Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SOUTH AMERICA. All you need is a bike, a billy tin and swag, a few dollars and a dream.

Northern Argentina.
I stopped here for a look, stayed for 4 days and
I called this place "Mother Natures Painting Playground"

The Amazing Andes   CHILE - ARGENTINA


This story started when I decided one day to look at South America through a bike helmet on a  2006 BMW 1200 GS Adventurer.

I spent " nearly " half a day planning this trip.
I just decided to go somewhere  new and travel, so I bought a near new bike, rang up a shipping agent in Brisbane QLD.and booked the bike onto a ship bound for Chile in South America..
My aim was to ride where ever and try and see what ever there was to see on the way to maybe America or further on to anywhere really.
I left Australia in March 2008, went via NZ, Tahiti, Easter Island and met the bike in Chile
I have traveled a lot and I am still looking for a place to call HOME ( that is so true, even I believe it )

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain
Added information 
So far to date" June 2010" I have been on the road now for 2 years and 3 months, clocked up over 100,000kms and have visited 40 countries. 
At present, I am in Cape Town, South Africa.

I have traveled mostly SOLO, when you travel solo, you are a totally free person,  I have at times traveled with other folk for spells and enjoyed it, it is a totally different way to experience things, I have found  that many times people will approach a solo rider more then approach a group, and I really struggle and find it hard to fit into a group of riders, I have been so independent for so long and group riding can be sometimes difficult, it's just what I am used to. The last group of guys I traveled with were great company and were amazing, nothing was a problem for them. They have helped me out so much recently with my truck incident and I am so grateful to them for that " that story comes later "   People often ask me, don't you get lonely traveling alone? Did you know that there is a million miles between being alone and being lonely.I am not a loner, I have friends all over the world, its just that they can't all travel as I do. 

Countries I have visited so far on this trip. ( Red are special places, bold are good memory places)
Remember this, every country has its merits. The red and bold countries are highlighted because they left their mark on me more then the others, sometimes it may be an animal, a town, a person or maybe when I had two guns pointed at my face, it left a memory that I will never forget.
Antarctica, New Zealand, Tahiti,  Easter Island, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico, USA (2) Canada (2) Alaska, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia (plane) and South Africa    

This first section was actually a trial run, I thought about doing this blog for a long time, I am very keen now to get this blog going and see how it turns out, I have got lots of diary note and photos from this trip similar to this, so, have a read now and after this part, we can go back to the start in Antarctica, then onto Tahiti, and Easter Island and beyond.

I hope you enjoy it and please comment.

This is MY STORY so far since I finally departed Mackay on this wild ride.
Before I start, I will have to say, that there are many people in Mackay that I need to say thank you to, for your patience and the assistance you all gave me throughout this time and it was partly due to your support that I made it through and how I have managed to be doing what I love doing now.
I would like to thank each and every one of you for your help. It means a lot to me to have been so lucky to have met so many good people and to have done all of the things that I have done in Mackay.
One day in Brisbane to get some bike clothing and a good sleeping bag.
Off to Auckland for a short stop over and then onto Tahiti. I had three days, which is enough time on the island itself, the real postcard scenes are taken on Moora and Bora Bora, but I must admit that the two major problems I had in the city was either getting run over by crazy French drivers, driving on the wrong side of the road yelling out abuse to each other, or being run out of town for staring at all the gorgeous native island girls. It’s a nice island with plenty of scenic coastline but as with many touristy places, it was hard to get a beach, so the only way was to go through one of the big hotels looking like a guest and walking down to their private beach where I spent the afternoon swimming. The hotel was so nice to me, they even had a dance show out in the open  for the house guests with a big group of local traditional dancers, doing that typical "pacific island hip swinging native girls dance" that they are so famous for, and I can see why.Man, they are gorgeous believe me.

Crossing the Andes from Chile to Argentina in MAY 2008
This is a small extract from my diary that I wrote when I first crossed the Andes, an amazing  mountain range that runs from the most southern part of Argentina to Alaska.. In total, I crossed this mountain range approx 26 times.I have never written any thing like this before, so I guess you can say this is the uncut edited version.

I was camped for the night in a small town, it was cold, wet and getting dark, when I found a room in this local restaurant, it all worked out well, the bike was parked  in the front foyer of the restaurant and I was given a small room up stairs, I had dinner with the family that night and breakfast with Patricio, the very friendly and kind owner the next morning.He had bought the local paper and informed me over coffee, which was new news to me that today was my day for crossing the snow covered Boa Constrictor.
I wasn't aware that this road had been closed for nearly a week because of snow, today it was opened for 1 day, the local paper said that there will be more snow again tonight and roads will be closed again probably tonight for another week or so.as .

