It was a short ride from Puno to Kasani to cross from Peru into Bolivia. The crossing was straight forward, and took about 45 minutes to process the bike and us through.
After the border we rode the 8 km to the resort town of Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. The town is a vibrant tourist resort with many young foreign tourists roaming the shops and cafes. Temperatures were cold and as evening closed in so did a storm, making for some beautiful views.
The following morning we took a ferry off the Peninsula of Copacabana to San Peblo du Tiquina. The ferry was pretty basic with several holes in the deck and powered by a 50 hp outboard motor.
After our break temperatures dropped with periods of rain. We layered up with electric vests and water proof shells. Luckily it was a scenic ride and the rain did not persist.
The main road into La Paz from the north was in surprisingly poor condition, made worse by a heavy rain just before we rode it. There were many potholes, lots of muddy water and chaotic traffic.
After getting lost a couple of times following the GPS, we finally got a glimpse of the main area of the city nestled in a bowl. It was quite a steep ride down a series of switchbacks to the main downtown, which was quite modern.
On January 1, we left La Paz and started riding towards the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni), a three day journey. En route, in Oruro, we encountered our first hassles finding gas. There are special gas stations that can sell gas to foreigners, and there is no premium gas in Bolivia. (The KTM has a low octane fuel option which allows the bike to run well with regular gas) The first station we stopped at had a line up of vehicles and after waiting in line for about ten minutes, when it became our turn we were told we could not buy gas and were directed to a station several kms away. Same situation there. After criss-crossing the city several times we finally found one that would sell to us. It had taken us an hour and a half!
On the third day, from Potosi to Salar, the ride was very scenic and we were starting to see a landscape of dry valleys and mountains and the odd volcano in the distance. Late in the afternoon, as we crested a hill, the Salar, came into view.
One of the sights in Uyuni is a graveyard of old steam locomotives, which we went and had a look at. The ever present signs advertising the upcoming 2015 Dakar off road race were starting to appear. We started riding north to our hotel, and ran into very loose gravel and sand making the ride virtually impossible two up. Marian and Tracy got into a taxi and Tom and I rode the 23 kms without difficulty. Our hotel was right on the Salar and was made of blocks of salt. Outside offered an amazing view and we sat and enjoyed the amazing sunset.
The next day we rode onto the Salar. You can ride for many kilometres but because we had been unable to get gas in the small village nearby, we were limited in range. We had been warned that the salt gets everywhere on the bike and it has to be washed off thoroughly. We rode for a couple of hours and returned to the hotel before a cloudburst. Tom and I then spent an hour washing the bikes off with pails of water; a high pressure washer would have been easier and more effective.
The following day was a long one, all on dirt roads. We ran into an intense storm a few kilometres before the border crossing into Chile at Ollague. It was very windy and little did we know that the slight coating of road mud we were riding through would prove to be a problem later on. The crossing was in the middle of nowhere but surrounded by beautiful peaks, volcanos and salt flats.
Early scenes in Chile as we make our way to Iquique
After many kilometres of dirt road in Chile, and spectacular scenery, we stopped for a breather and to our horror it was noticed that both front brake calipers on our bike were covered in fluid. It turned out that the mud film we had been riding on had hardened like concrete on the lower fork legs and when compressed over some major bumps the hard material had destroyed both fork seals. The next morning at the hotel in Calama, Lindsay tried to clean and fix the seals but to no avail. They would have to be replaced at the next KTM dealer in La Serena, several hundred kilometres away.
Meanwhile, the same mud had had an effect on Tom and Tracy’s bike as well. A vibration had developed in the rear wheel indicating wheel bearing problems. The following day Lindsay and Tom took both bikes to a repair shop. After a thorough steam cleaning, Tom’s bike was vibration free. The mechanic said the wheel bearing was ok. It took one hour of intense pressure cleaning to get our bike mud free and most importantly the cement like material off the forks. The shop was unable to repair the seals.
We set off for Iquique on the coast where we were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the 2015 Dakar off road race machines. The ride was uneventful as the road was very straight and monotonous, until we rode over the coastal dunes and the city appeared, hugging a narrow strip of land between the dunes and ocean. It reminded us of some the coastal cities we had seen in Mexico.
The next four days were spent enjoying waiting and watching the arrival of the Dakar bikes, cars and trucks. Watching competitors crossing the finishing line of stage 6 after they had just navigated through 688 kms of mainly rugged desert tracks was amazing! On the way back to our hotel Lindsay noticed Robbie Gordon’s race car and transporter at a garage next door. We were able to drop in to shake his hand and take some photos. On Monday we were once again watching as the trucks came over the 400 metre high dunes to race to the finish line!
We set off for Antofagasta on the coast after having watched the first trucks and cars make it to the finish line. It was great to be riding beside the ocean again, but disaster was about to strike. Marian and I stopped at a police checkpoint when a guy in a car came over and told us in broken English that our friends had problems. We rode back along the highway and sure enough Tom and Tracy were stopped beside the road with the police. It turned out that the bike’s rear wheel bearing had not been ok and had seized while they were riding at 90 kph, luckily on a straight. There was a 30 metre black rubber strip on the road and Tom had managed to keep the bike upright. The two policemen had been very helpful, already having arranged a truck to transport the bike to Anotfagasta, 280 kms away. We rode on ahead with Tom and Tracy arriving at the hotel later that evening.
The following morning Tom located the BMW Dealer and we loaded the bike with seized rear wheel, onto a flat deck. It appeared that fixing the bike could take up to two weeks, and as we had an appointment for our bike’s 30K service and fork seal replacement in La Serena, Marian and I rode south and we agreed to meet up with Tom and Tracy somewhere in Southern Chile or Argentina.
The ride along the coast was uneventful, scenery and ocean in shades of grey as we rode through the Atacama desert. We stayed in a funky hotel in La Serena and the bike service and front fork seal replacement went according to plan.
North of Santiago we headed inland as we wanted to cross the border near Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Andes and outside of the Himalayas at 6,961 m (22,837′). It turned out to be a beautiful, relaxing ride through wine country and we stayed at a converted old monastery, Vina Monasterio, in Los Andes en route.
From here we made our way to Argentina, our final destination in South America (already posted). Next Australia.