chat over a beer, but we did talk long enough for him to advise us to push on past Lake Ranco and onto Lake Llanquihue. He told us of a great campsite on its eastern shore and a paved road that runs right up Osorno Volcano. It was 180 miles away, but I was determined to make it our destination for the night.
It was a stunning ride. Another deserted byway led us through undulating farmland. Lush green hedgerows and wildflowers lined the route. The GS burbled its way through the corners as we pushed on through the beautiful Chilean countryside, joining route five for a few miles and then off again at Osorno. Finally, just before 8 PM, as a cool breeze had me zipping up my jacket, we rounded the bend and Lake Llangihue opened up before us like an ocean. We found Ulli’s campsite, exactly where he had said it would be. There was no sign, just a simple strip of land, and a black beach that ran along one edge behind a line of trees. It was a great little spot and we had the place to ourselves. We ate our dinner as the sun set over the lake, making Osorno’s snow cone glow deep orange. The fire crackled in the evening chill, what a day!
¡Bienvenido a Argentina!
Opting out of the cold shower, we got rolling early the next morning. Today we would follow Ulli’s recommendation and drive up the mighty Osorno Volcano before heading east to Villa La Angostura, in Argentina. About 160 miles all in.
< Paola, taking a break
The camp-site at Lake Llangihue
The shore road, made up of fast, sweeping corners, took us to the base of the volcano where we turned onto newly laid tarmac, climbing to 6000 feet. Second gear ’S’ bends brought us out at the base of a chairlift, high up in the clouds. They cleared momentarily, revealing the summit soaring yet higher into the sky.We flew back down, now thoroughly at ease on the surefooted Beamer, and made good time to Puyehue, where we stopped for lunch at a rustic cafe. Our next leg took us across our first Andean pass, and the scenery changed entirely as we crested the summit. The lush green gave way to grey rock and sparse pine. It was like riding through the Tennessee mountains, only to go through a gate and suddenly find yourself in Switzerland. We stopped for a while on top of the world, Chile to our backs and Argentina stretched out before us. The road was unpaved but hard-packed and before long we rolled into Villa La Angostura. After finding a basic hotel, we walked down the hill along a charming strip of wooden Alpine style, A-frames. After a huge steak Asado and the ubiquitous bottle of local red, we stumbled back up the hill to bed.
Crossing the Andes for the first time.
The next morning brought our first glimpse of Nahuel Huapi Lake. An epic expanse of cobalt blue, damned by moraine at one end, it floods the glacial valleys that conjoin here, creating endless fjords and beaches. On its far shore lay Bariloche and towering above, where the pine trees thinned, the grey crags were interspersed with dark granite arêtes, impossibly thin, like a saw blade tearing into the fabric of the sky. The enormity of the panorama before us was hard to take in. We gaped at it for a while and took pictures that had no chance of doing the view any justice. We rode around the lake to Bariloche and the loop through stunningly pretty Liao Liao, then cut back north and onto Route-40. Another road with dramatic views took us along the western edge of The Pampas, an enormous plain that extends east as far as the Atlantic Ocean and north to Uruguay. It was desolate and beautiful. I started to look for a place to pitch the tent, but the good sites along the river were already occupied. All the while the wind was rising and the Andes, now a distant shadow in the western sky, were threatening to steal the light away early. I decided to head for the next town on the map, Junin de Los Andes. It was after 8 PM by the time we made it. Exhausted, we stopped at the first half-decent place we found, a quirky motel, built in a log-cabin style that specialized in hosting fly fisherman.
High on the Windswept Pampas
We awoke to bright sunshine and incessant wind. Dust devils swirled up the dirt streets and the wispy clouds cast shadows that whipped across the plain. Initially, it was a fantastic ride. We thundered out of town and up over some hills to rejoin Route 40. We caught a lone Ducati Multistrada and gave him a bit of a run before Paola let me know it was time to let him go with a jab to the kidneys. As we climbed back onto the Pampas the wind grew dramatically, a ceaseless blast across the road, left to right. Before long I was forced to lean the bike over by 20 degrees just to maintain a straight line. The sun visor on my Arai Xd4 helmet acted like a sail, and my neck muscles soon tired of the effort required to keep my head facing forward. Oncoming traffic, especially trucks, would block the wind so that we would dive toward the white line between us. Then, as I corrected the truck would pass and the wind would hit us like a wall knocking us right across the lane again. It went on like this for hours, the gale never once relenting its ferocious onslaught. All-day, we fought our way down long straights that disappeared over the horizon, the monotony occasionally broken by rocky promontories, reaching out into the plain, providing hairpin bends and magnificent views of the vast plateau below.
