Thursday, 25 October 2012

Atacama desert to meet the Husaberg Adventure Team

The last two posts have been one long desert road over four days and all I can say is the next two days were the same.  I rarely pulled the camera out as I just wanted to get to Copiapo and didn't see the point of more sandy dusty shots.

I needed to take a photo (below) of the beachside home/shelter.  Of all things they don't have, what they do have is a satellite dish.  They must have a generator?  Otherwise how to get energy to use the thing? It would be a bummer to watch television via satellite while a loud generator is running outside the thin plastic walls. 

For whatever reason, graveyards are standing out to me along this road.  Again there are no towns or villages around, this graveyard is just out here.  By the looks of the shacks along the road, if there was a village close by at any point in time, it could have blown away in a strong wind.

After leaving Iquique Chile, my next stop was Antofagasta.

I packed a little sandwich and an apple from a fuel stop this morning while leaving Antofagasta.  I really liked this spot along the PanAm and knowing I will arrive Copiapo on schedule,  I took my time today to have a proper lunch.

Yet another interesting looking graveyard.  I was curious what the little fences represent (keep out, or simply decoration?).  Each country and culture has a different way.  I remember in Russia, I saw some graveyards in Siberia that had actual kitchen table and chairs set up. In Bulgaria, a lot of information and detail about the person on a fence post.  Lots and lots of color with fake flowers in Guatemala. This is the Atacama desert way in Chile.

My chain is very loose AGAIN.. Not happy about that, so you can imagine how relieved I was to reach my goal destination of Copiapo.  I arrived tonight and the boys are due to be here tomorrow with their three brand new Husabergs.

Finding a place to stay was a real pain.  The hotels are ridiculously expensive here.  It's not a tourist town AT ALL.  It's not even a nice town.  But it's location is in mining central.  I say mining central, because there are big mines up here, everywhere.

Every cheap hotel was booked up with miners.  There was no way I was going to pay a lot of money for the other somewhat available places.

Eventually, I found a little tiny room out the back of a hotel. It still cost me more than I expected, but it's only for one night and the next 2-4 weeks we will be camping on a mountain... for free!

Anyway, I took photos of where I am staying so I can email to them and they can have a visual to find me easily.

If it wasn't for all the 'noises' coming from the room next door, it was a cheap and comfortable place to stay once they finished.. and it took forever, for them to finish!! ;-///  Kevin and I were talking on skype most of this time (about 3 hours!), and he kept asking if I can still hear the noises, I said "YES!"  Tell me another story so I don't have to listen to them...  and he did.  Which was actually quite cool.  Since I left him in Lima, Kevin has taken up not only hang gliding lessons (even though he used to fly), but surfing lessons as well!  Gee whiz, he is using his time well while waiting on his parts to arrived from USA.  So I really did hear plenty of stories.

Now would be a good time to explain more thoroughly what I am doing here.  There are a lot of blog posts ahead of this one, so a tiny re-cap of who I am meeting.  Three guys who have a dream to achieve the world record of riding a motorcycle to the highest elevation.  Walter Colebatch, Lukas Matzinger and Barton ChurchillThey call themselves the Husaberg Adventure Team and this particular project is called Andes Moto Extreme.

Walter is a world class moto-adventurer extraordinaire.. ;-) I rode through Russia and the Road of Bones with him at the beginning of my journey in 2010.  He pretty much taught me everything I needed to know for adventure motorcycling.  With lots of advice online while I was choosing a bike, gear, etc, to actually teaching me how to ride on dirt/gravel/sand and through rivers once we met up in Russia.

I saw Walter again in Holland (where he organized a big change with my suspension at Hyperpro, whom spent 2 days reconfiguring my bike and didn't charge me a thing).  And then I saw him again at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Ripley, England.  When I said my last good bye, he said, "You never know SJ, I'm sure we'll run into each again somewhere in the world.  Maybe see you in South America!"  I didn't ask details at the time as I rode away.  I just remember thinking... stalker... Ha! ;-))  I had no idea at the time, that this new adventure was on the burner.

