Dakar 2013 – Day 8

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.
































Dakar 2013 – Day 7

Cordoba to Fiamabala – 15 January 2013

Having met Daniel and Carlos the previous day and heard of their concerns about crossing the Andes at Fiambala, we decided to do it anyway. Carlos had already managed the trip on a previous occasion and we all felt up to it. After all, how much harder than Sani Pass or some of the other Lesotho passes could this be? The two big issues were fuel and altitude sickness. Fuel was a problem due to the fact that we had to cover a 500km stretch without access to a fuel station and also that we expected the bikes to be more thirsty due to the weight that we were carrying and also due to altitude. Altitude sickness was a problem as the pass was some 4700 m above sea level and that we would remain at altitude for some time due to the flat “plateau” between Argentina and Chile.

We decided that the fuel problem was easily solved by carrying additional fuel while the altitude could be handled by drinking lots of water, finding altitude tablets and being very careful. With the problems solved, it meant we could head north to Fiamabala and not west to Mendoza. We planned to meet Daniel and Carlos at 6am sharp (Meyer was keeping us on schedule) and to head north west stopping in La Rioja for additional fuel canisters before the final leg to Fiamabala. We needed to cross the border into Chile the day before the Dakar so that we could be assured of getting through.



We got going early and waited for 15 mins for the other two. We tried calling but with no answer we didn’t know if they were coming and decided to leave. It would be a long day on the road.

On leaving Cordoba we found a petrol station selling plastic canisters and acquired their entire stock, wrapping to them to the already laden bikes as best we could


Then it was time to start the long haul. We travelled north of Cordoba in surprisingly heavy traffic for that time of day. A short distance outside of Cordoba Mike’s bike developed a miss and stalled on him. We stopped in the parking lot of a small restaurant to try to solve the problem.

Everyone looked fine but the problem persisted. This could be something serious. So it was time to call Wayne. Wayne is well known in Cape Town for his expertise in BMW motorcycles, because of his helpfulness and just because he’s a great guy. With the time difference we were probably reaching him around lunch time. Mike and Wayne chatted for a while and Mike followed Wayne’s instructions in an attempt to repair his bike. We waited by the roadside and bought some apples from a local roadside vendor who was setting up shop for the day. Breakfast would be an apple.


After fiddling for a while it appeared as though we had sorted out Mike’s bike and we continued the journey. The bikes were all going well and so we continued to head north.

The riding was quite monotonous. We had expected to see more mountainous countryside after leaving Cordoba but after just a few hills we were again experiencing very flat countryside. The lush greenery of Rosario had been replaced by increasingly dry countryside looking more and more like the Karoo. The heat was searing and it was difficult to know whether opening the riding jacket for airflow or closing it for insulation from the hot dry wind was best. We kept consuming water to remain hydrated in his arid landscape.
Just past Quilimo we noticed a definite change in the scenery. Grasslands had been replaced by thorn trees and the ground cover was becoming increasingly sparse. The roads at this time were straight as far as the eye could see. I am sure that we sat on a dead straight road for 60km but will have to confirm that on the GPS when back home! At one stage we passed some large salt pans stretching left and right of the highway as far as the eye could see.



The temperature was fast approaching 40 degC and we suddenly realized that the next town was still a long way away. It seems to me that Argentinian countryside does not have quite as many refueling opportunities as is the case in South Africa. Even some smaller towns do not have petrol pumps as far as we could determine. So we slowed our pace to 90kph to conserve fuel and hoped to make the next town. At 60km away I became quite concerned as may on board computer indicated that I had fuel for 30 km. We stopped at a small settlement nestled under some thorn trees in a very arid landscape. After making a few enquiries in a mixture of poor single Spanish words and much gesticulating we found someone who would sell fuel from their own supply (at a premium of course). Mike, Gus and I each took five liters so that we could make it to the next station. Phew!





Some 60km further on we found another small settlement in what looked to be an arid sheep farming area. Some of the trucks carrying or towing motorcycles that had passed us en route also stopped for fuel.


Attached to teh station was a small convenience store that sold cold drinks as well pre-packaged sandwiches. This would suffice for lunch. After enjoying the airconditioned store we mounted our bikes once again to continue the push north.




We had expected mountains ever since we left Cordoba. All we saw were gentle hills in the distance but now we seemed to be approaching some mountians. It was at this point that I noticed Neil weaving his bike from side to side. A short while later he stopped. Apaprently his bike was cutting out intermittently from fuel starvation. It seemed as theough there was an airlock between his left and right fuel tanks. We fiddled with the fuel taps and shook the bike around for a while hoping to release the air-lock so that we could continue with our journey.

20130118-104109.jpgAnother fuel stop at a secluded station reminding us of the Karoo.

