An Invaluable Challenge

Low(ish) temperatures, rain & high air humidity, heavy winds. The Husky & I have encountered lower temperatures then the 3-5 degrees Celsius we’re facing now, but the wind combined with the air humidity pierce marrow & bone. We’re on our way to Puerto Natales, a harbor town North. From there a ferry connects the most Southern part of Chile with its main part.

Crossing borders to Argentina is still a complex matter. They open & close randomly & entry requirements are unclear. As there is no road up through Chile, I decide to take the 600km ferry journey North in order to reach the main part of Chile. Truly a compromise, but the best option right now.

The ferry leaves once a week & seems to always be fully booked on the online portal. Chances of success when booking at the harbor are uncertain. My research during the weekend has indicated me that there is always room for motorcycles. Apparently, the online portal always says that the ferry is fully booked. Furthermore, I have found a phone number in a blog & dropped a message via WhatsApp. After providing the needed information, I have received confirmation.

Arriving at Puerto Natales on the day of departure. I’m frozen to the bone. I park the Husky safely. Nonetheless, a wind blast blows her over, bending the hand guard & jamming the throttle grip. I patch her up & head into the ticket office to settle the payment for my reservation. A friendly woman issues me the ticket. Slightly hesitantly she asks me from where I’d gotten her private mobile number. I reply vaguely.

The ticket price for foreigners is 5x that for residents. Foreigners are booked with second priority. I assume if foreigners were dealt with in a fair manner, there would be no need to find loopholes in the system. Overlanders always find a way. Persistence seems to pay off.

Now its 2 days & 3 nights on the ferry. I have time to fix the Husky’s hand guard, relax & take plenty of pictures. I turns out the ferry is an excellent option for heading North. The nature untouched, no civilization & absolutely stunning views.

A seat similar to a first class seat on an airplane is my bed for 3 nights. Three meals a day on prison-like trays included. I spend lots of time on deck chatting with locals. Not that I really understand everything or can express my self in the way I’d like to, but it doesn’t really seem to matter. I enjoy most chatting with the elderly as they speak more slowly & tend to use more traditional words. I learn a lot about Chile.

The temperatures are rising & the wind settling more&more the further we cruise North. We arrive in Puerto Yungay in the middle of the night & get to stay on board until 08:00 in the morning. We’re now in Patagonia & this is the beginning of the famous Carretera Austral, a route going 1’240km North through Chile to Puerto Montt.

I’ve been told about the occasionally horrible state of the route several times. The first 600km are sand, rocks & gravel. The perfect terrain for the Husky & me. We glide through to Chochrane raising dust & enjoying no-man’s-land. The landscapes here are breathtaking & we’re having an incredible time. Time to take a days rest & spend 2 nights in a proper bed.

The time of year is perfect in terms of the weather. At the same time it’s also holiday season in Chile however. Prices are much higher than usual & many places fully booked. Due to the ongoing challenges of crossing borders, most Chileans have decided to head South to Patagonia. Interestingly enough, many restaurants, hostels & campsites have also decided to take a holiday during peak season. It’s challenging to find places to stay for the night & restaurants that are operating. Plenty of demand, little supply.

Darting North through Coyhaique & Puyuhuapi to Chaitén. The tracks are made for the Husky & me. Partially rough & sandy, nonetheless, there are plenty of bikers & cyclists. The Husky & I are unstoppable & fly past all of them, occasionally stopping to take pictures & have a sip of water.

Two more ferries to go, in order to reach Puerto Montt. I have to buy the tickets here in Chaitén, 50km before the Port in Caleta Gonzalo. We take a day off & camp directly at the sea, organizing things, moreover, enjoying the views.

At the ticket office I’m told that the Husky & I have been booked for the ferry & must arrive at the port at 12:00 p.m.. We pack up in the early morning & tackle the final 50km of rocks & gravel to the port. We don’t encounter any traffic on the way, but arrive at a queue of cars & trucks stretching for a few km back. We jump the queue & park to wait. It’s 10:00 a.m.. We’re really quite early.

