Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 01 Mar 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970301.rpt
Wednesday February 26 65827
I walked back to the Inca ruins and snapped some photos, then had
breakfast. The water hadn't been working last night, so took a shower
this morning. It was a saltwater shower, refreshing nontheless. The last
time I had one of these was in Baja, on the last trip Noemi and I took
Just as I was getting my riding gear on, the locals were mounting a major
fishing operation, and I had never quite seen it done this way, so I stuck
around a few minutes to watch. A small motor boat dropped off the line
attached to one end of the net near shore, where a boy waded out and
pulled the line ashore. The boat then went in a huge semicircular arc,
out into the bay and then returned to shore some 100-200 yards up the
beach. He just ran the boat up onto the beach, raising the motor and prop
at the last minute. Then ten men grabbed the line at each end and began
pulling it ashore. The boat had gone 300 yards or so out into the bay, so
it took 10 minutes of pulling before any net was even seen. Finally the
net and it's contents was pulled ashore. They landed a good number of
different type of fish, most about 12-16 inches long, but some bigger.
I left around 10:30; so much for an early start. 10 km south was the
fishing village of Chala. From there the next 220 km south to Camana, the
road more or less followed the coast, and the terrain was desert
interspersed with a few small oasis. Sometimes the road would run ontop
the coastal hills, other times right down on the beach. I spotted
numerous condors wheeling and circling on the thermals and currents off
the coastal slopes.
Surprisingly, I had rain on this stretch of road, something I wasn't
expecting here, because every guidebook I read said it rarely rained along
the coastal desert. It wasn't heavy rain, but enough that I stopped and
put my Aerostich pants on. It made the road slippery in places, from
accumulated road grime and oil, and after the bike got squirrelly in one
corner, I slowed my pace down even more.
Several people asked if I write entries in my journal during the day, or
just at night, and how I remember things that happened during the day. I
only write entries at night, occasionally a day or two later, and during
the day I pick a keyword for every topic I want to write about, then try
to arrange the keywords into a phrase which I then remember. For example,
today while riding, over a short period, I remembered I wanted to write
about my speeds yesterday (80 mph), the condors, and the man who offered
to transport my bike in the pickup truck. That became "80 condors and a
pickup truck", which in my mind I thought of as the name of some punk rock
group. I know, kind of stupid, but it works for me. Occasionally at the
end of the day, I'll remember the keyword, but not the details.
Curves are very inconsistantly signed, or not signed at all. You have to
really stay alert or one sneaks up on you going a bit too fast.
There were several places between Chala and Camana, at Atico and
Ocona, where large rivers emptied into the Pacific, and the road took a
big, looping route inland a ways to cross the rivers by bridge, before
returning to the coast. Both rivers were churning, brown, muddy torrents,
and I wondered if they were always like that, or if it was a result of
recent rain in the mountains. At the first of these, at one spot the road
was covered by about 50 yards of foot-deep water. The road, approaching
Ocona from the north, had been on top of the high coastal plateau. It
turned inland and dropped down to sea level to cross the Rio Ocona. The
entire flat-bottommed river valley was covered in bright green rice
paddies, from the beach where the river emptied into the Pacific and for
quite some distance upstream. Quite a beautiful sight against the
backdrop of barren, sand-covered hills and dunes. Across the river valley,
looking south, the PanAm Highway followed the base of the hills on the far
side of the river valley, before again climbing up to the high coastal
plateau and disappearing in the desert over the horizon.
At Camana the PanAm turned inland and climbed up onto a 3000+ foot
plateau, still barren desert, but with some interesting sand dunes at
several places. The last 5-10 miles before Camana, the narrow strip of
land between the PanAm and the beach was irrigated and a resembled a
patchwork quilt of various shades of green. Once up on the plateau, the
cross-wind picked up, and it was interesting to see a huge bus approach
from the other direction, also noticably heeled over, but with the wind,
not into it. I'm not sure I'd want to ride on that bus.
The road continued inland for 134 km to the turnoff for Arequipa and the
road east to Puno and Cuzco. I'd be picking those areas up on my return
north. At the intersection, I stopped to gas up, having put 340 miles on
this tank. I had S50 left to get me across the border tomorrow. Between
Camana and the junction had been the Siguas and Vitor river valleys, each
with beautiful descents down into and climbs back out of them.
