Author Archives: Mike Rafferty

Ain’t She Sweet (Moto Stuff)

Gas station/convenience store in Dolores, Colorado. Using EXTREME care to fill up without splashing premium on a perfect, high-dollar paint job. A pleasant young gent in a feed store ball cap comes out of his pickup truck and says “Nice bike. Is it a Triumph?”  Smile and correct him, hopefully without sounding like a jerk. “Thanks! No, it’s a Norton.”   Triumph is really hitting the mark these days with their marketing.  But no, she ain’t no Triumph…

Recently, I traveled back to New Mexico on a business trip, at the invitation of my former employer (Los Alamos). Mostly, a couple of weeks hanging with attorneys. Despite the jokes (many good ones!), these were some great folks and there were some definite surprises…and a real treat to see Molly at her gymnastics class and Maggy…just being Maggy. I wonder if I have ever told James and Becky that Maggy was the name of our pet raccoon when I was a little tyke? Well, never mind. The young ladies are just getting better and better, funner and funner.

The trip was not all work and no play. I managed to sneak off for two days to visit Matt Rambow and his crew at Colorado Norton Works (CNW) near Cortez. That included the major perk of getting to spend time with my own Commando that Matt built for me. This post is mostly going to be about that motorcycle, about the ride, and just how sweet it is.

The motorcycle community is NOT homogenous. There are the Harley putt-putt boys, the long hauling Beemer folks, the Guzzi guys and gals, and of course the fiercely loyal “Ducatistas”. And a whole lot more – including those who worship the Rising Sun…The Japanese.   And among all these subdivisions, there are those who are SO brand-loyal that they won’t own anything besides “their” brand.   They internalize the name, think of themselves in terms of their hardware, wear their brand name’s badges on their riding gear for all to see.

So what? There is a growing group of folks who are no longer satisfied by the above-referenced corporate kool-aide, well-spun and dispensed by advertising departments that urge us all to “break the mold, claim your rugged individuality!”…and ride their commodity machine, that was built on an assembly line…with a hundred just like it in front, and another thousand to follow. The small-but-growing new group are the folks who are fueling the “Hand Made Motorcycle” movement.  I didn’t make that name up, I stole it from an annual show in Austin Texas.  Look it up if you’re interested.

Does that mean I no longer ride my BMW? Absolutely not. I love that bike. It is well-designed, well-constructed, didn’t cost a fortune and is tons of fun. But this new thing is winning me over, I cannot deny. I know I will always have a factory bike, but I now know I will also always have a foot on the other peg – the one made/crafted/regenerated by a human being. A human being that you can talk to, shake hands with, drink a beer with.

All of this talk is just runway for an excuse to talk about the hand made moto built for me by Matt Rambow and his crew. I first saw it at Barber, and I was smitten, saw that it was beautiful.   But at that time, it was only freshly-squeezed and not ready to run. Hell, I didn’t even get to sit on it. This time, it was ride time and I learned that it actually rides better than it looks. What a treat. Do I sound infatuated? I am.

The specs: It is a 1974 Commando, 850cc British twin. Numbers matching, which means it is the original frame, motor and transmission, and all their serial numbers match. It is basically the same lump that left Britain and came to the US, the same year my son James was born.

So how has it changed? Matt took it down to the bare frame, smoothed out all the imperfections, powder-coated it and built it up from there. The big changes from the original include, but are DEFINITELY not limited to:

  • The whole bike lowered an inch, for a more sleek and swoopy stance
  • Electrical sorted
  • No oil leaks, nowhere, no how (amazing for a vintage British twin)
  • The front brakes are all new Brembos, that work a treat, smooth and strong
  • Belt drive primary – clean and dry
  • Clutch and brake controls are now hydraulic
  • New “Full Auto” head, with nice port work, imported from Australia
  • Warmed up cam shaft with a big fat torque curve
  • Everything in the motor perfectly balanced
  • Motor held together by super-duper hardware created for the NASCAR world
  • A pair of new Keihan flat side carbs, with a custom CNW manifold
  • Cute little sticker on the side of the carbs reads ”Race Use Only”. Sweet.
  • New CNW peashooter mufflers on stainless header pipes, sound a treat
  • Electronic, keyless ignition that means there will never be scratches on the triple tree
  • EVERYTHING on the bike is either new, good as new, or better than new

“Night Sky” paint on the tins look a treat, and there is polished alloy, bright stainless and chrome splashed everywhere. Norton and CNW logos in black, look ghosted in. You gotta be right on top of ‘em to see.

This is SOOO different for me. A dual sport is like tennis shoes – clean just isn’t cool. A new shiny bike is an embarrassment and no good at all until its dirty, maybe skinned up a little and shows some use. I am immediately struck that this new lady friend has nothing to do with tennis shoes.  She wears spiked heels, diamond earrings and a little black dress that hints at, but doesn’t quite reveal.  And no doubt, this little gal will definitely spend time a good part of her life getting waxed and primped, if Matt Rambow has anything to say about it.

After a good long introduction to her various parts and pieces, I took her for a ride. How different was this from my dual-sport rides? It started when Matt couldn’t bare to let me ride the bike from the shop. You see, Matt’s shop is on a dirt road surrounded by farms…and his bikes are WAY too pretty for dirt. OK, so THAT’S a first…a motorcycle that doesn’t do dirt.

We trailered it about a mile to the nearest asphalt, Matt gave me a crude little map of the way out to the world, and I launched. First impressions follow:

Size: Compact. The Commando is a tight package, easily flat-footed, and the riding position feels a bit tucked. Definitely not a Cafe Racer, more a traditional bike than that.  But with Cafe tendencies.

Controls: Everything worked perfectly…once I found it. Brake on the left foot, shift on the right. One gear up and three down. I got the hang of it, but my learned behavior was ALL wrong. Every time I came to a stop, I would reach for the rear brake with the wrong foot and shift to a higher gear. No harm, just made me laugh. Fortunately, the front brake is VERY capable, so stopping was never an issue.

