Nevado Tres Cruces and another epic

Corrugations and more corrugations on the road to the isolated park Nevado Tres Cruces. Axel had to drive painfully slow with the Russian and we swopped bikes to alleviate his frustration. We took the whole day to ride a150km and arrived just as the sunset gave the already breathtaking scenery an extra touch. We intended to spend what promised to be a cold night in the Refugio near the laguna Santa Rosa which we still had to find. The maps we had were too rudimentary to be of any use so we hoped to find a sign or something. Over the next hill we were happy to bump into (figuratively I mean) the second car we'd seen that day. The four Portenos (i.e. from Santiago) were also in search of the Refugio and hadn't found it in the other direction so between the six of us we spotted it in the shadow of the mountain near the lake and relieved, turned around to head for it.

We all settled in at the Refugio making sure our nest was layered with as many insulatory items as possible and with minus 15 degrees that night we were luckier than the portenos with our decent sleeping bags. That morning we delayed getting out of our now cosy warm sleeping bags but with the sunshine it turned out to be quite pleasant outside with a fabulous view of the turquoise and cyan waters of the frozen laguna and the snow capped Tres Cruces peaks in the distance. The bit of shopping I did in Copiapo for eggs, tomatoes, salad etc. turned out to be a disastrous idea with everything being frozen rock solid. Contact lenses included, only the naartjies (mandarins) seemed to be immune. So that mornings breakfast was a surprisingly good mix of frozen eggs, frozen tomatoes and frozen peppers fried in solid oil.

We decided to head back to Copiapo as apart from the harsh conditions scaring us off there was also no potable water, the water being rich in salt aswell as arsenic!
We took a nasty sandy road filled with holes, it was impossible to slow down for the bumps for fear of getting stuck in the sand. Not a problem for the Perla Negra but the Russian has a lot of weight and very little shock absorption. Something was bound to go and it did. The Russian died after a particularly mean jolt and refused to start again. There we were at 3800m with 150km to the nearest town where temperatures at night were 15 below zero.

Axel spent a couple of hours trying to diagnose the problem but at around 5 we decided we had to do something. We packed Perla Negra with the basics for overnighting and headed two-up for a small border post 40km down the road. There we explained the situation, just hoping for a patch of ground for our tent that night, but the carabineros (police) were super helpful and friendly. First they decided that on no account were we to leave the Russian out on the plain. Mentioning illegal miners and poachers hunting Guanacos...peligroso peligroso! So, with a confiscated Toyota Hilux (long story) Ceferino the Carabinero and two customs officers, set off to salvage the Russian. It was getting dark by the time they pulled on their serious cold weather overalls, grabbed torches and emptied the fancy Hilux of what looked like mining equipment. I was left behind to nurse a cold and waited patiently for them with the SAG (ministry of agricultures border controls) officer in front of the telenovelas. We kept a watch on the progress of their headlights through the binoculars and about 3 hours later they arrived. The Russian had been towed behind the Hilux and Axels normally black motorbiking gear was a khaki camo from a layer of powdery sand. It had been a harrowing ride for him in the pitch dark with the dust billowing up from the pickup to create zero visibility.

Our bed that night was a luxurious mattress on the floor of the heated police office in the customs building. The next day after breakfast with Ceferino Axel got down to work on the Russian while I chatted to Ceferino about life at high altitude, the origin of the hilux and contraband. Axel discovered the problem after two or three hours: it was the magneto, it was in pieces inside and the whole part needed to be replaced. The next dilemma was how to get the Russian back to civilisation. We were debating our options when lo and behold a tow truck pulled up. They were on their way to pick up a rental car that some french people had rolled (none seriously injured) further up the road and it might just have room for us behind it. Bad luck for them but lucky for us.

The 150km back to Tierra Amarilla were quite different to the road in: I was up front in the cab chatting with the driver, listening to music and sipping coca-cola while Axel on the BMW savoured gunning it through sand and rough roads without having to cringe at each jolt.

Tierra Amarilla

Tierra Amarilla is surrounded by ochre coloured hills and open cast mines, it is warm by day but cold at night. Life here is dictated by mining: residencials cater for the workers, as do bars, most pickups mount red flags on long antennae and the town shield is a miners helmut, a pick and hammer.

A kingdom for a magneto, an english book or another motorbike

Axel was feeling really down when we found out how much the magneto would cost, again considering getting rid of the Russian. I did my best to convince him out of that idea but I think she is on her last chance, one more expensive breakdown and I can't guarantee she won't be put on a ship back to europe, or worse driven straight into the sea. Perhaps the sidecar was not the ideal choice for this trip?

We were looking at USD500 for the magneto and another USD120 for the 'express' delivery with Fedex. If you followed the new 'diary' page you will know that 'express' is an unsuitable word for the Fedex service. An agonising 3 week wait for the part which was supposed to take 4 to 5 days. The most frustrating being the endless phone calls speaking to the clueless but nevertheless 'tomorrow-it-should-arrive' people. We would have been better off with the 2 to 3 week normal postal delivery.

When not plagueing Fedex Chile we spent our days repairing, cleaning, reading and learning spanish. There was no cinema or nightlife so Axels source of english books soon dried out and he started pestering me to 'entertain him'. The entertainment highlight of our stay was when Axel mounted a makeshift antennae onto the TV so that we had three channels instead of just one. I on the other hand had plenty to do - I now have enough of a collection of handmade bracelets and necklaces to start my own fleamarket stand. I also indulged in the odd chat with Diva in my attempts to improve my understanding of this weird spanish the chileans speak here. Si po!