I talked to my friend Ryan via Skype the other day and he asked me a good question. 'So you're in Chile right, I mean you've pretty much made it all the way.' It's a good point, something that I haven't been able to really wrap my head around for the last month. All that time in Central America and even down through Peru almost seems like a different life now. I've been living in the moment for so long that it's hard to look back and take in how far I've come. Or to look forward and figure out what's next. At least for the next two weeks it's pretty simple: vacation with Mom.
Charlie and I are back on our own. We arrived in Santaigo last night with a great sense of relief. The plan was to meet Allerick and Jina for a farewell dinner, but facebook failed us and they are probably touching down in LA at this moment to continue their trip. Eddie and Lizzie went south and I'll probably catch up in Buenos Aires in late November. It was great fun traveling as a gang of six, but the tandem team has its advantages too. Charlie and I have a lot of motorcycle specific needs when it comes to travel and accomadation. And spending the last two weeks with two sets of lovers was starting to feel like a lesson in couples therapy. Charlie and I were the lovable bad boys constantly distracting the doting Allerick and Eddie. Great fun.
The six of us spent the last three nights in Pichilemu, a small coastal surf town south of Valparaiso. We rented a cabin on the beach for $100/night and drank and ate way too much the entire time. There are rolling waves coming into the Pichilemu bay and a constant strong wind. Pro-quality windsurfers were out every day riding up and down the waves, surfing harder than I've ever imagined. All the windusrfing I've done has been on flatter water or rocky chop. Never long rolling waves that you can work up and down as they come in. It looked amazing. Knowing there's a reef right under the surface, though, I decided to hold out until I find conditions better suited for me. Buenos Aires is rumored to be amazing. I've waited a long time for wind, a little longer won't hurt.
Pichilemu was a blast. There wasn't much to do, but that allowed us to unwind without the stress of wasting days. We've been on the run for a long time now trying to find a place we really liked. Argentina was awesome, but so much so that I couldn't relax; I tried to get too much out of every day. There was a false hurry built up and finally after Pichilemu it's gone. I'm back on vacation, wandering around however I please.
Santiago is the best big city I've seen since San Francisco on this trip. It's expansive, green, spacious, and modern. On the way in there were no slums. There are no bums. No garbage. It rivals most American cities as far as I'm concerned. Pedestrians have plenty of space and comfort walking along the avenues, with no holes or jagged rebar as obstacles. There's a subway connecting all ends of the city. In the next three days Sonic Youth, Stone Temple Pilots, Primus, Pepper, Damion Marley, and even Pearl Jam are playing. Charlie and I have been chasing Pearl Jam all over this continent. First we missed them in Lima, then they were just out of reach in Buenos Aires last week, and now we have a chance here in Santiago. If I can find tickets I'm going. A legendary Seattle band 20,000 miles from home would be a fun divergence for a night.
Chile in general has been better than expected. I always had my mind set on Argentina as a place to live for a while, but Chile's on my radar now as well. I don't know that I'm ready to work here yet, but I see myself returning to this part of the continent for another extended trip sometime in the future after I've gone home, recharged, and restocked my bank account. So far there are three places in the world that I know of that have ample skiing and winsurfing both within an hour's drive: Hood River, New Zealand, and Chile. My options are limited.
My mom arrives on Tuesday and from then on I will be like everybody else riding busses. The plan is to spend two nights in Santiago (hopefully see Pearl Jam) and then head east for Buenos Aires via Mendoza and whatever else fits in. She flies out of Santiago as well so it will be a round trip. Charlie's brother and friend are flying in on Tuesday as well. Those two will be here for a month. They plan to hire a 4X4 and hit Patagonia. Given the wind and weather down there, I might catch up with them and hop in the cab for that section. It was nice seeing the unforgiving Atacama from the Land Cruiser. Patagonia from a Toyota Hilux might also be the way to do it.
Aside from the still blown suspension the bike is running well. Up until yesterday I was very concerned about my engine. It was bogging down and dying when I held it at low throttle. When I cracked it wide open it roared and held the RPM just fine. The freeway was fine, but around town had me stalling out. I got my hands dirty in Pichimelu and ended up cleaning my two airfilters. That didn't help. Then I pulled the carb out, disassembled it, and soaked all the components in gasoline to clean them out. It was dirty in there. Probably because some mechanic back in Peru or Colombia removed a piece of stripping around my air fliter and essentially broke the seal (I realized that on Thursday). That's going to haunt me as long as I ride this bike. Cleaning the carb still didn't do anything so I called out to the ADV community on Alex's blog. The responses poured in and the next day I figured it out. Back in Bolivia I had turned my idle screw as tight as it would go so the bike would start up in the cold mornings at altitude. When I came back to sea level and opened up the fuel mixture screw, I started flooding my carb every time it idled. And that's why it was bogging out off the line. I turned it the idle screw back down and it runs like new. I feel stupid for that one, but on the bright side my carb is way cleaner than it was.
I've come to the conclusion that I'm not done riding once my mom leaves (a lot has changed since Peru). When my grandma Bitsey passed away this year she left me a generous four-figure inheritance. It's allowed me to live a little more lavishly in South America and now gives me innumerable options on how to finish out. Within the next six weeks I will have spent all the money I left with. That's an average of just under $2,000/month including every expense incurred since I left Lake Stevens. There's a figure for all the backpackers who ask me how much money traveling on bike saves me.
I don't want to go much longer, but I'd like to finish strong on a functioning suspension at sea level. A two or three week trip down into Northern Patagonia would be perfect. Unfortunately that has me heading home right when all the flight prices spike for Christmas. That being the case, I wouldn't be able to ship out until early January. Charlie's in the same mindset and together we're plotting these next couple months. Brazil is on the table to kill time. We've also considered shipping to Houston and riding home from there... except it's January and most of the states I want to see are covered in snow and ice. We'll see; I could still come home as early as mid-December. But the enchanting mystery of the trip is back, and it's about time.