Sound: What a treat. As Matt promised, his new pipes mean you WILL be noticed if you are accelerating, especially from a stop. Heads turn. Not Harley sound. Norton sound, and plenty of it. But not harsh, and not tractor-like, as so many of the cruisers have become. Burbles softly at steady low RPM cruising. Townspeople will not come after me with pitchforks.

Handling: This is the first Commando I have ridden, and maybe they’re all this good. Maybe not. I have a feeling that lowering it an inch did some good things here. Center of gravity is nice and low, and it really, really feels connected to the road. Curves are all fun, no fear. I made it up the canyon as far as Rico the second day (still pretty crisp and a strong headwind, and I wasn’t rigged for cold weather).  Road is a lot of high speed sweepers. Very, very competent corner bike that wanted to do much more than I was asking of it.

Motor: One word – Torque. Dang. Buckets and buckets of torque. Matt cautioned me to keep it under 4k RPM since the motor is fresh, and honestly, I tried. Mostly pulled it off, too, and I swear I saw 5k on the clock only a couple of times. Holy cow, this motor WANTS to go. I really can’t wait to get some miles on it so I can find out where on the curve it most likes to live. I suspect it is somewhere around 6 thousand RPM, but I can’t be sure. I do know that at 4-5k, it was still pulling strong and sounded like it was wanted to sing. Remember, this isn’t a high-revving sport bike, it is a torque machine. What I can say is Matt has built a hundred of these bikes (mine is number 104), and he has really learned some things along the way.  He builds a great, great motor.

Instead of talking a lot more, I think the thing to do at this point is just to drop in a few photos and call it good. I left the bike with Matt.  He will, in time, take a group of what he calls “glamour shots” and post the bike to his gallery on his web site.  These amature snaps with iphone will have to do for now:


in the shop, surrounded by other bikes under construction.


Keihan Flat Sides.  Work REALLY well.


First sunlight, shop dog supervising.


Roadside shot, first day…this is about where I froze out and turned around.  New Schubert lid in foreground.


Matt pulled the plugs after first day run.  Perfect color, mixture is just right.


Day two, a little warmer.  Made it up as far as Rico.  Turned around at this point and rolled back down.  Took a little side road with nice curves and…ran out of gas.  God bless these old bikes, switch the petcock from “On” to “Reserve”, kick it over and made it back to town, just, and bountiful fuel.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Tale of Three Mini Immigrants

Taking a short break from the usual Motorcycle stuff, this is a car story, and it is an on-going adventure.

Setting:  Santiago, Chile.  Living in an apartment, and working stupid hours a day.  A lousy dollar to peso exchange rate and restrictive import laws mean that vintage cars, or vehicles of any sort are quite expensive.  They exist, but the prices are high, and where the heck would I work on a car anyway?  Not an ideal environment to fiddle with cars, yes?  A smart person would abandon any such thoughts.  Not likely…

More detail:  A while back, an old and deteriorating spine condition that had been unsuccessfully repaired a couple of times went acute, and the delay option melted away.  Fortunately, I found an excellent surgeon who, in two takes and with a fist-full of titanium hardware, put me back in shape.   Long story short, recovery included a period of convalescence during which the marvels of modern chemistry kept the pain at bay, and made an alternate frame of “judgement” and “good sense” seem perfectly appropriate.  Add in a pretty good internet connection, and an enabling co-conspirator (Heather, you aren’t escaping this story without proper credit!), and it was the perfect opportunity to kill some time roaming the internet looking for automobiles of interest, located in Chile. The task was to find one (repeating; one, uno, ein!) car of interest to purchase and fool with that wasn’t stupid expensive, and might be priced in a range that would make eventually exporting it back to the USA a realistic option.   Candidates were old Fiats, BMW Isseta’s, Austin Minis, and anything else that looked interesting and fun.

After chasing a lot of possibilities that turned to dust, we happened across a 1969 Austin Mini pickup (yes, a pickup) for sale.  I have always liked the whole idea of the Minis, the history, the fact that they were the very first front engine, front wheel drive vehicle produced.  And, because Austin brought a lot of Minis into Chile (they even had an assembly plant here for some years), there are quite a few of them in country, and they aren’t crazy expensive.  Not cheap either, but not out of the world of the possible.  And it was a baby pickup! So we made some phone calls, and went to see it.  As advertised, it is probably or mostly a ’69 (records are a little sketchy for old cars down here, and it has no VIN), but the surprise was it had been modified/hot rodded…a lot…to race.  Full roll cage, hot-rodded motor, limited slip differential.  It was even fitted with a tow bar to drag it to events.  Ragged out racing seats.  The previous owner was really proud of it, and had clearly had a lot of fun with this little guy.  But he was ready to move on, had purchased an older full sized pickup that was his new project, and it was time to deal.  It was a project car, but an interesting one.

Kicking the (little) tires...

Kicking the (little) tires…

I have since learned that in the Mini Pickup community, these baby trucks are commonly called “pups”, which seems completely appropriate.  The owner was REALLY proud of his rig, and it was good fun giving it the once-over.  I fired it up, drove it around his yard, and was smitten immediately.  It…was…LOUD!  And just imminently groovy.  Not perfect, a little rust here and there but none of it in structural locations, interior a bit worn.  But I think we were both hooked the moment we saw it. Removable hood, lowered to the deck, 13″ wheels in place of the original 10″, wheel barrow wheels.  Fun and funny all at the same time.  And it was a pickup!  They only made 58,000 of these little guys during a total of 21 years of production, and they are becoming increasingly rare, so how could we even think of passing on this opportunity.

Did I mention that it was dark?

Did I mention that it was dark?