20130118-110134.jpgThe pump attendant cum storekeeper had been watching the Dakar and so we joined in while we finished some cool drinks.




From the last fuel stop it was a last push through to Fiambala and time to look for accommodation.




20130118-111841.jpgAll accomodation in the small town of Fiamabala was taken but a local offerred to lead us through to a small town 25 km north of Fiamabala where we would find five beds for the evening. We were grateful due to the fact that it was already quite late and that we were all tired and really wished for a good night´s sleep. So we followed him to teh town of Medinatos. It was a very small rural town and our five beds turned out to be a single incompletely refurbished room with some basic bathroom facilities. We were tired, this was a roof over our heads – life was good. As the sun set we caught our first glimpse of the massive statue of Christ on a hill overlooking the town.


Our bikes outside the ¨blue room¨. We enjoyed a cold beer here after 13 hours in teh saddle.

20130118-111912.jpgWithout a local restaurant, our landlord arranged for us to have dinner in the home of a local lady who offerred us her dining room and a great meal.




After dinner we would head home to roll out our air mattresses and sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day and we would have an early start. Little did we know that the heat, partygoers and locals who thought themselves to be Dakar competitors would ensure that sleep would be kept to a minimum.

Dakar 2013 – Day 6

Apologies to those who follow our progress but due to the loss of communications at times we choose to upload pictures first. Text and commentary are added later as we have time and access to wi-fi.

Cordoba 14 January 2013
After a great nights sleep our target today is to get Meyers bike repaired to end the intermittent stalling. After that we hope to connect with the caravan following the Dakar

The day dawned grey and overcast but this turned to light rain by 9am. Gus was not feeling too well and so decided to spend the day at the hotel recuperating. We headed for a fuel stop and filled the bikes and then set our GPS units for Villa Carlos Paz where Stage 8 of thenDakar was due to end.

Once in Villa Carlos Paz we had to figure out where the end of the special stage was. This proved to be quite a challenge with very few people seemingly in the know.


Trying to figure it out ourselves.

Stopping to ask direction at a local fuel station caused quite a consternation as the local spectators thought we were somehow involved in the rally. We were asked to pose for pictures and even asked for our autographs! The local people were all very positive and friendly and the whole experience was great.


At the fuel stop we met up with Daniel and Carlos. The had only met a few minutes earlier but were two great guys. Daniel is originally from Argentina and is currently living on the US while Carlos was over from Chile to watch the race. Daniels fluent English was a real help while Carlos’ local knowledge of the San Francisco pass near Lugano Verde helped us plan that leg of the trip. We may well ride with the two of them from Cordoba to Chile.


The earlier rain had given way to mostly sunny skies. The air was heavy and muggy and the sun was quickly burning off the remaining clouds. The heat started to build and it wasn’t long before we approached 30 degrees C once again. After a much needed cold soft drink the six of us mounted our bikes to head towards the finish of the days liaison stage. Once again the locals asked us to pose for photos or to ask where we were from. By now there must have been thirty or forty people around us. Apart from doing our egos good it was all good fun.

After a short wait the first competitors and service crews started arriving. There was a real air of excitement and fun as the vehicles sounded their hooters while the crowd clapped and cheered them in. What a great experience.


From 2pm till almost 7:30pm we waited under the trees of the avenue running to the lake as the competitors arrived to the loud cheers of he rapidly growing crowds. There was lots of energy and positive Latin emotion making the arriving competitors welcome.





< a href="http://gsfreerider.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/20130114-235519.jpg">20130114-235519.jpg

Carlos being interviewed by local TV.







Dakar 2013 – Day 4

Departing Hotel Olmo Dorado in Buenos Aires



Meyers KTM started stalling within the first kilometer of the trip. We stopped at a petrol station hoping for octane booster in an attempt to cure the problem.



We stopped along the road a number of times in an effort to cure the intermittent stalling that Meyer was experiencing on Katie the KTM 640. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs but we were never able to cure the problem.



Our lunch stop was initially forced upon us by Katie stalling again. However we found a nice little restaurant next to the Rio Perana at a place called San Nicholas. A healthy salad and a cold Coke was a real treat.



Mike turning back to collect Gus’s dropped sunglasses. Didn’t see the ditch of mud! By the time we got to the sunglasses they had already become the proud new possession of some young Argentinians.


Arriving at Villa Constitucion Gualaguay campsite near Rosario
Which would be our home for the night.






Dakar 2013 – Day 3

Full of anticipation we headed down to breakfast at 7:30am. We would have the bikes in just a few hours and then we would be off.

