Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 08 Mar 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970308.rpt
Sunday March 2 67109
The room was dark, I didn't hear my alarm, and I slept till 10:30. I had
breakfast at a restaurant on the plaza. Back at the hotel I discovered I had
locked my key in my room, and in the process of waking up the manager I met
Willie (Guillermo) who was also staying at the hotel. Willie was from
Santiago, up here on vacation, and he designs structures for amusement park
rides in Santiago. He used to ride dirt bikes until an accident some years
ago in which he broke a bone in his neck. But he still liked to talk bikes
and that was enough to delay my departure until after noon.
Chile definitely has a European flavor to it, and less of a Latin-American
feel than the other countries to the north. More billboards advertising
American and Japanese goods. You don't see the small mud or wood homes along
the roads like you do in Peru, Ecuador, or Colombia. Homes tend to look
similar to what you might see in the US. Cars tend to be newer and you see
more Japanese and European cars. In the cities, it's not uncommon to see
young guys riding around on the latest Japanese crotch rocket. There are
also a lot more young backpackers travelling throughout the country, and you
see them hitchhiking along the roadside near the cities and towns quite
often. Some are foreigners, but most are Chilenos, and it's not uncommon to
see two young women hitching along the roadside.
South of Caldera the PanAm cut inland 40 miles to Copiapo on the Rio Copiapo,
which is considered to be the southern limit of the Atacama desert. While
this area may not be called the Atacama, it was still desert, arid and dry.
However, whereas farther north there was literally no vegetation, here you
began to see a bit of vegetation, cactus, and low scrubby brush and bushes.
South of Copiapo, the PanAm stayed inland for the next 200 miles until
regaining the coast at La Serena. This stretch had numerous construction
zones, with stretches of one-way traffic under the control of flagmen. I had
to wait at several of them for 5-15 minutes, but at least I could go up to
the front of the line of waiting cars and trucks. The road surface itself in
these construction zones was no problem. At one place, where the road dropped
down off the plateau, there was a several mile detour on a dirt road via a
series of switchbacks down the mountainside.
I passed two motorcyclists headed north, on what looked to be two loaded down
KLRs. I was doing about 80 mph at the time and waved and watched in my
mirror to see if they pulled over. They probably were doing the same, so we
all just kept on going in our respective directions.
At La Serena the PanAm continued along the coast. It was 5:30 but I wasn't
ready to stop for the day, however the next descent size town south on the
PanAm was 180 miles south and I didn't want to go that far. So I took an
alternate route inland to Ovalle, 54 miles south. Ovalle is a city of about
70,000 people, situated in the Limari river valley. It a center for fruit
growing and sheep raising.
The proprietoress (?) at the Residencia Socos, assured me that many
motorcyclists had stayed there and that it was no problem, and she soon had
the plants and small tables moved out of the hallway, and I rode the bike in
off the street, back through the hallway to an open courtyard at the rear.
The room, with a sink, but shared bath was P6000. Like many of the other
hotels I've stayed at recently, this room came equipped with a bedpan. I
guess for those times you just can't make it the 10 yards down the hall to
The town has a pleasant main tree-lined boulevard, and a nice plaza, with
fountains and artificial lakes and waterways.
Monday March 3 67430
In the morning I had breakfast in the small restaurant she ran and asked if
it was OK to do some maintenance on the bike. I adjusted the valves and
topped off the driveshaft oil. The valves continue to be a bit of a concern.
I wish I understood exactly what is going on. The clearances consistently
decrease between maintenance intervals. Are the seats receeding in the heads?
I had completely new seats, valves, and valve guides installed just prior to
this trip, so would be extremely annoyed if that is the case. But what else
would be causing it? In fact, the right side exhaust valve clearance
adjuster screw is disturbingly close to the extreme of its adjustability. If
and when I hit that limit, I'm not sure what I'll do. Anyone reading this
who has suggestions, feel free to email me.
Leaving Ovalle, I cut back to the coast, rejoining the PanAm at Socos. 100
miles south at Los Vilos, I stopped at an Esso station and changed my engine
The farther south I rode, the more fertile and lush the surrounding
countryside became. Woods, pine groves and forest became more frequent. as
did the sight of cattle grazing in roadside pastures. Cornfields, vinyards,
and orchards were also prevalent.