So, with the sun now fully down and in the darkness, we made the deal.  All was good, all happy…and then we noticed that another car we had been looking at on the internet was parked just at the edge of the lights in the yard.  It was a 1980 sedan, green in color, and was actually the property of his son.  But his son was ready to update to the new Mini, and while he wasn’t too anxious to part with his classic Mini, he couldn’t manage both at the same time.  So we made the offer to buy the green car as well, if the son was agreeable, and headed home.  Now the problem…with a “regular” car and two motorcycles, our allotted parking spaces at the building where we live were full.  Dang.   Now what??  These are small cars, but…holy moly, we now have a problem!

In for a Penny, in for a Pound… Not long after we made the deal on these two little guys, a truly unexpected development occurred.  Did I mention these “pups” are rare?  Heather ran across a second pickup for sale, and it was here in Santiago.  The photos in the ad made it look just cute as hell — powder blue, very original, 10″ wheels, unmolested.  It had been “restored” by the owner some years back, but he was now divorced and into sailing, and such activities take a lot of attention and money, so the pup was sitting unused in his warehouse.  The responsible side of my brain knew we were headed well into outrageous behavior if we went to see this next rig, because I knew that if we did, it would come home with us.

Cute, Cute, Cute

Cute, Cute, Cute

But the other side of my brain, the side the that was enjoying the morphine patch, was certain that a little outrageous behavior was exactly what we needed.   And besides, the Fates must have sent this second car — since they are so rare!  Deep into downtown Santiago we went, and there she was.  Cuter than the ad.  With a battery jump and a “hi-ho silver!”, we launched out into Santiago traffic…and promptly ran out of gas.  In traffic.

But undaunted, we quickly fell for the little truck-cito, and made a deal with the owner.  We had gone from 0 to 3 Minis in record time, and now we had a REAL problem with parking.

Enter the Portero:  If you live in Latin America, in an apartment, there is someone who is very important to your well-being.  He is called the Portero, which translates to door man, but he is often much, much more.  He is the guy who knows how to find a plumber, the guy who washes your vehicles (for a fee), will wash your windows, fix your toaster.  He is the “can-do” guy.  And he also manages the parking.  He knows who has a car, who doesn’t and who might be interested in renting their parking space to you.  He, of course, probably takes a cut for making the deal.  You will never know.  But a workman should be paid for value-added, and I have never had a problem with this system.

Our Portero, Rolando, is terrific.  It took a month or three, but he came up with another two parking places, managed the monthly transfer of money (I never knew whose spaces I was renting), and the problem was solved. A quick aside — we live in a fairly small building.  Only a dozen apartments, and that means that no occupant is anonymous.  We were already known as the Americans with the motorcycles (pleasantly, I would add), so I think suddenly dominating the parking lot with an influx of vintage little cars was a small surprise, but a pleasant one for most.  Nobody grumbled.

After making the cars more or less legal, we started shoveling modest amounts of money to a local Mini specialist shop, and trying to keep the cars running and street worthy.  For the pale blue pup and green car, we had some success.  We also learned quickly that we would be required to pass periodic emissions and technical tests that were going to be a running problem, and the money was going to continue to go out on a regular basis.

Honestly, the only one that proved ready for the road was the pale blue pup, and I was quite a hit when I would show up at the local open-air vegetable market driving it.  It was great fun.  Everywhere I drove it, cell phone cameras were out in half the cars I passed, and lots of strangers, often older folk, wanted to talk about their past Minis. I was a genuine micro-celebrity in my micro-truck!  But…problems continued, and finally, the little blue pup developed an overheating problem that put me over the edge.  It was time to find a Macro solution to the whole Mini problem (when “Mini” is part of the conversation, every statement is a potential pun).

Enter “Mini Tec”, and a Hero, and a Heroine

Cruising the internet trying to learn about what the heck I had acquired, I found a company in Royston, Georgia , USA, called “Mini Tec”.  These guys, in typical ‘Merican fashion, have engineered a whole new level of speed and personality into these classic old British boxes.  What they do is remove the existing motor/transmission (originally about 40 horsepower) and substitute the motor/transmission from a VTEC Honda.  Sounds simple, but they put a lot of solid engineering into the subframe that mates the new drive train to the old Mini.  Dang.  Now THAT’S America!  If bigger is better, then too much is just right.  The minimum package they do is 140 horsepower, and some go up to amazingly high power levels.  And those are reliable, Honda horsepower.   DANG!

I contacted BJ Hudson at Mini Tec and started a conversation about the possibility of sending the green car and the dark blue pickup to Georgia to get the go-fast treatment from their mechanical wizards.  I think he must have thought, “yeah, yeah…this goofball in Chile will never actually go through with this…”, or some such.  But I had seized on an idea, and with a “plan” in hand, it was only a matter of figuring out what the barriers were and knocking them over, one at a time.

Hero Number 1:  I started contacting shipping companies.  After wasting too many weeks talking to shippers who really didn’t know what the heck to make of me, and who ALL eventually blew me off, Heather reminded me that we have a friend who regularly does this stuff.  His name is Edgardo Buk, he lives in Mendoza, Argentina, and we met him because he works with a group of friends in an Australian motorcycle touring company called Compass Expeditions.  These guys do tours in South America and Eurasia, and Edgardo is their do-everything guy, including shipping and customs.  I got in contact with Edgardo, we talked about the shipment, and his response was that “sure, he can do it”!  Barrier one down.  yay!

Hero(ine) Number 2:  I also started shopping for a freight forwarder on the US side.  To do something like this, you need somebody on each end.  The Fates smiled, and I made a connection with Claudia Moreno in Savannah, the closest port to Mini Tec, in Royston, Georgia.  Claudia responded that her parents are actually from Chile, though she has never visited herself.  Claudia responded that she would be very happy to help me with the shipment, and I have to say that she went WAY beyond mere requirements in making this deal a success.

