Touring South America: Road to Salvation
Chapter 10: April 5th, Antofagasta, Chile.
The next morning after breakfast I set out to find the town mechanic. He took his time to open up his shop but after taking a look at the broken chain it only took him an hour and a half to fix it. I walked out of there with a functional chain, albeit one link shorter. It took me another 40 minutes to slide it back in place and scoot the back wheel forward a bit to accommodate the shorter length but it worked out pretty well. I did a few laps around the block and dodged three dogs that tried to bite me.
Back at the lodge I looked for Toño to say my goodbyes. Toño was the manager that arranged to give me food and shelter the night before. I also said goodbye to the girls that were working there, apparently on their lunch break. They were arguing among themselves about which one was going to accompany me on my trip. The lack of available passenger space on the motorcycle forced them to content themselves with a photoshoot.
Once they were happy with the picture, one of them came up to me.
– Why didn’t you pick one?
– What? Pick one what? – I was confused.
– Why didn’t you pick one of us to go up with you last night?
I didn’t realize that the girls had also been part of the bed and breakfast deal. She playfully pretended that I had hurt her feelings.
Antofagasta was about 60km (37 miles) from Mejillones. To avoid putting too much stress on the chain (which had actually been welded together), I dropped the speed to 80kph. I already had the address for the shop in Antofagasta that had the spare parts I needed and I couldn’t wait to get there, do some proper maintenance, and be on my way. I wanted to put all this nonsense behind me.
Shortly after getting on the Panamerican Highway a heard a most unpleasant sound.
I stopped immediately, lifted the back wheel and started checking each individual chain link to see if it was holding together. It all seemed to be OK but I would never forget that clinking sound. I dropped the speed to 50kph just to be sure. I rode past a military base (you know, those places where it’s not cool to stop) and heard the same thing. Clink. I didn’t want to be interrogated by military guards for stopping in front of their base so I scooted over to the shoulder and dropped the speed again to 30kph.
It was driving me crazy. The taunting was unbearable. I pulled over again and took to the ground to check the chain again. Once again, everything looked to be fine but the clinking was a really bad sign.
I had covered just 15km (9 miles). I got back in my seat and set to drive at a speed that wouldn’t cause any chain issues.
Have you ever stormed down a highway at the blinding speed of 25kph (15mph)? That is an adventure all by itself. A very, very slow adventure. I was falling asleep from how slow I was moving. The trick I was using to keep my mind awake was by counting road markers but at that speed you don’t come by them very frequently. I felt a great relief when I entered the city more than two hours later but the victory was short lived when I found out that the shop I was looking for was on the other side of the city. It took me another hour to reach a location that was less than 20 minutes away.
When I finally got there I felt like bashing my head against the CLOSED doors of the shop. It was siesta time. Fortunately, I caught the shop owner at the side of the building pushing a motorcycle inside. I went over and talked to him, explained what had happened and what I needed. He told me he’d be back at around 5:30pm since he had to go to the airport to pick up “The Professor”. I told him I had nowhere to go. The only reason I was in the city was to get this fixed.
It must have been my lucky day because Ricardo, the shop owner, agreed to work on the bike until he had to leave for the airport. The work took longer than I anticipated. After taking off the transmission covers I could finally see what the real damage had been. When the weakened chain link finally ripped apart, the chain kept looping around the sprockets making the end of it a high-speed steel whip. A whip that shattered the transmission case and obliterated a bunch of cables that ran next to it. The clinking noises I was randomly hearing were the shattered insides ricocheting off the moving chain, causing even more damage.
Time ran out on me and I had to wait until Ricardo went and got back from the airport to finish the job. When he returned, he washed the pieces that were still usable and put them back in, giving me some additional spares in the process (more chain links in case of an emergency). Special shout out to my friend Ricardo at Cross Team Antofagasta.
When all was said and done it was 8pm and I could ride no more. I stopped by the Yamaha shop to look for a can of chain lubricant (obviously necessary) and after using their phone to unsuccessfully call hostels in search of a place to stay, I left to track down a hostel I found in the guide I was carrying. When I reached the place where it was supposed to be, one of the neighbors there explained to me that the place I was looking for had burned down 6 months ago. You could have updated your website, Casa El Mosaico!
A couple hours later I gave up looking for a cheap place and went into a hotel. It was a lot more expensive than what my budget allowed but after struggling for a day and a half I convinced myself that I deserved a treat.