Leaving Los Vilos, there was a police checkpoint, where the officer wanted to
see my documentation. Then out of the blue he said I had committed an
infraction, speeding, and there would be a ticket. While I was guilty of
speeding elsewhere along the PanAm, I was pretty sure I was not speeding
here. In fact I hadn't even had time to get up to speed, and there was
another car not far in front of me, but I didn't know what the posted limit
was in this area. So I indignantly protested that I hadn't been speeding,
and had been going slowly. He took my papers and walked into the guardshack
at the side of the road, while I waited alongside my bike. I resolved I was
not going to pay any fine, that I'd wait there hours if needed. He shortly
returned, handed me my documents, and said I was free to go. I have no idea
what caused him to change his mind. Was it my vigorous protest, his superior
officer in the guardshack, or the fact I was a foreigner.
I heard later, that while the police are very strict about traffic
infractions with the Chilenos, they are more lenient with foreign tourists.
And in the 3 or 4 days I had been in the country, it was clear that Chilenos
were very disciplined in their driving: Complete stops at railroad crossings
out in the middle of the desert with nothing in sight, no running of yellow
or red lights, no jumping the gun on green lights. It was a bit
disconcerting at first.
I don't like arriving in large cities late in the afternoon, especially on a
weekday with rush hour traffic. So rather than proceed on into Santiago, at
Llay-Llay 50 miles north of Santiago, I headed east on Route 60 to Los Andes,
a small town of 30,000 in a wealthy agricultural and wine-producing area. I
got a room at the Hotel Estacion, a block from the main plaza, for P3000 with
shared bath. I parked the bike, right outside my door in an interior dining
That evening, while changing the batteries in my palmtop, I suffered another
computer failure, very similar to the one I suffered in Belize in October.
However this time I know it wasn't because the backup battery was low or
dead. I always check its condition before changing the main batteries - the
backup battery was fine. But after installing the new batteries, the
computer would not turn back on. At first I thought maybe the new batteries
were bad, but a second pair produced the same result. An attempt at
rebooting (CTRL-ALT-DEL) did nothing. Finally I tried the last resort, a
hard reset. Normally it comes up with a prompt asking if you want to
reinitialize the memory, to which you answer no. This time however it
immediately asked me to enter my name, title and date and time, just like
when you turn on the machine for the first time when new. My heart sank.
And sure enough, just like in Belize, my flash drive, compressed with Stacker
compression software, was not accessable. However things were a bit
different than last time, in that while the contents of the C: drive seemed
to not have been reinitialized, they were severely corrupted. Doing a "DIR"
on the various directories, produced a garbled listing of file names, sizes,
and dates. Files that were supposedly there could not be examined.
After recovering from the Belize fiasco, I had stored the Stacker files,
along with the modified CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files, in a small
uncompressed portion of the flash drive, so that if the C: drive got wiped
out again, I could copy them back without needing the compression software to
do so. Despite the corrupted C: drive I decided to proceed and see what
The system no longer knew about the flash memory on the PCMCIA card, so the
first step was running the installation program resident in ROM on the PCMCIA
card. It modifies the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files on the C: drive so
that the system knows about the flash memory. However when I ran the
installation program it complained that the FAT (file access table) for the
C: drive was corrupted. If the HP had a complete DOS 5.0 installation it's
possible I may have been able to restore the C: drive. I'm not enough of a
DOS expert to know wthout researching it further. I decided my only recourse
was to explicitly reinitialize the C: drive, even though this meant losing
all the data I had entered in the Phone and Quicken applications during the
trip. I hadn't gotten around to backing this data up regularly - shame on
Once I had reinitialized the C: drive, the FAT was again good, and the flash
drive installation program ran successfully. I could now access the flash
drive, though only that portion which was uncompressed by Stacker. I created
a STACKER directory on the C: drive and copied the Stacker files there. I
also copied the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files, modified for Stacker to
the C: drive. Now the only problem was remembering the parameters to use
when I ran the Stacker CONFIG.EXE utility. For the life of me I couldn't
remember what they were. I tried to get help by trying various cobinations
of "-", "/", "?", and "h", but got no results. I then tried several
combinations of parameters, as I kind of remembered them, and got the program
to run, but the compressed files on the flash drive were still not
accessable. I only hoped that my various attempts didn't wipe out the
information needed to access the compressed files. In Antigua, Guatemala,
when I recovered from the Belize fiasco, I had gotten the information on the
parameters to use from EXP's (the manufacturer of the PCMCIA card) Web site,
but I didn't write the information down anywhere and had since thrown away
the computer printout of the information.