About this time, due to the pale blue pup’s overheating problem, I made a decision.  All three were going north, where parts are available, mechanics are available, and everything SHOULD get easier.  I talked to BJ, and he said that sure, they could help with the mechanicals on the little pup, even though it would not be a hot rod, but would stay as stock (and slow, and original) as possible.  A quick calculation showed that ALL THREE would fit in one 40 foot container, so the decision was made.  EVERYBODY was going to America (except me).  Heather was already there, in Austin, toiling away learning to be a Capitalist (or at least masquerade as one).

My part was preparing all the documentation (and writing checks).  I spent one full weekend translating documents, filling out forms, scanning it all and sending it forward to Claudia in Savannah.  It felt a little like doing taxes, and getting it all done was every bit as satisfying as completing a year’s worth of IRS pain.

Edgardo came over and camped out in my apartment for a couple of weeks, bringing his daughter along for a little vacation time mixed with arranging my shipment.  Amazing.  What was impossible with the big freight companies all came together in less than a week of his magic, and the Minis were ON A BOAT, headed for the Panama Canal.   18 days later, the container was off-loaded in Savannah and we were so close to success…Claudia had arranged a truck to take the container directly to Mini Tec, and with luck the container would shoot through the port like…well, you fill in your own words here.  It could happen really quick!

Then, our luck ran out.  The Customs and Border Patrol picked my container for a full inspection.  I later learned that I was not being picked on, these guys are charged with keeping hazardous shipments (read “counterterrorism”) and large quantities of recreational chemicals out of the country.  If you are a first-time shipper, you look especially interesting, and chances are your shipment WILL get the full inspection.  Claudia did all she could to expedite things, and I have a notion she saved me a bundle in port charges, but the container HAD to go through the x-ray inspection, and then it HAD to be opened and the contents inspected.  Long story short, it made it through the full treatment and was released a little over a week ago, and on Tuesday of last week, it arrived at Mini Tec, where all three little Minis breathed the clean air of Royston, Georgia for the first time!

Off-Load at Mini Tec

Off-Load at Mini Tec

The green car (el Poroto Verde, which is Chilean Spanish for Green Bean) is first in the lineup.  The goal is the 140 hp treatment, all new guages, new brakes, new air conditioning, new…well, lots of new that can wait for another post.  Maybe the pale blue pup in parallel, since it is not a hot rod deal, but rather just mechanical work and maybe some body work.

The fun begins.  The Green Bean will eventually end up in Heather’s custody.  She was co-conspirator in this monkey-business, and to tell the whole story — without her assistance when I was laid up, I would have been in a hellova mess.  Besides…the Green Bean has been “hers” sorta kinda since we first saw it that night in the dark.  It will be one nifty little pocket rocket, and should be the perfect rig for cruising Austin…maybe with a little Willy Nelson blasting out the windows…

Next posts on this topic will be to chronicle the progress, BJ promises lots of photos.  Should be great fun! Vamos a ver….


Filed under Uncategorized

So What’s UP ??? More bikes, more cars, more places…just more!

After a coupla years of silence, Heather and I have decided to try to breath life back into this blog, for ourselves if not for anyone else.  If you find amusement following along, great.  If not, well, we’re gonna do it anyway.

I will lead off with a VERY brief synopsis of what has transpired.  Heather is free to amplify or dispute anything I get wrong, so that gives me the freedom to write any damn fool thing I wish.

ImageHeather:  I won’t say too much, because that is a story she needs to tell, and she will.  I CAN say that after several years spent here in Santiago and in Scotland, she is now living in Austin, Texas, going to grad school to get her MBA as a step toward opening that Moto-Biz she has been craving.  She forsook her beloved BMW in exchange for a sweet little Aprilia (see the photo) that is fast, fast, fast.  And Italian.    That should be teaser enough for her to wade in here and tell us the rest of the story…and maybe tell us a little about “Belle Camber”…

Now, I will blab a little about me.  On the Moto front, I am still riding the same BMW previously described, and it is solid as a rock.  And still just a ton o’ fun.  But I have also taken a turn to the vintage world and am now the over-proud owner of a 1974 Norton Commando, that resides back in Colorado.  And it is not just any Commando…up in Dolores, Colorado, there is a shop called Colorado Norton Works, owned/operated by a gent named Matt Rambow (no kidding) who recreates old Nortons, and Matt is the best there is — bar none.  So one day, while sitting in a construction camp in Peru a couple of years ago, I decided I needed a treat, and that treat would be one of Matt’s creations.

Ordering a bike from Matt is not like buying a bike at a dealer.  First, I went up to his shop in Colorado and we discussed and agreed on what the bike should be.  Over the course of a couple of years, he acquired a donor bike, took it down to the bare frame, and then during about 6 months of work, put together exactly the Commando I wanted.  It was finished last October, and I went up and met Matt and his crew at the Barber Vintage Motorcycle festival in Birmingham, Alabama, where he had the bike on display (among others).    Image


This photo does NOT do this bike justice, but Matt always does a bunch of “glamour shots” of his bikes before he lets them go, so I will have better photos in about a month…because later this month, I am finally going to get to actually take possession of the Norton, and take it on a few break in rides on the Western Slope of the Rockies.

A note to anyone who hasn’t been to the Barber event in Birmingham.  If you like motorcycles at all, you gotta go.  60,000 people show up, and it is amazing.  The park where it is held includes a race track (road course) and a museum with hundreds and hundreds of vintage motorcycles, from every possible place and era.  It also includes a great collection of mostly Lotus racing cars.  The three day week end includes vintage races, displays by lots of vendors, the biggest flea market I ever saw (all motorcycle parts and paraphernalia), and the atmosphere is just perfect.  Everybody is there for a good time, nobody is cranky, they come from everywhere and every age group.  And Barber has every amazing or incredible or just plain weird motorcycle you can possibly imagine.

