Day 84 – Chanaral to Vallenar

One of the nice things about the expensive hostel where we stayed was that breakfast was included. So we went out shortly after 8AM to grab breakfast, and sat down in the restaurant. The server from the night before poked his head out, said “Desayuno?” and when we indicated yes, gabbled some Spanish at us. We assumed he was getting a menu… so we sat and waited and read our books on our various devices. (I’m reading on my iPhone and Kay is reading on his iPad, because we ran out of paper books a long time ago.)

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

40 minutes later, I look up from my book, realize how long has passed, and say to Kay “maybe he was saying that we need to go in there for breakfast?” “Surely not,” Kay answers “that’s where he went last night to get food. Isn’t that the kitchen?”

We sit for a few minutes longer, and then go up to the doors where the guy vanished only to see that there’s an entire room full of tables inside, which you can’t see because curtains are closed on the windows all the way around the room. And there’s a buffet set out with coffee, tea, juice, bread, lunch meat, cheese and yogurt. So after a really long wait we had a lame breakfast of lunch meat sandwich and yogurt. Was a disappointment, because I saw breakfast on the menu we’d been given the night before and was really looking forward to yummy eggs and stuff. Yet another sign that Chile just doesn’t do breakfast.

By the time we finished breakfast, it was close to 10AM and I still wanted to get some work done. I’m writing a three-part series of articles about the trip for a motorcycle retailer based in the US, and I wanted to edit the draft I’d written of Part 2 and get it sent off while we had net. Sharing about the trip is something I really enjoy (as opposed to some of the writing I do, which is sometimes about stuff that just doesn’t get me excited – writing about mortgages, corporate newsletters, etc.) so Kay encouraged me to do it and said he didn’t mind waiting. So I did, and then borrowed the public computer in the lobby to send it off to my client.

While I was on the computer, I checked my email and saw that I’d gotten a note from RevZilla. I’d emailed Anthony from RevZilla the other day to ask if there’s any way to get me a new Gerbing controller for my jacket, as I do NOT fancy trying to get to Ushuaia with no heated gear and no thermal layer. Anthony and the Patrick at RevZilla *really* came through for me.

There was an email from Anthony saying that if I could get them a solid address, they’d get me a controller out ASAP. They were out of dual controllers (which is what I currently have) but I’m only running the jacket anyway so I don’t really *need* a dual; I’d just bought one with the idea that someday I might add some other piece of heated gear. So I told him we were in Chile, and asked if they could find a place to send it for me as I was headed to Santiago to get my bike serviced, but didn’t have a reliable net connection to do the legwork on finding a shipping address. I basically said to send it wherever it’ll go through and tell me where to pick it up.

Of course all of this took time, so by the time I finished using the net on the borrowed computer and we got the bikes loaded up, it was noon. The second time on the trip we’ve stayed until check-out, and both were in Chile. The time difference in Chile is really wreaking havoc! Because it’s light until after 8PM, we ride later and don’t have as much time at night to do the writing/posting. So it falls to the morning, which makes us late getting out. You’d think it’d be a win-win to have all this extra light, but it causes surprising difficulties.

Anyway, out on the bikes and then back into town to the gas station because we have no idea when we’ll see gas again, and also we want to buy water. We’re still having intermittent problems with diarrhea, and it’s hard to narrow down the cause, so we’ve been buying bottled water instead of pumping with our filter just to be safe. Chile has civilized gas stations like we’re accustomed to in the United States, with mini-marts that have cold drinks, including big bottles of water. We haven’t seen a mini mart at a gas station since… Colombia? And then only a few gas stations had them in the big cities.

At the gas station, I watch a flopped dog while Kay goes to get water. I miss our dogs at home, and flop dog reminds me a bit of my dog. (Looks nothing alike, really, but something similar about the way he was flopped.) When Kay comes out, flop dog wakes up and woofs under his breath at us – the deep, guttural kind that isn’t really a full-throated bark, but more of an “I’m not sure about this. Why are you staring at me? Why are you wearing those weird things?”

Cute Flop-dog

We fill up our Camelbaks and get ready to head out, and flop dog suddenly stands up when he sees us get on our bikes. We back them up without starting them, and he walks over to watch the process. Kay starts his bike, and then I start mine, and flop dog comes to life, running along side our bikes until we get to the road, and then crossing the road to run along side us.

