Madaru moto - motorbike adventures in South America  

My worst fears were realized when it snowed heavily. Here is the gloomy view out of my room 

Here is a van parked outside the bike workshop, you can see the depth of the fall on its roof.

Bikes and ATVs in the yard the next day

More snow fell in the following days, seemingly consolidating my fate - no riding out of Punta Arenas. 

But there was some progress.... finally Atwakey's engine came back from the machine shop after a re-sleeve and re-bore. That cast iron cylinder next to the engine was a pice of old waterpipe that was going to be used for the sleeve, but the machine shop eventually found some other, better stock.

Now all that needed to be done was find the correct piston to match the bore. The bore is slightly smaller due to the re-sleeve, Ricky said. So I will have slightly less power.  It became obvious from the size of the original piston the Ronco 250 does not displace anything like 250cc. Checking the owner's manual, I found the figure of 230cc. Yet the engine block is stamped with this:

If the engine only displaces 230cc, this means the claimed 23hp is probably a lie. Actually, it is an outright and blatant lie, because after a bit of research, I discovered something is amiss regarding my Ronco. The exact same bike is sold in Argentina - for $1000 more - as a 'Motomel Skua 250', where it is advertised as having much less power: only 15hp @7000rpm (and I have never seen my tacho needle go over 5000rpm). How can the same engine churn out 49% more power in Peru? Obviously it can't. No wonder I cannot get Atwakey to break 100km/hr! Checking the fine print of my owner's manual, it says the engine supplies 11.5kw@700rpm, in other words, only 15.4 horsepower. 

Here is Ronco's deceptive advertisement:

Here is the Motomel Skua 250 specifications

It seems there is not much 'truth in advertising' when it comes to Chinese bikes sold in Peru. My own fault for being so gullible I suppose... what galls me is there were other Chinese enduros on sale in Cusco with more than 15hp horsepower that were hundreds of dollars cheaper - though I wonder if they too were telling the truth.

(ps here is the blog of Russell, a young New Zealand rider who succumbed to Chinese moto madness like me, currently riding a Ronco Demolition clone - a 'Star Amazonas 250' - around South America. There it is advertised as having 16.8hp! We have been swapping advice.) 

The mechanics kept warm in their workshop with a home-made fireplace fed with pine wood from a giant tree growing in his yard - brought over as a seedling from Scotland by a relative decades ago.

Cheating a little getting the fire started

The snow kept falling... one evening - actually afternoon, as the sun sets before 5pm at this time of year - I took this photo with a self-timer in the main plaza. Halfway home, I realized I had lost my glasses - my only pair.  I had pushed them up on my forehead but they had fallen off my Russian hat. Fortunately I was able to retrace my steps in the fresh snow and found them three-quarters buried, if it had been another 5 minutes they would have been lost, covered in snow!

Patagonia House leaves its gas fire on all night to heat the hostel. Even so, its cold in the dormitory, which is on the second floor. I often went to bed wearing my bike jacket and Russian hat for added warmth; even then, my face and nose were cold. Sometimes I just sat up all night in the dining/kitchen, where the gas fire was, working on my computer... 

Other nights I would play ping-pong with the boys, or show them funny stuff on the internet. They both cottoned-on  pretty quickly to The Monster Mash and The Witch Doctor Song on YouTube. 

Here you can see the temperature droped to minus 8 degrees Celcius on one night - thats about 17 degrees Fahrenheit.  


Day 122: Today is more than 5 weeks since my bike seized. There have been many delays due to waiting for parts, the machine shop not having cast iron for the re-sleeve, etc. But, at long last, Ricky said my bike should be ready today. But there is ice everywhere, so it will not be possible to ride anywhere. Gingerly I walked the mile or so up to the bike workshop, a route I could almost walk blindfolded over these last few weeks.

Actually I liked going to the workshop, talking with the mechanics, they had become my friends over the last few weeks. Often we talked about the songs on a local station, "Radio Futuro". They were nearly always old 70s 80s and 90s songs from the US or UK. We had a good old laugh when I explained many lyrics had double meanings, to which they were blissfully unaware. 

