Things picked up in Episode 4 – will the trend continue or will we regress to the charging issues of the 1st three episode as the guys have to deal with the inclines and lower temps of the Andes?
Episode 5 – Atacama Desert Into Bolivia (51 minutes)
We’re 9,687 miles from LA, and the opening shot is gorgeous. The music is upbeat, the guys are “flying” at 47 miles per hour (the fastest I’ve seen them go in the first 4 episodes is 55), and the happiness is contagious.
Might as well share the opening song with you so that you’ve got a soundtrack for the rest of this post:
The boys are parked on the side of the road for a break when some “Brazilian friends” in a classic Beetle pull up across the street. It’s clear that Ewan and Charley have met them before, but this is the first we’re seeing of them as viewers. It makes you wonder how much interesting stuff they encountered that had to get cut out due to time. The Beetle travelers are a father and son duo named Henrique and Arno Dallmeyer, and they’re on a trip of Highway 40.
I love me some old Beetles, and Ewan’s clearly attached to them as his parents owned three in a row and they’d go camping in it. As you may remember from Episode 1, he’s getting a beautiful ’54 Beetle converted to electric power by EV West.
They stop at a little shop, and in a scene that seems too perfect to not be scripted, it turns out that Ewan’s in the film that’s playing on the TV (Jack the Giant Slayer). Ewan waits for bit to see himself because he’s curious to know how he sounds with Spanish dubbing. I showed Vy this scene because we had a similar experience while touring Costa Rica in 2019 – we were in a hotel room when Vy was scrolling through TV channels and she found an episode of Young Sheldon that she was in. The episode had been dubbed in Spanish for the Costa Rican market so we decided to wait and see what voice they would give Vy. I thought it was hysterical:
Ewan seems similarly amused, joking that his non-existent Spanish “was pretty good but it’s amazing how quickly you lose it.” He leaves an autograph for the cashier, and she says she’s going to get a tattoo of it on her side.
Above 12,000 feet, one of the camera guys is exhibiting symptoms of elevation sickness (it eventually gets bad enough that they had to drive him back down separately with the plan to meet him in Bolivia). The Harleys don’t have to worry about the typical negative effects of elevation on internal combustion as the electric drivetrain requires no oxygen. However, the constant climb does hurt range and they don’t think they’re going to make it. Charley suggests that they draft behind the gas-powered Sprinter to help with aero – the van driver is ordered “not to brake under any circumstances,” so he turns on cruise control.
It’s at this point I realize that there hasn’t been much danger in terms of terrain in this show. In Long Way Round/Down, the duo was constantly pushing the limits of their riding abilities on the big BMW GSes in dirt, mud, and sand. But the range limitations of the LiveWires mean these guys are basically sticking to main roads. Some of the roads are challenging fire road equivalents, mind you, but we’re almost halfway through the show and I’ve yet to see them tackle terrain that couldn’t have been done (slowly, of course) on a standard street bike like the Ninja 1000SX I just reviewed or the Aprilia RS660 I get to ride next week…more on that later.
The crew spends their last night in Argentina at San Antonio de los Cobres, what Ewan says is “one of the highest towns in the world.” Fascinating note about the town – the residents have evolved a DNA mutation to better handle arsenic because the water is 10x higher than what’s considered safe!
As I’ve previously mentioned, one of the things I look for in a travel program like this is inspiration for a future trip of my own. The highlight I’m stealing from this episode is “Tren a las Nubes” (the Cloud Train), a tourist train that is the fifth highest railway at the world at 13,850 feet. If you’re lucky with timing you’ll actually go above the clouds. It looks like our adventurers weren’t able to experience that, but there’s still a fantastic drone shot by a cameraman who presumably didn’t get to join for the train ride.
A third of the way through the episode, Charley wakes up to say that they’ve got a big day as they want to cover 200+ miles and they’ll be climbing for a significant portion of it as they scale the Andes en route to the Chilean border. Ewan notes that there will be bad gravel (guess he’s upset that I just said a Ninja could have done this trip) and the possibility of strong winds so “we’ll have to be a bit ginger with it as we go up.”
A fork in the road presents a significant challenge to Ewan and Charley as the sign is confusing to them and neither speak Spanish well enough to properly ask people. They get a pretty clear answer from one truck driver but they go with their GPS (which says to go the other way). It’s a fun and scenic road…but they can’t really afford to cover unnecessary miles with their limited range. I can’t pretend that I haven’t put myself in similar situations before, and it’s incredibly nerve-wracking. Luckily, they chose correctly!
After five weeks on the road, Ewan and Charley finally leave Argentina and Chile and move on to Bolivia…except there’s a bit of an immigration issue for Ewan. He left Chile with his American passport, but that requires a visa to get into Bolivia. His British passport doesn’t require a visa, but he didn’t use that to leave Chile so the Bolivian immigration officer gives him a hard time. Luckily, they’re able to buy an American visa on the fly for $160. Who knows what the real price is, but the show is able to continue on.
Ewan and Charley find quickly find themselves in the Siloli desert, and the Harleys get tested as there isn’t any pavement to be found for miles. Instead they fight sand and gravel while viewers get a feel for how the upgrades suspension handles washboard.
I hate to say it but it just seems like the regular washboard you get on any sort of desert ride – I feel like this barely would have merited a mention when they were on 1150GS’ in Long Way Round. Insted we get a very oddly edited sequence with a ton of jump cuts that ends with Ewan saying he’s falling over and his bike on its side. But it doesn’t feel real, and the terrain is much smoother than what the viewer was looking at just a second prior. I don’t get it, and I really don’t like it.
The crew ends their first day in Bolivia short of their intended destination at a small hotel. It’s fine for the motorcycles but the Rivians need more infrastructure than what’s available so they continue on for another hour, except the episode ends on a cliffhanger when one of the trucks presumably hits a deep pothole or rut. Dun dun dun…
On to Episode 6!