Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: 19 Apr 1997 
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 970419.rpt

Thursday April 17  73164  (at Puerto Montt)

Alex and I leave the cabin in El Amarillo at 12:45AM and get to Chaiten at
about 1:15AM.  The ferry is nowhere in sight either at the dock, or anywhere
on the water to the west.  We begin to wonder if we were given bad
information regarding its departure from Quellon at 8PM.  However about an
hour later a dim green light appears on the western horizon, and slowly grows
larger, and at 3AM the ferry finally pulls into the dock and a half hour
later, after the passengers and several vehicles disembark, we ride aboard.

That was where the friendship between Alex and I became strained and led to
our parting company under less than ideal circumstances.  When we pulled onto
the ferry a crewmember asked for our tickets.  We hadn't bought them that
afternoon, and at night the office in town was closed.  We planned to buy
them on the boat, which was possible, with the only risk being that the boat
was full, but at this time of year even that possibility was extremely
remote.  I replied that we didn't have any tickets, and that we needed to buy
them, To this the crewmember, in a very rude, abrupt manner and tone of
voice, demanded our passports, evidently as collateral to ensure we didn't
try to get off the boat without paying.  At the same time Alex yelled at me
that he would handle the situation, and then began arguing with the
crewmwmber about the situation, saying he'd give him his passport when he was
ready to, and if he didn't like it he'd go to the captain or owner of the
ship.  At the same time, to me in English, he was calling these crewmembers
various obscenities.  I have no idea whether they understood them on not, but
given the preponderance of American movies in English with Spanish subtitles,
I wouldn't be surprised if they did.  But whether they did or not, in my view
the situation didn't require that type of verbal response or escalaltion.  In
Alex's way of dealing with things it did.

While I didn't like the tone of the crewmembers request for my passport, it
wasn't worth the energy to escalate the situation or to make a point.  I
simply acknowledged I had heard his request and would give him my passport in
a bit, but first I proceeded with the task of parking the bike and getting it
tied down securely on the deck.  That involved interactions with several
other crewmembers about where to fasten the ropes to the bike and how to tie
it down to the deck, but it was quickly accomplished to the satisfaction of
all.  Meanwhile Alex was still jawing with the original crewmwmber, in
addition to those trying to tie his bike down, which he now viewed as highly
incompetant, and let them know it as well as telling me what he thought of
them and their seafaring skills.  By now Alex's boisterous manner had
attracted the attention of other crewmwmbers and passengers boarding who had
to walk by  our bikes to enter the passenger cabin. 

It was clearly what I consider to be the "Ugly-American" syndrome, and I was
being painted by it as well, by virtue of our having ridden our motorcycles
onto the ferry together.  All the same I simply avoided the confrontation
Alex seemed to relish, and got my bike tied down in a quarter of the time it
took Alex to get his taken care of, and when my bike was tied down, then I
handed the original crewmember my passport.  Alex was still jawing and

I would have let the situation drop right there but Alex basically said I was
being a pushover for not confronting the original crewmember who had demanded
our passports.  Up until then I had basically ignored Alex and his ongoing
confrontations with the crewmwmbers.  However I took exception to being
called a pushover, and pointed out that I hadn't got here in 8 months travel
by being a pushover, but that certain situations weren't worth escalating
simply to make some point, and that this was one of those cases in my
opinion.  I then pointed out that I had got my situation resolved in a
quarter of the time it was taking him, and he was still jawing with the
crewmembers and fuming at them under his breath.

He then said something to the effect that under no circumstance was someone
going to talk to him like that, especially when he was paying that guys
salary, and he made X times what that guy did.  I replied that what he or the
crewmember made had no relevance to the situation, and that I thought such a
comment was snobbish at best and bigotted at worst.  I probably shouldn't
have said it, but it was fueled by several comments he had made over the last
day regarding blacks and Chilenos, which I also regarded as being
prejudicial, but had chosen to ignore at the time.  At any rate, now Alex and
I had a heated "argument" about our two approaches to dealing with the
situation, my "passive" approach as Allex put it, and his "confrontational"
approach as I put it.  

In the end, neither of would budge from our positions, and as Alex was still
futzing with his bike's tiedowns, I climbed the stairs from the vehicle deck
and found an empty chair in the passenger lounge and went to sleep.  The
chairs were like airline chairs and reclined a bit and you could raise the
arms between them and stretch out.  The boat finally left the dock at about
4:30AM and I got about 5 and a half hours of good sleep before waking up at
around 10AM.  The ship's office was right by my chair and I paid the US$45
ticket price for me and the bike and reclaimed my passport.  