No other bikers around. After 1/2h a Chilean traveling on a GS650 joins us & we discuss bikes & motorcycle travel. A large group of American bikers on rented GS850’s pass us and line up in front. Two further Chileans join the the crowd of bikers on CRF250’s & finally a German lad pulls up, parking his T700 in the middle of the road.

A gentleman in a uniform, looking like the captain, coordinates boarding, first navigating all cars & trucks onto the ferry. He finally, approaches the group of American bikers & sends them on the ferry. He now walks away towards the ferry, swinging his arm & signaling that boarding has been completed.

I jump on the Husky & dart towards the ferry. The captain wants to stop us, but we just pass him, me saying “tengo un billete, gracias!”. Really don’t know what that was about. The ferry is now departing & the German lad is on the dock, waiving his hands. He’s lucky, the ferry has to reverse to pick up a gentleman who had parked his car on the ferry & went to the toilet at the dock.

Once on deck, the German lad immediately pulls out his camera to document the situation for his Youtube channel. I strike a conversation. Patrick & I decide to ride further North together. A short stretch of gravel & another ferry. We pass through to Rio Negro to spend the night on an EcoCamping.

it’s raining cats & dogs. It’s pouring. Patrick usually doesn’t ride with Lucy (his T700) in the rain, but he’s in a rush to reach Santiago. The Husky’s Check Engine Light has been on & off a few times, but she’s been running fine. A last ferry to reach Puerto Montt today. Lots of discussion to get a ticket & we’re sent back & forth, from one person to another. I’m not sure what this is about but I’ve seen it now with the ferries.

Incredibly heavy rain on the ferry. I’m chatting with some locals. Time to disembark. The Husky fires up but cuts the engine randomly. Not a good sign. She comes back to life & we blast through to Puerto Montt. Shortly before our destination, a hostel, the Husky starts cutting the engine every few seconds. Time to trouble shoot.

We’re staying at Steffi’s hostel & I’m working on the Husky. This is the type of place mainly locals settle for the night & it’s insightful to chat with them. Patrick continues his travels & I decide to stay another day. There is a KTM workshop here in town & it might make sense to read out the error. I’ve replaced the spark plugs, just to be sure. I am now pretty sure that it must be a sensor that’s playing wild. I just don’t yet know which one. The Husky has 14 of them & it’s probably easier to read out the error instead of inspecting each sensor, many of which are not that easily accessible.

I had been carrying an OBDII reader (to read out errors from the ECU) with me until Punta Arenas. It broke into pieces in my luggage & I threw it away. Have never needed it, but it would come in handy now. The Husky & I drive as long as we can. Now she’s immediately stalling as soon as I start her. I push her 2.5km through Puerto Montt, along the road, down a flight of stairs, through a pedestrian area & finally almost 1km up a steep hill. A young local helps me push her the final 500m as I’m forced to take a break every few meters. There would be no way of doing this with a big adventure bike.

We’re hesitantly greeted at the KTM workshop & told to wait. I use the time to chat with a Chilean biker couple who are waiting for their bike to be serviced. Now the manager comes out & takes the Husky into the workshop to read out the error. The error is coming from the roll-over sensor. A safety measure, intended to stall the bike when it falls on its side. I’m slightly astonished, as w/o exception the Husky has always happily thumped on lying on her side & spinning her wheel when we crashed.

Changing the Spark Plugs
The Husky’s Roll-over Sensor
Steffi having found a pair of Boxers

Apparently there is water in the sensor. The mechanic dries the sensor, applies some grease around the connector to prevent water from coming in & gets the Husky running again. The Check Engine Light keeps coming on but the Husky is fit to travel again. Clearly the sensor is damaged & there is only replacement to be found at the KTM dealer in Chillán >600km North. We can chose to wait here for 3 days or head North to pick it up ourselves. We head North not having been charged a cent for this help.

Through Temuco, Los Angeles, Chillán we cruise & make our way to the Ocean in Buchupureo. We ride along the coast passing Peluhue, Pichilemu & are targeting Maitencillo. We will meet Chopo there, who is on paragliding holidays in this town & spending some time at his friend Sergio’s place.