It looked like my only recourse was to find a place in Santiago where I could
access the Web to get the information I needed. If this latest disaster
hadn't occurred, I had been close to deciding to skip Santiago altogether,
since I was getting a bit burnt out on big cities. The German biker I had
met around Nazca, Peru had said tires were also available in Concepcion, some
300 miles south of Santiago, and that would have let me get a bit more
mileage out of my current set of tires.
I was really tempted that night, to just say "F**k it", with regards to the
palmtop, keeping a journal, and recording GPS data. But the techno-geek side
of me prevailed, and I decided to go into Santiago and try to recover from my
latest computer-induced stress attack.
Tuesday March 4 67665
I got into Santiago around 1 PM, and then spent the next 3 hours trying to
find a cheap hotel with parking for the motorcycle. I probably stopped at 10
hotels, and was about to say "Adios Santiago", but decided to try a couple
more, and finally found Hotel Caribe, near the northern bus terminal. It had
3 taller than average steps leading up to the front door, after which there
were two long hallways and an intermediate room. The hallways weren't a
problem once I got the bike up the steps. The young man working there helped
set up some rocks to help the bike up the steps. The first attempt resulted
in the rear tire propelling one of the rocks back onto the street about 20
feet. Good thing no car or pedestrian was there. The second attempt, going
a bit easier on the throttle, was a success. The room was a bargain at
In my cruising around Santiago, looking for a hotel, I actually spotted a new
BMW R1100GS parked along the street.
Wednesday March 5 67729
It took me all day to find a place where I could buy some Web access time.
It was just a matter of finding the right person to ask, and I finally found
an open tourist kiosk, staffed by a guy who knew about the Internet, and he
gave me the address of a cafe about 20 blocks away that provided Internet
access. I had tried looking in several Spanish- and English-language
newspapers for advertisements, but found none. Despite the European flavor
of Chile, I think Internet access is more difficult and less available here
than in many Central American countries. I may be wrong. I think it may be
because Central America is more on the American tourist trail than Chile.
At any rate, within 15 minutes of logging onto the Web, I had the information
I needed regarding the parameters for the Stacker CONFIG.EXE utility. I also
managed to sneak my first look at the Web page Dave Thompson set up for my
trip reports. Good work, Dave! My GPS data that Mark Engebretson plotted on
the maps looked pretty cool as well. As soon as I recovered from this latest
computer problem, I planned to send a bunch more GPS data, to bring my route
up to date.
With the information from EXP's Web site, I was able to successfully run the
configuration program, and in 5 minutes I had recovered access to all my
compressed files on the flash drive, including all my trip reports and GPS
data. Whew! I took some time to create a README file describing the
parameters and saved it on the uncompressed part of the flash drive. Then I
also created a .BAT file to backup, using PKZIP, the files in the _DAT and
QUICKEN directories on the C: drive, saving the ZIP file on the F: drive.
These two directories cover most of the configuration and database files for
the palmtops builtin applications.
Thursday March 6 67729
First thing in the morning, I got a haircut. Then I went to the Emtel office
downtown to send out some email, primarily 3 1/2 months worth of GPS data.
Even PKZIPPED and UUENCODED it took two 25 minute phone calls to send it all.
Ouch! Although when you figure it on a per week basis, that is only about 3
minutes per week. Still, I definitely didn't include the kind of phone
charges I'm incuring in my pre-trip budget calculations. If I were to do
another trip like this, I might have to decide to forego the email, or send
stuff back on a diskette like Dave Thompson suggested. Or better yet get
Sprint to sponsor me.
Since Concepcion, the other potential place to buy tires, required a 54 mile
diversion to the coast, I decided to try to buy them here. Calle Lira is THE
street for motorcycle parts, accessoroes, and tires. I stopped at several
stores along that street, but could only find Taiwanese brand tires for the
front, and not even that for the rear. Most enduro-type rear tires were for
17 inch rims, not 18. Finally I got referred to a Continental dealer on
Serrano, several blocks away. They had a front "Twin-duro" for P56000
(US$137), but no rear in the correct size. The tread profile was not as
enduro-orientated as I had hoped for, so I said I'd look around some more.