From what I could understand from Patricio, as the border had been shut for quite a while, he was telling me to be very careful of the caminos ( semi trailers)  there would be a lot of them waiting and very anxious to get over the border into Argentina before the next lot of snow arrived . That word a LOT proved to be an under statement.
As you usually do when it’s a nice day, a bit cool but sunny, riding along in the open countryside, as it is Autumn, everything was brown and no leaves on the trees, I was just thinking how lucky I was to be here, wishing that my old Yamaha back in Australia had been sold and that this bike lived up to it’s reputation of being perfect for this sort of country. From Los Andes to the border was about 55kms, and you could see the mountain for miles, high and WHITE.

As I got a bit closer to the range I noticed how the snow was getting deeper on the edges of the road, it had been graded off and at this point it was clear going.
A few kms along I noticed a big line of semi’s parked up on the edge of the road, I thought straight away an accident, and so I slowly worked my way along, going around and around these trucks. lucky for me there was no traffic coming down the mountain yet. This went on for about an hour, taking it slow as there were many patches of icy snow on the road especially on the bends and I was getting a little bit anxious as I started to see how big this mountain range really was. It was very unusual to see all the little fires burning along the edges of the road; I thought that if there was an accident this far away from the summit, these guys must have been here for quite a while. The trucks were still parked up as I got further along and then I realized what was going on. I had weaved myself along for about 25 kms and this is the line up of trucks just waiting for the border to open that Patricio was talking about.
I was going along and up OK until I got to this man made tunnel. They have been built these tunnels to stop the snow from sliding down the steep parts and blocking the road.
This photo shows a one section of the road going up,it is full of trucks crawling up and down this massive ice skating rink on the side of a mountain with me in the middle.From the time I left that morning until I arrived on the other side in Argentina, I reckon I must have seen over 2,000 trucks.

As I rode up and along  I got to the entrance on the first tunnel, I could see that the tunnel itself was covered with snow and this wasn’t helping to let the snow melt during the daylight that was on the road inside, if I dropped the bike in there it would have only slid into the wall and not over the side, so as the heart pounded a little bit faster because if I did drop it, the trucks coming down would not have been able to hit the brakes so easily and stop and run me over, I crawled my way through and welcomed the exit and the sunshine. I had about 14 on these heart starters to go through. Things were going well, I was shitting myself and I could see that I was no where near the top yet; this is when you stop and enjoy a smoke. A lot of the truckies would wave at me, some beeped their horns, and some would just stare out of their windows and shake their heads.
I had been going now for over three hours and the top was still not in sight yet. The snow was thick and everywhere, hardly a bare rock in sight, this made it even colder just looking at it all; it was a beautiful scenic ride but a hell of a way to see the Andes. We crawled on and up, overtaking when the guys put the left blinker on, sometimes I had to squeeze back in between two trucks fairly quickly as some were heading down the hill faster then I thought. I was so cold my ears were getting frostbite on the INSIDE my helmet, thank God for BMW making heated hand grips; they are heaven for the palms of the hands, not much good for the ends of the fingers, because they were now stone cold numb. I noticed the temperature gauge on the dash flashing; it showed the oil temp.of the motor at minus 5 degrees. I became very concerned now about the motor when this was happening and decided to stop and let the heat of the engine itself warm the oil up while it was stopped. This actually worked, and as I was still going up and the temperature was going down, I did this a couple of more
times before I reached the top

This is what I saw as I rode up, it was just majestic, some thing I had never seen or felt before.

The top was in sight after 4 hours of crawling and sliding, it was a beautiful sight to see. The last thing I expected to see on top of this very steep terrain was a ski resort (aussie problem, I have lived in rain forests, deserts and the outback, not in this sort of country) people must have a hell of a ski up here, straight down the hill for about 4000 metres.
After about another 6 kms of level, but slippery riding, I finally saw the exit sign that took me off the main road and into the Chilean Border Post Shed. 
I have made it   I was screaming out to myself jumping up and down on the bike, I was so proud of how I had handled the bike and the Andes. I had a couple of 100 close calls but I was on the top of the mountain and still standing.