We’ve encountered a lot of dogs that like to chase and bark aggressively at motorcycles on this trip. Formerly-flop-dog was the first dog that just ran along side us – no aggression, not even chasing us – just keeping pace with us in a rather curious and endearing manner. It was a totally stupid, silly random encounter with a local dog, but it got my day off to a good start.

Riding along the Chilean cost some more was beautiful. We contemplated camping on the beach, even though we said we wouldn’t do that again, as all of our stuff ended up covered in mist and wet the last time we did it. But the beaches and ocean was just so beautiful, particularly with the desert on one side and the ocean on the other, that we were willing to reconsider.

Nothing much happened for a while. It was a long ride down the coast, and then back into the desert, without many cities. I was struck anew with how lucky I am to be on a trip like this, and to be sharing it with Kay – how beautiful the landscape was, and how glorious it is to be touring the Americas on a motorcycle. So much better than by car or any other means of transport I can imagine.

I was a bit paranoid about the oil leak, though. We’d put about 200ml in the bike the night before, and I was worried about the rate at which the oil was leaking. Would the bike be ok running so hard until I checked the oil at the next gas stop? Was that smell just the smell of road construction, or oil hitting my exhaust pipes? I had to resist the urge to ask Kay to stop so I could check my oil a half dozen times. I kept reminding myself that we’d gotten off to a late start, anyway, and I wanted to get some miles under my belt for the day before we thought about stopping.

It's leaking from those nuts
The oil's getting everywhere

Eventually we got to Copiapo, where I suggested to Kay that we stop and look for a place to have lunch as it was going to be hundreds of kilometers until the next town. It was around 2PM, which is normally a bit late for lunch, but we’d gotten off to such a late start that I would have felt guilty stopping any sooner. We rode along and finally spotted a hostel with a restaurant inside, and pulled in. As we were stopping, we saw that it had a sign for wi-fi, too – great, as I wanted to check my email and see if I had anything from RevZilla about the Gerbing controller that needed attention.

Parked the bikes, went inside, ordered and asked about wi-fi. They had it, and gave us the password willingly! Good, because the prices were expensive. So I connected my iPhone to the network to check my email, and sure enough – there was a note from RevZilla. Anthony from RevZilla had gone above and beyond and had copied someone from Gerbing on my question about diagnosing the problem – I asked if there was any way for me to check from my end if it was the controller or jacket that wasn’t working. Patrick, also from RevZilla, had found the mailing address for the BMW dealer in Santiago and asked me if it was ok to send the package there.

Yes, and thanks!

A bit later, I got another note from Patrick asking me about my liner size. I sent a reply, and got a final note saying that both a controller and a liner were on the way, and I should notify BMW because there may be customs fees and I should tell them not to turn the shipment away. Sent a couple of quick emails off to BMW telling them that our bikes would need serviced, and also that I would be receiving a package there.

I owe a HUGE thanks to Anthony and Patrick and all the other guys at RevZilla! They helped me to get my Rev’It boot problem resolved back in the very beginning of the trip (they spent time helping me find a new pair of boots, and took care of shipping my old ones back to Rev’It for a warranty repair, etc. since I wasn’t able to deal with it myself from the road) and now they’ve gone above and beyond to help me get my electrics sorted out before I head back into the cold. Patrick did all of the legwork to find a place to ship it, and Anthony went above and beyond to copy Gerbing and look into diagnosing the problem for me.

These guys are bikers who “get” and care about their customers, they have a great, user-friendly website and they make great videos to share information and help people make informed buying decisions. I’ve been a RevZilla fan since I bought my first piece of gear from them (my old Rev’It! pants that I crashed in on my first day out on my old bike, which I had to replace – my crash shredded the pants, but the pants saved my knees, so I’m an ATGATT girl for life) and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Anthony is here on ADV and takes the time to answer questions about purchasing decisions here, and the guys in the store/warehouse will be happy to help you if you call in with questions. I’ve also had prompt replies to emails. Seriously can’t speak highly enough about these guys, and I’m not sure the remaining cold parts of the trip would have been possible without their help!