The Husky & I ride past Valparaiso to settle in with Chopo & his friend Sergio’s family in Maitencillo. Time to take a day off & we’re welcomed with an incredibly delicious dinner called Ceviche. Raw fish salad with some herbs & lime. How great it is to catch up with Chopo 2y after we had met in Portrero de Los Funes, Argentina.

We discover this exceptionally beautiful area for a day, enjoy two evenings chatting, eating & drinking. Now the Husky & I are off towards Argentina. We only have little time to spare. Only roughly 2 weeks to reach São Paulo. For 3 weeks a special visitor is coming over to Brazil from CH. The Husky & I want to be there on time to welcome Nora. Roughly 3’500km to go.

Up “Paso International Los Libertadores” towards Argentina we growl. A nights stay 20km before the border. The food and/or some type of flu hit me during the night. I’m not feeling well at all & spend the night in the bathroom. Nonetheless, we head out in the early morning to target the border. No reason to lose time.

I’m curious how leaving Chile will work. Due to the pandemic, the Husky has been in Chile much longer than the usual 90d permitted. However, Alejandro has organized us a document from customs, which confirms that we may leave the country until 4th April 2022. A friendly woman greets me at the customs desk, has a short look at the document & says “¡Todo bien; buen viaje!”. Upon asking, she confirms that we will not need any document to enter Argentina.

We ride 〜20km down the pass road to reach the Argentinian border. At the first gate an unusually unfriendly officer asks for the document we had received in Chile. I haven’t received any document and insist, saying that I have asked the customs office on the Chilean side. After a while, the officer opens the barrier & waves us through w/o saying a word. At the desk I show my passport, the Husky’s registration & my vaccination certificate. No PCR test needed as we’ve been in a neighboring country for more than 2 weeks. We’re back to Argentina.

Time to give Hugo a visit in San Luis. Again 2y after we had first met in Portrero. It’s great to catch up & I’m served a delicious dinner. What a great guy Hugo is & what a beautiful family he has. The Husky & I continue our journey North-East the following day. Through Cordoba & Santa Fe we’re now targeting the Brazilian border in Uruguaiana.

Every single day heavy thunder storms with strong rainfall starting around 15:00. We set-off early & call it a day early each day. We’re now taking the highways & hurtling North. I’ve been doing my research concerning the entry requirements to Brazil, but really the information I find is quite contradictory. I decide to just give it a try.

Usually the order of offices at borders is Immigration (exit) – Customs (exit) – Immigration (entry) – Customs (entry). Here the second office is the customs office of Brazil (entry) & I’m at first confused. It takes me a while to understand that I first must go to the office further away, come back & then cross the river to reach the immigration office of Brazil a few km away.

The entry into Brazil is easy though. I’m greeted by two young gentlemen at immigration in Brazil. One of them talks German with me. The entry requirements stated online, turn out to be wrong. No PCR test, no online registration needed. I don’t even have to show my vaccination certificate.

Now things change more radically than they had following my previous border crossings in Latin America (LA). Landscapes, food & the language most noticeably of all. Having just learnt some basic Spanish, now having to switch to Portuguese might be a challenge. Some words are similar but pronounced very differently. Some words are completely different. To start off I’ll just speak Spanish & slowly adapt to Portuguese over time.

I need a SIM card for Brazil. I chat with Adão in front of the telecommunications shop in Uruguaiana. I now enter the shop. For the purchase of many things a CPF (Tax Registration Number) is required in Brazil. It so happens that I’m sent back out of the shop due to not having a CPF. Adão asks me whats wrong. He thinks this is unacceptable. We head back into the shop, register a SIM card on his name & chat during the waiting time. I’m now Sr. Adão Oliviera da Silva.

First evening in Brazil
Adão, the man who lent me his identity

We continue our ride North through Santo Ângelo, Concordia, Curitiba to São Paulo (SP). The landscapes become more beautiful the further North we come. We reach SP in time & welcome Nora at the airport.

