Fiambala (Argentina) to Copiapo (Chile) – 16 January 2013
Meyer woke us early in a gentle fashion. He jumped up, turned and the lights and shouted ¨Wake up guys- no more sleeping!¨ Gus swore that he had been awake all night (although we wondered about that) but none of us could claim a full 8 hours.
A short while later the bikes were packed and we headed from Medinatos to Fiambala. The roads were extremely busy as crowds of spectators and officals travelled to their chosen locations for the Dakar special stages of the day.
We arrived just a few minutes after 6am and topped up the fuel tanks of our bikes once again. Every drop would count. As we were about to move off we caught the first few drops of rain. The skies were heavy and grey as we headed west to the San Fransisco Pass. It was a magnificent ride with the gradient being quite gentle initially. From time to time we would pass a bus or be passed by other motorcyclists of Dakar support vehicles trying to get ahead of the event. The passport control would be closed the next day so as to allow the Dakar competitors full access to the pass. The temperature drop was most noticeable. From some 26 degC in Fiambala it was now around 20 degC at 2500 m.
The big story of our trip was that we would tour South America and enjoy the Dakar experience. We didn´t know what the little stories would be and those would be the stories that would forever be part of our experience. One of those little stories was the mechanical problems we were experiencing. Around 3000 m Mike´s bike again cut out, and this time it refused to go any further despite our coaxing and cajoling. Mike cleaned every electrical joint he could find but still the bike wouldn´t fire. As a last gasp effort we removed the cowling to take a look at the battery terminals. Here we found that the positive termional had worked itself loos and after a quick tighten all was well. The really amazing thing was how many other bikers stopped to help or chat. At one stage we must have had close to 20 bikes on this barren stretch of road – certaily some of the most wonderful riding and scenic roads I have had the joy of riding.
As we climbed so any remaining greenery disappeared until the only scenery was rock and snow. Harsh terain but very beautiful. We continued our climb until we reached Argentinian passport control. The line was long as all of the bikers, travellers and support crews queued to clear immigration and customs. We met riders from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, UK, Chile and Argentina while waiting our turn.
Once through customs I found a small depot selling fuel. So much for our concerns about sufficient fuel. We continued on to Lago Verde (Blue Lake) which was truly beautiful.
The road changed quite significantly once we clearded Chilean customs and soon we were on some pretty rough (rocky) dust roads. We enjoyed this as it was our first taste of off-road riding in South America as all of the other roads had been paved and in fairly good condition. Eventually the rocks become gravel and we could open the throttles a little. Beautiful roads, clear skies, 120 kph – good to be alive. Cresting a rise in the road I found my path closed by a bike on its side with a biker underneath it. I braked hard and slowed just before I saw the thick talcum-like patch of sand. I stopped and ran over to help the rider who, to my surpise, turned out to be Carlos. Together we lifted the KTM 990 and he dusted himself off. It was then that I first really noticed the lack of oxygen. All I had done was lift the bike but I could hardly walk back to my own as I panted for oxygen. While we were standing there we saw one or two other riders fall and so decided to wait for Gus, Mike and Daniel so as to warn them. Gus made it through the sand without incident while Daniel only had a few wobbles. On we went.
Every now and then we would hit another sandy patch, some of them catching us by surprise. Daniel battled a little as his GS 1200 Adeventure was fully kitted out and very difficult to lift once he had fallen in the sand. Mike played a great roll of being team member and helped a slowing Daniel through to the tar road where the others waited so that we could once again assemble as a group.
The tar only flattered to deceive and before too long we were once again on dust roads. The roads were good and didn´t have too loose a surface and so we could travel at decent speed in spectacular countryside, especially where the road descended by switching back on itself in steep descent. The final 30km or so was fairly flat as we simply raced down the valley towards the mining town of Copiapo.
Neil had cut his tyre and so needed to stop ot KTM for a replacement. Many bikers stopped in and chatted as we waited for the repair to be effected and eventually Carlos and Danial also arrived. Daniel had travelled slowly for fear of falling again while Carlos was forced to slow due to a mechanical issue which the KTM mechanics immedately attended to despite it being around 76pm. Spanish TV also arrived and there was a real buzz of excitement and anticipation around seeing the Dakar competitors.
Lodging that night would be another single room, but this time with three double bunks. We also had space to park our bikes off the street.