So after all of the emailing with RevZilla and the BMW dealer in Santiago, it’s after 4PM by the time we leave “lunch.” I feel kinda bad because we’ve lost so much of the day, but the electrics (or lack thereof) were really a problem for me in Bolivia, as I don’t have the thermal layer of my Sand jacket with me (didn’t think I’d need it with the electric jacket) and it’s just too cold to be riding without a thermal layer at all. So while it took a lot of time out of the day, Kay and I agreed that it was time well spent and we’re both relieved to hopefully have the problem resolved.

Luckily, the sun doesn’t set until after 8PM in Chile (did I mention the love-hate thing with the time zone here?) so even though we were leaving town after 4PM, there was plenty of light left. Back on the road, and riding through the Atacama desert. It’s still so surreal to be in these places I’ve only read about before. The Atacama *is* super dry, and Kay said he was getting kind of tired of desert at this point, but I still think desert landscape is desolate and beautiful.

As we’re riding along, I hear an “Oh, shit!” from Kay, followed immediately by a “Guess what I just lost? The bite valve to my Camelbak!”

We’ve both been having bite valve problems for a while. I guess the Camelbak just wasn’t build to withstand three months of constant daily use. My bite valve has been leaking since Nicaragua, and Kay’s has been randomly popping off since Colombia, I think.

My first thought is “Oh, shit, we’ll never find a new bite valve to buy down here, so we’ve gotta stop and find it!” So I yell to Kay that I’m pulling over, and ask if he just now lost it or if he just noticed it. He said he did just lose it, as it started spraying water all over his leg when it popped off, so I park the bike on the shoulder and start walking back down the road, scanning for it. It’s a small blue piece of plastic in the middle of the Atacama desert, but I know Kay needs water and I’m not willing to give up without at least looking for it.

“Ok, I’ll ride back to that sign post and start looking from that end,” Kay says over the headset, and I continue walking back down the road, looking for it. I’m not sure I can spot it, but I’m willing to walk up and down for a while looking, as I really am convinced we wouldn’t find a Camelbak bite valve anywhere down here in South America. Kay rides back and starts riding his bike slowly toward me, looking for it, but I can hear in his voice that he doesn’t think he’ll find it.

When I’ve walked about half a mile from my bike, he starts urging me to turn back and let him walk back to look for it from here. I refuse. Of the two of us, I’m always the one who can find things – Kay can’t even find his keys in his pocket sometimes – so I think I have the better chance of spotting it. I’m better at spotting signs, and just about anything else that requires concentrated looking. I’m also determined, and Kay sounds frustrated – I think he’d do a half-hearted search and then declare that he can’t find it, but I’m not willing to accept failure just yet. So I refuse to turn around and go back to my bike, and keep walking.

This goes on for a few more minutes, with Kay urging me to turn back and saying he’ll take over from here, and me refusing to turn around and looking more for the bite valve. I have no idea where it might be, whether it’s on the road or the shoulder, and spotting a small blue piece of plastic is a long-shot… but I’m stubborn. I figure I can walk a bit further – probably to the sign where Kay started searching from his bike – and then turn around and start looking at the shoulder or the other side of the road. But it’s hot, and I am in the middle of the desert wearing full gear, and I’m starting to get hot. I unzip my jacket and wish I could take my helmet off, but Kay’s way behind me and we’re using the headsets to communicate, so I can’t. So I just drink some water and keep walking.

Just when Kay has almost worn me down to the point of turning around, and letting him take up the search, I catch a glimpse of something blue out of the corner of my eye. There it is! The Camelbak bite valve, in the middle of the left lane! A quick glance in both directions to see if anyone is coming, and then I dash the remaining yards down the road and grab the bite valve. Victory! It has required me to walk probably 3/4 of a mile from my bike (which is actually not far given the speeds we were going when Kay reported that it had popped off) and I’ve gotten all hot and sweaty in the desert… but I found Kay’s bite valve! I found a small blue piece of plastic in the desert!

The sense of accomplishment I felt was ridiculously overblown, but I was proud of myself. For once, my stubbornness was vindicated. I still believe Kay wouldn’t have found it – he’d already ridden his bike past that stretch twice looking for it – but my determination and refusal to accept failure paid off. I return the bite valve to him and walk back down the road to my bike. He says “I’d give you a ride, but…” he can’t, because both of us have our camping crap piled across our passenger seats. The walk back to my bike is equally long and sweaty in the desert, but my victory buoys me.

