Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Adv #7 Continued: Work, work, work ..... scouting routes and riding "The Road of Death."

Forrest Lange says: "Now, because I'd been a salesman, an adventure tour guide, a world traveler by motorcycle, and an overall pretty decent guy, the folks at Moto Rider Ltd. got together and offered me a ..... fine job." (Cut to Eric riding around in circles on a motorcycle.)

So that's where we left off last time, right? After touring Bolivia with Daniel, we agreed on a plan to have me work for his new company: Moto Rider Ltda. Briefly explained, we're a tourism company buying new BMW motorcycles, and making them available for tourists to rent or use on guided tours we'll be organizing throughout Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. (I've got a job working with motorcycles now?)

Aside from these countries having incredibly under-developed tourism potential, the world all over has seen a huge increase of motorycle tourism and travel in recent years. (I guarantee Peter and I are not the only guys that have ridden from the U.S. to South America this year.) Add to this trend the fact that the famous Dakar Rally is now held annually here in Chile and Argentina, and I think Moto Rider has an incredible future as a business making the BMW motorcycles available for people to witness these beautiful countries. Be sure to check out our (unfinished) website at and you'll see more about the company, including a chance to read the "who we are" part about your favorite bald motorcycle rider!

Having driven the company truck down to Santiago in late July, the plan was that I'd be there for at least the first couple of months helping to get the company started......and especially from the sales standpoint, that seemed like a good idea for all of us. (At this point, only Daniel and Jaime Roessler were working on starting this. Both Chileans that speak English quite well, but if we're marketing ourselves mainly to English-speaking countries, a native-speaker might be important?)

Those plans for me to start in Santiago changed rapidly though when we had a sudden need to give a bike to a customer up in Antofagasta, and after just two days in Santiago, I hopped an early flight back north to coordinate a motorcycle rental. Daniel, Jaime, and I had talked about things, and it was decided that we'd best plan a specific tour route, step-by-step before we go marketing it. So that was my first major assignment on the job: Starting in Antofagasta, I left my KTM parked at the hotel and set out with one of Moto Rider's new 1200 GS's on what was supposed to be about a 3 week journey searching routes and hotels in Northern Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

(Below is a photo of "my office" for the first month on the job with Moto Rider. Not bad, eh? Getting paid to ride a new BMW through South America and plan tour routes?)

From Antofagasta, climbing up the western side of the Andes, I spent one night in San Pedro de Atacama and started all my research on which hotel options best fit the types of tours we wanted sell. (That was kind of a nice change, too. I've been camping and living in some pretty down-trodden places for 14 months at this point, and now I'm being paid to seek out and stay in the 4 and 5-star hotels?) I spent one night at the Alto Atacama resort there in San Pedro, having been greeted by my fellow KTM rider and friend Alvaro who is the manager of this absolutely beautiful hotel. Would have gladly stayed there longer, but I had to keep moving onward with my mission by crossing the border at Paso Jama on the way to the stunning Purmamarca, Argentina. See below one small portion of the incredible twists and turns at the finish of that ride over the border!
(Below, scenery of the "Mountain of 7 Colors" that surrounds the small town of Purmamarca.)

The turn north from Purmamarca took me to the border with Bolivia at La Quiaca where another on one of those typical border crossing stories took about half of my day. Keeping in mind that this was still the middle of winter in August and extremely cold at 12,000 feet all the time, I hustled all the way to Tupiza, Bolivia on awful dirt roads and found this neat little town. Pictures show how the city stays alive with people playing tennis and using pool tables outside near the center of town. There's definitely a neat vibe about Tupiza.

It proved important to be seeking out these tour routes and know exactly what to expect before actually taking tourists along for the ride. Does the road exist like the map says? What conditions are the "road" in? Are there river crossings like the one in the picture below? I made it through this washed out road just fine, but that's something to think about if we're going to return with what might be some more "hesitant" tourist-riders.
These were some long, tough days of riding for sure. Riding all day long with GPS, yes I was. But it's GPS here with very little use, cause there's basically no mapping information available on Bolivia in such remote areas. Each time I made it to the next city, I had to hustle around town figuring out which hotels were the best, asking directions, talking with managers, building a profile on each hotel.......and all in Spanish? After that of course I had to unpack everything, organize all the details of the ride that day, organize the profiles on the hotels.....whah, whah, whah....I know. But it was a challenge, I swear.

Arriving again in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Potosi, Bolivia, I again had the chance to spot some more of the city and of course some interesting people and faces (Like this one below)

"Ma'am, I don't care how good you looked on those posters 134 years ago, it doesn't make me want to buy your bread." ------------------- "What? That's your daughter? that you mention it.......I am kind of hungry.........."

Headed further up into Bolivia from Potosi to the nation's capital of Sucre, I noticed all these people gathering in what must have been about a 200-person town. Chatting with the locals, apparently I had just stumbled across their annual "Carrera de Burros" (Burro Race) and I arrived right in the middle of the action. Way out in the distance, the jockeys were working away on their burros, as the whole town laughed and cheered them on and I snapped off some action-shots : ) You can see the winner below arriving back at the staging area and folks gather to see the champ. Not to get all sappy, but there was something really heart-warming about seeing such a small town gather and such a simple thing entertaining folks.

I continue to be impressed by the scenery in Bolivia and I promise you will not be disappointed if you ever get the chance to visit. So unfortunate though is that seemingly all of the countries down here still don't have any kind of control over waste disposal or any "care" to keep their lands clean of it. Not only to people just toss whatever they want out of their car windows, but you'll also find pits like this one just outside of the cities along the road where people just start throwing their trash. One day after the next, more cars and trucks just show up and dump their trash, letting it blow all over with no control. I mean, it doesn't stop some of the locals (below) from enjoying it.......but come on Evo Morales........your country is too beautiful for this!