At 1:30 the ferry pulls into Puerto Montt.  Down at the bikes, the
crewmembers had already undone the tiedowns and Alex was suited up and ready
to go.  We hadn't said a word to each other since leaving Chaiten.  I walked
over and wished him luck on the rest of his journey, but said I was going to
be continuing on north.  He was taking another ferry over to the island of
Chiloe and then riding south to Quellon to visit Mitchel.  I had been invited
to accompany him, and had considered it, but was leaning against it even
before our spat in Chaiten.  So we said goodbye and parted company on a
strained note.  It really was too bad we had to part on those terms, since we
had a lot more things in common than our differences, and had had a great
time up until our falling out.  We both loved bikes and the freedom that
travelling offered.  We both loved tinkering, building, and fixing things. 
And we both loved the outdoors, and Alex had done his part to reignite in
me, to some degree, my enjoyment of fishing.  Alex, if you ever read this,
[he has an AOL account and knows the Web address of my reports] I still would
like a copy of the fish photos.

I was in the mood for covering some ground, and after gassing up, headed
north up the Pan American and made it to Victoria, where I stopped for the
night and got a room at the Hospedaje Los Pinos for p3000.  I knew there were
a lot of beautiful areas around Puerto Montt and north, but my inner clock
said it was time to move on.  It was now almost 2 months since I had entered
Chile for the first time, and when I passed the turnoff to Villarrica during
the afternoon, it was 6 weeks since I had turned off the Pan-American at that
point on my way south.  I had completed my loop through the lake districts
and Patagonia of Argentina and Chile.

Friday April 18 73423

It was heavily fogged in in the morning, so after breakfast I waiting until
it burned off around 11:30AM before leaving.  It was a nice, warm sunny day,
and I packed the Aerostich fleece jacket away.  I gassed up there in Victoria
before continuing my blast north on the Pan American, Chile Route 5.  

I was due for an oil change and valve adjustment, so a bit later, after
having given the motor and the oil on the outside time to warm up, I stopped
at an Esso station in Los Angeles and had the bike washed for P1500.  I was
careful to show him where not to direct the high-pressure spray.  I think the
last time I washed it was 1 day north of Lima, Peru, and it had 6 weeks of
Patagonian dirt on it. For the most part, I was going to be on pavement for a
while, and a clean bike would let me get a handle on the right-side base
gasket leak, though I wasn't too worried about that, since I hadn't yet had
to add any oil since the last oil change.  The dirt always makes it look
worse than it is.  What I was worried about was the right-side exhaust valve
and this upcoming adjustment would determine my course of action regarding
it.  Santiago was a days ride north and it had both an authorized BMW bike
dealer and the smaller shop where I had stopped on my way south.  I fully
expect I'll have to have something done in Santiago.  If not there, then in
Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Not atypically after washing it, the bike started with a bit difficulty, but
after a minute was running fine.  30 miles down the road the ignition cut out
for  several seconds, but then resumed.  Several more times over the next 10
miles the same thing happened.  One time just after passing a big-rig which
was a bit disconcerting.  It was a sure indication that some water had got
into the ignition electrical system at some place and was preventing the
plugs from firing.   I only hoped it would dry out before it disabled the
ignition completely.  Then it cut out and didn't catch again and I coasted to
a stop on the road shoulder.  That will teach me to wash my bike.  Who says a
clean bike is a happy bike anyways? 

I tried starting it again and it started but after 15 seconds would cut out. 
This happened a couple times before it started and seemed to run OK, so I
took off down the road and made it several miles before it cut out completely
again and I again coasted to a stop on the road shoulder. This time, like
last, it would start and run for 15-20 seconds, but then cut out.   This time
it wouldn't run continuously, so I decided to pull the tank and clean all the
electrical connectors underneath.  I knew they'd be dirty after 8 months of
riding, and that combined with a bit of water somewhere in the low voltage
part of the ignition circuit was enough to cause a problem.  For good measure
I also removed the plugs and started the bike with the plugs geounded against
the engine case.  My hypothesis from New Mexico, the last time I had a
similar ignition problem, was that doing so presented a higher resistance for
the spark, and resulted in more current and helped "vaporize" any water in
sensitive areas of the circuit.  I don't know if that makes 100% theoretical
sense, but it seems to agree with empirical results, since after doing so
there are always sparks and the bike always runs fine for some time
afterwards.  That was the case this time, and after replacing the tank, I
rode more than 15 miles without so much as a hiccup.  Then it missed a couple
of times again, before cutting out completely again.