Here is the rebuilt engine ready to be fitted.

Ricky had several interesting bikes he was working on. One was this MZ Country, with its weird exhaust.

The MZ's tacho was giving problems, a new one was sourced from the US, but appeared to be for a different model.

This vintage bike was being restored by Ricky's son

Check out the speedo built into the headlight case

You see lots of these mopeds in Chile and Argentina. At least you can pedal if your engine fails for some reason!

Ricky was also working on this Harley, had a clutch problem. 

They were using automotive clutch discs, modified by hand, as the original Harley discs were about ten times the price - and you have to wait months for them to be sent from the US and clear customs. 

This British Leyland tune-up rig reminded me of an old mustard yellow, clapped out Leyland P-76 I once owned and adored in the 1980s even though it was more troublesome than my Chinese Ronco. 

(what's a Leyland P-76? Click here).

Finally, Atwakey's engine being put in

The moment of truth... and she fired up first go

Unfortunately there was just too much hard-packed snow and ice on the roads for me to even consider riding back to the hostel. 

So I had to leave Atwakey at the workshop for a few days till I figured out how to get out of here. The Penguin newspaper was already full of stories about ice-related accidents. This headline reads: "Woman injured in crash caused by ice"

This one says the local hospital has been inundated with pedestrians who have injured themselves just walking around

Worse still, the local municipality is running out of salt to de-ice the roads, they have used more than they have in the last 15 years.

But El Pinguino newspaper was not all bad news. In the freezing depths of the southern winter, they always published photos of scantily clad Pinguichica del Dia - Penguin Girl of the Day

El Pinguino even had its own TV station:

It seemed trucking was the only way I would be able to get out of Punta Arenas. Its more than 250kms to the next town Rio Gallegos, and the ice would probably extend some 500 kms further north, especially where the road curves away from the coast, as the sea-spray keeps the ice in check close to the coast. I sent Senor Cesar an email, and he replied his offer of a lift still stood, but he only had a truck going to Osorno in Chile, and it could be a week or more before it left. I looked on the internet for other transport companies, and found a national one called Pullman Cargo who had an offices all over Chile. 

Two days later, the ice melted enough for me to get my bike out of the workshop and ride around town (or so I thought). Atwakey's new motor needed to be run-in anyway so I collected her from the workshop and rode to the transport company on the outskirts of town. Well, while the bike seemed to run better than ever, that was one of the scariest rides I ever had, because in the streets that saw a lot of traffic, there was no ice, but other streets still had plenty of ice. And that deadly black ice is almost invisible. Somehow I made it to the transport office, but the attendant there said I had to arrange my own crate for the bike and it would cost several hundred dollars more than the figure calculated from their webpage. He recommended TNT, who had more frequent trucks, and had a depot somewhere near the Nao Victoria. So I headed there.  But I could not find the place, despite there supposedly being a large sign.

I saw the Nao Victoria and thought it would be a good idea to get a photo of my bike in front of the ship... Chinese Junk in front of Spanish Galleon! 

Bad idea!  

When I turned into the road that passed the ship, it was covered in ice, and despite my best efforts to avoid it, I dropped the bike. Luckily I was only doing about 2 miles an hour and no injury to myself, but the mataperro was bent slightly and the left-hand tank guard cracked. This photo was taken about a minute after the bike fell. That's sheets of pure ice in the background, despite the road only being less than 100 metres from the sea. 

Since I was in the vicinity of Senor Cesar's transport depot, I paid him a visit. He re-iterated his offer of transporting Atwakey to Osorno, and I decided to take it up. Better to be safe than sorry, I thought. 

Mindful that a heavy snowfall might make it hard to deliver the bike, I came back the next day with all my bags loaded. The building on the right is Trans Vag's depot; you can the Nao Victoria in the background.

Cesar's business partner Senor Pedro Aguilar offered me some coffee and said I would be riding with the truck driver, and the trip would take about 3 days. There are two beds in the truck cabin, and as part of the journey would be through Argentina, the rear of the truck would be locked and sealed by customs. 