Not for very long, though. About 10-15 minutes after we get back on the bikes, I start feeling nauseous. It comes in waves, and a couple of times I think I might need to pull over and rip my helmet off to barf. I suspect I’ve overexerted myself in the dry heat of the Atacama desert, and I may have the beginnings of a mild case of heat stroke. There’s fatigue, nausea and intermittent dizziness. But I don’t mention this to Kay, because I know he’ll just worry, and there’s no place for us to stop – we’re in the middle of the desert.

So I keep my eye on Vallenar, which is the next town big enough that there might be a hotel. And the nausea comes and goes, and to add insult to injury, my intestines are threatening me, too. After another 100 kilometers, it’s close to 6PM when we near Vallenar, but I know I’m done for the day. The idea of riding on to the next town, or camping in the desert without the comfort of a bed and a bathroom, is just too daunting.

I ask Kay if we can please look for a hotel in this town instead of going on, and explain that I’m feeling nauseous and my tummy is bothering me. He agrees readily – he doesn’t ask me to push myself when my health is involved – and we turn into the town to look for a hotel. We drive around aimlessly for a few minutes and take a couple of turns that look like they’re not going to get us anywhere near a hotel, and then we find “city centro” which is usually good for having a hotel. I spot a sign for a hotel down a side street, but it’s one way, so we have to go around.

While we’re driving, we pass a hosteria (like a hotel but with fewer rooms, usually) and park so Kay can go check it out. My bike drips some oil onto the exhaust pipes, which turns to smelly smoke, and I worry about my bike. Kay goes in to check the place out. He comes back out a few minutes later with the news that “this hotel is absurdly expensive.” It was just over $150 US, in some random town in the middle of the desert. He saw nothing to indicate why it might have been so expensive, but we’re definitely not paying that, so we ride on to the next place I saw a sign for.

It takes a couple of false starts because of the maze of one-way streets, but eventually we find the next hotel and Kay goes to check it out. While I’m standing with our bikes, a woman comes up and starts trying to chat with me. I’m still wearing my helmet and earplugs, and don’t speak Spanish very well anyway, but it’s nearly impossible for me to understand with the earplugs and helmet on. And I’m too hot and feeling sick to want to bother with taking the helmet off to have a conversation I probably can’t understand anyway with a woman in the street. I try to my “no entiendo” routine and she’s very persistent, so I resort to switching to English “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you, I’m wearing earplugs” and tap my helmet. I really should learn how to say “I’m wearing earplugs” in Spanish.

Eventually, she gives up and goes away, just as Kay comes out to announce “this hotel is ludicrously expensive. How badly do you want a hotel tonight?” The price was over 100,000 pesos (over $200 US) which is far out of our price range.

“Pretty badly,” I answer, as I’m feeling like I just want to drop. I definitely don’t have it in me to ride to the next town, which is 200km away and it’s already 6:30PM, and I don’t think I have it in me to find food, go out into the desert and camp. I just want to lie down someplace soft. So Kay says “We’re going to have to pay for it, then. They recommended another place around the corner, but it’s over $70.” We normally never pay that much for a hotel – we try to pay less than half that – but I was really not feeling well. So I said “let’s go check it out.”

More difficulty navigating the one-way streets, but eventually we find it. Kay goes in to check it out, and returns with good news. The room is nice, there’s parking for the bikes, and the internet works! I sent him in with my iPhone so he could ask for the password and *make sure* the internet works before we took a room. So many times, we’ve been told “Yes, we have internet,” only to discover that the network isn’t working right now, or the password that the front desk has is wrong, or that the internet is non-functional in some other way… and we really needed to catch up on the blog, research the route into Santiago for the BMW dealer, etc. So I feel bad that I made him ask for the password to check the net before we took a room, but I really didn’t want to stay in another overpriced place that didn’t even have net.

Got the bikes around to the parking and discovered that the hotel was actually quite nice. There was a locked courtyard for our bikes, and the rooms were on the ground floor! Score! Took our bags in and the room was nice, too – there was a big bed, and two couches where we could sit and work on our posts. If we had to pay too much for a room, at least the place was decent, and it included breakfast.