ImageSo that’s it on the motorcycle front, other than an antique Maico Blizzard I picked up recently, which is currently weeping oil onto my parking spot here at the apartment building I live at.  It is cute, old, slow, two-stroke, and will be a restoration project one of these days.  Just 250cc.  Maico is a German brand, pretty much gone, and very few were imported into the US that weren’t scramblers.  This one looks a lot like a vintage BMW, only a bit smaller than most BMWs, even the old ones.

I will save the car stories for another post, but just as a teaser…the tale includes three Minis found locally in Chile that recently “immigrated” to the USA, and a Triumph TR6 that lives out in Colorado Springs…those will wait for another post…


As to daily life, I am now working exclusively on a marine construction project that includes three tunnels under the sea, enormous jack-up barges, divers and lots of remotely-operated undersea vehicles.  Neat stuff.  All in a town in northern Chile called Antofagasta, and all to feed fresh water to a big open-pit copper mine.  Water is the next oil, no doubt.

I’ll stop now and give this a rest.  I have a crock pot full of pulled pork that needs tending…and it is probably the ONLY pulled pork in Chile at this moment, so the responsibility is heavy.

Those of you who are still subscribed to this blog, thank you for hanging in.  Keep watching, as Heather is going to bring in the good stuff.  That is…as soon as her crazy grad-school schedule allows her to do a little recreational writing!

Saludos, and hope everyone who read these words is well and happy —

Mike (and soon, Heather)


Filed under Uncategorized

Late Winter Wonderland (wonder if it is gonna rain??)

So…it has been about a year since the last post, and maybe there isn’t anyone reading this blog, but it seems not to have ended, it just stopped and somehow that doesn’t feel right.  Also, a friend recently asked if we were still using it, and I got a guilt pang…

Still alive and kickin"

Where are we, and what’s up?  We are settled in, in Santiago.  We have a fine big apartment, and over the months have furnished it to quite a comfortable level, we have two (replacement) motorbikes parked downstairs and a small VW SUV.  The bikes have been super reliable, and perfectly sized for running around the city, and for week end forays out into the country side – which here means either into the mountains or out to the beach.  We are discovering Chile, a little at a time.

Still think a lot about the trip, and still think it was a most amazing time, so rich with experiences that it is hard to get your head around the whole thing.  If anybody stumbles across these words because they are considering such a journey, stop thinking and just do it.  It is easier than you think.  As some of you have heard me say, it is just like going for a loaf of bread…but you keep on going.

What are we up to?  I (Mike) am learning fast how the copper mining industry works down here.  I work for a construction company, and business is enormously good.  Projects are large and fast, and it is a much less ordered contracting business than I was used to in my past lives.  More rough and tumble.  Heather is cutting hair again, and I have quickly become known to most people, not by my own job title, but as “Heather’s Dad”.  It ain’t so bad.

We have MANY new friends down here, both through work and not.  It is a multi-national crowd, with strong representation from the US, Australia, and of course Chile.  Some days, I think my Spanish is getting better, some days I wonder if I speak Spanish at all.  But it comes “poco a poco” (little by little).  Heather’s world is a blend of folks, many of whom speak no English at all, and she is studying, so her fluency and vocabulary have really, really improved.

Also, Heather made a trip to Scotland to see a very special young man.  She and Andres have known each other since high school in Bolivia, but waited until they had half a world between them to get interested in spending time together.  Ah well, such is the way of things, yes?

And…I had to take an altitude physical for my job (many sites are VERY high).  Flunked the EKG, so got to know a good cardiologist who tuned up my pump and now a feel great.  Highly recommended…Health care is, btw, very good here.  Surgery in Spanish was a treat.

So what’s next?  We just finished the on-line, classroom part of the PADI scuba course.  This was a precursor for the first “home leave” trip out of here, which will happen in September.  We are headed to visit a dear friend who lives in the Cayman Islands, and while there we will finish the open water diver certification.  I have always wanted to learn scuba, since watching “Sea Hunt” as a kid.  THAT reference will send the youngsters to the internet… But then the big party will be a week cruise with James, Becky and Molly.  Should be great, great fun.  Then, back here in time to watch the South American summer kick off, and hopefully to finish the run down to Patagonia this year.  That was on the original trip itinerary, but weather didn’t support it.  Now, it should be time.

So what’s to become of this blog?  Not sure.  It holds amazing memories, but if it is to continue, it will have to be in some sort of “Chapter 2” version.  Hmmm…will have to consult with the co-owner and see what we can come up with…

So, tipping more into the chapter two mode, a few words about some of the adventures we have had so far:

Ready to Ride...

We spent most of last summer getting set up in the apartment and getting transportation sorted out.  But there were a couple of visitors, including Heather’s friend Beth who came in for a couple of weeks.  The two of them loaded up on Heather’s bike and bopped over the pass to Mendoza, which is about a day’s ride over one of the higher passes in South America.  Then, Heather and I made a trip out to a little surf town called Pichelemu for a week end of clouds and drizzle.  The coast here shares the northern California tendency for clouds to roll in and drop the temperature dramatically, but it was a good ride and a cute town and we enjoyed it.  Soon after that, it was a week end at a cute little lodge in the mountains a couple of hours south of here.  Besides the general outing, we did a little fly fishing in a nice little fished-out river down there.  The locals fish the water pretty hard, in the sort of harvest mode we used years ago, so water near population is not exciting to fish.  But it was good to wet a line and rekindle and old love.

The Bay at Quintay

Then, recently, we popped over to the coast to a little town that was a whaling station until well into the 1960s.  It is called Quintay, and the whale processing docks and facilities are still there as a museum.  It must have been a pretty grissly site when it was operating, and they appear to have done a remarkable job of killing off the whale population, as they are rarely sited anymore.  It is a UNESCO site, preserved and protected.  And the locals apparently got very excited last year when a whale and her calf were seen in the area.