I left Atwakey alone in the warehouse

The next day I returned with the rest of my luggage, but miss-timed my arrival, and had to wait for siesta to end. You can see the ice had melted somewhat.

I also gave Cesar and Pedro a bottle each of eponymous rum, since they were helping me out so much.  My first name is Glen, but I've never heard of this brand before, not that I drink much alcohol these days...  

In case you forgot, this mural on Puntas Arenas'  main road reminds you of the dangers of drink and drugs 

I knew I was in a for a wait of several days. So I wandered around doing the usual, taking photographs and panoramas. This caravan sells coffee and snacks near the bus stop for San Juan.

At night, I was the only guest in the hostel, save for a German girl who was researching her PhD on Antarctic Tourism; she gave the owner daily English lessons in lieu of lodging. One night Bridget Jones' Diary came on the tv, subtitled in Spanish. I am not too much into movies, I prefer documentaries, but this is one I really like, and watched it again for the 3rd or 4th time.

Meanwhile days ticked by and snow continued to fall. 

Not that the local strays seemed to mind.

This street dog was chewing on a piece of ice - un perro loco!

Snow in Punta Arenas streets (click on the images bordered in red to open as gigapans)


Every day I became more and more like a part of the family. I even stood in as manager a few times when no-one else was home. I used to teach the two boys Matias and Jan all the world capitals... after a few weeks they knew more than me! Eating pizza with the family

Local news about local crime - in this case a gunman sequestered a taxi so he could buy alcohol

These strange monuments are supposed to be modern representations of Fuegians in their ritual costumes, I was told. They are solidly braced and weighted with pebbles to resist the high winds. 

(click on the images bordered in red to open as gigapans)

Then there was this amazing building, clad in glass panels, to warm itself in the sun like a greenhouse. It is called the Edificio Bioclimatico, and is occupied by Enap, the national oil company. A truly inspiring piece of architecture.

The front windows had at least two bullet holes in them

I managed to shoot a few gigapans, quite an achievement, as even though the sun was out, my fingers ached as it was only 2 degrees C.

(click on the images bordered in red to open as gigapans)

The Salesian church, adjacent, to the left, is the Maggiorino Borgatello Musuem I wrote about in a previous post.  

Calle Carlos Boires, the main shopping precinct, is a mess with new drainage pipes being laid following the recent flood. 

A torpedo boat called the Fresia.


The days dragged on, but still there was no truck leaving, and after more than ten days, I grew impatient.  During this time the weather started to improve. On the 16th there was hardly any ice... not around Patagonia House, anyway. My abode for the last 6 weeks was feeling every day more like a prison...

I got on the internet and saw dry, warmer weather was forecast for the next few days. Just now the roads were more or less ice-free, and from what everyone told me, from Comodoro Rivadavia onwards there would be little chance of ice before late July. I figured I could reach Comodoro in three days riding. Certainly, I could get across the border in one day: I was also growing impatient because my temporary import permit of 90 days was drawing to a close, and if I was dropped in Osorno, I would still have to exit Chile via one of the snow-bound Andean passes or apply for an extension. Another  reason to go to Argentina, I thought. The way I saw it, a window of opportunity had opened. So I went back to Transvag and retrieved Atwakey. Senor Cesar gave me some good advice regarding escarcha, or road ice."Follow the tracks of the trucks" he advised "they are less likely to have escarcha." We looked at a road map. He showed me the most dangerous parts were two sections where the road veers away from the coast, and more prone to ice. "Pay attention to the weather forecasts - sometimes waiting a day can make a big difference" he said. And look out for sections that are shaded from the sun - they are the last to thaw. With that, I rode back to the hostel, prepared to leave for Rio Gallegos tomorrow. 

I knew I was taking a risk with regards to the frigid conditions. But little did I realize another disaster was about to strike - yet it had nothing to do with the weather or road ice...

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 Text and photos copyright  © Glen David Short 2012
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