Archive for the '13 Chile 07/ 08' Category

The end of the road!?

Posted by on Mar 27 2009 | 13 Chile 07/ 08, 14 Argentina 08/09, English

In a hurry

Finally the Careterra Austral was behind us and we would have pavement for most of the way down to Ushuaia. We wanted to do some hikes around Fitz Roy but I wasn’t feeling too well and we didn’t know how it would be working out with Chan. So we just left for a day’s hike to see Cerro Torre, but he was hiding behind clouds. It was still a beautiful hike and Chan was only complaining for the first 20 minutes.

 

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We felt  that it was time to move on, now so close to the most southern tip of the world, we felt the call. We wanted to leave El Chalten early morning, but couldn’t get our stuff together until past 11am. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and lots of wind. The mountains in our backs enchanted the country with both peaks , Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, free of clouds. The condors circling in the sky made the picture complete. That day we rode 110km, the wind helping us and camped behind an abandoned house sheltered from the wind.

 

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We were now back out in the argentinian pampa again and had to watch our water which we could fill up at the estancias (farms) close to the highway. Because the strong wind around midday was not always helping but mostly slowing us down hitting our sides, we wanted to be on the road as early as possible and were going to bed early.

One night we camped at a vialidad post (highway maintenance post). Our dreams were disrupted by a loud screeching noise followed by a huge impact of something big. For a moment it was quiet, then we heared a whimpering. Half asleep still, I thought the house under construction next to us was falling apart, but Flo knew immediatly that a car accident had occured. He put on his clothes quickly and ran up to the road, where he found a pickup truck upside down in the ditch. A man was lying accross the front seats, saying that he wasn’t able to  get out. Flo told him, that he was getting help and would be back immediatly. He ran to the trailer of the vialidad official and tried to knock him awake. But the man first lit a cigarette. Flo tried to get him moving, but he was very slow to understand what had happend. Finally they went over to the site of the accident together. The driver of the pickup had by now managed to crawl out of his car, but needed help walking. Flo supported him, while the official went ahead to his trailer. There he handed desinfectant and bandaids to Flo and told him to care for the casualty, while he was calling ambulance and police. The casualty was under shock talking about the others. So Flo went back to the accident site and searched for others, but all he found was the drivers wallet which he brought back to him. The man had been driving alone and fallen asleep. There was nothing more he could do and so Flo came back to sleep.

We did get up very early next morning because we wanted to ride the whole 70km of gravel ahead in one day and hopefully most before the wind was waking up. When we left the vialidad post,  a policeman was inspecting the accident site. We greetet him and rode off. Nobody intervend to question Flo which we were glad about.

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Never have we seen so many wild animals as here, out in the pampa. There were lots of foxes with little ones playing in the fields, nandus (the south american ostrich),  guanacos and an armadillo. We saw flamingoes, other water birds, condors and birds of prey. The pampa down here was much more diverse than further north with more grassland and swamps than thorn bushes.

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Next day we were on the road early again for the highway turned directly westward for some 20km, meaning straight into head wind. When we finally turned south around midday, the wind had gotten extremely strong and blew me a few times into the other lane in front of cars. I had to get off and push my bike even downhill. I just didn’t have the strengh to hold my bike up against that wind. We decided to take a long lunch break and then be looking for a wind sheltered spot to camp. After a while of fighting on, we finally found a place close to the road behind some bushes and went to bed early. Up early morning again, we made it to the border into Chile and to Puerto Natales quickly.

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Using our feet instead of wheels for once

In Puerto Natales we could stay at a hostal owner’s house for a good price. We rested for a day, then prepared our trip to Torres del Paine National Park. I was feeling all good this time and we really wanted to hike in those beautiful mountains.

We took the bus early one morning up to the park. Torres del Paine is unbelievable expensive and extremely touristic. The paths are well maintained. It was light hiking with a mass of other tourists but we still enjoyed it, although we thought it to be much wilder.

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The first day, after arriving at the last bus stop in the park, we walked for six hours, 18km. Chan complained for the first hour, but then found sticks to play with and was happy for the rest of the day. We arrived at the campsite around 6pm, put up the tent and went cooking in the refugio (shelter). Chan was completely fine, but Flo and I had both crampy, hurting legs! We were wondering about the next few days, but as soon as we were walking in the morning again, we were fine. We climbed a steep path up to the view point of the southern icefield and returned to the same camp.

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 Next day was extremely windy. Along a lake we obsereved the wind tossing water high up into the air. My  backpack was huge though much lighter than Flo’s and I was knocked over by the wind a few times. In some places we had to hold on to Chan tightly to keep him from beeing pushed over a cliff.

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On our last day in the park we wanted to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales at 2pm. We had to walk about 12km and kept hurrying Chan along. The next bus was at 7pm, the ride taking 3 hours. Chan obviously didn’t enjoy that hike very much and was saying that hiking was really dumb. But once we arrived at the bus stop he started playing with other packpackers immediatly, most of which looked pretty tired. Chan was running around, jumping and screaming, no sign that he had just walked 12km in 3 and a half hours!

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We got back to Puerto Natales in time for a party at a hostal where Chan was running around the fire with his new friends Noah and Finn, children of one of the hostal owners.

Three and a half days brought us to Punta Arenas. There wasn’t much wind and after the first day grassland was all around us again. The night before reaching the city, we camped at a police control post. The police men were very nice and proudly showed us the place they had set up for the many cyclists passing through. They had build a wooden shed for wind and rain protection with a fire ring. In the morning they called us into their kitchen to eat our breakfast in a warm place.

Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego

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We only stayed in Punta Arenas for two days before taking the ferry to Tierra del Fuego. When we got off the ferry it rained, the usual patagonian drizzle which soaked us within minutes. We filled up our waterbag in Porvenir and started up the last gravel road before Ushuaia.

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We only made it 30km far, then came across a sign of an estancia only 500m away. The people of the estancia were very hospitable and let us stay in the dorm house they use for all the gauchos at busy times. We were invited for tea into the main house. Later we went back to the dorm and cooked dinner, then went to bed. Next mornign we ate breakfast and while packing the bikes the housekeeper came over to invite us for breakfast. She was very upset when she learned that we had already eaten, since we didn’t show up for dinner the night before either. She prepared some sandwiches for us for the way. For her it had been natural that we were invited for dinner and breakfast without needing to tell us. We hadn’t known about that custom of the estancias on Tierra del Fuego. A day later at the estancia Concordia, Rigoberto, a legend under cyclists, told us that on any estancia on Tierra del Fuego we could ask for water and whatever food we needed. He showed us fotos of all the cyclists which had passed through and we found some familiar faces. He cooked a tasty dinner and we spend the evening chatting away.