We arrived at the warehouse exactly on the designated time of 10am. After clearing security we were ushered in to an area where agents seem to do most of their work with customs. Its hard to imagine that we are in the digital era when one is in such an environment as paperwork (and many duplicates of the paperwork) are the order of the day. Many people seemed to be busily running around with piles of paper or folders of paper or briefcases full of paper. Quite amazing and quite depressing. Even more depressing for Meyer who was not feeling his best.


After two hours of sitting in a stuffy red room someone approached us and told us that things were in progress. This was promising and though it had taken longer than we had aniticpated, we were still very upbeat. There were no refreshments as the vending machines only took coins but we did have access to a water fountain.


Around 12:00 we were asked to follow some offical. Hooray, it was finally happening. We walked into one of the many warehouses on the property only to see our bikes being wheeled out into the courtyard. It was a real pelasure seeing those glorious machines, especially as they seemed to have made the journey witthout any incident or scar.


Its about at this time that the waiting began. Shortly after we started preparing the bikes (reconnecting batteries, filling the tank with petrol and starting them) all customs staff went on a luch break.

Each bike fired imemdiately but once again we waited. Now we heard that some paperwork was incorrect and that we needed to wait.


Neil shot out to get us some lunch at a local petrol station across the road. It was very timely as the heat of the day was building and a cold Coke was just the thing to break a thirst. But we kept on waiting.


It was probably worse to experience than what it reads like due to the fact that we simply did not know what was going on. Around 4:00pm we started getting anxious that the staff would close for the day and that we would only have the bikes released on Monday. This would really cause a big change to our plans. And so we waited.

Around 4:45pm we were summoned to the offices. We were told to sign a form and then, as suddenly as that, our bikes and kit were released. We hastened to arrange a cab to transport the bigger bags to the hotel and we slipped on our helmets – back on the road again!

After a long day of waiting around it was a real treat to feel the warm Argentinian air while riding the crazy streets of BA. Now we could leave tomorrow.

In the mean time Gus´s kit had arrived as had Neil´s spare key. Everything had finally slipped into place. Oh, and I needed to get some flowers for my wife for all of her help.


We went out for an early supper and also to collect the original paperwork from a local hotel.

20130112-074936.jpgBA hada  real buzz about it this Friday evening. It was warm and muggy but everyone seemed to be out on the stareets. It was a great atmosphere. We decided to have a light meal at one of the many sidewalk cafes.


After a light and early supper it was back to the hotel for the final pack. Tomorrow we head to Cordoba.

Dakar 2013 – Day 2

We met for breakfast at 8am and planned the day. We had time to kill as the clearing agents only wanted to connect with us around 2pm. So we decided to do a few chores. Some of the guys wanted to go shopping whiel Neil and I needed to get a Garmin map for Argentina and Chile. Mike and Neil wanted to run an errand before meeting up with us and so went their own way. A group of five can be a little awkward for travelling as taxi´s won´t allow more than four people per taxi unless its a minivan. So splitting up proved to be easier.

After some hunting we found a shop that sold Garmin maps. Despite the shopkeepers assurance that we were buying genuine Garmin maps ít turned out that we had bought another “no-name” brand. However, they seemd to work fine in our GPS units.

Then it was time for coffee before continuing the shopping for camping gear and riding shirts. While we were enjoying our first South Amercian Starbucks, Neil received a call from the agents who asked that we meet tehm at 12:30pm. We didn´t need a second invitation as any chance of a speedy receipt of the bikes would be welcome. A friend (Rui Nobre – see http://www.capetocairo2010.co.za for his current and much more ambitious trip – please follow his progress) had managed to get his bikes cleared from the airport in just one day.


The agents took copies of our passports and other paperwork and then warned us that only original docuemtation would satisfy the customs officials. Mike and I could have a problem with our certified copies! That done, we headed for lunch only to have the agent come racing up the road behind us to tell us that we had to go to customs at 2:30pm to sign off all of the paperwork. A pleasant local lunch of espanadas and a local beer helped us kill the hour or so remaining. It was over lunch that Mike came up with a great plan for getting the requried paperwork in just 24 hours. It would require the assistance of some friends and a very helpfull wife. Mike had the friends and I had the wife. All sorted!

A runner accompanied us to customs and 45 minutes later we had all of the paperwork needed. Great progress. The plan was to collect the bikes from the warehouse the following morning. We could probably hit the road first thing Saturday morning, thus saving us a day!

It was defintiely time to relax and to celebrate the good progress. So we headed back to teh hotel for a beer and a swim in the hotel pool. (Well it was more of a half full jacuzzi than a pool – and didn´t really look all that clean). So it was just beers then. Bit it did give us some time to catch up and to plan the next few days.


Cheers Mike – great plan. Now for execution.


Time to slow down from the heat of the day. BA had been very hot at around 28degrees celsius most of the day. It was warm and fairly dry with clear skies.



