I have not been on the forum in a while now and except for the ‘veterans’ and those I met at Kickstand rally, most of you don’t know me. So a couple words about me.
I was born in Poland and came to the US in 10 years ago. It's here that I got into riding (in my late 20’s, I am 35 now) and my first bike was ’83 650.
I absolutely loved that bike and rode it for the next 17K miles before parting with it in ’12. I have extensively used this forum and gained a lot of knowledge and respect from its members. I even asked many dumb questions and never got yelled at. I have not contributed a whole lot, and want to make it up by this ride report.
I currently own a 2007 Vstrom (650) and really like it. However, due to increase of family responsibilities, my time for riding has been limited to commuting and occasional NHF rally. I am also working on my MBA and this winter one of our classes was ‘International Residency’ in Chile. Class objectives aside, it was a great opportunity to ride on a different continent, and thus the idea of this ride report was conceived.
After knowing my trip details, I decided to rent the bike from Ride-Chile.com – a great couple of guys I can highly recommend. They not only rent motorcycles, but also organize group trips to different parts of Chile.
My riding itinerary had to be relatively short (my wife was at that point at home – taking care of my 3 year old and prego with second baby) so I tried to make the most of it. I settled on 4 days of riding and estimated 850 miles from Santiago in Chile, through the Andes into Argentina, go south and cross back into Chile through remote border crossing outpost at Pas Vergara.
Here is the planned route:
Due to a good amount of planned unpaved roads and long distances between gas stations, I decided to go for Yamaha XT660Z Tenere. Unfortunately, on the day of rental, I was told that bikes computer malfunctioned and I was given option for the big Tenere (1200cc SuperTenere) or KLR 650. My heart wanted to go with the Yamaha, but logic pointed to the KLR (better range on the tank and tires – SuperTenere had street tires). I also thought KLR would be less top heavy (which later proved incorrect).
I got a brand new 2013 KLR 650 and after 4 hours of getting it ready for the road (panniers, tightening of the bolts, adding tire kit and packing) I left for the road.
Tomas – one of the Ride-Chile guys - told me that Argentinean border authorities can be a pain and we made sure I have all the needed paperwork. After about 4hrs of riding and refueling at last Chilean gas station in , I reached Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. This pass is what initially started my planned route as it is said to be one of the best roads to ride on (in one of those silly online rankings). Due to construction on the road that day, I had to wait for about 30 minutes before reaching Argentinean border. Along the way, I met a group of 5 Argentinean riders who later helped me with border paperwork (I forgot to mention, I speak no Spanish at all!).
Just before reaching the border, I stopped for a restroom break and learned about instability of KLR. Not only is it really top heavy (more than Vstrom), taller (I could barely reach the ground with both feet when stopped), but kickstand is too long in my opinion – when parked, it leans but just barely. So when I parked it on a very gentle incline, I made sure it ‘stands’ and walked away. After about 40 seconds, the shocks compressed just enough for the bike to fall on its right side. And on my helmet.
Other than scratches, nothing was broken, but the gopro mount peeled off some paint from my helmet.
I reached the border around 5:30 pm and after 1 hr of waiting in the line, got to the customs. All was going well with the help of my newly met friends, until I was to receive the last stamp from Argentinean custom. After reviewing my paperwork, they told me that I don’t have authorization to take the bike into Argentina and while I can cross the border, my bike can’t. At that point, me riding ‘friends’ left me to reach their destination before the sunset. I spent the next 8 hrs arguing the appropriate officials, attempting to cross through different customs officer (and going to through a parallel line), but each time the original, a-hole officer would notice me and turn me around.
Finally, I called the rental place (around 10pm) and after reconfirming that I do have all necessary paperwork, Tomas recommended I wait until shift at the border changes. I waited until 11 when I noticed that new customs officials were brought in. I finally crossed into Argentina at midnight.
Happy to be in Argentina
Nearest city (Uspallata) and gas station was almost 1 hour away, so once I reached it, I found an abandoned parking spot to set my tent up and fell asleep just before 3am.
Heading out after short but good sleep
Next day (Monday) my target was laguna del diamante – a remote lake in the Mendoza province with the Maipo volcano in the background. When doing my research for the trip I found out from Wikipedia that this lake was described by Antoine de Saint Exupéry in his book Wind, Sand and Stars as quoted, "...he [Guillaumet] caught sight of a dark horizontal blot which he recognized as a lake Laguna Diamante". I had to go there!
Some pics from the road
After eating a quick lunch and refueling in a little town called San Carlos, I began my first off road adventure.
To get to the lake, I had to turn back west and head into the Andes.
Lake is located in a national park and after paying a small fee and filling out entry form, I continued on.
When nearing the lake, I started getting really, really tired. I have been on the bike for good 6 hrs at that point and covered 180 miles, 60 of which were on sometimes rough dirt roads. Along the way, temperatures range from high 90s to low 50s in the mountains. I got off the bike to rest and take a few pictures, but after just a very small amount of movement I started losing my breath and felt lightheaded. I knew some of these passes were quite high, so I quickly realized I was becoming hypoxic (later i confirmed I was above 12,500 feet). I ate a sandwich, drank a Gatorade and only felt weaker, so I forced myself to get on the bike and keep moving to a lower altitude. At that point I hated everything about this trip, but once I reached the plains, all got back to normal.
My original plan was to spend at least a day at the lake, maybe even camp out there. But because of delays on the first day (I essentially lost 10-12 hrs of riding time), I reached the water, looked around and turned back.
While I do regret not spending the night there, I only had Tuesday and half of Wednesday left before returning to Santiago and departing to US on Wednesday evening. At this point my thinking was that if something goes wrong at the border (new paperwork problems or it being closed shut) I could still turnaround and go back north through the same crossing at los Libertadores (though this would mean a gruesome 14 hrs on the road and 600 miles). This was still better than going south, where nearest paved road border crossing was 400 miles away and in the opposite direction to Santiago…
So off I went for a 227 mile ride on paved roads to Malarque. I got there just after midnight and this time decided to spend a night in a cheap hotel. I stank terribly but that bed felt phenomenal.
The final stage of the trip was to cross back through the Andes into Chile. Paso Vergara was 140 miles away, of which 100 were on unpaved, sometimes difficult and sandy terrain.
It took about 5 hrs to get to the border and battling heat, soft sand, occasional rain. But the road is absolutely stunning – both to look at (changing scenery in every valley) and for riding (rivers, creeks and water crossings).
At Argentinian border:
Chilean border was another 20 miles away, down a quite steep descend.
I spent my last night in the Andes right after successfully crossing the border back into Chile. It has been a few months since then, by I can still smell that air and hear those creeks.
After returning the bike, it was time for celebratory dinner
Thanks for reading!