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The next forty kilometers we were almost flying though still on gravel. At the intersection we had to decide which way to take: The easy way straight to the border and to pavement within the next 50km with tailwind or against hard headwind on gravel for 50km, then into what Rigoberto had called precious country. A detour on gravel for some 100km. We sat down to eat lunch and decided to take a ride to Cameron, if there was one while we were eating. Soon three grader and a small truck approached on the road to Cameron. We asked them about the road conditions further south and towards the border and if we could get a ride with them. They gave us a lift for part of the way to their kitchen trailer from where we tried to hitch a ride on. While we were waiting, the road workers invited us in for a coffee. Later a truck brought us to the intersection just before Cameron.

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We weren’t in the mood of riding down the steep hill into the village, instead we started climbing up towards the center of the island. We spent the night at the roadside, sheltered from the wind by some trees and bushes.

When we had just finished packing the bikes in the morning , that all soaking patagonian drizzle rain started once more. Slowly we climbed up and up. We wondered if it had really been worth, riding that detour, since the country around us wasn’t any special, just some more pampa. But when we had reached a certain elevation everything around us changed, even the sun was burnign its way through the clouds, stopping the drizzle. The trees got more dense, the leafs lighting up red and yellow with the sunrays touching them. There were small lakes with flamingoes and the ever present guanaco on the grassland beteween the forested hills.

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We rode 60km and arrived at an estancia around 5pm. We asked if we could put up our tent there, sheltered from the wind. There had not been estancias every 5km as Rigoberto had asured us, but rather only one midway. But on this one, a branch of a huge estancia, were only workers present, which weren’t allowed such desicions. We had to ask the owner who might or might not come by that evening. So we asked for water. When Flo had the waterbag filled up, he was told that it wasn’t drinking water and needed to be treated. We put micropur tablets into the water and rode another 5km to the closest forest, where we camped in the midst of the trees.

It rained throughout the whole night. The road up here was more dirt track than gravel road and after that rain very muddy. But we were lucky and it was bad and sticky only for the first few kilometers, then the sun and wind had already dried it up enough not to be sticky anymore.

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The last 11km to the border our road got smaller even, meandring through autumn forest. To get from the chilean border post to the argentinian one, we needed to cross a river without bridge. Flo went in first to check out the deepness of the water. It was about knee level. The current wasn’t too strong and he brought his bike to the other side. I followed with some panniers. Flo brought the other bike, and then Chan to the other side, while I was carring panniers. The last thing was the trailer, which we had to carry together. Just when we had everything together again, it started to rain quite heavily. Wet up to the waist, we fled into the border post and had the officer stamp our passports, while the rain passed by. Then we asked if we could spend the night there. The officer showed us a wood shelter where we could put up the tent. We hung our wet pants and sandales up to dry, since now the sky cleared up and started a nice fire to warm up.

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As we were about to go to bed, an incredible noise arose in the hut right next to the tent. The officer had forgotten to tell us about the generator working until midnight. We went off to sleep dreaming about traktors. Suddenly the noise stopped, but now the border dog decided to scare away that big yellow thing new on his territory and barked his lungs out right in front of our tent until dawn.

There was no more forest on the other side of the river. We were back into the dry grassland. At the first estancia we liked to buy some bread, since we were out by now. But the people there although looking at us, ignored us. For lunch we were eating crackers with olives, cookies and chocolate, but only two kilometers further was another estancia and here we tried our luck agian. This time they gave us drinking water and fresh bread not even wanting our money for it.

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It was another 60km day on gravel with lots of side wind. Rio Grande was not far anymore now, but to get there and to a much needed supermarket, we had to pedal into the wrong direction and against the wind for 14km. We filled our bags with fresh produce, sweets and bread and turned around right away. We didn’t like Rio Grande very much and were rather using the strong tailwind, pushing us south.

Some 50km before Tolhuin, the pampa lost ground to the enchanted forest of coloured trees bearded with lichens. On the way we met Sara and Thomas again, a german cyclist couple we had met for the first time on the Careterra Austral and many times since. We spent the night together on the campground in Tolhuin at the lakeside and chattet until late into the night.

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It was only 105km to Ushuaia now, but we made it again only 30km far. The wind was getting strong again, pushing us around and we weren’t up to fighting it. Instead we found a gate in the fence along the highway and pushed our bikes into the forest, where we put up our tent protected from the wind. There was a firering already put together, most likely by other cyclists. We gathered firewood and lit a warming fire. It wasn’t long before we heard some voices from the road. Flo thought this could only be other cyclists and went to have a look. He came back with Thomas and Sara and we spent another lovely evening together.

On the last riding day before reaching the southern most city, “the end of the world”, we experienced patagonieas best weather: Sunshine and rain alternating, wind from all directions and it even snowed for a little while. A bright rainbow completed the show.

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We felt like cheering the whole day long. Finally we were approaching the destination we had set out to eight years ago! It was such beautiful riding with the view of rugged rocks, glaciers, forest and grassland. It smelled so good! Then we turned around a curve and were in the middle of  Ushuaia´s industrial part. What a shock. There was nothing romantic about this place, just an ordinary town.

We bought some wine to celebrate our arrival and went to the camping where we had trees around and view of the Beagle Chanel.

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We really made it to the end of the world, the end of the road. But isn’t there another end of the world? Isn’t there another road leading back into the center of the world again?

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30 km per day

Posted by on Feb 20 2009 | 13 Chile 07/ 08, 14 Argentina 08/09, English

A new house

While staying at a hostal in Coyhaique, we met a german ciclyst and chatted about our experiences. When he heard, that our tent was leaking, he told us, that there was a The North Face store in town. We decided, to have a look at their tents. They only had two person tents on hand, but could order a three person expedition tent from their store in Punta Arenas. We were lucky, that they had a special on that tent just then and that we could buy it for about two thirds of what it costs in US $. The North Face store sent the tent express with DHL and we should have gotten it two days later. Only, that DHL wasn’t capable of getting it from the airport into town. After two more days waiting for it, we finally managed to get our new home after calling and visiting the The North Face store and the DHL office many times.

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Our new tent is bright yellow, making us believe that the sun is always shining, when we are inside! It is a bit bigger than the old one and has two instead of one vestibule. Ventilation was better with the old one, now we do have some condensation water somethimes in the morning. But it is a good windproof tent and there wasn’t any other choice in Coyhaique anyway.

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After one week of resting and waiting we finally headed out of town on a half sunny, half rainy day. It happens quite often in Patagonia, that it rains out of a complete blue sky! For 100km we enjoyed pavement and we reached Cerro Castillo within two days of riding through amazing landscape. In that small town we were buying food for the next four days, where there wasn’t any place to buy provisions.

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 Our wheels  wobbeld over stones and bad washboard and slipped sideways on soft gravel. It took us hours to ride up a pass of 6km through awesome rock formations. Finally the road was better and we made our 30km must for the day and even found a cosy spot to camp. There was a waterfall close by to get water and around us lots of calafate bushes full of ripe berries. Chan and I picked a pan full and after dinner we cooked them with sugar for a delicious desert!

