An Unlucky Stretch of Road: Crossing into Chile
â€œCalgary!!!â€ Boomed a loud male voice. I looked up from where I was organising my tank bag and saw two men I’d never seen before striding towards me with big grins on their faces.
It turned out that they were also from my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada but I still couldn’t figure out how they had known from afar where I was from.
Their secret was soon revealed; they had been talking to Josh in the gas station shop, and he had told them. They were travelling with their wives, and had been to a wedding in Argentina. It’s a small world. I gave them some of my last stickers. (You know you’re nearing the end of your trip when you start running out of stickers.)
The ride out of Mendoza and into the Andes was beautiful, and thankfully it got cooler as we gained altitude.
As we neared the border, there was a long line of hundreds of cars. As always we motorcycles overtook them all and rode to the front, expecting a construction zone. However it wasn’t construction, it was the queue to cross the border! We cut into line and the boys climbed a pile of rocks to get a better look.
They decided that we could push our way a bit further down the hill into a big parking lot where all the cars seemed to be heading, which we did. Eventually we were directed to join another group of motorcyclists at the far end of the lot. When we arrived they all wanted to chat about our trip and our bikes. They had been waiting for three hours.
They told us that the border was so busy because January was the holiday season for Argentinians, and the nearest beach was in Chile. We happened to be travelling on a Saturday (January 18, 2014), as was half of Argentina.
When we neared one of the small toll booth like boxes, the other motorcyclists waved us over and we got all our passports stamped out of Argentina and into Chile in the same booth by very friendly officials.
Now we needed to clear the bikes out of Argentina and import them into Chile. This wasn’t as simple. We waited a while longer, and then our new friends waved us over to a different booth. There we had our bikes stamped out of Argentina, but they didn’t have the correct form for us to bring them into Chile. We had to go to the big building on the hill, where all the buses were processed, to get the form.
Jordon and I rode up there, with the others right behind us, except they weren’t. Somehow they hadn’t understood the process, and when Jordon and I returned to the car processing lot, they were still there having their bikes searched. We went and got our new forms stamped by our old friends in the immigration box, and sent the other two up to get their forms.
One of the customs guys did a very cursory search of a couple of my boxes, asked if I had any fruit, and then I was free to enter Chile. Jordon was finished shortly after me, and then the two of us chilled out waiting for Andre and Josh to finally be processed as well.
It was a very disorganised border, where no one really knew the correct process for foreign licensed bikes. (The Argentinians didn’t need to do the same paperwork we did). It took us a couple of hours to cross, but we were only that quick because we jumped most of the queue. In the future I am going to try to avoid weekend border crossings.
It was nice to be back on the road, but our freedom was short lived, because we soon came upon another long line of cars. We zipped up to the front, and found our Argentinian friends there. It was construction this time. Luckily we didn’t need to wait too long, and soon were on our way making a steep descent down gentle hairpin turns.
As we entered the mountains again, it started to rain lightly. I was talking to Josh over the intercom when he went round a corner and warned me that a rider was down!
I slowly turned the corner to see Andre and his BMW in the ditch. The rain had made the road slick, and Andre’s bike had slipped out and done a flip or two, landing them both in the ditch. Fortunately Andre was fine, and his bike started. I couldn’t find a safe place to park, so just stayed on my bike while the Alaskans helped pick Andre’s bike up. The windshield was shattered, and parts of the fancy dashboard broken.
Andre later told me that he thought I might be having flashbacks of Phil’s crash, because I was so still sitting there watching them all. I wasn’t, but I still don’t like seeing bikers go down, it upsets me, and makes me nervous when I start riding again.
Therefore I was riding carefully behind the others when about a minute later I hit a small rock that was in the road having rolled off the hillside as part of a small landslide. It was only a few inches in diameter, but made Cricket’s front tire jump to the side a little. Nothing Cricket doesn’t handle every day. Except after going over that rock, the steering felt a bit off. I was just trying to decide if there was something wrong when the road turned gently, and all of a sudden Cricket was on her side and I was sitting in the middle of the highway!