Then, last week end we returned to San Pedro de Atacama with some good friends (Angus and Kate) and their visiting parents.  We were there last year on bikes, but flew this time.  It was a really good visit, mostly for the company, but also for the adventures.  You may know, San Pedro is a dusty little town in an enormous desert, but sidled up against a range of volcanoes.  While there, we got up at 4 in the morning to rattle up a corduroy road for 90 km (55 miles) to see the sun come up over a geyser field.  It was at about 14,000 feet, and cold as stink.  We were underdressed.   Angus further underdressed by peeling off and jumping in one of the soaking pools they had up there.  Dang…he is tough, even for an Aussie.  The rest of us saved the soaking for a hot spring that was much lower (and nicer) the next day.  Other than that, it was mostly a whole lot of eating (great restaurants in this little town) and just decompressing from city life in Santiago.

Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna)

So now, it is a cloudy sort of chilly day, the mountains of Santiago are shrouded in snow and clouds, and we are just goofing off.  In a couple of weeks, Rafael and his tribe are headed down to visit their son who just started University here, and we are finalizing plans for the Caribean getaway.  I have a pork roast to toss on the grill, and will take a shot at something called “camarones al pil-pil”, which is a tapas sorta thing that originated in Spain but is very popular here.  By the way, converting our US grill to use a Chilean gas cylinder was a hoot, but I got it well and properly McGyvered, and it hasn’t blown up yet (much to Heather’s surprise).

If anybody reads this, and wants to see more, maybe we will kick it back to life.  Let us know…

The View From Our Balcony, But Only When the Smog Permits!


Filed under Uncategorized

Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas) from Santiago and the Petite Hotel l’Ambassade

So the holidays approach.  It has been an amazingly full year, with “the trip”, the move, and now the wait for our apartment.  Reflection is for mirrors, so I’ll decline the full recap and instead just make this a status update with only a little taste of recent history.

We are, indeed, in Santiago.  Our arrival was made a bit complicated by my employer, but it is now all sorted.  Basically, the new job wanted me here quickly, my old job was reluctant for me to leave until a replacement was found.  The compromise was that I was in Santiago for a month, went back to Los Alamos for a month, and finally returned here for good in November.  My replacement (finally) arrived at Los Alamos in December.  Los Alamos does many things well, but react quickly just ain’t one of ‘em.

In parallel, Heather tackled a solo motorcycle tour of the western US, and a car trip to Chicago to see old friends.  She then followed me down to Santiago, and we set up camp in the Time Suites hotel, looking for a more permanent dwelling.

Dwelling:  After some false starts and a lot of flopping around, we found a good one that meets all needs, but that won’t be available until January.  We negotiated the deal, negotiated the purchase of the appliances from the current occupants, and notified the shippers who will deliver our stuff that we have a destination for them.  It is a big apartment – the entire 9th floor of a building (meaning windows all ‘round) on a quiet street, with amazing views of the mountains.  It has a very large kitchen by local standards, and has a nice big guest room, for anyone who may need to see the sunny south!  We decided it would be worth waiting in our hotel for this specific apartment, and settled in for the holidays.

And then something delightful happened that changed things completely.  The small hotel we had staid in when we were passing through down here insisted we move back in with them, but not as hotel guests, rather as extended family.  They have become great friends and didn’t want to see us stay through the holidays in “just a hotel”, so moved us part and parcel back to their hotel, with free run of the kitchen and dinner waiting every night when I get home from work.  Tres bien!

Pia and Mijo, two of our hosts at the hotel

One added benefit:  we are the only two native English speakers in the house, and normal conversation is in Spanish.  Not sure I can say I am improving the quality of my Spanish, but I am making my mistakes much more rapidly and with much more fluency.  Heather is teaching everyone to say “snickerdoodle” by baking cookies, and the result is a riot.  We are on-deck to cook the Christmas turkey, and the good news is I found one (un “pavo entero”) and captured it (it was frozen), hauling it home on my shiny new….motorbike!  (see below)

Motorcycles:  Non-moto folk can skip this part, I won’t be offended.  As previously posted, you can not (legally) import a used motorcycle to Chile.  For that reason, we had to sell our bikes in the US, and seek replacements here.  The first week end I was in Santiago, BMW was having a promotional event, so I (only a little impulsively) ordered two F800gs bikes, to be delivered in November.  And they were.  One is orange and black (mine), and the other is the white 30th anniversary model (Heather’s).  Of course, everyone knows that Orange is much faster than White.  We haven’t tested that yet, since both bikes are in the break in period and revs are limited to 5k.  But yes, we are back on wheels and damn, it feels great!

We are both very pleased with the 800s.  For me it is a lighter and more nimble bike (scaling back from the 1200 I sold), with a bit more off-road capability.  Not as smooth and comfy on the highway, but more fun in city traffic.  For Heather, it is a step up to more power, bigger brakes and fancier instruments, while retaining the off-road capabilities of her old f650.  They’re capable dual sports with no limitation to where they can carry, and have a very high grin factor.

We ordered Jesse bags from the US.  Al Jesse, in Arizona, makes the best cases I have ever seen, but FedEx caused us a bit of complexity getting them cleared through customs, since the value exceeded their $1,000 limit of what they will clear themselves.  It is also “strike season” and the customs workers decided to take a day off, adding one additional round trip to the airport to the process.  But happy endings abound, and they are now mounted to the bikes and ready for whatever adventures appear.

So in the end, we traded two used but servicable bikes, a Porsche and an FJ Cruiser for two new bikes.  If the theme is “simplify”, then we are succeeding.

Work:  My new job is a good one.  40% of Chile’s economy is based on copper mining, and my company builds the processing plants that extract the copper from the mountains of dirt they call “ore”.  These are mega-projects measured in billions of dollars on three-year timelines, and there are many of them.  With the price of copper at record levels, the owning companies are investing heavily and quickly.  It is nothing less than a multi-national boom, reaching up into Peru and also crossing into Argentina.