Several more stops turned up nothing, and as a last resort decided to stop by
the small BMW motorcycle repair shop on Avenida San Camilo, mentioned in the
Handbook. There I met Sr. Marco Canales and several of his employees. He
suggested Sociedad Importadora Serrano, 2 blocks away, and said I could park
my bike in his shop while I walked there. This store sold both car and
motorcycle tires, though only carried Continentals for motorcycles. Their
price on the front tire was actually P6000 (US$15) better than the
Continental dealers price, and they also had a rear Twin-duro in stock,
though it was one size narrower (about a cm) than desireable. However given
my lack of success elsewhere, I decided to buy both here, rather than try my
luck in Concepcion 300 miles to the south. The bill for both came to P114000
The rear Pirelli MT60 on the bike, which I had bought in Quito, still had
several thousand good miles left on it so I decided to carry the new
Continental rear with me and change it myself later. The front Bridgestone,
which I had bought way back in Guatemala City, had 9640 miles on it, and
probably had 500 more street miles left on it. However I didn't want to
carry 2 tires with me, and it was close enough to gone, so had it changed at
a small shop across the street from the BMW shop for US$6.
Till this was all done it was already 5:30, but I wasn't going to spend
another night in Santiago, so found the expressway out of the city and headed
south. I managed to put 120 miles between me and Santiago before it began to
get dark and on the outskirts of Curico I stopped at a gas station to check
my map and guidebook and see what my options were. While there a truck
driver walked up and we talked for a while. In the end Sergio gave me his
phone number in Santiago and the name of his girlfriend, Nancy, and said if I
came through Santiago again and needed a place to stay, to give them a call.
I got a room at the Hotal Pratt in Curico for P3000.
Friday March 7 67866
I pretty much blasted down the PanAm through the Central valley, through
Talca and Chillan to Temuco, which is at the northern end of Chile's lake
district. As this is being written a week and a half later I don't remember
many of the details. At Freire, 18 miles south of Temuco, I turned off the
PanAm, heading southeast to Villarrica at the west end of Lago Villarrica,
where I intended to camp for the night. This area was beautiful, gentling
rolling wooded hills and pastures. Very scenic. Sort of reminded me of New
England. On my way through Villarrica I stopped at a grocery store for some
I camped at Huimpalay-Tray, on the shore of Lago Villarrica, 12 km from
Villarrica, on the road to Pucon. It costs P4000, more than I paid for my
hotel the previous 4 nights. To the southeast, across the lake, Volcan
Villarrica rises to 2840m. It is an active volcano and occasional puffs of
white smoke emanate from its peak. Later that night, after dark, at which
time the night sky was filled with a million stars and the Milky Way (?? I
assume it's called that in the southern hemisphers), the very top of the peak
could be seen to have a faint reddish glow. Beautiful.
Not long after I had set up camp, a car pulls into the campsite next to mine.
I hear them asking the guy camped on the other side, in a combination of
English and Spanish, if he has tape. I go over and introduce myself and
offer them my duct tape. It turns out Michelle and Carson Jones are from
Albuquerque, New Mexico, visiting Chile for about a week. He's a commuter
airline pilot, commuting to Atlanta, and she's a nurse. She recently had a
chance to take a job in Palo Alto, but they both like the Albuquerque area
and decided against leaving New Mexico. Carson offers me a beer in "payment"
for the duct tape, and I readily accept. Later they invite me to go back into
town with them for dinner. but I had stopped in Villarrica on the way through
and bought groceries for dinner and was already fixing dinner, so I declined.
My dinner that night (the first time I had cooked dinner I believe since
leaving the US!) was Angel Hair Pasta with Alfredo sauce, several small
loaves of pan integral (wheat bread), several bananas, and instant capachino.
Nothing gourmet, but it "hit the spot" nontheless.
Saturday March 8 68227
In the morning it was calm and the lake surface was like glass. At 2840
meters there must have been a slight breeze to the northeast, as a small
"stream" of smoke rose from the summit of Volcan Villarrica and trailed off
in that direction.