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The next day was very windy as we were riding along a big river until we were climbing uphill for a long time. On the uphill it started to drizzle and then rain more and more. We started to look for a place to camp. There was a shed by the roadside but it was too small for us and dirty inside. We put up the tent in the woods next to it. There was a small stream for water and we could hang up our tarp (the footprint of our old tent) into the trees. Chan was the only one staying dry. He went straight from the trailer into the tent. Flo and I cooked under the tarp and then fled into the tent as well for eating. This was the waterproof test of our new home! It was raining hard throughout the night. In the morning we were still dry inside. Phew!! Packing up wasn’t much fun, the weather stayed the same. Our clothes were still wet from the day before and we were freezing. We discoverd that we had spent the night on the pass. For a while the road was pretty flat and it was beautiful riding through the forest, if still very wet. And then we got the view into the new valley of the Myrta river, where the road led steeply down hill. How beautiful nater was around here! So many lovely camp spots along the river, but for us it was too early to stop.

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This day turned into a long riding day of about 50km. Soon after we crossed the river, the land to both sides of the road was fenced in. That meant riding on. Finally, when we were exhausted and already had been looking on fenced in land for a campsite, we found a place, close to the road, but perfect for this day, right at the river.

Patagonia sin represas

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Along the careterra austral and in every village on the way we saw banners and posters with the message, that the people of chilenean Patagonia don’t want dams and powerlines to destroy their unique nature. We enjoyed the view of glaciars and the deep blue lake General Carrera, we followed the unbelievable turqois Rio Baker, were breathing the clear air drinking the fresh water directly out of the streams, knowing, that in maybe a couple of years, the whole careterra austral will be paved, bringing lots of traffic. Knowing that then also, powerlines will be cutting through the beautiful sights half of which will be flooded.

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Shortly before we reached Cochrane, we obsereved a helicopter, transporting goods into the gorge of Rio Baker. Later we found out, that this was dinamyte for the construction of a huge dam which will flood most of the gorge. It is Swiss, Spanish, EU and US companies which secured the rights over the water to Pinochets time. They are now destroying Patagonia, while making lots of money, leaving the people here poor and the land in disaster.

For the building of the careterra austral unter Pinochet, much land had already been destroyed, by blowing up large pieces of land. To help populate the area to make it secure from arentinian takeover, Pinochet ordered to cut all the trees to turn the land into farm land. Now vast parts of the country are eroded and turned into desert. Huge pastures are cemetaries for fallen tree trunks, left to rot.

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It is all a very sad story and as so many times in history: The patagonian people have no say in what’s done to their country.

Even the rocks are weeping

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In Cochrane we took a few days to rest, before riding the for us best part of the careterra austral, the part to Tortel. We enjoyed beautiful weather. Every ca. 30 km we found a good spot to camp with a small stream and had a fire till late at night.

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At the intersection to Tortel the rains started and didn’t stop anymore for the next 6 days. We decided to visit Tortel, a village built on wooden platforms and boardwalks.

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We needed to get broken screw of the trailer’s suspension out. The people in Tortel have already had enough tourists, it seems. They only have an access road to the careterra for the past 4 years and have since been flooded with all kinds of tourists. To us they weren’t very friendly nor very helpful and it was pretty expensive to stay there. It took us two days to find a drill to work on the trailer. But finally we could fix the suspension and got a lift back to the intersection. On the next 30km to Puerto Yungay hundreds of streams and waterfalls were running down the mountains and out of the rocks. It felt like the whole world was weeping. This was an unbelievable amount of water all around us! In Puerto Yungay the army people let us stay inside their camp, infront of a woodstove, while we were waiting for the ferry to cross over a fjord. We were really grateful for this because our new rainjackets aren’t waterproof. We were completely soaked and kept to the fireplace the whole four hours of waiting. It was already past 7 pm, when we arived at the other side. For a moment it had stopped to rain, but we asked people, if we could put up our tent inside a barn and they showed us a wooden shack, where we could spend the night.

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Again it had rained all night and continued the next day. The whole forest on both sides of the road was flooded. In fact it was one huge river all around us! Aoon we were soaked again and freezing. It would have been a lovely section to ride, but at the top of the first pass, we decided to hitch a ride for the remaining 70km to Villa O’Higgins. Right there we met a swiss couple on a recombend tandem and chatted with them, as a truck came along. The swiss, Sem and Karin, helped us lifting the bikes and the trailer over the railing and off we were. This was the most freezing and the wettest ride we have ever taken! Chan was sitting on my lap to stay warm, covered with the raincoat of our  backpack. Florian was standing up, chatting to a chilean ciclyst, who had a broken derailleur and therefore was on the truck as well. After what seemed an eternety, we finally stopped in Villa O’Higgins in front of a hostal. I was shivering with blue lips and didn’t have much control over my bodies movments. The hostal owner waved me and Chan inside to the fireplace. Flo wasn’t as wet as me and didn’t feel quite as cold. He got all our stuff inside with the help of the chilenan guy. After a warm shower and a nice hot meal, we enjoyed the company of a south african cyclist couple, we had already met in Tortel.

Without a road

Since it had been raining so much, the ferry across the Lago O’Higgins had not been running for the past 5 days. Many people had been stuck in Villa O’Higgins, especially many ciclysts and that’s how we met many of them again, who had passed us on the careterra: There were Sara and Beni from Switzerland, Sara and Thomas from Germany, Daniel from Germany, Claire and Simon from South Africa an argentinian guy and four chilenean guys. Until 10 pm the day before the ferry was running again, Flo and I didn’t know, if we had our seats or not, since so many people wanted to get on the boat. But in the end we could go as well. What fantastic ride this was. For the first half it was still raining. But when we approached the glaciar O’Higgins, the sun sent some rays through the gray clouds. Suddenly I saw something big and deep blue on one side of the boat: our first iceberg!

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We stayed close to the glaciar for a long time, watching it brake of small pieces from time to time. Then the captian served us a glace of pisco with ice from the glaciar, which he had been catching out of the water. For Chan he had sirup with the ice.

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In the late afternoon, we arrived in Candelario Mansilla, an estancia and the chilenean border post. We camped there one night and in the morning were lucky to be able to rent two horses for our luggage. This meant, that we only had to bring our three bikes and two panniers with our food across the passage to Argentina and the horses were carrying everything else, including, the trailer. For 7 km a trail was leading steeply uphill. Chan and I were walking, Flo was riding. Every kilometer he put his bike down and came back to carry Chan up to his bike. We had to cover 22km that day, which Chan wouldn’t have been able to all walk. On the top it was much flatter and we could even ride for about 5km. Chan was now sitting on Flo’s back rack. Just before we wanted to have lunch, the sun burned some clouds away and we could see a patch of blue sky! Then we had to cross a river on a small wobbely footbridge. It wasn’t far now to the border of Argentina. There the trail turned into a narrow dirt track. We couldn’t ride anymore. The track was going steeply up and down, there were fallen tree trunks and tree roots on it and many puddles. Chan loved that path and needn’t be carried anymore. Flo detached Chan’s bike from mine and was then walking back and forth to get one bike at a time further. At some point the horses passed us. They didn’t struggle to get across the rivers and swampy parts as we did. The rain had turned the path into a mud whole.

