The Andes


Today we rode a motorcycle through the Andes Mountains. 

What an epic statement. We rode our custom-built moto and sidecar through the Andes, crossing from Chile to Argentina, and we loved every second. The ride from the town of Los Andes all the way up to the border crossing was beautiful and hard and rugged and... can I say it again? Yes.


Within about 10 minutes of leaving our motel, the mountains loomed overhead. But before actually beginning the ascent, we rode through a string of dusty communities littered with signs advertising "Seguro Obligatorio". By law, every driver in Chile and Argentina needs to have insurance. Apparently, this is rarely enforced so most people go without it until confronted with the possibility of consequences. Border crossings are full of such confrontations, thus the need for "last minute insurance". Seeing as we didn't buy any in Santiago, we did actually stop and think about it. But seeing as the policies were being sold from tin shacks, we decided we'd take our chances...

Before long, the elevation began to slowly rise and the scenery changed...


Seeing as this particular road (60 on the Chilean side, 7 on the Argentine) leads to a major border crossing, the quality of the asphalt is great. The big trucks took advantage and drove like they had stolen whatever it was they were hauling. 

The asphalt was smooth when we had it, but there was a lot of construction as well. Better get used to this Kristen...







I'm thinking it was the time of day because I had heard this crossing was very popular, but we hardly saw anyone.








It's hard to tell how steep of an incline that these switchbacks are climbing, but we were barely able to get out of first gear on those turns. I'm not sure the Ural would have enjoyed that section...





We eventually made our way up to Portillo - a popular ski resort situated at nearly 8000 ft. Many Olympic skiers from the USA come here to train. It was closed seeing as it's currently summer, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Plus there was a huge st. bernard dog napping in the grass in front of the hotel. Perfect.








Before we knew it we were leaving Chile. I should admit that we tried to stop at the Chilean Aduana but were quickly told we didn't need to. Even still, we stopped again a few miles later to ask three bikers from Brazil where the Argentine Aduana was - silly gringos...

And suddenly we were thrust into a border crossing. We had hardly seen any other cars, but here we were sent into line to wait with a ton of other vehicles and busses. People were roaming around everywhere and we were the main attraction... I don’t know if people thought we were famous or if they just liked our bike but we took a ton of pictures with complete strangers in front of the rig. 

It was also in this line that I had a very cool experience. An older man from Switzerland came to talk with me about motorcycles. He spoke no English so we communicated in Spanish and had a very interesting conversation about travel and other things. It was the first time that I’ve ever had a conversation with someone in a language that is not native to either of us. For some reason, it struck me as amazing and made me wish I had paid more attention in school.

The border itself was simple. It took 2 hours but only because we had to wait in line. We were a bit worried that we would have to unpack all of our stuff for the customs agent to look through (a van in front of us had to take everything out) but when it was our turn, they just stamped us right through. 



Our first glimpse of Argentina!

Before heading down towards Mendoza, we stopped to admire Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 22,841 ft! Very impressive even though it was hidden amongst the clouds.







As soon as we started to head down from the high mountains, the wind picked up (as Argentina is prone to) and it got hot - like 90 F hot. The sun fried both of our hands and faces at this elevation. 








And now we come to my favorite pictures of the day:


We stopped just outside of Uspallata for a break from the sun. From across the street came an old man named Juan. He was smiling from ear to ear, not a tooth in sight, and had completely fallen in love with our rig. Then came the surprise. Juan looked as if he was from modest means, the house he lived in was very small and from the horse tied to the front of the building, I had guessed he didn’t have a car. But as soon as he approached us, he pulled a Canon digital camera from his pocket and proceeded to line us up for a few shots. It was even his idea to climb up on the bike and have us take his picture.

I’ll miss you, Juan.

And thus came the end of an amazing day. We found a decent hotel in Uspallata (which ended up giving us bed bugs), found a farmacia for me to buy some medicine for my throat (which is completely trashed right now for some reason) and closed the night with an empanada. 

Not a bad day, fellow BOMFers...





On our first big motorcycle trip, we rode through a small town in northern New Mexico. I don’t remember the name of the place as we were only there for a moment, but I know that llamas were freely walking around, latinos were riding horses instead of driving cars and it honestly felt as if we had warped backwards in time. As we floated past this simple farming community, Kristen turned to me with a huge grin stretched across her face and said, 
“Do you feel like we’re in South America right now?”
For whatever reason, that moment stuck with me and has been constantly nagging at the back of my mind ever since. That little town got my imagination churning with ideas - from that moment, I knew that our future was going to be full of crazy adventures. And today, adventure smacked us squarely in the front teeth. 