Route 40, Argentina - The ceaseless wind blew Paola onto her tip-toes
We eventually made it into Zapala, the only real town between Junin and the Alto Bio-Bio National Reserve, where I planned to cross back into Chile. Perched high on the plain, Zapala is a concrete grid at the junction of the only two main roads for a hundred miles or more. It has all the charm of a long abandoned Soviet outpost. Among the deserted streets, the only open restaurant we could find looked like a bus terminal from the seventies. Battered and famished, we ordered the parillas for two. An enormous pile of the most delicious steaks, chops, kidneys, black pudding, sausages, and ribs arrived at our table, on a bed of coals. Two hours later, we stumbled out, completely sated. As we climbed back into the mountains and made our precarious way to the border the wind grew even stronger, tearing at us from all directions. We came upon a group of gauchos herding their goats and cattle up to their summer pastures. They were spread right across the highway so that we had to cautiously cut a path right through them. When we stopped at the border crossing, I had to be careful to use the side stand and lean the bike into the wind so it wouldn’t blow over. I watched from the window, in amazement, as the wind furiously worked the rear suspension as though it were being ridden down a rough track.
The Parillas for Two
Rio Bosque, Chile
Across the Andes and back into Chile
After crossing the Andes everything changed again, and we left the wind at the border as the road descended in its lee, so the vegetation returned, thick and green. A dark smudge across the western horizon foretold an approaching weather front. It is surprising how much of beautiful Chile remains entirely undeveloped, a big part of its charm, but challenging when you need a place to sleep and the rain is setting in. We had ridden 250 tough miles, it was nearly 10 PM and even at this latitude, it would soon be pitch-dark. I was just starting to think about putting up the tent when we stumbled upon Rio Bosque. A charming group of cabañas nestled in a clearing at the edge of Malalcahuelo National Park. Once more, we had the place to ourselves. The cabañas were all simple, flat board cabins, painted an earthy red and set amongst the pines. We unloaded the bike and I started a fire in the log burner. We hadn’t much food, but the huge lunch was keeping us going. We ate cheese and crackers and sipped rum and cokes next to the fire. Nothing could spoil our mood, least of all the rain pattering gently on the tin roof.
The next morning, we waited for the weather to lift (the only rain we would see all trip), and reluctantly rode out of the Andes, crossing the Pan American at Victoria and on toward the mountains that guard the Pacific Ocean. Just outside Purén we hit a nasty pothole. The jolt was hard enough to separate the stitching on our tank bag.
I had to stop to make repairs and check the front wheel for damage - thankfully, everything looked fine and the tire remained inflated. A fantastic road out of Purén followed the valley up through densely wooded hills, leveling out at a deep blue lake, Lago Lanalhue, which reached out like fingers into the green hills. We saw a picturesque campsite running along a beach on the lake’s eastern edge, but it wasn't even 5-PM yet and I figured there would be plenty of options on the road to Concepcion. There weren’t and, hours later, I decided to chance our luck on a headland that jutted out into the Pacific at Carampangue. The first town was bleak, and I was regretting driving past that beautiful spot on Lanalhue earlier. We kept on and eventually found a lovely place near Tubul that had chalets cut into a headland overlooking the ocean. Unfortunately, the place was full. We were tired, the sun was fading, and it was getting chilly. It appeared that Lady Luck had finally deserted us.
As we doubled back along the shore road Paola hollered at me to stop, pointing at a set of blue gates, behind which, a long tatty driveway climbed up a steep hill. It had looked pointless to me, but I pulled over. Within moments I was being introduced to Valentino, an Italian (like Paola), who would be our host for the night. The driveway wound up atop a headland where he, and his one-man crew, were building a hotel. It was a stunning spot, with a view of the Pacific on one side and a pristine estuary, meandering off into the valley, on the other. Our room, the only one completed, was oddly up-market and glitzy for Chile. His taste in decor aside, Valentino was an excellent host. He showed us around, explaining his grand plans for his plush resort. Seeing we had no food, he offered to make us dinner. And so, we found ourselves still wearing our motorcycle gear, sitting at a little table he had made up with a flower and a lamp, in what would eventually be an indoor pool and restaurant. Construction materials lay scattered around, a giant empty hole behind us, the future centerpiece of his dream. Valentino’s thick, Italian accent hung in the air with the dust as he told us his life story. I went to bed marveling at the surreal moments like these that make unguided touring so extraordinary.