Barton I met in Russia along with Walter for one day only.  He was traveling in the opposite direction, however, he had met Walter at Lukas's house in Austria a few months prior.  Barton is a mountaineer and will be advising the team about many things (how to survive in particular) at a high altitude with minimum oxygen and temperatures.

Lukas I have never met before, but looking forward to.  He is the 'technical advisor' for the team, knowing the in's and out's of bike mechanics and particularly what is necessary for the bikes to run at the high elevation.

I'm the 'helper'.  When they were telling me of their ideas and plans for the world record months ago, and knowing I would be on the same continent at the same time they would be, I offered to help.  They immediately said yes!  I'm basically here to look after them, cook, drive the support vehicle, photos, etc, while they concentrate on the job.

So I got online and in touch with Walter and Barton via skype in Santiago.  They haven't even left yet! Go figure. Always the case.. I worried and worried I wouldn't get here on time, but still glad I did since that chain is really bad.

They have a new plan of riding only to La Serena today, about 475 km.  They suggest I ride down to meet them there instead.  Bugger!  I thought I was finished!  For me is only a 365 km ride.  But Walter said that no matter how many times I tighten the chain, when it's f'd, it's f'd and I need a new one.  I can do it, but I hope my chain will make it one more day.  I left really early the next morning, the chain slapped along the way, I was overloading on worry, but I arrived KTM.. well ahead of the boys again.  The good news, they can put a new chain on for me.  The bad news, is that they are closing for 2 hours of lunch and I need to wait outside the gate.

I waited.. and waited.. until I saw these two little blue matching bikes and matching riding gear, and I knew it was them.. I waved them in! Walter had the 3rd bike in the back of a rental truck (the one I will be driving) alon with loads of gear.

So here we are.. my first photo of the Husaberg Adventure Team and one Sherri Jo Wilkins.  Feeling very honored to be here with them already!

There is a heck of a lot of work to do.  The boys are preparing the bikes, and the manager of the KTM/Husaberg shop is allowing them to use his workshop.

And for me, it's a bit like Christmas.  For one, the boys got several sponsors on board their project.  And some of them included me.  It couldn't be better timing, but they gave me a new set of earphones, so I can listen to music inside my helmet again! These are bullett earphones from a company called Munitio

Gee whiz, can you imagine, my current earphones failed on my first day out of Lima.  So all this way has been in silence.. in the desert.  If I only could hear music while traveling for 6 days through the Atacama desert, what a help that would have been. Oh well, I can't be more grateful now!

I very much needed a pair of water proof boots to be living on a mountain/volcanoe for the next few weeks.  I bought them and sent to Barton who brought them to Chile along with his gear.  I love new shoes, and these are awesome yellow boots!   And then he also rented a big down jacket and sleeping bag for extra warmth and brought them all the way from America.  It's hot here in La Serena, but I was excited to try it all on.

We stayed and worked until the shop closed down for the evening.  The manager of the shop showed us a nice place to stay near the beach as well as a top restaurant.  We went all out for our first night! It was so wonderful to have my friends

I tried salmon ceviche for the first time.  It was divine!  Kevin actually introduced me to ceviche in Costa Rica.  I never had it before, I couldn't tell you which fish it was, but it was very nice.  However, this one with salmon is even better.  Loved it!

We are in a super fancy restaurant, and I don't have nice clothes.  The boys were hungry and they didn't even give me time to do my hair before we left. Luckily, this is the last photo of the evening.

The boys introduced me to 'Pisco'... Pisco Sour to be exact.  I had one small one with Kevin when we arrived Peru.  He told me a little about it.  It was a good drink, but it was small, only one and it didn't do much for me or give me the impression that it would. Very sweet and sour.

Here in this restaurant, the pisco was really good as well. The Chilean Pisco is a bit different to the Peruvian Pisco.  And they just kept coming!  Who's ordering these?!  None of them confessed, but the drinks didn't seem very strong.  Unfortunately, they were very strong, and I got down right drunk.  So drunk I threw up all over Barton's shoes and decided to sleep on the sidewalk outside our room. One of them eventually found me and brought me in. Well?  Embarrassed... won't do that again.