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After about 5 hours walking, we finally got a glimpse of the Lago del Desierto over which we could take another boat to the southern end, to the beginning of the road. That final part was really steep down hill and really narrow. By now our brake pads were worn through and we had to slow down the bikes with our bodies.

 

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This passage would have taken us three days with all our luggage and it would have been extremely difficult. How glad I was, that we didn’t have to lift the trailer over those rivers and down that last part of “funnel” path!

At the lake was the argentinian border post and as a welcome upon arrival I was bitten into my leg by a big dog. I was screaming then trembling with shock. Chan cried with me. The border police gave us our stamps very quickly without asking the normal questions about food etc.

Neverthless, we decided to camp there for the night, since it was quite late and take the ferry next morning. On the other side of the lake we dipped our bikes into the water first to clean off all that mud. Then we had to fix our breaks before we rolled to El Chalten, the wind in our backs, the sun smiling from the sky!

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When the pavement ends

Posted by on Jan 19 2009 | 13 Chile 07/ 08, 14 Argentina 08/09, English

Back to Argentina

I left he internet cafe in Curarrehue, the last chilenaen town before the border, where the paved road ended. Flo and Chan waited in front of a supermarket and were chatting with people. What a surprise! It was Rosa Maria and Reto, a couple I’ve met while working at VeloPlus in Switzerland. They are riding around argentinan and chilenan Patagonia as well. We spent the night together on a campsite at a river. Chan loved playing with Rosa Maria and the campground girl.

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Next day we started up the road to the border pass of Mamuil Malal. Rosa Maria and Reto headed in the other direction. There was road work done on this part. Gravel truck after gravel truck passed, leaving us in a dust cloud. The ground was loose, soft washboard going slightly up hill. I couldn’t ride and started to push my bike. It was crazy and I looked out for a ride. Finally a pick up stopped. It was the boss of the road construction and he brought us to the entrance of Parque National Lanin, where the construction ended. The ride had been quite bumpy and when we put our gear back together, we discovered two missing screws on the follow me. I could still pull Chan’s bike but he couldn’t be riding it anymore, until we would find replacement for the metric screws.

From here the road wasn’t as soft anymore but still “washbordy” and for the next 3km extremly steep. It took us three hours for that bit of way! We didn’t make it to the border by 3km but camped on a beautiful lake with view of vulcano Lanin.

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On the argentinian side we were back on pavement quickly. On our way to Junin de los Andes there was something big moving out of the pasture next to the road. Slowly it circled its way up into the sky. “Wow, that bird was huge!”, I said.  Flo and I had both stopped at the side of the road and only now realized that we had just seen a Condor!

Fancy invitation

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The roads beteween Junin de los Andes all the way down to Calafate are very popular with cyclists. From here we would meet bicycle tourists almost every day. In San Martin de los Andes we met Sara and Beni from Switzerland. They are riding down Patagonia as well. We stayed together on a campground. Chan loved it since both, Beni and Sara, are wonderful playmates! For the next few weeks we would meet them on and off. We took the route of the siete lagos which was partially paved.

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 It was nice warm and we stayed an extra day on a river to rest and play. But the weather changed and on the last day of gravel it rained. A screw on Flo’s lowrider broke about two kilometers before we reached pavement again and he fixed it with quick ties for now.

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In Villa La Angostura we had to fill up on food again. It had cooled off quite a bit and was raining hard now. We wanted to ride on to a campground but were stopped by a pick up driver:” You are riding in this weather? And you have a child? This must be really hard. I can offer you a dry and warm place and a meal. Just follow me!” After he asured us, that his house was only about 3km further and close to the highway, we finally followed him.

We rode along a dirt track and after about 15minutes stopped by a huge gate. In front of us was some kind of english garden. We were led to the guest house. Now we weren’t sure if this was a hotel and the guy wanted us to take a room here,  so Flo explainde to him, that we couldn’t afford this kind of hotel. But Sr. Eduardo had invited us. We were his guests. From now on the chief of his servants, Carlos, was taking care of us. After we had a nice hot shower, Carlos brought us over to the main building for a tasty meal. We went back to our room to rest a little. It was late afternoon by now. When we started to be hungry again we got our own food out, thinking that we had already been served a meal and should be eating our own now. But around 6pm a servant brought tea: milk and cereales and a fruit plate. Around 8pm they came over with pizza and tortellini and cake for desert! Sr. Eduardo came a bit later to tell us, that he would be showing us around in the morning. We spent a really comfortable night. In the morning we got our stuff ready. It wasn’t raining anymore. Carlos came to pick us up for breakfast. Sr. Eduardo came a bit later and then showed us his huge house: The walls were decorated with lots of stuffed animal heads from all over the world. On the ground was an ice bear skinn with head. There was an indoor-outdoor spa, a room for the children and a huge garden. There was a granja with deer, lamas, guanacos, peacocks, sheep, ducks, horses and donkeys. When we’ve seen everything it was already past noon.

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Holidays

We went to the La Bolsa hostal in Bariloche, recommended to us by cyclist freinds. It was a great place to spend the holidays. There was a superb kitchen and a slide in the front yard. Chan played with almost all the backpackers and Flo was able to fix his lowrider. In Bariloche we met Randy and Nancy again, the US couple we’ve already met along the US west coast. They’ve been riding the same route as we did, working on various projects along their way. With them, some of their friends and Sara and Beni we celebrated a potluck Christmas.

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We rode the three days to El Bolson together with Sara and Beni. In El Bolson we met other cyclists which were telling us about the bad gravel roads awaiting us at the  Los Alerces Park route. We were thingking of riding around the park and enjoy pavement for a few more kilometers, but that would have meant to go back into the pampa and carrying water for two to three days.

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The gravel road wasn’t all that bad. Anyways, we have had worse. The park was beautiful and we were glad not to have skipped it. We celebrated new years on lago Rivadavia. Towards the end of the park Flo’s old aluminum lowrider fell apart. He fixed it again with quick ties. But in Trevelin we took another day off riding. There he had a new lowrider made by a “everything” welder, one like mine.

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Careterra Austral

We were now really close to the careterra austral, of which all cyclists are crazy about and from here there would be only a short part of pavement around  Coyhaique of about 150km the rest dirt or gravel. Another border crossing back into Chile brought us to Futaleufu. Here we wanted to fill up on food for a few days. But if there was fresh food, it was rotting on the shelves, the supermarkets were only half full. We ran into Sara and Beni again and camped together another night. That late afternoon it started to drizzle. Luckily Beni had mounted a tarp which kept us dry while cooking dinner. But when I wanted to prepare our tent for the night, it was wet inside. The seam sealing we had applied to it in Villarica didn’t work, or it was leaking somewhere else. We were thinking hard to find a solution and finally Flo constructed a rain coat for our tent with another tarp! It worked, we stayed dry!