So with growth writ large on everything here, our workforce that was 800 professionals this time last year is now 1400, and must double again by this time next year.  And every pro we hire needs to know how we do things, so training and coordination will be critical.  My little niche area was a sideline for my current boss, with no one doing it full time in the home office.  Now there is me and one other. This time next year we need to have fifteen folks trained and deployed from here to the top of the Andes.  It is going to be quite a ride…

Enough of that.  Work is what we do to support our passions.  Or it is our passion.  Or some blend of the two.  In either case, it is work and my work is working, and I work with some truly great people.  Heather is working on building a clientele in her hair cutting biz, meeting lots of nice people here through the various social organizations for foreigners.

And indeed, we are foreigners.  But maybe feeling a bit less foreign than anywhere else we served in my old State Department days.   This is much closer to full immersion, and while the majority of my co-workers speak English, not all do and once out the door of the office, English is only of minimal use.

Getting to know Santiago on wheels is good fun, but some say I am truly crazy to want to ride in it.  The traffic is…interesting.  Drivers are very aggressive, but stop reliably for pedestrians, for motorcycles, not so much.  Cars are very pricey, but everyone drives like they have seven at home waiting in case they crash.  The buses are enormous and fast!  And the buses go wherever they want, because after all – they’re buses!  Motorbikes swim amongst the lanes like fishes.

Streets are mostly one-way, and left turns are rare.  Miss a turn and you may spend 20 minutes trying to recover.  And there is a very nifty automated toll system that requires you sign up in advance and put a little beeper on your vehicle that “talks” to the overhead toll machines.  Toll plazas are very rare.  Very fast and efficient.  Come to think of it, everything happens fast on the roads here.  Except that, as in every big city I’ve ever seen, the growth in dwellings and cars has outpaced the growth of roads, so jams and pinch points become inevitable.

So that is it for now.  Regret there is no real “adventures” to describe, no hair-raising rides over Peruvian passes, no beaches at sunset.  But be not deceived, as we are not tamed, merely positioning for the next round o’ fun.

Hope all are well and happy and enjoying the holidays…

Un gran abrazo, y Feliz Navidad de la Familia Rafferty!

what follows are some recent photos (as in…today) related to the above yakking:

Apple pie...yum!

Orange...the fastest color? Look close to see the FRONT license plate. Chile puts 'em on back and front.

Or could it be white is faster?

A little consultation...Vanessa.

Heather and Adolpho


Filed under Uncategorized

Chow in Chile…

First off, some have noted it is tough to figure out whether it is me (Mike) writing, or Heather.  So yes, this is me.

Two weeks in Santiago and thinking maybe it’s time for a few first impressions.  My history of first impressions is poor – they’re only reliable in their unreliable-ness, based on misunderstandings and ignorance.  But hey, they’re fun to read later on, in a kind of a “how the heck could I have believed THAT??” sorta way.  So here goes…

My current dwelling is an apart-hotel, comfy enough, about ¾ mile from the office.  So I know a great deal…about the street between here and there.  I know where the Starbucks is.  I found a laundry.  I figured out the Metro (it is a GREAT subway, world class).  And I know there’s an amazing good steak house a couple of blocks away, and amazing pizza a few blocks past that.  But really, I only know the strip a few blocks wide between here and work.

That’s not to say I’ve been holed up just working and sleeping.  I’ve had the pleasure of invitations to dinner on a number of occasions, twice with the excellent folks who run the hotel we staid in when we were here before.  And I’ve gotten out to see a bit of the city, including the tour of Pablo Neruda’s house, which Heather and I missed on our first pass through Chile.

But this post is mostly about food, and I’m discovering that Chile’s reputation for not-so-spicy food is only partly deserved. Maybe a bit like England’s.  I will preface further statements with the fact that after two weeks, I would LOVE a good bowl of green chili stew, and don’t hold any hope of finding one.  But so far I’ve learned that you CAN get an excellent steak here (the best is rumored to be imported from Argentina), and you CAN get good Italian, and tonight I’ll attempt to learn if you CAN get good sushi. But yes, the day-to-day chow is not strongly seasoned.

Chile is not unique in its spare use of spices – Heather will remember that when we were in Cuzco, Peru, we treated ourselves at a small upstairs Indian place where we had a GREAT meal, both pungent and hot with curry and magical peppers.  The owner, a lady who actually WAS from India, struck up a conversation during which we were bragging effusively about her cooking.  Her response was unforgettable, and you have to imagine the accent: “So you are tired of boiled chicken and potatoes?”  She was exactly right.  That was mountain food in the Andes.

But no, throughout the world you find French restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Italian restaurants…restaurants serving the food of many, lands.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a restaurant that proudly serves Andean food. Maybe this is one of those stupid first impressions I’m destined to abandon…vamos a ver…

(edit:  since writing this, a Chilean explained to me that the food is tasty, just not spicy.  A point well taken.  Interesting point of context is that he was a waiter in an Indian restaurant.)

And this all leads me to last night, to describe my funniest food-gathering venture so far.  Tired and not in the mood to go out and sit in a restaurant, I decided to give up and try the Dominoe’s pizza place on the corner.  I had been avoiding it actively – why travel half way ‘round the world to eat what you can get down the street??  But I was tired and really just wanted something small and simple, and wasn’t looking for high quality…which is good, because here’s how it went:

The place was clean, bright, and could have been anywhere in the US.  A difference was that there was a swarm of buzzing, busy brunettes working feverishly behind the counter.  One bee emerged from the swarm and demanded my name (she must have thought I had had the good sense to call ahead, which I had not).  In the din of noise, I attempted to tell her I wanted to PLACE an order.  Again, she demanded my name.  I gave up and told her “Miguel!”  She batted furiously at a computer keyboard for about two minutes.  Finally, she looked up and asked what I wanted.  And that’s when it got funny.