I meet Jacqueline and Gerardo Watzl, a middle-age couple from Buenos Aires,
camping several sites away. They've been on their summer vacation for more
than a month now, having been down in Tierra del Fuego about 3 weeks ago. It
turns out her niece lives in Sunnyvale and works at MRI in Palo Alto, and her
sister lives in Mt. View. Smaall world. She speaks excellant English, he a
bit. He is Austrian and she is Belgian. She is a physical therapist. They
invite me to stay at their house if I come to Buenos Aires. They give me a
lot of good information on the roads and camping in Patagonia and the Lakes
District of Argentina. They reccommend against taking the boat from Puerto
Montt south, nothing against the boat trip per se, but because I'd miss a lot
of interesting scenery in between.
I had been kind of feeling the same way, ambivalent about taking the boat,
both because there was a lot of interesting country I'd miss, and because of
the cost. They suggested I continue on the road east to Pucon, and then on
to the Argentine border at Tromen Pass. After studying my maps and guide
books, I decide to do this. When I returned north I planned to pick up the
southern area of the Chilean Lake District including Puerto Montt.
Between fixing breakfast, taking down the tent, talking with Jacqueline and
Gerardo, another Argentine couple, and Michelle and Carson, and studying my
maps, I don't leave the campground until 12:30.
Just before leaving I exchange US$60 into 60 Argentine Pesos with the man
from Argentina. I will be crossing at a very small border post, and it's a
Saturday so probably will have difficulty exchanging money in the small towns
on the other side of the border.
The road winds along the lakeshore to Pucon. It is fairly well developed,
with lots of homes, some hotels and cabanas, and camping areas. East of
Pucon the road was a beautiful 2-lane road winding through the rolling
countryside. Farms were interspersed with pine and deciduous forests. The
trees were beginning to change colors and there was a feeling of fall in the
air. 19 miles east of Pucon, at the town of Catripulli, the pavement ended
and the road remained dirt/gravel for the next 66 miles till the town of
Junin de Los Andes in Argentina. From Catripulli, the road began climbing up
into the mountains, passing through the larger town of Curarrehue, before
arriving, 21 miles later, at the small town of Puesco, where the Chilean
border post was located. There was the building for the border control, one
for the Carbineros, and several houses, and that was it. Border formalities
were straightforward, and in 15 minutes, after paying a P1100 exit tax on the
motorcycle, I was on my way.
The actual border was 10 miles after Puesco, and was marked by, in their
respective directions, welcome signs to Chile and Argentina, a large wooden
arch over the road marking the entrance to Lanin National Park, and a large
white statue of Christ. Along the way were great views of snow-capped,
extinct Volcan Lanin (3768m). In the area were large, wierd-looking trees
with branches which sort of resembled long thin pine cones. Not very
descriptive I know, but I have the photos.
The Argentine border post cocsisted of several isolated buildings in a small
meadow, 2km from the border, and with Volcan Lanin as a beautiful backdrop.
There was a gate across the road and the building was 50 yards away on the
other side. A guard was standing on the porch watching. I figured I'd ride
up to the building, so I started to open the gate. That was clearly not the
right thing to do, as the guard immediately began waving his arms and
shouting something which I could not hear. So I closed the gate and walked
around it to the building, leaving my bike parked on the other side.
The guard proceeded to give me a 10 minute lecture about the meaning of
border "control", and that it meant he controlled the gate and it's opening
and closing, and that it did not mean for me to open it. He had a valid
point, but I still had to resist the temptation to tell him to get a life.
But once his lecture was done and I piously apologized, he was very friendly
and border formalities here were also straightforward. In a half hour I was
ready to go, and the guard opened the gate for me. A jeep pulled up on the
Argentine side just as I was getting ready to leave. They were two
Americans, one living in Buenos Aires and working in the gas industry (if I
remember correctly) and the other visiting from Southern California. Junin
de los Andes, the next town on the Argentine side of the border is known as
the trout capital of Argentina and they had been doing fly fishing in the
area for several weeks.
On the Argentine side of the border the terrain became open grassland, and
quite a bit warmer. The road was wide and of a dirt/gravel consistency. My
new Continental front tire did not hook up real well and resulted in the
front end moving around a lot. Not real confidence inspiring. On several
corners I encountered sand and the front end wallowed even more. I kept my
speed at 40-45 mph for most of the way.
Junin was about 44 miles east of the border, and I continued on past Junin,
another 23 miles south to San Martin de los Andes, where I stopped for the
night at about 6:30pm. I camped at an Automovil Club Argentino (ACA)
campground where I paid P5 (US$5). It wasn't the best of sites as it was
situated alongside the road, but I didn't feel like looking for another.