The Husky will have some time off. Nora & I will be traveling by car for the next 2 weeks. The plan is to travel through Itatiaia up to Cabo Frio & then to loop back down to SP through Rio de Janeiro, Paraty & Ihlabela. I get in touch with Fábio, the father of a Brazilian friend I had studied with in Switzerland. Fábio most generously offers to help in any way possible & suggests I park the Husky on the compound of the family business in SP while we’re traveling by car.

The Family Company
The Husky’s stay for 2 weeks
Alberto & Fábio

It has been >7’000km since we left Punta Arenas & I would like to service the Husky before we head off to Paraguay & Bolivia in a few weeks time. A change of motor oil, suspension oil, brake fluids, coolant & tires as well as a check of the valve clearance & replacement of fuel pump & fuel filter is what I’m planning on doing.

Trying to place an order of spare parts with KTM & Husqvarna dealers in SP (as usual 2-3w ahead). Most don’t answer. The only information I receive is that any spare part ordered will take at least 120d to arrive. An alternative spare parts dealer tells me that at least 25d will be needed. Both options take too long & I’m worried about the term used “at least”. I decide to order the parts myself & have them sent via DHL Express, just to be sure.

We’re off by car for 2 weeks. And we’re greeted by most stunningly beautiful landscapes, beaches & cities. Incredible how easy & comfortable it is traveling in a car with plenty of room, AC & music. We enjoy every second of the trip & time flies bye unimaginably quickly.

As I can’t find a workshop to do the work on the Husky myself, I’ve been organizing a mechanic in SP, during our trip. I’ve been told the job will take 1w. We’re now back to SP & unfortunately Nora will have to go home. It’s difficult to say good bye, even if its just a temporary good bye. The Husky & I will stay & tackle the job to be done.

The spare parts will arrive in 2 deliveries (a part from CH & a part from the US). I’m paying double the price of the parts incl. shipping & an additional 〜200% of the value of the goods for import taxes & random custom fees. These spare parts are costing me 4x what they would cost in CH or the US.

The parcel with the most urgently needed parts coming from the US arrives at Fábio’s company. On time I bring the Husky to the mechanic on a Monday afternoon to start work. Now I have some time to discover SP. What an impressive city this is! A population of 12m in the city & 22m in its metropolitan area. 80km long & 40km wide. I’m staying in the area of Sumaré, Vila Madalena & Pinheiros. Hilly, hip & in some ways bohemian. The street art is one of a kind in SP, the food great & the people friendly. I’m very much enjoying this city.

The news arrives that my second parcel has arrived in Brazil within a few days, but will not be processed by customs. The Receita Federal (Tax & Customs Authority) is on strike & currently only processing the most important goods as e.g. foods & medicine. They will keep this up until they receive higher salaries & a better pension. I have no idea how long this may take.

Additionally, a few days back my credit card has been compromised & I’m having a new sent to me from CH. It is now also stuck in customs here in Brazil. My mechanic is working on the Husky but progressing much slower than promised. Public holidays & many different kinds of external factors i.e. the parts themselves, me & the complexity of the Husky are apparently to be blamed for this delay. Almost 3w later (2.5 working weeks excl. public holidays) I’m told I can pick up the Husky on Saturday.

In total we’ve now been stationary for almost a Month & are very keen to flee the city & continue our travels. Furthermore, the Husky’s temporary import permit (TIP) requires her to leave the country by next Saturday, so only little time remains to discover Brazil. More so we’ll probably have to head for the border directly.

I arrive at the workshop & the Husky is waiting freshly serviced & groomed. I have been informed that the lads at the workshop have been having difficulties reinstalling the auxiliary tanks & fairings. When seeing how they have been installed & receiving the bag with the left over screws, it however, doesn’t increase my confidence in the work done. I keep my calm.

I pay, load the Husky & get ready to head out of town. She won’t start. The accumulation of waiting for the work to be done while being fed one excuse after another, waiting for my parcel & credit card to be released from customs after having paid unimaginably high import taxes, spending a long time in a large city which is always expensive & slowly being in a bit of a rush to leave the country brings me to my boiling point. I’m now angry & let the mechanics know about my dissatisfaction in a very transparent manner.