Quilmes – the local brew of choice.


Dakar 2013 – Day 1

After arriving in BA we headed into the hotel. It was in a pretty crummy area but was quite adequate for our needs. It is quite amazing to see the vastly diffierent manner in which homes are kept in BA. Our hotel building was in good shape and appear to have been painted within the last few years. Immendiately next door to it was a building that was largely unkept and appeared to have last been painted before the new millenium. A few doors down was yet another example of a well kept building. A real city of conrtasts.

After a shower and change if clothing it was time to head down to the river side for a cold beer.


The area was a sort of promenade with people taking strolls or jogging along the river. Others would take their kids for an ice cream, have a snack or simply just sit on ane of teh many benches to enhjoy the passers by. All very civilized and “tranquilo”.


After walking for just a few minutes we bumped into Neil´s brother Andrew who happened to be vistiing BA after a short stint in the Arctic Circle. He joined us for a beer at one of the many restaurants and shared some great tips with us. For example, one should attempt to exchange US dollars for Peso´s at a street money changer as the rates are significantly better than the official rates quoted by the banks. He also gave us advice on where to eat and suggested a place to stay in Cordoba. It was good to meet him and to have access to so much local knowledge.


Next stop was “Le Grille” for dinner as we all wanted to try out those famous Argentinian steaks. So it was steaks all round and a lovely bottle of red wine to complement the meal. The steaks were great (but perhaps not outstanding) as was the wine. Imagine our surprise when we learned that the wine was not quite the good value that we thought it was. Unfortunately Gus had read the glass price as the bottle price – and no price per bottle was quoted. No wonder the waiter would never let us empty a glass! Lesson learned.

A short walk along the promeade to help the meal settle and then it was time to head back to teh hotel for a good sleep. The serious work would begin tomorrow.


Dakar 2013 – Day 0

It was an early start today as I woke around 3:00 am. After a quick and very welcome coffee from a very attentive wife it was off to the airport at 4am. Our flights were from Johannesburg at 9:30 am and so the first leg was a 5:45 departure to Johannesburg for the connecting flight.

Everyone was very excited as we met at the airport and checked in without a hitch. Security was only a bit more complicated as Neil forgot that a pair of pliers is a security threat even if it is only to repair a KTM!

The flight was uneventful and relatively short made all the more relaxing by the fact that there were a number empty seats allowing us to spread out.


After a meal and a short sleep Gus arrived with a few miniature bottles of wine. We started sharing a few stories and laughs as the hours passed. Before too long we saw the mouth of river Plate and for the first time I caught a glimpse of South America.


Meyer kindly took the initiative by creating T shirts for all of us. Each T shirt carried our flag and the name of each of the riders.
Clearing passport control and customs was a painless operation but collecting luggage proved a challenge. Gus waited until all luggage was cleared from the conveyer but no kit arrived for him. His riding kit had been packed into a golf bag which, due to its size, had to be separately packed and this proved to be too much for SAA. After some negotiation we arranged to get his luggage in Buenos Aires by Friday. We will hold thumbs.

We all drew Argentine Pesos from an airport ATM and then found a taxi large enough to carry 5 riders plus all of the luggage. Next stop was Hotel Olma Dorado and the big City of BA.


Dakar 2013 – Time for farewell

As the departure day draws near both Gus and Meyer have organized farewell drinks. Meyer had his at is home over a small barbecue while Gus invited friends and family to the Rose Bar at the Alphen Hotel.

A small group of family and friends turned up at the Rose Bar to wish us riders well on our journey. It turned out to be a lovely warm summer evening under the oak trees of Alphen and was a good opportunity for socializing before heading off. The bar was a hive of activity with good music playing in the background as the guests took time to share stories and to catch up. While I am sure that we will find equally fine bars in BA or Santiago the language and company won’t be the same. I’m not quite sure what we’ll find along the way though, as we plan to travel through some very small towns and some rural countryside – but that’s all part of the adventure.

Among the guests were Ollie and Herman. Both had completed the previous Cape to Cairo trip. Ollie had hoped to join us in South America but circumstances had prevented that from happening while Herman had only recently returned from his own great adventure covering both North and South America. Herman and his son had started their travels in Anchorage Alaska and ended up immediately experiencing the heaviest summer rainfall that northern Canada had experienced in years with rods being washed away in all directions. They then took a meandering route down to Ushuaia in Argentina (the southern most tip of South America). The 5 month long trip on BMW 800 GS bikes had been a real adventure for them and included Las Vegas, Galapagos and Hawaii. Please see their blog at Steyns Travel for more details.

The evening ended fairly early and we all went home for final packing. The start tomorrow morning will be bright and early with Meyer rallying the troops to be at the import by 4:45 am.