On that note.. Let the world record adventure begin! ;-)

Monday, 22 October 2012

Arequipa Peru to Iquique Chile - PanAm Hwy

Singing the song.. "On the Road Again".  The 2700 km marathon is like a full time job, and I treat it as one.  I want to be on the road by 8 and off again between 5 and 6. My headlights are literally useless, so riding at night is not an option particularly in the big desert alone. There's not likely to be a stop for lunch, so extra food and water too. A border crossing coming up with Peru and Chile, so documents out and prepared. Fuel up. 

Do these photos seem redundant?  Out of choice, I could opt not to include such boring shots. However this is my life this week and the sandy road goes on and on......all day, every day.  I never used to think that so much of our planet is dead (in the sense of growing food).  It reminds me of the landscape on the old movie "Planet of the Apes".  I've ridden through deserts before. Heck most of my own country of Australia is one! But I'd swear we have more living plants and animals in our Australian deserts. Not sure about that, but it seems like it today from my motorcycle seat.

I was so excited to see a bit of life ahead, I got my camera ready.  Is it a tree?  Nope.. the photo above is a MAN walking on this road.  Where is he going?  I have to admit, I look forward to passing that bus.  They travel very fast, so passing them on the long stretches gives me something to do.. ha!

And the one below is..

two living plants, actually! I have noticed this a lot.  These roadside memorials are always looked after.  Quite often I even see a candle burning inside, in the middle of nowhere.  Somebody comes all the way out here from wherever they live to water these plants; to keep them alive in a desert!! Or in other cases, to light a candle.  Very dedicated.

Sometimes I just need to stretch the legs, even if just a moments worth..

Ah! Check it out!  A shop!  Lucky surprise!! An opportunity for a coke. I hope they have one. Caffeine to keep me from nodding off while riding.  It still amazes me that such a thing is possible. I shouldn't be tired, I slept well last night.  Same thing was happening when I rode across Canada.  As soon as I start to nod off, it's important for me to just stop the bike. Even if I get off the bike for 2 seconds without cutting the engine, I'm good to go again somewhat.  But caffeine is even better.

And check this house out.  It is the one and only house with a garden I have seen in all these days.

Where in the heck do they get the water.  There are no car tracks, so it's not carted in from what I can tell. I don't expect they have underground plumbing.  I look at the neighborhood in the photo below and wonder so much what their daily life is like.

Yes!  The sign I've been waiting for, Tacna.  Which is my goal destination for tonight near the border of Chile.

It took quite a while to find a place to stay here with safe parking for the bike.  Once I did, quick shower and the next search for dinner begins. I scoured the streets to find green food, more than anything I just wanted a salad.  I don't care what it costs, but if it's raw and green, I need it. Maybe it's simply a mental thing of being deprived of the color green so many days in a row.  Found it! (I included a bit of purple too, nice glass of wine.. ;-)

Welcome to Chile!

Excited to be in the 42nd country so far on my motorcycle!  Not so excited to see how many dag gone kilometers yet to go.  Copiapo is the goal. So far I'm still on schedule.

I went in to Arica first.  Different country, different currency so I need to find Chilean ATM to give me Chilean pesos to buy fuel.  I hope they have an ATM there!

They did, but I have an even bigger problem.  My chain has become very loose.  Even though I have the tool to loosen or tighten my chain, every man or mechanic who has tried to use that KTM standard tool can't make the big nut budge.  So I've got no bloody hope in making it work myself. Arica isn't a super huge town, but big enough to have a moto mechanic around.  I searched and searched with no success. I finally got a cab driver to meander all the back streets until we found a little shack completely full with a pile of metal parts.

I asked the old man if he has big tools to help with my chain. He dug some out of the shack, and even though there were a couple guys waiting for their little motos to be fixed, he took mine on straight away.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath, but very nice old man.  His super size wrench wasn't going to do it either.  So he jumped on his little scooter without saying a word and was gone for about 10 minutes.  Gee whiz, dude... where did you go!  I can't hang around!  It's okay, but I wish he told me how long he would be.  He came back with an even bigger wrench.  Lord have mercy..