The hills and mountains in this region had a redish, pinkish tint, and
much of the sand in the surrounding desert was reddish also. However
there was also white sand, and against the pink hills and mountains, it
At one point I encountered some road warning signs saying "TREN". My
guess was confirmed when I crossed the railroad tracks. It was the first
time I had seen signage with that word. Most other countries had seemed
to use ferrocarril (railroad).
>From the junction, the PanAm headed south and I encountered some more
rain, and the thickest fog of the trip so far. I had to slow to 25-30
mph. I hoped I didn't encounter any unsigned 90 degree turns. Eventually
the road dropped down off the plateau and below the level of the clouds
and visibility improved. A little while later the road climbed up to a
4000+ foot plateau, but there was no problem with fog, and once on top the
road was straight as an arrow, in great condition, with great visibility,
and I cruised at 90 mph for a while. However, I found the wind more
tiring at that speed and dropped down to the 75-80 mph, which I had been
doing most of the day when the road and conditions permitted.
I stopped for the night in Moquegua, a small city of 110,000, and got a
room at the Hotel Limoneros for S20 (US$8), with sink, but shared bath. I
had had a late lunch at 3:30 back at the junction, and wasn't hungry, and
after a shower and washing some clothes, fell asleep at 9pm.
Thursday February 27 66177
I stopped in Tacna, 156 km south of Moquegua, for lunch. While there I
checked out the Plaza de Armas, on whose west side is a large cathedral
designed by Eiffel, and in the center a bronze fountain, also designed by
Eiffel, and said to be a duplicate of the fountain in the Place de la
Concorde (Paris). The plaza also contained two huge bronze statues of
colonel Bolognesi and Admiral Grau, two Peruvian war heroes.
Before leaving Tacna I bought the required "Relaciones de Pasajeros"
document from a local bookstore, in preparation for the border crossing.
Four copies are required, three turned in on the Peruvian side, and the
final turned in on the Chilean side. My guidebook said they cost US$0.45,
though it didn't say if that was for one or four forms. The clerk charged
me S1.8 (US$0.72) but insisted I take the whole pad of forms, probably
more than 30. I said I only needed four forms, which she acknowledged was
true, but still insisted that the S1.80 bought the whole pad. I still
can't figure that one out.
Back at the bike, there was a disabled man in a wheelchair who watched the
vehicles parked in that area, and even though I had taken all my usual
security precautions of locking and covering the bike, and wasn't really
worried about it's security, I gave him a buck when I left.
Peruvian drivers like to flash their lights at you when they pass you
coming the other direction. As far as I can tell it's just to say hi,
given the relative infrequency of traffic on the PanAm Highway in most
Riddle: How do you know when it's time to trim or pluck your nose hairs?
Answer: When they tickle when you go 80mph on a motorcycle.
There is no truth whatsoever to the rumor that that is based on actual
experience. It's just a riddle!
While today I had sun the whole day, yesterday I only saw the sun for
maybe a half hour the whole day. Interesting contrast.
I arrived at the border about 2pm. This was the first border so far
this trip where I had to open my saddlebags and topcase for inspection; on
both sides of the border too! Supposedly this is primarily to check for
fruit and vegetables to combat cholera. The Peruvian side was not
entirely straight forward. The quadruple copies of the "Relaciones de
Pasajeros" ensured this. I first went it Immigration where I got the exit
stamp in my passport. However he also wanted one of the copies, but after
it was stamped by a customs official, and he wouldn't return my passport
until I returned with that document. I found the needed customs official,
wearing the official black customs uniform, wandering around in the
parking lot. After he inspected the contents of my motorcycle he stamped
one of the copies, and also filled out the exit portion of my Libreta for
Peru. Fortunately I didn't have to completely unload everything, just
open the lids, explain what was in each saddlebag and topcase, and let
them look into a couple random bags in each. I returned to immigration,
gave him the copy the customs official had stamped, and the official in
Immigration added a stamp of his own, handed it back to me along with my
passport and said to go to the Customs window. There, I handed all four
copies, my Libreta, and my passport to the official. He looked through
everything and said I needed another stamp on one of the as yet unstamped
copies of the "Relaciones" document. He indicated the official was out in
the parking area. So I traipsed back out there and eventually found this
official, not wearing any kind of uniform, and who simply stamped the copy
I handed him, without looking at the bike or any other document. Why the
official inside couldn't have just as easily done this is beyond me.