So finally, I got to see La Paz! The largest city in Bolivia is quite a site, described to me once as being like a "giant ant hill." I tell ya, it's about that crazy of a place. Imagine the busiest city you've ever been in and then increase the congestion and chaos about 10 times. (It made NYC look spacious from a pedestrian standpoint.) Taxis, buses, motorcycles, and people running all over the streets with virtually no control by traffic lights or police, and EVERYONE is honking their horns.

A main reason we want a tour route that includes La Paz is because it allows us to ride the famous "Camino de la Muerte" or in English......"The Road of Death." THIS WAS SO COOL! Do a little Google search for those keywords and check out some of the pictures out there that turned out better than mine (I was there on a very foggy day.)
Holding the title as "The most dangerous road in the world," this ride starts up at 16,000 feet in the clear thin air, and slowly drops about 10,000 feet over a winding narrow path down into the Bolivian jungle. It's reputation as "the most dangerous" devloped over years because of the extremely high percentage of people that die falling over the edge trying to pass this road. In it's record year, 320 people fell to their death, which is an extremely high number considering the small numbers of people actually trying to pass it. Like I said before, my pictures are few because it was such a foggy day, but you could also check this YouTube link for a good overview of what it's like:

The Road of Death is absolutely stunning with low-hanging clouds and mountain-lined landscapes all the way. Near the start, you'll see mountain bike tour guides briefing their tourists on the rules of the road. Rules like "the traffic flows on the opposite side." Meaning, those of us riding down the mountain actually have to do ride on the left (the cliff drop-off side) so that car and truck drivers have better visibility to keep themselves from running off the edge.

Another guideline we have to follow is that you never......ever look off the cliff into the abyss below while you're moving. It doesn't matter how good of a biker or motorcycle rider you are, the natural tendency we all have is to follow where our eyes are looking. (Ex: Don't stare at the rock in the middle of the road, cause you'll end up hitting it probably.) Same was true here, and I admit......I almost got "caught" looking while riding at one point. Not only is this road very narrow to begin with, but with almost no warning it'll lose 1/3 of it's width because of a washout or rockslide, and if you're riding down the cliff-side like you're supposed to.....that means the road before you can pretty much disappear! Did I mention that it's reported to be over a 1900 foot drop straight down in some parts of the road? Again, too foggy the day I was there to see, but wow does that make for one beautiful atmosphere descending down into the Bolivian jungle.
(Below, mountain bikers posing for a shot pretty close to "the edge.")

The next couple of pictures show one of the many memorials for the thousands of people who have fallen to their deaths here. I zoomed in as far as my 18x zoom camera would go, and sure enough........way below this could still see the wreckage of a car or truck that once went over.

For sure though.....the stunning scenery combined with a bit of fear makes for one great experience.......and if you're going to be in Bolivia, don't miss the chance to ride The Road of Death!

(Near the bottom of the Road, a Dad is taking his girls to school in the town of Yungas.)
So after La Paz, I needed to head further westt to Copacabana, Bolivia .... right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It's a short half-day ride, and part of that time is spent on a lake ferry that is the only way of reaching Copacabana. Costs about one dollar, takes about 20 minutes, and sure is a fun way to continue all this travel. Guess I haven't been on a boat at this point since the Cap Blanche (aka Jeanne) all the way back in January?

Anyway, more hotels and research was in store for me there in Copacabana, and I had yet another incredible sunset to watch from a balcony looking over Lake Titicaca. Sure have seen alot of these since I started travelling. Never gets old to me......

So after Bolivia, I needed to head back to the northern edge of Arica, Chile before crossing into Peru where I would search routes for Cuzco and Macchu Piccu. I knew that because of registration and ownership of the motorcycle, we needed to return to Chile for paperwork reasons before going to Peru. In a funny coincidence though, just a few hours before I crossed the border into Peru on a Friday morning, a story came out in the newspapers. The story detailed how 800+ cars had left Chile in the year prior and never returned from Peru. (An obvious concern for importing/tax reasons.) Because of this news, all the border officials for Peru were immediately reminded of their own law that nobody had been enforcing, and requires some extra paperwork steps to prevent the illegal importation of vehicles.

Anyway, after sitting around a few more days there in Arica, (waiting for the weekend and a holiday to pass) Daniel, Jaime and myself eventually said it was too much paperwork trouble for me to get into Peru at that point, and there were plenty of other things I could be doing in Antofagasta. The tentative plan was for me to end up living there in Antofagasta and start getting business going for us while it was still winter time and very cold in Santiago and places further south.
So the final picture below shows how I ended up back in Antofagasta, getting our office situation straight and doing things like getting our motorcycle storage container positioned at the rail yard near our office. Ana Maria (back to us in the picture) had just been hired to act as administrative support for us there in Antofagasta, so at least I wouldn't be working alone.

Well this has been another long post, but's been over 2 months since I updated this! And of course, more has changed since this final picture with regards to where I'm living and I'll have to explain more of that soon. The delay in the blog post is partially because of technical issues Blogspot seems to be having, but also because it's weird for me to just write a blog about my working life and career instead of all the travel I'd done up to this point. Well then again....I guess my job still fits into the same category of "travel and adventure," and as long as I'm living outside the United States, I'll consider my life exactly that : )


  1. really interesting

  2. Awesome! Keep the stories and pics coming!

    Jason Styron

  3. Eric
    Checking in to see if you are okay after all the earth quake news in Chile.....send us a note and tell us your still living.
    Your friends in Vancouver Canada
    Philip & Laurie