This one did the trick along with a leverage bar to loosen the bolt.  We made the appropriate adjustments. The chain is tighter now, thank goodness (on the hot street outside the little shack full of pieces and parts, and plenty of locals watching the crazy foreign lady check the notches). I feel better to carry on now.  Also feeling a bit nervous about the time I've spent in Arica.  Finding money took a lot of time, finding a mechanic took forever... let's get out of here!

I was buzzing along (head down, bum up as the Aussies would say) and around 100 km away, it hit me.  I didn't get fuel!!!  Crap.  Checked the gps which said there is a town coming up in 80 km.  I can make that.

Found these things on the side of the road.  To this day, I had no idea what they are about, but they look cool!

After some online research, I learned these were sculpted here in the Atacama desert by a famous Chilean about 15 years ago. Called the Tutelar Figures, they represent the origins of the ancestors. The sculpture in the background is called "Planet Earth".

 These two are called "Man and Woman"

I watched my gps counting down to the upcoming town.. So disappointed when I arrived and it's not a town at all!  There were only a couple shacks selling snacks like the one I stopped to earlier with a coke, and a couple of big trucks. No fuel AT ALL!!  I got goosebumps, I got totally cold with worry on a hot day.

I managed to talk to one of the truck drivers and double checked.  "Where can I get fuel in this town?"  He said, "No fuel here."  How far to the next town?  He said, 230 km.  Not possible, not even a consideration.  He kept shaking his head and said Arica is the only town with fuel.  Bugger bugger bugger!

However,  I'm 180 km down the road, and turning back is just as impossible.  I won't make it that far either.  Oh man, I screwed up and I'm in trouble now. (The reason that I screwed up is because I COULD HAVE filled both my fuel tanks giving me 26 litres of fuel.  (Depending on the quality of the fuel and the elevation, I can get between 450 - 550 km in one big fill). In Peru, there were always plenty of fuel stops, never a problem. So I assumed Chile would be the same.. MEE-STAKE! Due to the extra weight, I usually only fill up my Safari tank in the front. The Safari tank is ideal because it's 14 litres on it's own, and I can fill it from the front of the bike. Whereas the rear stock KTM fuel means I have to pull my black bag off every time I fill up.  I don't fill up both tanks unless I know I really have to.  (Which would have been today if I had done my research properly!) I asked the man if he had any fuel to sell, but he was driving on diesel.  Crap! This really is a big mistake, one of the biggest I've made on this entire journey!

I sat there for a while, still ticked off at the time I'm losing. (I originally budgeted for a screw up day or a problem day, but I traded that spare day for an extra day with Kevin in Lima).  So time is of the essence! I wasn't comfortable to just stay here, and it was stupid to leave.  But I did. I don't have a solution to the problem, so I decided to just ride anyway.. okay then!?  Even I don't know how my head works sometimes.  I should have about 70 km of fuel left and if nothing else, when I run out, I can set up my tent and sleep in the sand until I manage to flag somebody down who may be traveling with a fuel tin.  I'd rather screw up more on my intended route, than attempt to reverse 180 km back to Arica).

Slowly I moved on.  If there was any bit of a slight decline or curve, I let off the throttle and coasted.  All the while coming up with heaps of scarey scenarios in my head of how this night might turn out.  When the odd vehicle passed me in another direction.  I was ready to stop the bike and flag them down.  But there was no point.  Every single passerby was a gigantic truck, which runs on diesel.  Where are the cars?  Does nobody travel in this country?  And why are there no fuel stops?  My bike can go as far as a car, so they wouldn't make it either without a fuel stop! I was angry and scared on the edge, and a bit over the top. There are many routes in Australia that you HAVE to carry extra fuel as well, it's part of life. This is my first day in Chile...