I asked for a medium pepperoni pizza (the menu brags of pepperoni imported from the US!). Medium is much more food than I wanted, but it is their smallest size.  I figured I would eat half and toss the rest.  But cultural note of warning – looks like maybe the US “supersize” virus is spreading…

-Fine she says.  And what do you want for your second pizza?

-I don’t want two pizzas, I just want one.

-But you get two for the price of one – so TELL me what you WANT!?

-I don’t want two pizzas, I just WANT ONE PIZZA!

-Well, WE give two for one, and you get TWO, so WHAT KIND DO YOU WANT?? (Her frustration with the dumb gringo starting to show…)

-OK, I give up.  Give me TWO pepperoni pizzas!!

Ten minutes later I walked out the door, mumbling, in English, “what the hell am I going to do with all this pizza?”

At the first traffic light, the answer appeared.  A stooping little gnome of a panhandler, grubby and missing a few teeth, shuffled up to me with the most sincere and pitiful entreaty:

“por favor, Caballero, tengo hambre, estoy pobre, necessito monedas para…” (Please, Sir, I’m hungry and poor, and need money for…”

Excited at the solution unfolding before me, I interrupted him in mid-plea: “Quere una pizza?!?”  (You want a pizza?!?)  He was stunned.  “…yes?” he replied tentatively.   Quick as a bunny I shoved a pizza at him and he seemed to envelope it with his entire upper body, like he was afraid someone might grab it away from him.  And in a flash he was off at a trot, laughing with glee.  Actually, we were both laughing. It was a great moment.

I got home and opened the pizza that was left. It was a limp, damp, food-ish mess covered with olive-like bits and limp mushrooms. No meat.  Of any kind.  Just dead vegetables and cheese.

I hope my buddy got the pepperoni (from the US!).  But the satisfaction of “beating” the two for one deal made mine tolerable.

I’m off to look at rental properties this afternoon, with hopes of finding something with a small garage.  I’m told that’s a hopeless quest.  Santiago (at least inside the city) is very European in that respect – the dwellings tend to be small and garage-less. Most folks live in apartments, and that may be where we are headed – but not without a good hard try at finding a house.

Now it is time to go down to breakfast, where I’ll pretend that the chopped up tomato on my scrambled eggs is really salsa.  Hope you are all well, safe and happy.  More news will come when there’s more to say — mr

Edit:  subsequent to this, I found Tobasco sauce in a grocery store…whoohoo!  problem solved…


Filed under Uncategorized

It’s Chilly in Chile…

Tick-tock indeed.  Those two little words said a whole lot about what’s up these days. I’ll try to add a little detail…

First, to the title of this post:  It’s a cloudy and chilly day in Santiago, perfect for tapping out a little update, so I will.

An awful lot has happened in the last months, and I’ve been hesitant to write because there were just too many unknowns.  Things are now starting to gel, so it’s time.

Many who are reading this blog already know that when we got back from Argentina, we retrieved our bikes from the Denver airport (unharmed by the transit), and went back to Santa Fe.  Some also know that I went back to work, and Heather lit out for the west coast.  That was one hellova ride, from the sound of it, but it is her tale to tell and I won’t say much other than that she made a loop through Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, various locations in Washington State and North Idaho, and then down through Montana and Wyoming.  It was a LONG solo adventure, and many riders live a lifetime without making such a journey.  I know she had a great time and tossed in a little enlightenment along the path, and grew to love her little BMW even more.

Meanwhile, I was back at it haggling with the Feds at Los Alamos which is/was my job.  At the same time, a message exchange started with my company’s office in Santiago, Chile.  The mining sector in South America is booming, and our company builds a lot of the processing facilities required to extract and transport the minerals.  Mostly copper, but also some other stuff.  Mostly in Chile and Peru, but spreading out rapidly.

Long story short, they offered and I accepted a position in Santiago, and Tuesday, Heather dropped me off at the Albuquerque airport and American Airlines welcomed me to Chile the next morning.  Woohoo!  A little faster than the last time I came to Santiago…I’ll be here a month, go back to Los Alamos for a month to transition the new troop into my old job, and then Heather and I will return here for good.

A word about Los Alamos — I will definitely miss the crew I worked with there — already do.  A truly fine group of folks that will make it hard to leave, but good to know I had the chance to work with such quality folk.

I should make it clear that I AM writing this from a hotel in Santiago — and yes, it is winter here.  Been great all week, but cloudy and cool today.  Snow on the mountains.  Like an aging and handsome woman, Santiago even looks good in winter.

A piece of very good news is that James (son), Becky (daughter in law) and Molly (granddaughter) decided to move to New Mexico, so they’ve slid into the Rafferty homestead there in Santa Fe.  Huge big changes from rural Kansas, and I hope they really enjoy it.  New Mexico is good living, I think.  I continue to ask…does anybody else see the irony that everybody moved to New Mexico when I announced I was moving on???  hmmmm….

t our motorbikes couldn’t make the trip this time — as Heather said in her post,  Chile doesn’t allow import of used personal vehicles unless you’re just passing through.  So our bikes went to a new home.  Funny the attachment you make to a device that hauls your butt through a couple of continents.  Maybe I now understand how Lloyd feels about his horses…

Now we’re working the problem of replacing them in Chile.

After all, there’s all of Patagonia at our doorstep from here, and we didn’t get to make that journey the first round.

A word about the crew I work with here — absolutely first rate.  Some are ol’ chums I worked with on previous projects, many are new friends.  They’re all buried in work, but happy and upbeat and on the move.  This is going to be fun…

That’s a very brief wrap up of a lot of happenings in the last months.  There’s a bizilion details I left out, but the central themes are here.  Hope to have more adventury stuff to write about in future, but as Heather said — there’s a bit of “tick tock” right now, waiting to get everything arranged to get her down here, to get settled in a more permanent dwelling, and to get on with the journey.

Hope all are well and happy, and please excuse the long silence.  I promise there’ll be more interesting things to write about very soon…

Ciao!  mike


Filed under Uncategorized