One of my personal priorities is to always keep my calm. Being angry simply makes things worse. It doesn’t help. The first time in 56’000km & 37 countries I haven’t managed to do this priority justice. I head back to the hostel to make a plan. The mechanics feel insulted.

Fábio’s most tranquil nature helps me get back into my usual state. Together we organize a solution to have the Husky picked up by truck & I let the mechanic know. I will get her running again myself. This would be the first time the Husky needs to be transported by truck. The mechanic lets me know that he doesn’t feel good about this & would like to troubleshoot on Monday.

I agree but insist that I will be there doing the work with them. It’s not the fuel pump which the mechanic had assumed it is. We troubleshoot all day, doing the work done in reverse. It’s now 18:00 & I have to head to the hostel to write a request for TIP extension to the Receita Federal. This might be a serious issue & I want to at least gain some more time.

I leave the workshop asking the mechanics to check all the plugs for water a second time. Shortly after I leave the workshop I receive a text: “The Husky is running”. Water has been found in a plug leading to the throttle body. I’m unbelievably relieved.

Trouble Shooting on the Husky

Now we just have to reassemble the Husky. I install the tanks & fairings. We leave the workshop in peace. I receive the news that my credit card has arrived & my parcel is due for delivery tomorrow (almost 3w after arrival in Brazil). I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We’re heading out to São Carlos to visit Fábio & his family on their ranch.

We’re warmly welcomed at the ranch, have a house to ourselves & told to stay as long as we wish. How hospitable! However, unfortunately I haven’t managed to find a solution with the Receita Federal & have very little appetite to further deal with this authority. The Husky & I have 3d to cross the border to Paraguay, which is 850km away. I spend two wonderful evenings with this most friendly & welcoming family. We’ve been in Brazil for almost 2M. It’s been beautiful & adventurous, but it’s now time to discover Paraguay. I pack the spare parts & credit card. We’re on our way West to the border in Guaira.

We cross the stretch in 2d & settle for the night in Mundo Novo, 9km from the border. It’s Saturday, the last day the Husky is permitted to be in Brazil. We will cross over to Paraguay today. No border police working on the Brazilian side of the border. We ride 12km back to Guaira & find the local border police station to get the exit stamp in my passport. Receita Federal (customs) is shut too. I find one gentleman working on the entry side of the border who gives us the exit stamp for the Husky. We cross over to Paraguay.

No border at all on this side. We cruise into Salto del Guaira to find immigration & customs offices. After some discussion I get the entry stamp for myself. Border police in Brazil had put the stamp on a separate document instead of my passport, which apparently is unusual. I manage to convince the officers & they welcome me to Paraguay.

Now the Aduana (customs) across the road. It seems very silent here. There’s a double door & the outer one is open. The second door is locked. I wait. And I wait. Finally, 2.5h later a gentleman riding a 125cc motorcycle, wearing jeans & flip flops parks his bike in front of the office. Based on his official looking baseball cap, I recognize that he must be some kind of officer.

This man can’t help us. He makes many calls, but apparently no one is around that can issue a TIP. My research based on other travelers experiences has indicated me a different story. All these reports however date back pre-pandemic. I suppose these things change quickly around here. We’re told to return “el lunes”. A day off for the both of us.

Today is “lunes”. I’m back from the Aduana. I’ve been told to return “mañana”. No one there that can issue a TIP. All customs officers are compensating labor day, which was yesterday on Sunday. Another day off & time to contemplate.

Independently traveling overland brings heaps of advantages with it. One gets much closer to people, cultures & customs. One discovers areas largely unknown to tourists & learns to know countries with all their facets. One simply isn’t in a well orchestrated tourist bubble. On the flip side of course this also means experiencing the downsides in a direct & unfiltered manner.

Traveling this way simply is invaluable. I would choose this mode of travel any time again. Truly insightful & enriching it is to discover the world this way. At times it can be a bit of a challenge though. That is an invaluable challenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s