Just as Lady Luck appeared to deserted us, we found Valentino
The morning was breath-taking. Valentino really had picked a glorious spot. Paola slept late while I sat high on the cliff edge in the warming sun, watching the Pacific waves roll onto a deserted beach. Valentino bode us a fond farewell and we headed off, sticking to the coast road, which quickly turned to dirt. This time I tackled it standing up. Now I could effectively counter the weight of the bike with my own and we negotiated the rubble tracks of the coast with relative confidence. We drove into Buchupureo late that afternoon and, this time did not hesitate to book the first decent place we saw. El Peurto Cabañas and Restaurant is situated next to a long black beach, nestled between two headlands. There were a dozen cabins tucked into the hillside above the restaurant and ours, the last available, was the highest. We watched the sunset over the idyllic bay from our little deck, donned our least smelly clothes, and headed down to the restaurant. The owners had managed to squeeze us into their New Year’s Eve dinner party. Despite being the only foreigners, we were given a warm reception. By 1 AM Paola had to take me home, wine and fatigue had got the better of me. We wished our new friends a Buon Anno and before turning in, gazed at the incredible night sky for a while. In summer, it doesn’t get properly dark here until early in the morning but when it does, the Milky Way and the red of Mars are clearly visible amongst the countless stars.
The beach at Buchupureo
We had three days and 350 miles to get back to Santiago. Some of it looked like it might be tough, but mostly it was paved and so we booked another night and took the day off. The following morning, however, became very challenging, very quickly. The roads were a mix of sand and rubble and were very soft in places. I took it on standing up and our heavy GS ate it all up, the handling vastly improved with a softer setting on the ESA. I was determined to spend this night, our last, camping. Our original plan was to head for the surfer town, Pichilemu but the persistent onshore breeze had become chilly so we picked a lake on the map, slightly inland, and halfway to Santiago. Lake Vichuquen, like many in Chile, is more akin to a Loch and it meanders among picturesque, pine forested hills. We repeated the mistake of driving past the first good place we saw and then got completely lost trying to find it again. This was my first real melt-down, fighting the bike through the sand was starting to get to me and we appeared to be going around in circles. We finally followed a sign that took us down an alarmingly steep descent of sandy hairpin bends, which eventually rolled into a campsite. The camp store had limited fare and so, we ate fried eggs with salad and beer, sitting on our little dock, watching the sunset over the beguiling lake.
The Last Leg and Farewell to Our Trusty BMW
We jumped out of the tent early the next morning, repacked the GS for the last time, and stole a final glance at the lake. As we climbed the scary, sandy hill of many bends, I was acutely aware of what a gigantic pisser it would be if I dropped the bike now. I was determined to keep a clean sheet. So, it was daunting to find the very last stretch of dirt track was a very steep hill, ending in a deep patch of soft sand. Great! With huge relief we got back on to the asphalt, unscathed. Our final run, a superb, winding road through salt flats, vineyards, and farmland, brought us out on the circular highway that runs around Santiago City. I got us properly lost again, eventually returning to Ride Chile much later than the agreed time. Tomás was not perturbed. I reluctantly handed back the keys, unseemly as it was, to break up our cozy party of three. We had covered nearly two thousand miles together on our South American Odyssey, some of it very challenging, and I hadn’t put a scratch on the bike. Of course, the left-hand pannier frame could have used a lick of paint but Tomás wasn’t perturbed by that either.
South America is a superb place to tour. The people are friendly, the roads empty, the views breath-taking, and it remains largely undeveloped. There are many guided tours available (Ride Chile has a great selection), and no doubt, a guided experience would be very different. Most notably: a guaranteed route, a bed, hot meals, and immediate support in the event of disaster. There is a lot of sense in that. Nonetheless, I would urge you to go it alone or to go with a friend/partner and be prepared to adapt to what comes. Inevitably, some challenges will occasionally thwart you, but the resulting adventures will be worthy of the effort. In my experience, there is an innate vulnerability to traveling alone by motorcycle, which taps the very best of human nature in nearly all the people you will meet. Namely, our instinct to help a fellow in need. Finally, thank you, Paola, for being the best adventurer a man could ask for, nevertheless, if this story has a hero at all, it has two wheels and a cold, steel heart but, I would argue, plenty of soul.
The BMW R1200 GS - A true all-rounder and the hero of many an adventure