Armed with this final piece of the puzzle I returned to the Customs
window. They kept this copy and a third, as yet unstamped, copy, added a
third stamp to the first copy and returned it to me, and filled out the
Libreta and returned it to me after removing the exit section. I was
almost done on the Peruviana side. All I had to do was go to the Peruvian
National Police window and get a final, fourth stamp on the first copy,
then ride to the final booth along the road and show my passport and turn
in the first copy of the "Relaciones" document. With that, 4 km later and
I was in Chile. It had taken about an hour on the Peruvian side.
Chilean Customs and Immigration was several miles south of the border, but
was more straight forward. It doesn't pay to try to anticipate. When I
had first arrived at Peruvian border control I had parked in a regular
spot for cars. A guard came up an told me to move the bike and park it at
the side along the traffic lane. No problem. When I arrive at the
Chilean border control area, I decide not to take a car parking space, but
to park along the side, out of the way. You guessed it, a guard came over
and told me I should park in a parking space.
Procedures were straight-forward. One window where I got a tourist card,
filled out for me by the official no less, and an entry stamp in my
passport. A second window, where I showed my motorcycle title and got
issued a document for my motorcycle. They also stamped the fourth and
final copy of the "Relaciones" document. Then I rode 40-50 yards to a
checkpoint where I had to open my luggage for inspection and they added
another stamp to the fourth copy, which the guard at the final checkpoint
collected as I rode past. Then I was in Chile officially and heading
south to Arica. It was 3:45 Peruvian time, but 5:45 Chilean time since
there is a one hour difference normally, plus an extra hour during
daylight savings time, which ends Saturday, March 8.
Arica is only 20 km south of the border and I went into the center to find
an ATM machine to get Chilean Pesos. Many banks have ATMs labeled
"Redbank" and these supposedly all work with System Plus ATM cards. The
one I tried one half block away from the San Marcos church worked.
Exchange rate for the Chilean Peso is about 425 P/US$.
The San Marcos church, in Plaza Colon, was built in iron by Eiffel, and
was brought to Arica from Ilo Peru in the 19th century, while Arica was
still part of Peru. It was brought as an emergency measure after a tidal
wave had swept over Arica, destroying all its churches. The church is
small, with a bell tower on one side, and is beautifully painted.
Since it was 6pm, local time, the next major town/city was Iquique
(derived from the Aymara Indian word meaning place of rest and
tranquility), 304 km south, and in between was the Atacama desert subject
to camanchaca, sea mist, at night, I decided to get a hotel here in Arica.
Easier said than done. I went to 4-5 cheap Residencias before I found
one, Residencial Valencia on Gral Velasquez, which had enclosed parking
out back. It was a very nice hotel, run by a friendly lady, and the price
was cheaper, P3500 (US$8.00), than at several of the others. The price
included breakfast the next morning. Bathroom was shared.
After a shower, I walked several blocks to an area where several streets
had been converted into a pedestrian mall, and had dinner. The area was
crowded with people shopping and strolling around looking at the crafts
for sale in the artesans booths which lined several blocks. After dinner
I tracked down the source of the music I had heard. The street in front
of the harbor, Maximo Lira, was blocked off, large bleachers were set up
along it, and a parade was in progress. Several groups, with dancers and
musical instruments, performed. Some of the groups were dressed in what
looked like traditional costumes, while one group seemed to be in Egyptian
motif costumes. Vendors were throughout the area selling food and
As a backdrop for the parade was the towering headland of El Morro, not a
half block away. The whole face of the masif is lit at night, and on top,
where the Museo Historico y de Armas is located, a Chilean flag flies,
visible from below. When viewed from Plaza Colon, with its towering palm
trees, it's an impressive sight.
Friday February 28 66324
Continental breakfast this morning was included in the price of the room.
It included coffee and a large roll with cheese spread. At breakfast I
met Teri, a Canadian woman from Jasper, who taught figure skating in the
winter there. She was travelling solo and had been on the road 4 months,
but was flying back to Canada from Lima next week.