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The gravel, dirt road was in parts quite bad but mostly ok. to ride on. Our surroundings made up for the bad parts. We passed streams, rivers, waterfalls, snow peaks, glaciers, nice smelling pastures and forests. Shortly before we reached the careterra austral, a part of my lowrider broke off. Luckily we had bought a bunch of quick ties in Futaleufu!

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On this picture you see ashes from the eruption of the vulcano close to Chaiten in the spring of 2008

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And then, there it was, that road that is a dream of so many cyclists! The first two days on the careterra the sun smiled at us. Here  as well, the gravel was mostly ok. to ride on until we reached the long parts of road construction. Then we could only make around 30km a day. But every night we found a cosy spot to put up our tent close to a little stream where we would wash off our sweat and Chan could play. On our second night on the careterra, altough the sky had been completely blue when we went to bed, the rains started. Flo got up in the middle of the night to put the “raincoat” around the tent. The morning was grey. It wasn’t far to La Junta. We stopped at the gas station where they were just building the roof. They had welding tools right there, so we asked, if they could fix my lowrider. One of the workers took it, cut off a tiny piece of the gas station and fixed my lowrider with it! The drizzle stopped and we had lunch at the gas station, bought a few things and jolted on.

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Wet and dry

Over the next few days we had to put on more and more layers. It had cooled off a lot. It was also raining on and off every day, so that we got into and peeled out of our rain gear several times a day.

We woke up to rain again. Inside the tent it stayed dry, but outside everything was dripping and so were we, as soon as we got outside. Just as we started to climb a 500m pass in Parque National, Quelat, a Rotel passed us. That’s a hotel on wheels. It was a truck like bus which pulled a wagon with night compartments. Around 15 people between 45 and 65 got out to see a waterfall. They stood in a row along the road as we passed and klick, klick, klick, went their cameras.

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The 17 switch backs we had to push our bikes up and Chan was walking, jumping and running, throwing rocks into the streams. Then we still hadn’t reached the pass altough we passed the sign of the pass. Only a few kilometers further up we had made it. It was freezing, because we were wet inside from the sweat and outside from the rain. Flo put up the tarp and we ate lunch under it and changed into dry clothes. Downhill it was very steep, on a bad soft and rocky road. But once at the intersection to Puerto Cisnes the rain had stopped and we even got a glimpse of the sun. We discovered, that another screw on my lowrider broke off and like so many times before, Flo fixed it with quick ties. We only rode 5 more km, then we stopped at a stream to fill up our water bottles. We were all quite tired from the pass and decided to stay right there under the bridge for the rest of the day and the night. It was a good spot. Chan was playing with the water and we had hung up all our wet clothes and got the broken screw replaced with a new one. Then we cooked hot chocolate and were happy to be all dry since it rained quite hard again. There was a small pool in the stream where we washed off sweat and dirt before going to bed.

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 It rained all night quite hard. When I got up in the late morning, the pool was gone and so were the rocks on which Flo had crossed the stream last night. Our little stream had grown into a river over night! We packed up everything and by the time we were ready to ride on the road, the rain had stopped again. For the first 10km we could ride nice and dry, but then the rain clouds chasing across the sky cought up with us. Bundled up in all our rain gear we made it to pavement again. We reached Villa Amengual mid afternoon and warmed up in a cafe. Then we looked for a hospedaje had a nice hot shower and stayed dry again, while it was raining outside.

Now on pavement we could ride 60km a day again. The weather stayed the same so that we changed in and out of our rain gear many times. In Villa Mañihuales we found a forestry service campground with little huts and we put up our tent in shelter. The daughter of the ranger had just made a raspberry pie and brought us three pieces over.

Next morning Chan was sick and had to throw up a few times. Along the way he had to shout out of the trailer a few times. We stopped got him out and he was throwing up at the roadside. After another 60km we found another campground with sheltered tent spaces. Chan’s belly sickness had by now turned into diarrhea. He went through all his underpants quite quickly. Next morning he seemed to be better and we rode the 35km to Coyhaique. That’s the biggest city on the careterra austral. Here we have to get parts of our equipment fixed and a lot more to do while resting to get ready for the second part of the much less populated leg of the careterra austral on ripio!

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4 comments for now

Looking out for some green

Posted by on Dec 10 2008 | 13 Chile 07/ 08, 14 Argentina 08/09, English

Altiplano feeling

Strenghtend by the many ice creams we rolled out of Mendoza. For the next 100km our surroundings were green cultivated fields, irrigated with the water from the close mountians. The second day we admired the snow capped mountains at sunset for once cloudless. We camped at gas stations and needen’t worry about water.

But then we decided to take the paved road to San Rafael instead of a dirt road with unknown condition and soon there was no more green, just brown bush desert around us. The wind was nice to us that day and we travelled 100km and just outside of San Rafael reached a shady roundabout with poplar trees and camping tables. Again we found cultivated land around us, but as soon as we climbed out of the river valley the vegetation diminished, left were only brown bushes. We reached a pass and looked down onto flat pampa, mountains on the horizon and the wind chasing black clouds across the sky, bringing rain, hail and thunderstorms. Not again! Didin’t we have enough of this on the Altiplano already? The same old panick crept upon me. Flo was looking out for some shelter. Of course there was none. We kept pedaling as usual, what else could we do? And we were lucky. The clouds hailing onto us passed quickly. Lightening stayed far away and soon the sun smiled at us again. Then an intersection with a store turned up where we warmed up with a cup of coffee and put up our tent for the night. We reached Malargue on the sixth day after we had left Mendoza and stayed on a campground for three nights.

That’s Patagonia

What was lying before us now wasn’t easy riding anymore. We came through beautiful landscape when entering the foothills of the Andes. Whenever we climbed up over a pass we hoped to see more vegetation in the next valley. We searched through the thornbushes with our eyes and pointed out every green spot or new plant we made out to each other. But in reality we just entered a new valley of bush pampa. Altough some of the streams actually carried some humidity, most were still dry and dusty.

 

My new lowrider past the test of a longer piece of dirt road, where we ran out of water and went to bed with dry mouths only to discover next morning that we should have gone on for two more kilometers uphill. On the other side of that slope was a beautiful small lake.