Today, Kristen, BigBoi and I hit the streets of South America!



Cathy once again drove us from Santiago to San Antonio, this time armed with reinforcements - her boyfriend. We made one final trip to the Aduana (Customs) where they promptly prepared the documents we needed. We then headed to the port, where we received the final bit of documentation to complete the process.







We had been back and forth between the Aduana and the port that everyone seemed to know us. It was almost as if they were rooting us on to finally get our bike - in fact, the woman pictured above actually came with Kristen and I when we went to the warehouse just to make sure things went smoothly...  



Before we knew it, the only thing between us and our bike was the crate that it had been shipped in!

We’re still not totally sure what happened (we think our shipping broker, Gaston, may have pulled a few strings) but three men working in the warehouse helped free BigBoi from his wooden prison. Without them, I have no idea how we would have been able to get to the bike. 

As soon as I was able, I slid the key in and heard the most beautiful noise - the big BMW engine easily turning over. And just like that, I rode the bike out to a bit of fanfare from our helpers.

After saying our goodbyes to the warehouse staff (and regretfully giving up the hardhat I had been wearing that was meant for a 6-year old), we rode off into San Antonio! It only took a week of trying, but with Cathy’s help we were finally free to tour Chile! 



I’m dead serious when I say that without Cathy’s help, we would have been in so much trouble. Like I’ve said before, our Spanish speaking capabilities are not great (they’re getting better though), and seeing as the issues were all due to problems with our paperwork - we were in for some serious trouble. So, thank you for your time and energy!


And then we were off! After 8 months of planning, a month and half of BigBoi on a ship, and a week of trying to bail him out of Customs, we were finally riding in Chile. At our first stop light, with every pedestrian in a mile radius staring and pointing, Kristen and I turned to each other and laughed. What a ridiculous adventure this would be. 
We knew we wanted to head to the Andes right away so we headed north up the coastline towards Valparaiso.



To our surprise, 15 minutes out of San Antonio we heard honking behind us - lo and behold, Christian and Cathy were looking for one last photo op!




We eventually made our way out of a very Texas-like landscape and into the hills. As we neared to Valparaiso, we spotted smoke on the horizon.



As we found out later from the news, a portion of Vina del Mar (directly next to Valparaiso) had caught on fire. We could smell the smoke from miles away.




As we continued on, the hills started to grow larger and the Andes dominated the horizon. 

Around 6:30 PM, after 4 hours of riding, we completed our first day in the aptly named, Los Andes. 







We found a little hotel in the center of town with an “estacionamiento seguro” (secure parking) and called it a night. 











We topped off the evening with a 4-course meal that was apparently included in the price of the hotel. Bonus! Hopefully this is a trend.




My initial reaction to driving in Chile is very positive. We weren’t totally sure how people would react to our rig, but they love it. Everybody seems to have a camera, everybody waves and honks and shouts - it’s a fun time. The main highways in Chile are easily as good as the highways in the States. Once you leave them, however, things change. I will be very interested to see how road conditions vary. 
Adventure makes me tired. Goodnight!


San Antonio to Santiago to San Antonio to Santiago


On Wednesday, the cousin of our shipping broker (Gaston - SAmericaXplorer) Cathy, and her daughter, Francisca, picked us up at our hotel in the Providencia district of Santiago.
Our deal with them really explains their level of hospitality: we pay for gas and they help us through the Customs process. We had no idea how important they were about to become...  


We had a pleasant hour and a half ride to the city of San Antonio (yes, it is a weird coincidence considering we're from San Antonio, TX) where we immediately headed to the Aduana (Customs). It was here that we encountered what was to be the first of many hiccups in the importation process of our motorcycle.

On Wednesday, Cathy, the cousin of our shipping broker (Gaston - SAmericaXplorer), and her daughter, Francisca, picked us up at our hotel in the Providencia district of Santiago.
Our deal with them really explains their level of hospitality: we pay for gas and they help us through the Customs process. We had no idea how important they were about to become...  


We had a pleasant hour and a half ride to the city of San Antonio (yes, it is a weird coincidence considering we're from San Antonio, TX) where we immediately headed to the Aduana (Customs). It was here that we encountered what was to be the first of many hiccups in the importation process of our motorcycle.

Fran and Cathy acted as our constant translators as our Spanish is a work in progress - especially when dealing with official business.