Not to be.
It was about 500 metres from the road to the shed, all the trucks had to go on up further and only cars bikes and buses went this way. I had to go around two buses and when I was only 10 metres from the shed I noticed a thick layer of pure ICE on the road, so I slowed down and went on. 5 metres to go and off I went. The bike just slid from under me, it dropped and stopped and I went nearly into the shed on my arse. People near by were kind of laughing until I got up and went back over and kicked the wheel of the bike, then they all started to laugh out loud, even the custom guys came out to have a look. One guy pointed to the bike and then to me and put his arm out to show me where I had to go, everybody from the buses just cracked up laughing. No damage to the bike at all, just my pride. I’m glad I made those pannier crash bars; they stopped the panniers from being bent or broken. With a few helpers I had the bike up and into the shed.

I can’t describe how it felt when I got to the shed, it was the most exciting ride I have ever had.
I felt like I had won the bigger challenge I have ever faced. The bike was what I have always dreamed of owning, the BMW riding gear is perfect for this kind of traveling, expensive, but warm, comfortable and will keep me dry. The BMW lift up helmet is great for taking photos without having to take the helmet right of all the time, its like all the things that I have done for this trip have been good choices and not a waste of good money. I have a long way to go and now I am starting to feel good about the decision to do this trip. Chile was hard for me as I had to put up with the frustrating wait, the customs crap and the money I had to spend just waiting. I felt fairly lonely busing it around Bolivia and Chile. It was hard watching couples enjoy the traveling together, making decisions together, helping each other with all the hassles of buying bus tickets, trying to find hostels and not being able to speak Spanish, I am really struggling with the language but I seem to get by.
The scenery I had just seen is magnificent. I feel so lucky to be able to see so much of such an amazing piece of earth, I survive on just being in this sort of environment, and it’s like a drug.
Getting clearance from Chile was no hassle; the next stop was the Argentina gate just down the shed a bit. The lady sitting there waiting for my paperwork was stunned when I pulled up. She poked the guy next to her in the ribs and just stared at the bike. She pointed to the Chilean side and I signaled no, I was going into Argentina. She handed me a bunch of forms to fill out and then after I asked her what this question was, she came out and we went through it together. Pretty hard not knowing what she was saying, but we got it done, she stamped it all and smiled as she signaled it was OK for me to go. She actually gave me a little wave as I left.
My next task was to get fuel as I had used a lot getting up the hill and I am hoping to top up as I go as people have told me that sometimes in Argentina, petrol is hard
Picture a service station with the big awnings over the bowsers, then get a metre of snow and fill the whole driveway with it. The bowsers were covered with snow half way up the sides and there was no way of even getting to the pumps let alone asking for a tank of fuel. So, I thought I’m out of here until this guy stopped in a car and came over for a look. He was amazed that I had actually tried to get over the range so quickly as the gates had only been open since 12 noon and it was still dangerous for cars even to travel let alone a bike. He said that the road down was good, just watch out at the bridges for ice, and I had about 55 kms to the next service station to go. He was right, it was great going down. The road still weaved and bent around this massive mountain as we descended. I was amazed at how the guys had etched this vein of travel, how they had worked to get such a smooth road and how it was cut into the mountain at some points where the rock formations were nearly vertical, at some point I was riding right next to a rock face that went up for 100’s of metres, straight up and covered with snow on the peaks, this kind of scenery is addictive even if I was frozen, it was great. Other parts the road went into a tunnel through the rock, some tunnels were quite long and it was great coming to the exit and seeing the mountains up ahead dripping with snow.
I finally got to the bottom and to a town called Uspallata just on dark; I fueled up and found out about a hostel on the edge of town. I was cold, hungry, tired and very, very happy.
It was one hell of a challenge and I did it, as I always try and tell myself, nothing is impossible, it just depends on how much you want it and how far you are willing to go through to get it, don't worry I have failed many times over but today, personally, I had a win..
I will never forget this day.


  1. Hey Pete, awesome stories and photos, looking forward to more soon. Hope you are mending ok!

  2. Dear Peter, great to hear from you!Hope you are getting better.So sad you had to lose your mate, we are very sorry. What a wonderful blog you made!Since we met in Morocco,little Sidi Kaouki, we have been thinking of you a lot,hoping you would be in good health and good company.What an adventures you have had....get well soon!We are in Amsterdam, preparing for our little adventure,holiday to Sumatra next week.The music season was great, now it's time for some jungle,waves and vulcanos.Dear Peter take care man and we are going to follow your blog,great to read!Love from Barry&Jozien

  3. Hey Peter, at last, your blog. Really looking forward to reading all your stories, seeing the pics. Keep well, keep travelling. Its the only way to live. Cheers, David www.vagamoto.com