Back on smooth pavement we crossed the boundery into Neuquen, the most northern province of Patagonia. Still there was no more green in sight than the tall poplar trees in the towns, but we were greeted by the strongest wind so far, that first day of riding in Patagonia. We flew uphill with a speed of 15km/h without even pedaling. The wind was shaking our bikes and pushing us around. Then, after 38km rollercoaster, the road turned and we stood still. We had just begun to climb a pass and now needed to push one bike at a time uphill meter by meter. Somethimes we couldn’t move even when both of us were pushing as hard as we could. We needed two hours for a bit more than a kilometer. So this was the wind, people were always talking about. Luckily Lalo came to rescue us with his pickup. Just a few kilometers before he found us fighting against the wind, his windshield had been damaged by small stones the wind was spinning through the air. He cut our path and ordered us to accept his ride to the next town, Chos Malal, 50km further. It was too dangerous to continue by bike. I had already been wondering how we could possibly put up our tent in this storm with no sheltered space far and wide. The wind storm continued the next day. We were glad to be in town, where it wasn’t quite as strong. Our laundry was dry 10 minutes after we had hung it up though.

Trees and rivers, flowers and beautiful scents at last!

From Chos Malal it was two and a half days to Las Lajas. Some of the streams we crossed were now running. But we didn’t believe it anymore that the vegetation should be changing into lush green within the next days. Around us was the same brown pampa, no sight of change. Only when around a bend the snow capped Andes appeared we got hope again. Las Lajas was green only because of the planted poplars, but for the first time we could make out trees on the mountain slopes and for the first time we put our tent up on grass.

Halfway up Paso Pino Hachado it was suddenly there, a group of araucaria trees. Finally! More and more of those funny trees appeared. We were amazed by the beauty of nature that was now all around us. We slept under an araucaria that night.

Next morning the wind was back. Slowly we made our way uphill towards the frontier with Chile. We passed customs quickly, but stayed in the building to eat lunch sheltered from the wind. The next seven kilometers up to the pass were on dirt and very hard. The patagonian wind really wanted to keep us. On the other side of the pass it was even greener. There were little streams running everywhere. The diversity of the vegetation was growing with every meter lost on altitude. it wasn’t easy to ride down that pass. The wind was still pushing us around. Somethimes we had to pedal hard to move foreward, downhill!!

Chilean customs wasn’t a problem either, since we had nothing to eat in our panniers anymore. After all that wind and dust of the past months we now needed to take a break at a nice spot. We found one at Suizandina, a hostel and campground built by a swiss guy who was once riding his bike from Vancouver to tierra del fuego! Chan had a blast with five other kids while Flo and I enjoyed a rich swiss breakfast buffet and a lawn to hang around.

Various speed levels 

After 10km on the road that morning other cyclists were aproaching. Wasn’t this a kids trailer? We stopped for a chat and this chat turned out to last five hours. Christiane und Patrick are travelling with thier two and a half year old Max for half a year in Chile. After a while the two boys started to play together and we were exchanging travel stories and experiences. This was the first cycling family we have met in those 7 years since we had left Switzerland.

In Curacautin we filled our panniers with food and snacks because we wanted to cross Parque National Conguillio at the still active vulcano Llaima (3125m). For two days we were climbing up on a very bad and soft gravel path. The second day was worse. We only made it 10km far. Poor Chan had to walk most of it. Flo couldn’t pull the trailer with him in it trough that soft volcanic ground. When we finally reached more forested areas, the road was better but leading up and down incredible steep slopes so that we still couldn’t move quicker. Our surroundings were beautiful, the views of the volcano stunning, but we would never recommend that route to cyclists with weight on their bikes. Even Eric, an american cyclist which we met up on a mountian lake, where we camped, needed one whole day for 40km, when usually biking 120km.

Back on pavement we wanted to stay on it, even if that meant a detour of about 100km. So we pedalled to Temuco and then a part on the autopista. But it was fun. There was a national bike race taking place on our route. Aparently there were 300 cyclists starting within different categories. First they rode in the opposite direction, then they turned and passed us, some of them waving and cheering at us. Just behind the last racer we crossed the finish line cheered by bikers and their coaches.

Time for an unexpected break

In Villarica we wanted to stay for a few days and celebrate my birthday. We stayed in another swiss hostel with Claudia and Beat who were cycling once around the globe as well. The night before my birthday though, I got the message, that my Grandma had died. Having lost already two of my grandparents on our journey I strongly felt that I had to go home to be with my family this time. So I managed to find a more or less cheap flight, got a bus ticket and was off to Switzerland, where I just made it to the funeral. I stayed three days. Then I had to go aboard another plane again to be back with Flo and Chan for Chan’s birthday.

Meanwhile the two stayed at a friend’s blueberry farm near Villarica. Chan was busy playing with Marvin a boy he had already met at the Suizandina hostel a week before. Flo was helping out with all the kids on the farm (Marvin’s two sisters and two more boys visiting) and did some gardening work.

On the sixt of December we celebrated Chan’s birthday with Gritibaenze (breadmen) and a chocolate raspberry cake and Chan and Marvin had Chan’s presents unwrapped within about five seconds. We are still at the blueberry farm. The people here are already saying, that we will probably stay until April for the picking. But we are ready now to once more hit the road. In a day or two we will be riding towards Argentina, then heading south again.

I wrote that update two days ago. Then the computer couldn’t handle the pictures and I couldn’t finish the upddate. TOday we left the blueberryfarm. When we hit pavement after six kilometers, I heard a bad sound: The part, where the backrack is attached to the bikes frame was broken again (like once before in Mexico and the other side in Ecuador). We fixed it with some straps and rode on to Villarica, where we welded the frame just an hour ago.

Tomorrow we will definately ride on, the Carretera Austral as our next aim.

4 comments for now

Changes

Posted by on Feb 03 2008 | 13 Chile 07/ 08, 14 Argentina 08/09, English

Metamorphosis of landscape and climat

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We wanted to get up early to be able to bike at least for the first little while in cooler temperatures. But as it turns out so often, we didn’t make it out of the campground before 9 o’clock. The sun was intense though not too hot. The road led straight towards the mountains with no curve. From San Pedro de Atacama we now had to climb 2400 meters up to the first of four over 4500m passes and this within only 40km. The first 10km were flat and then it got steep. After 20km I was exhausted. We took break after break, but by km 25 I couldn’t ride anymore. I had to push my bike which was loaded down with food for six days. Luckily some people we had met on the campground were brining most of our water to kilometer post 30 for us, so we only carried about 10 liters of the 40 liters water we had to bring on that lonely 300km stretch of road lying ahead of us. After 160km, at the border to Argentina, we would be able to fill up on water again. But we needed three or four days to get there, over another 4800, 4700 and 4300m meter pass through the driest place in the world, the Atacama Desert. The only water up in this vulcanic area is salt water.

We barely made it to kilometer post 30. We needed an hour for the last two kilometers! Chan was walking, somethimes helping me to push my bike. Flo came back for me now and then to take my bike for a few hundred kilometers, so that I could rest my arms a bit. When we had made it to our water, we first needed to sit down and rest. We were watching cars and trucks go by effortlessly. Finally we cooked spaghetti, put up our tent and went to bed. It was getting cold up there, close to 4000m. It was New Year’s eve, but we saved our bottle of red chilenian wine for another night.