In our first meeting with Aduana, we were informed that we had a problem with our paperwork - namely with our Bill of Lading, which essentially checks our crate into the country. We were sent over to the port authorities to clear it up... the port we were told that our paperwork had been printed with a mistake and that we would need to head to the SAAM head office, which I believe is the main office for the entire port of San Antonio. To be honest, it’s all a bit hazy at this point...

At SAAM, we are again told that our paperwork was incorrect, but we would need to come back because the man who can 100% confirm this fact was out of the office until later that afternoon. Feeling a bit defeated, we headed back to the Aduana only to find it closed for lunch. 

So with nothing else to do, we headed up the coastline to Cartagena for lunch.

It is at this point that we began to see the silver lining in our day of delays. Not only did we find ourselves eating fresh seafood on the beach, but we were sharing a meal with two amazingly friendly and interesting Chileans. Seeing that Fran has almost completed her degree in history and that she has written her thesis on Cartagena and the surrounding area, we are thrust into a long and insightful discussion on how the past has molded Chile into what it is today. Our lunch moves from history to politics to culture - and just like that, we are given a cross-section of life in Chile. 

At some point during our discussion, with a trio playing Chilean pop songs nearby, a child riding a pony across the sand near the waves and Kristen asking for another bottled water in Spanish - my heart grows full and am grateful for the opportunity to travel. Awesome.

Click HERE for a 360 view (iPhone capable).

At some point we head back to San Antonio:

Disappointment strikes again at SAAM. We are told that because our Bill of Lading says that our crate was sent Valparaiso (where it was originally supposed to be dropped off), we need to get our shipping line (SeaBoard) to sign our form to confirm that a mistake was made. The problem is that the SeaBoard office is in Valparaiso, an hour and a half away. Seeing as Chile apparently does not believe in fax machines and that it is now 6 PM, we leave San Antonio and head further up the coast for the night.

Thankfully, Fran and Cathy agree to go to Valparaiso with us and then back to San Antonio the next day. Plus, it gives them a chance to visit an apartment that their family owns near the ocean. We head to Valparaiso with our heads held high considering the place is situated right across the street from the beach, which we immediately head out to explore. 

Click HERE for a 360 view (iPhone capable).

Valparaiso reminds us both of southeast Florida with its boardwalks, beaches and high-rise apartments lining the coast. 

We eventually head up into the hills and go to a hotel of our own, seeing as Cathy’s son and some of his friends are already using their apartment for the night. We get settled in, walk down below to buy a empanada con queso for dinner and then promptly go to sleep with the windows open. 

Click HERE for a 360 view (iPhone capable).

We wake the next morning and immediately head downtown with a determined Cathy and a sleeping Fran (understandable after a late night with her friends - 5 AM!). Downtown Valparaiso is a nightmare for drivers unfamiliar with the area. It is a very old town and the streets are set up as such. If Kristen and I had been left to figure out this importing business ourselves, we would have definitely been lost.

They are expecting us at SeaBoard and the process is quick. In fact, it’s so quick that I almost feel like reaching across the desk to slap the guy. He makes a quick signature, a quick stamp and then asks, “They made you come all the way here for a stamp?” 

Insult to injury...

All this for one stamp. Muchas gracias. 

We then head back to San Antonio and the port authority, convinced that we will now be getting BigBoi out of captivity. 

As you might have guessed, that is not the case. 

Click HERE for a 360 view.

The port authority finds another mistake. All of our documents from SeaBoard have a typo when mentioning the VIN number for the bike - a “2” for the “Z”. We are sent back to SAAM.

It is here that Pedro Gras is waiting for us. He lets us know he has made some phone calls and can fix our situation. The problem is that the paperwork won’t be ready until 6 PM. 

As you can see below, this news does not make Cathy happy.

We head to the Aduana one more time to see if they will be open until 6 PM. 

Again, as you might have guessed, they will not be able to process our new paperwork until the next Monday. 

It is Friday. 

Very apologetically, Cathy tells us that she needs to head back to Santiago and that she cannot take us to San Antonio on Monday. Overwhelmed, Kristen starts crying. I have personally read enough reports on ADV to know this is normal... She’s not proud of it, but it turned out to be a blessing. Cathy feels so badly that she changes her mind and decides to come back with us on Monday morning with her boyfriend.

We then head back to Santiago. The girls drop us off downtown - I run and find us a hostal while Kristen guards our stuff.

So now, we find ourselves back in Santiago for the weekend with our computers, one change of clothes which it looks like we will have been wearing for a week by the time we get to the bike, and iPhones to take pictures. Oh, what I would do for our wide-angle lens. Thankfully, we found a fairly cheap and nice place to stay, we have been having fun walking around town and we now have time to do some chores.

