Suggestions for Your Next Wedding Anniversary… – Calama, Chile


Route San Pedro de Atacama, Chile – Calama, Chile (RN23)
Distance 89Km
Travel Time 1 hour
Road Conditions Tarmac
Weather Clear, Cold
Terrain Altiplano, mostly flat
Food and Petrol San Pedro, Calama
Accommodation Residencial Prat, Calama

Sorry, but Calama is a shit-hole. It’s a shitty little expensive town with people who are nowhere near as likable as the folks further South in Chile. It’s basically just a dusty infrastructure to service the surrounding mining industry.


Our accommodation is at Residencial Prat – a suitable name! Prat, our host, is a grumpy old man. But we’re stuck in this grumpy little town until the bike is fixed and Prat seems to have the only dispensable rooms in town at a price we can afford (18000/night/double + 2500/night parking) at the moment.


There are two bike mechanics opposite each other on calle Araboa, Firma Motos and a motorbike dealer (picture above). First we stop at the other motorbike dealer. He tells me he’s certain the distribution chain needs to be replaced, he knows the chain type which should cost about 40K Pesos, but he’ll only be able to give me the exact cost and availability at 4PM when they’re all back from lunch. At 4PM he tells me he’ll have to open the engine to see what chain is needed. I tell him he’s got to be joking – just call up the spares shop and ask them! No, he needs to check how many links the chain has. I tell him not to pull that bullshit with me, just call the supplier and check out the price… so he gets his colleague to google it. Fuck off!

We go over the street to Firma Motos. I speak with the mechanic and he has the same diagnosis. I ask him the details about how this would have happened and how it would be replaced – it all makes sense so he seems to know his stuff. I’ll get the oil and oil filter change done while we’re at it. The owner is another greaseball man. He charges higher prices on the actual spares and is sure to add a premium for all other minor items of work which would need to be done, no matter how insignificant.

New chain and postage: 75000
Full Synth Oil: 20000
Oil Filter: 5600
Labour: 20000
Checking/Adjusting Valve Clearance: 20000 (This is barely 10 minutes additional work!)
TOTAL: 141K Pesos

Ebru got very bored indeed. At least she still had photography…

Either way we don’t have any hope of finding a friendlier or more competent mechanic here and we need to get out of here, so we stick with them. To deliver the chain (express) from Santiago will take two days. I leave the bike in the workshop and tell them I don’t want any work done without me present – agreed.

The next day I check for an update – the chain is on its way. The following day when I go to check on the status I find the bike fixed: the mechanic has been working on it without my knowledge and he’s taken off the headlight to hot-wire the bike to start it. He says the chain is fine but the tensioner failed, so he’s used a workaround to fix it (inserting a bolt to manually adjust the tension). I check this workaround out on a NX4 mechanical forum and it’s ligit’. I’m still pissed off that they worked on it without my permission! I don’t know what oil they put in, what else they may or may not have done… LESSON: DON’T ever leave your bike at mechanics unobserved folks!

They want charge me 70K for the work and the new oil and filter but I haggle them down 60K. Not cheap. I just want to get the hell out of this God-forsaken shithole!

UPDATE: The aftermath of their work is a complete disaster and could have damaged my engine horribly. Read my Sucre post for details on that.*L

Since this is the last town of a notable size we’ll be in before Bolivia I decide to get some lever/wind-protectors fitted on my handle bars. This sets me back another 20000Pesos. I’ve had enough of my fingers freezing to numbness and we’re heading into what should be the coldest part of our trip. They do a rush job but at least I’ve got it done!

Another little tidbit of information that will be of interest to motorcyclists travelling through here is that the Sodimac (DIY home centre) in Calama stocks Slime.

You will notice that there are not many photos in this post. We didn’t take many actually, we were too depressed. Not only were we stuck in this shithole town for a few days, we were stuck here on the date of our second wedding anniversary! You can imagine how impressed Ebru was about this. We went for dinner at some run-down American style diner for mediocre burgers and chips. I’m told my arse is on the line now….