Saturday, January 14, 2006


Hotel Andalue, Viña del Mar, Chile 3:00 a.m.

So, this is what I packed up to send home: 10 CDs (full of photos), glove liners, jumper cables, dish towel; receipts, brochures and maps; various coins, nylon rope (I still kept a coil of heavier gauge case I need to hang myself), mirror, extra CO2 cartridges (for tire repair), domestic credit cards (why did I bring those?), checks (and those!), tie-down straps (have too many), tent clothes line (useless), "U Dig It" trowel (I'll use my hands), manual tire pump (I'm keeping the electric one), "Backpaxe" (used once in Alaska - by other campers!), small compression sack, gear shift lever (I'm not going to fall anymore), tank bag fanny pack, souvenirs (tiny ones), travel wallet (who needs extra wallets?), "Thermarest" pillow cover (useless), mesh bag, portable radio (used once in Banff, I think), tape measure, phone cord (for computer - what I need is an ethernet cord, not a phone cord), pen refills (since the pen is with someone else now) and magnifying glass (I'll squint).

It's not just the weight reduction that will be a relief, but also the fact I won't have to sift through all these things when looking for something in my bags.

Checked out at noon, piling my baggage into the manager’s office, since there seemed no other storage space at the hotel. Walked to "Botto" for lunch, this time ordering a lighter, turkey sandwich.

At 1:00, the bike was not ready. Marcello could not provide any information, since the mechanics were all at lunch. I was waiting with another gentleman who was clearly disgruntled. It turns out he speaks English, and related that they were supposed to finish his car in a week. That was five weeks ago. He said they have no parts in stock, and then they order parts one at a time, as they "discover" the need.

I asked about the location of a post office. After consulting several people, the receptionist said it was about eight blocks east. Returned to the hotel for my parcel, then walked off eastward.

Along the way, I passed city workers, bus and taxi drivers lying on patches of grass – any bit of lawn would do – enjoying a siesta. It was quite warm, in the 80s.

The walk to the post office took me right to the foothills, covered in drought-resistant vegetation - chaparral, just like L.A. - and residential gardens with a myriad of plants, including oleander, bougainvillea, eucalyptus and ivy. An area very reminiscent of communities at the foot of L.A.'s San Gabriel Mountains.

The Las Condes area of Santiago sits in a basin much like L.A., where ocean air is collected, or when the winds shift, winds coming over the mountains are warmed by compression.

After more than two miles, and several stops to ask directions, I found the small post office. And a sign, “cerrado” (closed.) But no need to panic; it was just closed for lunch. They would reopen in fifteen minutes. At mid-day, the world stops for 2-1/2 hours.

When the postmaster asked whether I was shipping any hazardous materials, I neglected to mention the CO2 cylinders. The package weighed over six kilos and cost about $35 to ship (3-week service). With all I've shipped home, I think I'm now traveling about 50 pounds lighter than when I set out. Still too heavy though! (And at the rate I'm eating, there will be no additional loss!)

Marcello told me to come back to the dealership at 3:30. I was very punctual, but when I showed up, he just shrugged. "Not yet. 4:30 or 5:00 at the latest." I was starting to get pissed at these clowns. It seems they would say anything to appease me. But it had little to do with reality.

Returned to the hotel, frustrated. The desk clerk asked “do you need to check your e-mail?" He unlocked the conference room. It had a sign posted, stating that it was closed for maintenance. He admitted that there were simply too many guests, so they decided to not offer internet service! But he set me up, and I worked for an hour and a half, surely giving BMW enough time to finish my bike. The group had arrived to take over the hotel: they appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s and were from the Boston area.

After 5:00, returned to pick up the bike. It still was not ready. Marcello seemed to avoid me. Waited again, along with my English-speaking friend. I was able to observe how, if you’re a beautiful woman, you receive a different level of attention and service. The staff almost tripped over each other attending to several very attractive women who showed up while I waited.

Paul came out, trying to defuse my irritation, he explained they had found a suitable seal locally and were installing it, so at least the work was being completed in one operation. Finally, I saw the mechanic return from test-riding the bike.

A short time later, Marcello said “we have a problem”. The front brakes have a shimmy and the discs need to be replaced, but they don’t have the brake discs in stock. (Surprise!) This has been a persistent problem, I told him. The rotors were replaced around 15,000 miles, and shortly thereafter, the shimmy had returned. I was not about to spend another $1,000 at this time.

Paul said they haven’t seen this kind of problem, though the locals "only ride these bikes around Santiago."

