On pause: Waiting for parts in La Quiaca, Argentina
One of the worst parts about breaking down and getting stuck in second gear, was that I now had to once again cross “the worst border in the world”: the Villazon – La Quiaca border between Bolivia and Argentina. Once there I would set up shop in La Quiaca, where I found and solved my problems, but not without first adding another one.
Riding the dirt roads to Tupiza I barely noticed I was stuck in second gear. It was a beautiful fun stretch of road, used during the Dakar rally earlier in the year. Once I hit the tarmac in Tupiza however, I was painfully aware of my lack of gears.
I got lucky at the border, only having to wait 30 minutes or so. It was late afternoon on a Friday. The Bolivian customs agent was too drunk to stand, so had to lean forward in his chair in order to reach over and touch my beard. Very fast stamps from him, I guess he like how it felt.
The Argentinians discussed whose turn it was to work. Of the six agents standing around, the one who happened to have the stamp in his pocket finally decided to come over and “check” my bike. Stamp, stamp go. I still feel it is the worst border in the Americas.
After toodle-ing along riding in second all day, once across the border it was getting dark. I found a hostel with a garage: “El Apolillo“. Great hostel, 80 pesos/night with breakfast. Super friendly, helpful owners. Super slow internet.
The internet in northern Argentina, and most of the country actually, is painfully slooooow. Eventually I was able to log on to find that my dad had emailed me with a possible cause to my problem: a broken “band spring”. I was lucky my dad had found that, searching for anything online was a chore. Before this nugget of the possible problem, my plan had been to carry on to the Loki Hostel in Salta to stay free and start my repairs there. However that plan was when I thought a complete lower end job might be needed. If I could find the problem was just this ‘band spring’ and order parts now, I could have the parts meet me seven hours south in Salta. This plan assumed I wouldn’t make things worse…
The next morning, I tore into the right engine cover to inspect this “band spring”. When taking the cover off, I left a nut on the impeller shaft (so as to not lose it). The nut caught, and I broke the mechanical seal on the water pump.
The band spring was indeed my shifting problem, but now with the broken seal, I wasn’t going anywhere until I had replaced the seal as well. Arg!
The KLR riders groups on Facebook have been a great resource this trip, and would be again this time around. Within a few hours of posting my parts problems, and Jayne re-posting them, a man named Sergio in Buenos Aires replied to me and was willing to do anything he could to help. I sent him part numbers and in the end he located and mailed me the band spring, a brand new mechanical seal and a new gasket set. The spring and gaskets were his personal spare parts. Sergio sent the parts by bus, and they arrived just 3 days after I first contacted him. All this with only my word that I would pay him back as soon as I was able. Thank you Sergio, without you my trip would have again stalled out for far too long. Parts from Canada would have taken 2 weeks on rush delivery.
For those interested in watching me talk about/demonstrate exactly how a broken ‘band spring’ is a problem, plus watch me give Jugs a reach around, this video is for you:
While the hostel was nice, La Quiaca is a terrible place to get stuck. Given that everything is far cheaper on the Bolivian side of the border, La Quiaca is pretty well a ghost town. Everything is boarded up. Everybody shops for everything on the Bolivian side. Given the horrors of the border, even with an easy-to-acquire 24-hour pass for Argentinians to cross the official border, most locals just walk through the ravine. It is totally unguarded, and one afternoon I sat up top watching well over 100 people come to and fro, some wheeling carts stacked high with merchandise. This ravine is also where I got robbed my previous pass through La Quiaca.
With Jugs reassembled, I took off late in the evening and head for the city of Jujuy. It was four hours away with some night riding, but after being stuck for days I really wanted to get out of town.
In Jujuy I met up with Martin, also via the Facebook KLR groups, and proceeded to have dinner with his family. Late arriving and with little notice, they welcomed me warmly.
Martin had also been offering whatever help he could whilst I was stuck in La Quiaca. Unfortunately, all moto parts come from Buenos Aires, so there was little he could do more than cheer me on. It was nice to be able to meet up with him on my way though town. His wife worked at a hotel, and was able to arrange me a discount on my room.
I would have liked to stay longer and head out for a ride with Martin, but I had decided I was going to make a push for Ushuaia.
I had been in contact with my friend Joe, and we were to meet up once again in Salta. Joe had recovered from his shoulder separation and was also looking to head south quickly. We wanted to get south before the snow came. And in the process maybe, just maybe, catch Jayne.