From Copiapo, the next day saw La Serena, another coastal town about half way to Valparaiso and the following day, Valparaiso itself.
The hostels and hotels have been much more expensive than in Peru, and as mentioned before, they book up very quickly. There isn’t much infrastructure or towns in north Chile, so possibly travelers keep them booked up daily.
I managed to find a homestay in Valparaiso for about $20 a night, and it sat high on the hillside overlooking the town below and the port.
Valparaiso is known for its colorful street art and graffiti, so I roamed the town for a day after the sunshine appeared and shot a few pictures. Much of the art is in alleyways and “escaleras” or stairways down the steep hillsides to streets below. The art is free, however the price you pay for much of it is the smell of urine, piles of dog poop and broken bottles, as the stairways are a hangout for drunks and homeless types.
Still there is much to see and it adds a lot to some of the areas. The houses in the town are colorful and the architecture is a mix of German and English, belying the heritage of Chile. As one rides through the desert areas, there are signs and even ruins of military outposts from Germany and Britain.
Might this be the last Chevette in the world?
The older neighborhoods are a bit more polished, quaint and upscale, with many hostels advertising their eco-friendliness on the signs. Tourists and backpacking girls roam the streets, with the accompanying top-knotted, dreadlock wearing beardy-men in eco-friendly sarongs or whatever seems the edgiest. Valparaiso has some grittiness to it, but it's a nice town.
The highlight of my time there was being invited to the family dinner, a rare thing I was told by the hostess. She said they could tell I was “friendly” and wanted to discuss the U.S., my trip and spend time with them. The fools. When I came down for dinner, there was some great blues music playing and I was right at home. The hostess’ brother and his son were both huge blues fans and we had a lot fun talking about the greats. The Chilean wine was superb and the Italian meal was delicious. Our conversations were wide-ranging and entertaining, with of course the real topic being Donald Trump. Chile seems so isolated to me, sort of like an Australia, being so far south and tucked between an ocean and the Andes, that I wondered what they thought of the President. It was different than expected, them saying it seemed like the news made him out as a buffoon but they could see he was trying to help the US financially. I was not expecting an answer like that, but again reminded myself that they are not as emotionally involved as the countries closer to North America.
I’d contacted a few places in Santiago about my damaged wheel and was pleasantly surprised to get a couple of responses back the same day. MotoAventura emailed me quickly and said they could have the rim professionally straightened, trued, and put on a new Heidenau in 48 hours if I got the bike to the shop Monday morning. I responded I'd be there when they opened. About that time, Jules and Christine texted me they had arrived in Valparaiso and Jules’ F800 had died in the hostel parking lot, battery dead as lead. They spent the day trying to locate someone who could test the battery and charge it, suspecting a failed alternator.
The diagnosis from a local shop was a failed battery, despite the BMW one being only a month old, so they sourced another one that would work and planned to head for Santiago the next day.
I enjoyed my short time in Valparaiso and rode with them the next day, removing Jules’ headlight bulb to stop some of the battery drain in case the alternator had actually died. From Valparaiso, more greenery had begun to appear - a few trees and grass, things I hadn’t seen for a week in the desert. Getting closer to Santiago, the landscape reminded me of west Texas and the Hill Country region - brown grass and rolling hills dotted with green trees. Vineyards began to appear along the highway and there was no doubt a different region had appeared.
We split in Santiago, as my hotel lay far to the east in an expensive neighborhood, a ten minute walk from Motoaventura. Since I had no idea of the scale of Santiago, I didn’t want to get a hostel in a different area because I knew cab rides would be very long and very expensive. The other hotels anywhere near the area were over an hour walk away from the shop so I said “F” it and decided to stay nearby. It turned out best, as I found out that a cab ride from downtown Santiago took over an hour and I was glad I didn’t have to deal with it.
MotoAventura was in a pricey neighborhood, filled with BMW, Mercedes and similar dealerships. I’d bitten the bullet for a costly hotel to minimize the BS while waiting for the bike, but was reminded why I never do. Parking the bike near the front door, the doorman seemed reticent to let me in. Yes, I was in my motorcycle gear but still felt a bit of disdain, and then the security muscle stared at me, walking a couple of steps behind as I went to the front desk. Muscle man stood watching while the reception guy ignored me. I was the only one there and I stood for a few minutes in case he was busy with paperwork. I moved closer and he continued to ignore me. I finally stepped right to him and I could see his arrogance as if I were a leper, simply because I was in motorcycle gear and fresh off the road. He was bothered I had a reservation and could barely be civil.
I took full advantage of the nice room, excited to see the 10’ ceilings, as it allowed me to jump up and down on the bed freely without knocking myself out cold. I had to admit it felt good to be in a nice room after some the places I’ve been and some of the places I’ve actually PAID to stay in.
That evening, I got an email from another repair shop, IMR Motos, that he had a spare R1200GS rim he could sell me and he could pick up a Heidenau from Motoaventura to mount. I’d agreed to MotoAventura and made my hotel choice based on that, since they said they could repair the rim for about 1/4 the cost of the used rim. I was waiting at the shop when it opened and was disappointed to hear they could not repair the rim after all, their supplier’s machine having broken down over the weekend and wouldn’t be repaired for a full week.
My other option was the used rim and I damn sure didn’t want to sit in yet another expensive city waiting a week or more. I’d also seriously considered getting the rim hammered into some form of improvement and running a tube in the tire to assure no blowout, then just putting up with the wobble since much of the south would be on dirt.
Having ridden the wheel and tire for a few days, and felt the strong wobble and then seeing how badly the tire was wearing, I really didn’t feel like riding the rest of my South America trip wearing out tires and worrying with poor handling.
I sat down and calculated the cost of waiting in a hotel for a week, then getting the rim repaired, even then not knowing if it truly could be. That alone would cost more than the used wheel. Worse, another week or more would be lost in trying to beat the bad weather in Ushuaia. Aside from the fact that even more delays would steal time on the way south.
When I looked at the costs, lost time, wearing out new $250 tires quickly and the negative handling, the used wheel made absolute sense and actually was cheaper due to saving time. It turns out the owner of MotoAventura was making a run to Ignacio’s IMR Motors that very afternoon, taking the old wheel and money to him and returning with the new one. It worked out perfectly and was ready the next morning. Almost. I found many loose spokes on the new wheel and spent a while tightening them before checking out of the hotel and tentatively heading south. I’d sent Ignacio’s name to Christine and Jules, who had him work on Jules’ bike the same day. He’d pulled the alternator and sent it out to be rebuilt, then got the bike running again in one day.
I was definitely ready to get on the road for Concepcion further south, and I hit the highway with a knot in my stomach. It seems like each time I get moving, some issue lies ahead and I’ll admit to feeling gun shy now, but the sky was blue and the sun was out!
It took almost an hour to get out of Santiago proper, but the weather was great and the terrain was changing. Distant arid mountains stood in the haze, but near the highway green trees, brown grass and vineyards lined the road. It felt good to see green again. The region reminded me even more of the Fredericksburg, Texas area than the days before.
Toll booth frequency increased, as did the amount of the tolls. It seemed every 30 miles there was a stop for a couple of bucks US but in soles of course. Somewhere Christine and Jules were on the road, having been delayed by a problem with their phone and GPS app. I expected to catch up to them but after a couple of hours I knew they were behind me.