Out of nowhere, there was a construction stop on the road.  I remember thinking that if anything happened, I can mark their location on my gps to get back to them if needed. I asked the nice young guy in an orange work suit if any of the work vehicles had fuel I could buy.  He said no, they are all diesel too, but there is fuel only 30 km ahead. (I'm looking at my gps and it doesn't show anything ahead).  Really?? Are you sure?  (Estas seguro???) The last place was marked on my gps and didn't have any fuel.  I made it clear that I am out of fuel and he has to be sure.  He tells me he is very sure, so I carried on.

Please be right.  I am totally riding on fumes and was stressed for the next 30 km until I came to the intersection he described.  I expected to see a fuel sign, prices, maybe even gas pump.  NOTHING!!  OMG, I'm panicking now.  This mustn't be the intersection, or I totally misunderstood him in Spanish, which is very possible.

The good news, is there is one small truck here.  I hope he has some spare fuel we can pull from the tank. I peeked inside the open door of the shack.  The man said I can buy fuel, go around the back.  I walked around the back to where the barking dogs and chickens were.  About 4 doors, and none of them open.  I went back to the front.  He said, yeah yeah, go around the back.  I went around the back and waited again. What is going on with these people, do they have fuel or not??  I don't get it!

So I went back to the front door.  He told me to go around the back and I was stressed enough, I nearly kicked the guy in the shin.  I said no, I will wait here until you show me the fuel.

Eventually he finished what he was doing and started through the back room.  He pointed and showed me to go back out the door and meet him at the back, and I said No.  I stayed right on his heel and followed him through the very scary shack.

But it's there... FUEL.   It was like the golden liquid to me.  I nearly had tears.

I've been warned about this plastic jug fuel, and never had to use it before.  Is there dirt or water in the fuel that is going to cause my motor to fail down the road.. I hope not!

I wanted a filter, but didn't know what to use.  I have since learned I could have used a t-shirt or some people carry a coffee filter for these times.  Smart!  There is nowhere in the world I have needed to buy this dodgey fuel, even in Siberia.  My bike does go far enough between fuel stations even in desolate areas, if I had only filled both tanks.

Anyway, the man was quite humored about my worries, and he did his best to assure me not to worry anymore.

Oh, thank God.  I'm back on the road and I can think about other things in my helmet other than the unpleasant evening in the dark desert is going to be like.  I do have plenty of food and water.

This was a wacky day, with the border crossing, the chain tightening in Arica, the fuel, and now I am finally pulling in to my goal destination of Iquique, Chile.

Don't tell me, is that a freakin' sand dune hovering over this town?  What a sight!  I've never seen a sand dune like this in my life.  How do you keep it from burying the town below if the wind shifts!?

Coming down the big hill into town reminded me of the higher elevation I have been traveling.

Then came the long search of finding a place to sleep tonight.  At the time, I didn't realize that Chile is so much more expensive than Peru.  I must have searched for over an hour to find a cheap'ish place with secure parking.  Didn't like spending that money, would have rather camped.  But I did get to talk to Kevin on skype and tell him about my dreadful day.  He was a world of support and reminded me as he often does, that it amazes him whenever I need help, I seem to attract the best people right on time, like magic. He put a positive spin on it, and yes, he is right.  I made it again today and it's because of the wonderful people who helped me.  Thank you....

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Peru - Lima, Nazca Lines to Arequipa on the Panamerican Hwy

The marathon ride begins.  Leaving Lima Peru with a goal to be in Copiapo Chile in 6 days.  I budgeted for 7 days at 400 km/ day, however I stayed one day more than I should have with Kevin in Lima.  He talked me into it!  The new goal is 450 km/ day which is fine, however allows no time for possible problems.  The boys are arriving Santiago Chile now and will ride north to Copiapo to meet me.  I will not be the one to hold them back from the short amount of time to achieve a world record because I have a problem on the road.  Prayers begin.. ;-)

And this will pretty much be my view all day, eight hours per day for the next 6 days.  Don't want to sound like I am complaining or anything!  Wait, let me add that my earphones for music broke on this day as well.  One side works, the other one not.  Even with the volume completely up, I can only hear part of a song..  but I'll take it.  It's better than nothing.