Marcello broached the subject of discounts with Paul. I had asked Marcello what could be done, and stated that the repair of the rear seal should be a warranty item.

Paul returned and said he could take 10% off labor and 20% off parts, though he couldn’t discount accessories (the pannier). He also agreed to cover the seal replacement labor under warranty.

As things wound down in the service department, I had a chance to chat with Paul. He was apologetic about the relatively poor service. At this time of year, it's crazy. Some service centers close down for a month because they are just not able to provide the level of service they feel customers deserve. Closing down is not an option at BMW. To make matters worse, he has a mechanic out ill. I was surprised to learn he’s from Lima, and looks forward to returning there.

Throughout the afternoon, the staff and caterers were busy setting up for a showcase of the new "5 Series" BMW. At one table, a display of "Viña Errazuriz" wines was being erected. (They were partners in a Chilean joint-venture with my ex-employer, Robert Mondavi.)

The invoice totaled nearly $1,700, including $270 in IVA. (10% of the cost of a new bike!) "In-f***ing-credible!" The cost for maintaining this machine is becoming absurd!

For the first time, I began to consider shipping the motorcycle to the United States and resuming the journey on foot, with a backpack! (That would certainly bring me closer to the locals!)

They washed the bike and soon after 6:00, I returned to the hotel to load up my gear. Left the desk clerk with a 375ml bottle of Peruvian Cabernet Sauvignon as a gift (though part of my incentive was to reduce weight!)

On the road for Viña del Mar around 7:00 p.m. It's about 70 miles west of Santiago, on the coast near Valparaiso. It was surprising to view the greater Santiago region. The Las Condes district I was in is actually an eastern plateau, against the Andes foothills. A short distance west, the highway drops a thousand feet or so to a large plain where the city sprawls as far as one can see. I recall nothing of this coming into Santiago (which indicates my condition at the time.)

On the western side of the city, there is much construction, especially of industrial and commercial parks. Great highways. The temperature cooled dramatically toward the coast. Traveling through the Casablanca area, vineyards spread across the plain. “Veramonte” is a major winery here. It's a very cool region, too cool for red wines such as Cabernet or Merlot. It reminds me of the Santa Maria-Central Coast region of California. Wineries along the highway are well-marked, obviously an important tourist draw.

Approaching Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, my tendency to draw parallels to the States was derailed. “This is different!” It suddenly felt like I had gone from Santa Maria to Puget Sound in the course of a few miles; pine forests, cold air, ocean winds.

At a gas station in Viña del Mar, I asked directions to the hotel that Max had arranged for me. A woman overheard and said she was going that way and I could follow her there. She took me to the front door.

They know Max at this hotel. He hosts many visitors, and usually refers them here. While unloading, he showed up. It was great to meet him after seven months of corresponding. He gave me some time to settle in, then returned later to take me out around the neighborhood.

(Drew knew Max from doing a magazine article about the Chilean surfer and winemaker. He advised Max of my journey, and Max encouraged me to visit once I reached Chile.)

In the lobby, I met two Finnish workers here to install cargo container cranes at the port of Valparaiso.

Max and I walked along the waterfront, past the grand casino and the large “McDonald’s” with an attached “McCafé” (serving specialty coffees and desserts.) We went out for dinner at “Diego Pizza”, a hugely-popular restaurant. It's summertime in the seaside resort, and people seem to be really enjoying themselves. After dinner, we returned to the casino for a cappuccino.

Besides being a waverider, poet, photographer and journalist, Max is a die-hard music fan and he related stories of concerts he's been to and musicians he has met.

Up until 3:00 a.m.

Full moon!


Gen Kanai said...

As much as BMW thinks that the GS is a world traveller, your travails as well as the experiences of many others that I have followed at ADVrider and elsewhere have convinced me to go with a Japanese brand, probably a Honda, when/if I do a world tour, because parts/service availability will be better.

timtraveler said...

That would be the wise choice. Honda seems well-represented almost everywhere.

I've had Honda cars and a Honda motorcycle. Truly reliable machines!

But for some reason I had to buy this BMW!

I bought a new BMW car in 1996. In the first 40,000 miles, I had it in the shop so many times that I finally left it at the dealer and refused to pick it up, saying they could keep it. But then they sent it off to auction, and I had to retrieve it, or pay the for the loss.

I eventually drove that car another 200,000 miles, virtually trouble-free! I sold it just before this trip.

babycondor said...

You might be able to get a [relatively] good price if you decide to sell your bike there (given what the new ones cost.)

timtraveler said...

I'll definitely keep that thought in mind!