Click HERE for a 360 view.

The subway conductor got mad at us for taking this picture. Any ideas why?

New slippers for Kris and fresh churros for me off the street:

Click HERE for a 360 view.

Last night, we decided to try and go to the mall (Falabella) and buy insurance for our motorcycle. It is illegal to drive around any country in South America without it (although we've heard you really don't need it) but we had heard that the mall was a good place to find an affordable plan. We spend the next 30 minutes struggling through a conversation with one of their agents who didn’t speak a word of English. At some point, he pulled up GoogleTranslate on his computer and we had a digital conversation. Technology is amazing.

As you might expect, this did not work out. Just to give our week a perfect score for failure, we were not allowed to buy insurance because we didn’t have a “RUT” number and were told to come back on Monday. 

I know, I know - it sounds like nothing is going our way. But this is all part of the adventure! I would much rather be writing about us riding the bike through the wilderness, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. It’s all going to be worth it. I have no doubt.

Santiago, Chile


Overnight flights are a joy. 
Especially for two tall people. Just the very idea of folding myself up like a pretzel for 8 and a half hours while breathing recycled air fills my heart with dread. But this flight was different. I’'m serious. Even though I ripped my neck pillow (pictured top left) within 5 minutes of boarding the plane, which proceeded to cover me and Kristen with a white layer of styrofoam, and even though the guy behind me had his knee jammed in my back the whole flight, I was beaming. 
We were going to ride through South America on a motorcycle.






We arrived in Santiago at 11:30 AM and were immediately introduced to a rugged and arid landscape. Right before we landed, we saw a series of dirt paths zig-zagging their way up a hill and Kristen tentitively asked, "“Is that what we’re going to be driving on?".

” Even though I didn't say it at that moment, man, I hope so...










Right after getting off the plane, we were ushered towards a separate line from all the Chileans to pay a “reciprocity tax”. 
$280 for the both of us. 
Apparently, the USA charges Chileans the same thing when they come to visit so I suppose it’s a fair deal.






We did a few other chores, which included searching for the tire we brought at the baggage claim, exchanging money, going through Adana (Customs) and some other security points, finding a taxi...

...and we were finally in Chile! 
Our taxi took us straight to a hotel that Kristen had booked before we left. We admittedly decided to splurge because we knew we wouldn’t sleep on our flight and we wanted our first night to be stress free. So, we chose the Meridiano Sur in the Providencia district.

It is really a lovely place in a good location... but the price is a bit holy crappish. Probably not worth it but I don't feel guilty for a celebratory first night.

Click HERE for a panoramic of the lobby (great to view on an iPhone).

We then proceeded to do something kind of dumb... at least for us. When we visited New York City this past fall, we found ourselves missing stops and heading the wrong direction on many occasions. We got lost. A lot. 
So what was the first thing we did when we hit Santiago? 
Hop on the subway.

Amazingly, all went smoothly other than a bit of a translation mishap at the ticket booth (for those interested, “"boleto de ida"” means “one-way ticket”). Off the subway we headed straight to the Mercado Central - a huge market full of vendors hawking all sorts of fresh seafood. Smelly but picturesque. 
NOTE: Speaking of pictures, it should be said that up until this point we had been taking photos with nothing but our cell phones. We left the majority of our gear with the bike so all we had was one camera body and a portrait lens. Doh!

The architechture is really beautiful and a wide-angle lens would have been great, but alas, it was not meant to be. 

Click HERE to see a panoramic of the Mercado Central (great if viewed on an iPhone).
On our way out we noticed a huge Texas...I mean, Chilean flag hanging from the rafters.

We then did a fairly extensive walking tour in the heat of Santiago where we saw the old meet the new...

...famous buildings that we probably should have known...

...a wonderful old train station that would have eaten a wide-angle lens alive...

Click HERE to see a panoramic of the station (great if viewed on an iPhone).

...various types of street art...

...a really beautiful cathedral...

...and dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. Apparently Santiago is known for its street dog population. We personally loved it and could have spent way too much time shooting pictures of them, but according to a few people we met, they aren’t something that the average Chilean enjoys. 
After several hours in the sun (it was over 90 degrees) we headed back to our place, napped for a few hours, ate a filling meal of Churascos (chopped beef, huge portion of tomato, mayo and avocado between to fat chunks of bread) and relaxed a bit on the patio before crashing. 

Tomorrow we pick up our bike and the adventure begins!