Today was just a long blast south through the Atacama desert, 466 miles,
from Arica to AAntofagasta, Chile. For the most part the desert is on a
high plateau, between 3500 and 4000 feet, and is completely devoid of
vegetation. Most places have had no recorded rainfall since records have
The road cut straight across the desert, interrupted only about four times
between Arica and Iquique, by deep canyons where rivers had cut down
through the high plateau on their way to the sea. Here the road would
make an abrupt turn to begin its descent down along the sides of these
canyons to the river, frequently dropping down to as low as 300 feet
before climbing up the other side to the plateau once again. At the
second such of these the road dropped down the side of one canyon to the
river, where a second canyon and river intersected it, and the road
followed the bottom of the second canyon for a while before climbing back
up to the plateau and turning to resume its way south. The rivers at the
bottoms of these canyons were more like small streams, but the canyon
bottoms were generally irrigated and offered the only greenery to be seen.
I stopped at the Geoglifas de Chiza, right along the roadside. The
geoglyphs are geometric shapes as well as figures of humans, birds and
animals made by ancient Indian cultures, by placing dark stones on the
lighter sand background of the hillsides. Some are quite large, as high
as 400 feet.
At Pozo Almonte the PanAm continued south, but I turned west to Iquique on
the coast. There was a coastal road south, which runs at the foot of the
1600 foot cliffs which line most of the coast in this region, rejoining
the PanAm at Antofagasta. This route was about 100 km shorter than the
PanAm and offered views of the rugged coastline and small fishing
communities along the way. All my maps showed part of it as being dirt,
but my guidebook said paving was in progress in '95, and the German biker
I met near Nazca said the road was in good condition.
The road was in excellant condition, and I continued cruising at 80-85
mph, interrupted only to slow down for the intermittant corners. Just
north of the port of Tocopilla, there was a customs post where they
checked for duty-free goods, Iquique having a duty free shopping area, and
I had to get my bike documents stamped.
I arrived in Antofagasta at 6pm and decided to call it a day, although I
probably had a couple of hours of light left. Once again, I had problems
finding a cheap hotel with parking, trying four with no luck. One, where
I could have got the bike through the front door into their courtyard,
claimed they were full, but by the reaction of the man, I got the feeling
he didn't want my bike parked in his courtyard. There haven't been many
incidents like that on this trip. People usually go out of their way to
help me park the bike. I finally took a room at the expensive Hotel San
Marcos, where a room cost P14500 (US$34). Ouch!! But I had exceeded my
hassle threshhold in looking for a hotel, and decided to pay (through the
nose). The room was nice, but not exceptional, but definitely a class
above the usual hotels I stay in. But it had nice, strong, hot water, and
a large, soft, fluffy towell, and I guess that was what I was paying for.
It also had a secure parking garage for the bike.
But the hotel bill, combined with my gas bill of P22714 (US$53) really
shot my budget. In fairness, I had gassed up first thing this morning, and
also just before stopping for the day. Gas (93 octane, not the more
expensive 97 octane) cost about US$2.27 per gallon. These long distances
rewally blow the budget quickly. I might have to camp more just to keep
expenses down. My mileage for the day, having cruised at 80-90 mph for
much of the distance, was 30.5 mpg.
Saturday March 1 66790
Today was more of the Atacama desert, 319 miles from Antofagasta to
Caldera. From Antofagasta on the coast, the PanAm headed inland, climbing
up onto the desert plateau, reaching an altitude of 6500+ feet at one
point. It continued south, eventually turning back to the west, and
regained the coast at Chanaral, 260 miles from Antofagasta. In between it
was just miles and miles of desert, though the variations seemed endless.
At places it was flat desert as far as the eye could see. Other places
the road made its way through low, barren hills. And other places there
were large boulder and rock fields alongside the road. The one constant
was the lack of vegetation. At one point, on the high plateau, there was
a sculpture of a large hand, 20-30 feet high, sticking up out of the
desert sand. I didn't stop, so don't know what it was about.
I stopped for gas and a late afternoon lunch in Chanaral. From Chanaral,
55 miles south to Caldera, the road followed the rugged coastline.
Whereas along the coast yesterday, north of Antofagasta, the road ran at
the foot of immense cliffs, here the mountains were set farther back from
Having cruised at 85 mph for most of the way, and having faced a headwind
for large stretches, my mileage for the day was 28.8 mpg.
In Caldera, I hoped to look up Margaret Mercado, who I had met in Popayan,
Colombia, and who had given me her address here in Caldera. She hadn't
left a phone number, and after finding the address she gave me, noone was
home, so I returned to the main plaza in town and got a room at the
Residencia Millaray for P4000 (US$9). That was more my price than last