Each day is planned out and typed into my iphone with the goal destination and kilometers to accomplish in between.  Today's goal is to get to Nazca where the famous Nazca lines are and perfectly at 462 km from Lima.

The Nazca lines are these gigantic drawings on the desert that can only be seen in full from an airplane.  Thought to be either drawn on the earth by the long gone Nazca people or the most popular theories are the artistic results of visiting aliens.

Here is a good website with photos and some great theories:

Outside the actual town of Nazca (Nasca), is a viewing tower.  I had no idea there would be one of the famous lines right next to the road, so excited to take a look!

Ummmmm.. did they actually build the road over part of it???

This is the best view I can get.  Incredible creation given the fact they most likely didn't have any aerial views themselves.  No trees to build a tower even by ancient constructions.

There are two here I can see.

I darkened the 'lines' photos so the image is easier to see.

I guess I'm the only traveler interested in seeing them today from the road! ;-)  Kevin suggested I take the airplane when I come here.  He did it a few years ago.  He said it was worth it but he wouldn't do it again.  The flight should cost around $115. I'll think about it....

First though, it's getting late and I need to get into town and find a place to sleep tonight.  I've been warned about camping out here alone, as well as traveling at night.

A nice man pulled up to me on the street in town telling me about his hostel.  I'm always worried about these guys, but he seemed all right, so I followed him home.  My first impression wasn't real good.

But he offered me to park my bike inside for safety (a huge plus), has wi-fi (another plus), cheap enough (triple plus), so I stayed.

Out for dinner (beggars can't be choosers, but I didn't have much luck with a decent meal today..) Chicken and rice, and a quick walk through town back to the hostel.

A quick conversation with Kevin online as I was nodding off to sleep.  I talked with him more about the flight, and even though he still thinks I should do it, I decided not to.  It will take 1/2 a day out of my schedule, cost a lot of money, and all I'll get is a lot of aerial photos of Nazca lines in the dirt that look exactly like everyone elses photos from an airplane. It wasn't worth the monetary and time costs to me.  I'd rather save the money and I really don't feel like I am in tourist mode anyway.  I'm on a mission and it's a big one. I'd feel better to get back on the road.

So another early morning start on the big road south.  I feel I made the right decision.  I didn't miss out completely.  I was happy with the lines I saw from the roadside tower.  Anyway, check out that website link if you want to see more of the Nazca Lines.  They really are cool.

Moving on.......

This is the Panamerican Highway.  It's not a busy highway in the sense of others in the world.  Not much population for it out here, even if the majority of people had cars (which they don't...)

But there are the occasional big trucks and even more buses.  Often enough they are passing each other slowing going up a hill, while I'm coming down.. ;-(  I don't like that.. but I am assuming that they are assuming that due to the lack of traffic, just go for it and if somebody comes, they will get out of the way.  Which is all I can do...

I'm just going to add more photos.  They don't need much explanation. I thought then I wouldn't include them, but then my other thought was if I do include them, it would be another way of showing just how long and dry this road is.  I had 2 days of this north of Lima and the same for these last 2 days south of Lima.  So far adding up to 4, but I have another 4 days of this to go.. Woo hoo!

It can be pretty for a while, but then it can be a bit lonely...

Sand.. sand... rock and sand....

Clearly a river makes an occasional patch of green, but then turns the blue ocean the color of .... sand... ;-///

Riding down through the rock, about to pass through a small patch of green where a river runs through, and the road climbs right back up into the sand. 

How would you like to live here!  Ocean front living sounds nice and expensive, plus offers great views in the United States.  I'm hoping for this family, it provides plenty of food.  Completely different needs.

Ooooo, a town coming up.. Exciting!

Gee whiz... I finally made it into Arequipa Peru for the night. Planned stop, and a bit of normalcy. 

Beautiful town really.  Wouldn't mind stopping for a day and checking it out.  But not on this schedule.  Took some photos in the morning while I was heading out for another day of desert.

Bugger, should have left earlier.  After spending so much time alone on the scarcely populated Panamerican, I didn't expect a proper traffic jam.

Hasta manana...