I had put all the tools away last time, so dug the plug wrench out and this
time just pulled the plugs and started the bike with them grounded against
the engine cases.  As before that solved the problem and the bike ran
perfectly.  This time I put the plug wrench in my pocket which would help
guarantee that the problem would not reoccur.

And it didn't.  I rode on to Chillan, where I detoured into town in hopes of
finding an Entel phone office where I wanted to try to send email.  As luck
would have it, I passed the office on the main street into town.  The young
woman working there was at least not adverse to me hooking up my computer to
the telephone line and though she was not completely clear on the concept of
me using Sprint to make the call, between my explanations and the help of the
Entel operator, we were able to explain how it worked and I made the call. 
However, once again, I was unable to make a successful connection with the
modem on the other end.  This time I never even succeeded in making a
connection.  I'd get the modem squeal, but I'd never get the CONNECT message.
 I tried 3 times before giving up.  I'm beginning to wonder if the miles and
miles of washboard road have finally taken their toll on my modem.  If I go
through Santiago, I'll try at the Entel office there, where I know it worked

Before leaving the Entel office I tried calling Claudio, in Talca, 80 miles
to the north, where I hoped to spend the night and do some maintenance
tomorrow.  He was the biker with the XR250 I met in Villa Castillo.  But
there was no answer, so I'd have to try later. I thanked Andrea, the woman
working there for her help and left.  When I first arrived she had said there
was a flat 100 peso fee to use the equipment, but in the end she waived it
and said there was no charge.

Halfway between Chillan and Talca, at the town of Parral, I stopped to again
try to call Claudio.  It was getting dark, and I'd either press on to Talca
or stop here for the night, depending on the outcome of the phone call.  I
got through to his roommate (I guess) and after he readjusted himself to
speaking with a linguistically-challenged Gringo, we were able to
communicate.  Claudio was away until tomorrow afternoon, and he said to stop
by then.  Claudio had mentioned me to him though since he recognized me as
the Norte Americano with the moto.  

Parral had several residencials and a campsite and I decided to try to find
the campsite.  A half mile down the road the ignition cut out completely.  It
was by now dark, and alongside the road, I pulled the plugs and started the
bike with them grounded against the engine cases, for the 3rd time that day.
Again it fixed the problem and I made it into town with no problem. However,
it had drained my enthusiasm for camping, and instead I got a room at the
Residencial do Brasil for P4000.  I was the only one staying there, though
they also had short-term rental rooms, complete with satin sheets and
bedspreads and TVs. When I first arrived these were vacant, but after a
shower when I went out for dinner several of these were occupied.  An hour
and a half later when I returned from dinner they were again vacant.  I could
only fantasize.

Saturday April 19       73598

Happy Birthday Dad!  Though you probably won't read this for who knows how
long.  Especially with my recent luck in sending email.

Before leaving Parral I had breakfast and bought some Castrol 20W/50 oil
which I hoped to change today.  Also, after washing the bike yesterday, I
realized the air filter could probably be cleaned pretty easily with the
pressure steam cleaner they have at most service stations.  I've been putting
that off, since it's a messy job otherwise.

South of Talca I stoped at an Esso station where I changed the oil, and used
their steam pressure sprayer to clean my air filter, then reoiled it with the
last of the air filter oil I had brought with me.  There was no charge.

All I needed to do in the morning, when the engine was cold, was to adjust
the valves and assess my exhaust valve seat problem.  Since I had got the
other maintenance tasks done on the road, I decided not to stop at Claudios
in Talca, but kept on riding north to Curico.  I stopped at a gas station
there for a late afternoon snack, and while there met two Canadian women. 
Their husbands were mining engineers working here in Chile, and they lived in
Santiago.  We talked for a while and when they left they gave me their phone
numbers in Santiago and said if I needed anything when I passed through to
give them a call.  

I had stayed in Curico on my way south and I returned to the Hotel Pratt
where I got a room.  Inflation had struck and it was 500 pesos more than when
I stayed here in early March.