Kay showered and started photos uploading, as we had a ton (over 60 photos from just a few days!) and then we headed out for dinner. We were in town center, surrounded by commerce… but no restaurants. We found two cafes that served coffee and snack-type things, three panderias that had bread and yummy pastry things, but only one restaurant. When we spotted the restaurant, we started to go inside, but Kay commented that it was too dark inside (they hadn’t turned on lights yet and it was after sunset) so we continued on.

Walked a few more blocks and still no restaurants. So we headed back to the one we’d seen, and went inside. Asked for a menu, which they didn’t have, and when we asked what they have to eat, the waitress seemed helpless and asked a guy who had been at the bar to come and deal with us. He named one dish (I forget what it was, but we didn’t want it), we asked what else, he thought for a moment then named another dish that we didn’t want… but he seemed quite reluctant to keep talking to us. Getting another dish was like pulling teeth. So after a couple, we decided to give up and look elsewhere for food, even though we’d had no luck finding other restaurants.

Eventually, we spotted a Chinese restaurant, which we almost didn’t see until we were past it. “Do you want Chinese?” I asked Kay. “Who cares? It’s a restaurant!” So we go inside, get actual menus and prompt service. Order a couple of “Chinese” dishes, and when they come out, they’re actually quite tasty. And Kay even spots a Chinese man working in the kitchen! Score! The one thing we’ve observed about Chinese restaurants on this trip (and in general) is that the food is usually just something else dressed up as Chinese and marked up in price. This food actually tasted good, and the price was reasonable, so this Chinese restaurant proved a surprisingly decent find.

After we left the restaurant, I wanted to go back to the panderia where I’d seen the tasty pastry before, but it was closed. So then I was going to just settle for getting a Diet Coke somewhere, because I was thirsty and really enjoying that I’m back in a country that has Diet Coke, but everything was closed except the Farmacias. We go in one and find soap (our room lacked it and we lost our old spare bar) and stand in a random line. And wait. Nothing happens. Wait more. A woman to our left cuts in front of us in line. More waiting… and then the cashier calls a number.

WTF? Numbers to check out? I assumed that the numbers are for helping people who have questions, but you can’t even check out without a number, and we’ve been standing here for 10 minutes. Eff that. We put back our stuff and walk across the street to the other farmacia, and find the same bar of soap but nothing to drink. More waiting in line, but this time we knew to get a number. Haha, bitches! 75 is our number! Get your own damn number! And then we have soap, but still no diet coke.

So now it’s back to looking for a store where I can buy Diet Coke. We walked for blocks and blocks, and didn’t see anything. Kay wanted to give up, but is willing to indulge me and I said “let’s just walk to the end of that block and then I’ll give up.” Luckily, that block happened to contain a supermarket!

Kay’s note: every time i see a Panderia I always wish they sold pandas too. Maybe even just little panda shaped cookies…

Unluckily, the supermarket was the supermarket from hell. Every single person in Vallenar was shopping there at the same time. We had to wait behind what felt like 20 people in the “10 items or less line” and after we’d waited for 15 minutes, Kay said “Do you really want a Diet Coke this much?”

Yes, I did. I didn’t feel good and I wanted a Diet Coke. So we waited longer, and by the time we got out of the supermarket and back to the room, it was nearly 10:30. Friggin late. And we still had posts that needed writing and uploading.

Sadly, we were up till 1AM dealing with the web stuff. I was upset at being up so late, but it needed to be done and I was glad we’d finished it. Still no down time, though, which disappointed me because I’d been feeling sick… but the trip takes priority.

Street Art

Kay’s Note: what Dachary hasn’t mentioned is that when we got water an the gas station I accidentally bought water with carbonation. We cracked one bottle open before we realized it but the girl let me exchange the other two. Not wanting to waste water I put it in mine. For the rest of the morning my Camelbak was pressurized. I suspect that’s what caused the bite valve to pop off today, but it has popped off with normal water too. Every time I bit down on the bite valve that morning water would go spewing into my mouth way faster than normal. So. No carbonated beverages in your Camelbak folks.

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