As I write this sitting on my dorm bunkbed in Buenos Aires, I'm coming to the gut-stabbing realization that this is the end. Well, at least it's the end of South America for us.
Because in a few days we fly ourselves and our bike back home to Chicago for a few months' rest before we then head on to Africa. But as I reflect on all that we've seen and done not just in the past two years of travel, but also in the past two weeks here in Argentina, I know that at least we ended our Great Americas Journey with a bang. Or a splash I guess I should say.
Traveling is not always easy. It's not like the eternal vacation we all had in our minds when planning things out, and sometimes it can beat us down.
After having a slew of bike issues in the flat and windy far reaches of Patagonia, we were just about ready to give up and go home. Tim and I weren't exactly enjoying ourselves anymore, because if you could see our faces from inside our helmets as we strained against the relentless wind, you would've noticed that we were grimacing and probably swearing with every bad word we could think of.
Intense winds are awful, but our motorcycle falling apart brought us to a whole new level of frustration. The worst was the day after I wrote my last blog, March 3rd. We'd just spent $1,000 on bike repairs, got new tires, a new chain, an oil change, and we were thrilled to be back on the road again... until we got to Puerto Natales, Chile, and noticed oil dripping out of every spot on the engine that it could find. It was a disaster, and we felt defeated.
We've made it to the end of the world: the most southern point that you can get to by road on the planet, which is quite an accomplishment, but it has not been without its obstacles. We've had one bike problem after the next, so much so that we are now stuck in Punta Arenas, Chile until we can get the proper parts flown in to this section of the world.
More than a month ago in northern Chile, the engine started overheating on crisp and cold days. So we took it in to the KTM workshop in Santiago where they fixed the water pump, changed out the coolant, and we figured our bike issues were behind us.
Riding along Chile's Austral Highway wasn't just my dream, it's been a dream of the Chilean people to connect the remote villages of western Patagonia since the 1950's. Completed in 2003, the highway is now called Route 7, or the Carretera Austral (meaning the southern highway), and it passes through mountains of snow, lakes of fresh glacial water, and it goes from temperate rainforests to desert bluffs in 770 miles (1,240 km) of weaving and winding paved bliss.
Of course, we had to go.
We were in northern Argentina, spending our days poolside in the shade of peach trees and vineyards, when we realized that it had to come to an end. Because if we were ever going to get to Patagonia's glaciers before the roads became impassable with snow, we would need to exchange this warm-weather grape-eating lifestyle for one of down jackets and wooly hats. And it had to be soon, before we'd miss our window of opportunity to get to the Antarctic regions of South America while it's still summer there.
After four months of roughing it in Peru and Bolivia, Tim and I arrived at the Chilean customs office dirty, tired, beaten down by the cold wind, and on our last drop of gas and food. But once crossing into Chile, we coasted down 6,000 feet in elevation on perfect pavement (no need for gas!), and we could feel the sun warming our Bolivian-chilled bones as we entered Chile's Atacama desert. In less than an hour, we found ourselves awe-struck in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, as foreigners walked around in shorts and sun dresses, and the place was as modern and expensive as anything we'd seen since the States.
Nearby Calama was just like home (though not in the best way) with its own Walmart, fast food chains, and strip malls. There were pharmacies with cash registers, and gas stations that took credit cards and even had handicapped parking spots labeled on the asphalt. Of course, all this luxury came at a high price, as the cheapest room we could find in San Pedro was $30 a night (the same as paying for camping), instead of the normal $10. We were in culture shock plus sticker shock.
With the bike not starting from our ride through Bolivia's salt flats, we were in a bit of a predicament. Our dear and wonderful friends who'd stayed by our sides throughout it all, Brendon and Kira Hak, were on the verge of overextending their visa in Bolivia, and needed to go. Unlike us, their bike was fully functional, and their plan was to take a difficult, but gorgeous route south and out of Bolivia: the Lagunas Route.
But as Tim and I found ourselves immobile in the town of Uyuni, we knew that if we didn't get our bike running before they had to leave, we would not want to do such a challenging road by ourselves with a questionable motorcycle. Our plans and dreams of riding the Lagunas Route were now falling apart.
So the pressure was on for Tim to fix the bike, and he needed to do it by 11:00 AM the next day, which was checkout time for the Haks and the latest possible moment before they had to leave.
Yes, it looks awesome: the mirror effect of the largest salt flats in the world during the wet season. But don't let the surreal image of us riding through the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia fool you, because it has rendered our motorcycle immobile.
The amazing photographers who took this shot are our friends Kira and Brendon Hak, the fellow KTM-riding duo called the Adventure Haks. We met up with them for Christmas in Sucre, Bolivia, and then headed south together a few days before this epic failure-of-a-ride.
We entered Bolivia a little more than a week ago, excited for this new country of dynamic culture, mountains, and jungle. And to celebrate the holidays, we wanted to be in the white-washed colonial city of Sucre to meet fellow motorcycle travelers and friends for Christmas. That gave us nine days to get there from the Peruvian border and see all the fantastic sites in between. So we were a little rushed, but it didn't seem to be an impossible task. At least in the beginning.
After exploring the world of the Inca around Cusco and Machu Picchu, we knew that our time in Peru was coming to a close. But before we headed into Bolivia (arrived today!), there were a couple of things left in Peru that we wanted to see and get done.
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