It's been a busy week since Bariloche. Andrew and Charlie and I left Argentina and drove to Pucon, Chile last Friday. It was a tame ride with occasional dirt and plenty of ash. At one point we drove 20 miles off-course to go see the spewing volcano. As we should have expected, though, all we could see was ash in every direction. We were definitely close. The border crossing was simple and 30 miles beyond that was Pucon.
Pucon is a very nice ski town tucked in the foothills at the base of Mt. Villarica, yet another smoldering volcano down here. We spent three nights in a posh cabin just off the main street. For the first time since Mazatlan I had my own room. With Andrew's trip near the end we were all in the mood to hang low and relax. We did take a drive up a 4x4 track on Saturday, but were forced to turn around when we came to a bridge haphazardly made out of four logs. No need to push our luck in a rental car. Pucon is another place I'd love to come back to. It's a bit ritzy, but small enough to feel inviting. A ski hill on a volcano is a new one for me as well.
Monday we made the final 800k push up to Santiago and parked up at the usual hostel for the night. That evening we cleaned out the Hilux and dropped it back off at the rental dealer. They weren't happy to see that the truck had 9,000 new kilometers on it over the past month. Or that we hadn't cleaned the exterior. But as we all agreed, for the amount they charged for the rental, those are all their problems. The inspector signed off on its condition and with that we went back to the hostel for a few beers. It was quite a relief to get rid of that responsibility.
Tuesday morning Charlie and I had plans to go back to Valparaiso. There is a shipping agent there and we needed details on what it will take to eventually get these bikes home. There's always been the option of selling to another traveler down here, but the coordination involved has never appealed to me. The whole point of this trip was to plan nothing and work around nobody. Plus, more than anything, I like the bike and I can afford to send it home. Fifty years from now it might be a cool antique to have sitting in the garage, a time capsule of memories. When we went to leave in the morning our hostel reception had disappointing news. The only garage key was with the owner across town during rush hour. We waited two hours for the key to show up; long enough to develop quite a short temper.
Valparaiso is only an hour and a half from Santiago. Charlie and I hit the freeway at 11:00am, both of us feeling very exposed on the bikes after a month off of them. We rode timidly, still making good time. My bike was cruising real smooth down the freeway although backfiring once in a while when I let off the throttle. Thirty miles from Valparaiso the engine cut out as I was gearing down to stop for a toll booth. It seemed like it was flooded and after a few minutes poking around with the carb and the choke I had it running again. I was a little aggravated considering the amount of money I just poured into the bike.
Ten miles after that I was cruising at 75mph and the engine again cut out the second I rolled off the throttle after passing a truck. I coasted to the shoulder and pulled out my tool set. I went through every part of the engine which I understand and didn't find any problems. So with nothing better to do I took the seat and tank off and changed the spark plugs. The whole operation took a half hour and with the new plugs in the engine turned right over as if nothing had ever gone wrong. I was going to be very disappointed with myself if spark plugs had been the underlying issue for my last few weeks of developing engine issues.
As it turned out spark plugs weren't the case either. One mile further down the freeway I was back on the shoulder. I think I scared some nearby Chileans with the amount of profanity that spilled out my mouth when I first dismounted. I never got the bike back running. Charlie and I were both out of ideas so we walked it to the tire shack down the street and found a guy with a truck to take it the last fifteen miles into town.
So that's where we're at now. Back in Valparaiso a month later and not much has changed. We're staying at the hostel that specializes in motorcycle shipping and arranging transport early in the next month. In the meantime I've got plenty of motorcyclists coming through every day to help me get the bike running again. I think I'll start with the carb and work my way towards the fuel tank. First I need to charge my battery; it's barely there after begging the electric starter to get it chugging so many times.