The wind gained on strength throughout the night and in the morning it blew into our faces. Now we had to carry our water ourselves, so the bikes were even heavier than the day before! The road was still incredibly steep and the wind didn’t want to settle down. I started to push my bike. Flo was as usual riding. The wind almost brushed me from the road. My legs and arms were hurting from the day before. I was tired. But Flo kept on going. I couldn’t push my bike beyond the first kilometer. This was going nowhere. We needed to bike at least 40km a day for our water supply to last until we would reach the border. We had only made 30km the day before and I was exhausted after only one kilometer this morning. The pass was after some 40km from San Pedro de Atacama, that meant at least 10km more to climb. I couldn’t do it. I yelled at Flo to wait for me. I wanted to get a lift up to the first pass. Flo wanted to ride. We were in a pretty bad mood for quite a while. Finally I got a ride for me and Chan and all our luggage but Flo had to ride his empty bike. So we both got what we wanted! Chan and I were dropped off just a few hundred meters below the pass, where we waited for Flo. Even without the weight of the panniers it took him over an hour for those 10km. I was glad I didn’t ride. From here the wind lost some of its strenght and the road curved its way up and down through vulcanic desert landscape on much gentler grades. We made it 50km further.

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On the other side of the mountains we had had the most beautiful warm and sunny weather without any clouds in sight, up here though, back on the southern end of the altiplano, the clouds were back, but we didn’t get rained on yet.

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When we had made it up the last 4800m pass before the Argentinian border it felt really good! Finally I started to see the end of those months riding through deserts, dust, sand and salt, grey, brown and white colours. A different climat was waiting for us, soon we would be whizzing down into a green, fragrant argentine summer. I longed for trees and flowers, some grass, some life. Rolling down that pass somehow promised more than just another uphill through desolate landscape.

Even the rocks on this downhill were different, they were sticking out of the sandy ground vertically, shaped by wind and weather into oddly looking figures.

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We stopped to fix a flat. Flo looked up to the pass we had just left and said:” It loods like some rain up there!” and for sure black clouds were wrapping around the peaks in our backs.

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Before us was an another salt lake and barren landscape as far as we could see. No trees or bushes not even big rocks to look for shelter. So we kept riding and the clouds came closer, thunder begann its growling tune and the first lightenings made me feel extremely uncomfortable on my bike. There was nowhere to go. Finally Flo exclaimed that the most secure move for us would be pitching our tent at the foot of that hill we had just reached now. Thunderstorms were now in front of us as well, actually all around and any of them could catch us at any moment.

Chan waited in his trailer while Flo and I put up the tent in record time. Then I unpacked the bikes and carried our stuff to the tent, while Flo parked and locked our bikes a few hundrerd meters away from us. I went inside to roll out our thermarest matresses and to distract Chan from the thunders.

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Flo installed the stormstrings because the wind had picked up now, then he came inside as well and in the same moment the rain and hail lashed down onto our fragile home. We needed something for dinner. I suggested bread and olives. I didn’t want to get outside anymore. But Flo said he needed spaghetti. So he went out in a calmer moment and turned on the stove. But as soon as it was running the wind picked up again and with it the rain as well. It took him probably five tries until he could finish cooking. It was nice to get something warm into our stomachs.

The world around us was white the next morning.

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We could still see the clouds on the horizon but above our heads the sky was blueish. We followed the road up onto a plateau from where we enjoyed beautiful views onto freshly snowed on peaks above 6000m. The wind wasn’t too strong yet and we made it to the border before noon. it was almost shocking to see so many people there after the isolation of the past three days. Chan and I waited outside, watching the many tourist groups from adventure jeep trecks and tour buses. Flo waited in line to get our passports stamped.

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This part of Argentina was no different, we were still riding through sandy desert. Clouds started to come in and once more we were looking for a sheltered place to camp but there was none. We put the tent up at the foot of another hill, behind a gravel mound right next to the highway. And as it happend the other night, the first raindrops fell, when Flo came into the tent, only this time with a steaming pot full of pasta.

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The clouds were still there in the morning. We packed our bikes and rolled off, observing the sky. As ususal it was impossible to tell in which direction the clouds were moving. I wanted to hitch hike. I was not in the mood of getting soaked in this desolate land. We still had to ride one more day to reach the first town. The sky around us grew darker and finally it rained all around us. We stopped to put on our raingear and wrap our shoes with plastic bags. Flo wanted to ride, I wanted to get a ride. There was hardly any traffic and mostly small cars. The trucks that passed didn’t have any space, so we kept riding through the first rain. There was no thunderstorm yet, but another salt flat to cross. In the middle of the flat Flo wanted to stop for lunch. Men are always hungry in the most impossible spots. We stopped and even got some rays of sunshine. I tried to get a ride again with no luck. I was in a really bad mood. How many times did we have to take flight from thunderstorms?! And now again it was black all around, no thunders yet but it could be extremely dangerous to be caught in one on the salt flat. I was just done with this situation, this nightmare. I wanted it no more!

It started to hail and the wind was blowing the ice kernels into our faces twinching cheeks and forehead. I was soaked within seconds, my rain jacket is only jacket. When we were passed that storm, I was done with biking. Every time I saw a truck in the back mirror I told Flo to stop and we tried to get a ride. The third truck stopped and led us get on. It was so nice to be inside the driver’s cabin and watch the clouds outside without fearing to get hit by hail or lightening. Our clothes slowly dried while an engine worked to get us 150km further. The truck brought us up onto the last pass of 4300m, the entrance to the argentine summer.

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I felt so good. I didn’t regret that ride at all. I was more than done with desert and storms. All I wanted was smelling grass again, listening to the songs of birds and the wind playing with the leafs of trees. Riding down those 30km was like a dream. At first scattered tussocks appeard between rocks and sand, then a cactus now and then. A few bushes covered the ground in a dent. Soon there were more plants on the ground than bare rocks and suddenly we discovered the first trees way down in a canyon. We passed truck after truck, letting go of the breaks to get closer to the green. With the first scent of the trees in my nose and the sound of birds in my ear I had tears in my eyes. I was so happy – We had passed another milstone on our journey!

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And now what?

Finally in Argentina we had to decide about our further route. For us it was now too late in the season to try and get all the way down to Patagonia. By the time we would reach Ushuaia, the most southerly town in the world, it would be deepest winter there. That’s why we thought about a loop through Paraguay, Brasil, Uruguay and back into Argentina. There were two problems with this idea: Northern Argentina at this time of the year is in the season of thunderstorms and rain and can get temperatures past 40 degrees celsius. Moreover would our money probably just have lasted to reach Buenos Aires. We thought about giving slide shows in Buenos Aires, though we wouldn’t have any guarantee of actually making some money to continue our journey.