Turns out that my need for new tires was more urgent than I had thought. That small rock had taken a chunk out of my thinning front tire and the tube inside as well. The strange steering I had felt was all the air leaving the tire. (That Avon Gripster I had on the front took me 30,312km, all the way from Los Angeles. Pretty good going really!)
I got Cricket up and to the side of the road, with a few cars slowing down to ask if I was okay. The guys were somewhere ahead of me, and I knew it would be a while before any of them realised I wasn’t behind them.
I decided to wait, because I didn’t have an air compressor, and if they didn’t come back, it’d have to find a truck to take me to the next town. It started to rain again a bit.
Little did I know, while all this was happening to me, Jordon had also gotten a flat front only a few hundred meters further up the road. One of the cars that had seen me fall had stopped and told him that I had fallen and needed help. Poor Jordon panicked, not knowing what had happened or if I was hurt, but couldn’t ride back to find out what really had happened, and so he started trying to hitch a ride back to me! While that was happening, Josh had returned and found him in distress.
Josh rode back to find me waiting patiently on the side of the road. Josh told me that there was a pull off just down the road, and so I turned Cricket around slowly, and rode on the flat tire to the lay-by. As Josh turned around he dropped his bike in the middle of the highway. It really just was the unluckiest stretch of road ever.
Josh had his bike up in a flash, and rode off to tell Jordon and Andre that I was okay, and to get an air compressor. At this point the rain really started to come down and there was no shelter anywhere!
I pulled off the road and started getting everything ready to change the tire. Josh was soon back, and together we propped Cricket up on my topbox, and took the front wheel off.
Surprisingly Josh had never changed a motorcycle tire before, so I was in charge. I put my bike cover on the ground as a work surface (instead of the increasingly muddy dirt) and had the damaged tube out fairly quickly. I repeatedly shouted at the sky, first requesting, and then demanding that it stop raining. It just rained harder.
The valve tool that my dad had bought for me (used to pull the valve on the tube through the small hole in the rim) turned out to be useless, because it wouldn’t fit through the hole in the rim. I started mumbling to myself. Not a good sign.
Josh helped me spoon the tire back onto the rim and then we started filling the tube with air. Except it wouldn’t fill, then the air compressor stopped working (probably water logged).
Josh rode off to get Andre’s compressor, and I just stood there in the pouring rain, soaked to the bone and getting cold. I repeatedly reminded myself (without really believing it) that this was all part of the adventure.
Andre’s compressor confirmed that indeed the tire was not taking air. Â So out came the tube – we’d made a hole in it spooning the tire back on. Luckily the Alaskans had another spare tube. Did I mention it was raining heavily?
By this time Jordon and Andre had finished changing Frank’s tire, and they had come back to help get me back on the road.
I very carefully spooned the tire back onto the rim and handed it to Andre to fill with air while I put my tools away. Except it only filled part way and then would fill no more. I couldn’t believe it. Despite being incredibly careful, there was a hole in this tube as well!
Andre came to the rescue with another new tube, and this time, finally, we didn’t make a hole in it.
If I had jumped into a lake I wouldn’t have become any wetter than I was at that moment. I was also so cold that I was shivering. And there was still water pouring from the sky. Also Andre’s fan wasn’t working.
We got Cricket’s wheel back on, and everything packed up, and headed for some food at the next town. The next town turned out to be Los Andes, where it was not raining. We’d all had enough of motorcycles for the day, and decided to find a hotel.
We passed on the first one we found because it had rates listed by the hour and red and green lights outside each room, and found a nicer one not far away. At $28 each to share a family room, we were immediately reminded that Chile is a lot more expensive than any other country we’d been to in South America but we just didn’t care. It had wifi and hot water and looked nice.
We ventured into town, found cash machines that would give us money, and a restaurant that served us delicious, huge sandwiches, a mountain of fries and cold beers.
It had been quite the day, but we were all safe, our bikes still ran, and we had made it to Chile (country number 16 for me).
The next morning we dried out our things, and inspected the damage that short stretch of road had wreaked on our poor bikes.