Then we had the idea to continue southwards with a loop through the mountains by Cordoba, take a break in Mendoza and give slide shows there. But after a phone conversation with my sister I came up with a third idea: What if we would fly to Switzerland for a few months to work and then continue our journey with more money and at a better time of the year? Without beeing sure of actually getting a job at least for Flo, we didn’t want to risk buying flight tickets. So we sent some e-mails out to potential employers to check out the situation in Switzerland. Next morning we had an answer from Flo’s ex boss. He wrote that he had a job for Flo, if he could start within the next two weeks. If not he would give the job to someone he had just interviewed the day before. He needed to make his desicion at the latest in two days.

It was not an easy desicion for us. The flight to Switzerland was incredible expensive. The move to Switzerland would cut off the thread of our journey very abruptly, but there was not really time to think about it. We needed the money. We would see our families, Chan could connect with his cousins he had never met before and I could work on a slide show to give in Switzerland.

So we decided to go for it. It was a journey of four days with 20 hours by bus from Salta to Buenos Aires. We are in Switzerland now, living with my sister and her partner in Winterthur, sharing a three bedroom apartment. Flo has already worked in the Landscape Architecture office for one week. I am still trying to adjust to all the changes, the culture, the climate, the language. Half a year we will be here, our flight back to Argentina is booked for the first week in September. Our bikes are waiting for us in the “casa de ciclista” in Salta.

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7 comments for now

Wind, salt and sand

Posted by on Dec 30 2007 | 12 Bolivia 2007, 13 Chile 07/ 08, English

Further we must go

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La Paz, or better the “casa de ciclista” from Linda and Roul there, was the perfect spot for Chan to turn four. He got a real birthday party with kids to play, cake, ice cream and gifts. Chan was sad to leave that place, but once we got our package with spare parts for the trailer out of customs, it was time to ride further south. We wanted to reach the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat, before it got water on its surface. The rainy season had just begun and usually is wetter in the North than the South, so we might just be lucky.

Roul drove us up through the worsed part of the city and so we only had to climb up to the rim for 9km. Once back on top it was pretty flat all the way to Oruro with only one longer climb.

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It took us four days to cover those 230km. There was much wind and we got into another tempest with hail. Whenever kids saw us coming, they would run to the roadside, kneel down and hold up their caps or ask for “regalos” (gifts).

We were worried about the weather. Every day we could obsereve rain and thunderstorms all around us. Was there water already on the Salar or was it still dry and crossable? We asked people on our way south and the answer was always the same: “El Salar? Seco es! No hay lluvia, no hay agua.” Neverthless, when we got to Huari, the end of the paved road, we looked for a ride in a truck. We knew that the gravel road to Salinas, at the edge of the Salar, was exceptionally bad: sandy with horrible washboard. After hours of waiting, a truck finally gave us a ride for some 70km, a bit passed Quillacas.

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This was better than nothing. In the dark they let us off and we put up our tent Chan waited in the trailer. At this hour we were all too exhausted to be cooking, so we ate some carrot and cucumber sandwiches and went to bed. Chan slept within seconds. Next morning we had some different visitors: Llamas were grasing around the tent curiously coming closer and when I lifted one backpack out of the vestibule, a small white skorpion fled away and under the tent floor.

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Riding wasn’t much fun for the next two days, but we had an aim: to reach the Salar in dry condition. We couldn’t turn around anymore now. Around us was dry desert pampa with no other vegetation than stringy grass and thorn bushes. We saw some owels flying away and vicuñas and for the first time emus from very far, a huge bird that runs on its two legs instead of flying.

Another night in the tent and anoter thunderstorm with hail and hard rain went by. Then another day of riding and pushing over a sandy washboard dirt track.

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After 20km riding one day, we expected to get a glimpse of Salinas any moment.

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But instead Flo stopped and pointed to the trailer. I couldn’t see at first, but finally I realised that the two wheels were in a weird angle to the trailer and then I was appalled: “The axis!”, I screamed, “oh no, what should we do now?” Well, Chan and I waited by the broken trailer while Flo rode off to get motorised help from Salinas. The trailer with its broken axis couldn’t be moved otherwise anymore. It was two more kilometers to Salinas, luckily no more, and Flo found a pickup and its owner quickly who came to get us. Lucky too there was a mechanic in the village who could fix our trailer for a horrenduous prise and only for the next day. It would have been the perfect day to head out onto the Salar with blue skies and no clouds at all, but we had to spend the day in Salinas, waiting.

Salar de Uyuni

There were clouds on the horizon, but above us the sky was blue and so we rolled off with a fixed axis on the trailer. Our route was beautiful. At first the path was still sandy and bumpy, but then we entered the hard pampa at the edge of the salt flat, which was very smooth to ride on.

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The view of vulcano Tunapa was great and we were happy to be so close to entering onto this huge salt flat. Then the road went back onto mainland for about 10km and we were stuck in sand again.

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When we passed a village, a herd of llamas was close by and one of them came galloping towards us. It almost ran Flo over. I was behind and stopped to let it go by, but it came straight for me. I wanted to move, but Flo called: “Stop, don’t move, this is perfect for a picture!” But this llama was a bit too intrusive for me and I quickly pushed my bike to Flo’s side. He was still fumbling with his camera which the llama found very interesting and put his head into everything.

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For me it was too much as it pushed me into Florian and tried to climb on me. I screamed and let go of my bike. Luckily Flo could grip it, so it didn’t fall to the ground. The llama now thought it to be a funny game to chase me and while we ran rounds around Florian, the trailer and the bikes, Flo ordered us to stop and calm down. He said: “Rebekka, get onto your bike and ride off!” “I can’t, he will follow me!”, I screamed back. But somehow I managed to take my bike and take flight, while Flo got a hold onto the llamas throat and told him to get to his senses. When this didn’t work he took his dog stick and finally the llama ran away.

Shortly after this we got to another village, where we were told was an easier access to the salt flat, than from the official ramp at Jirira. They said, like this we wouldn’t have to climb over a pass on a rocky path but could rather ride around it. Nobody had told us though, that this side of the Salar was the wettest. It was a grandious feeling to be at last on this huge, flat, white land of salt!

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We had made it! After only a few minutes riding we were covered in salt and looked like bike riding snowmen. We passed the salt blocks where they harvest salt and looked for the island we were told we needed to pass.

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The way around was much further than we had believed it to be from people’s descriptions. The clouds from this morning were suddenly very close and we started to hurry. In our backs the thunder was growling. A tempest on the salt flat was the least we wanted to experience. So we hurried foreward and finally could make out the ramp to Jirira. The black clouds passed by our side and when we reached the only hospedaje and store in the otherwise empty village, the sun was back smiling at us. Luckily there was water. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning our bikes and shirts which were stiff from the salt.

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The light was dim, when we woke up early next morning. The sky was coverd with clouds. Flo went to ask the hotel owner for advice. He told us to ride out onto the Salar, that they would have rain that night for sure, but that it was very rare to get thunderstorms on the Salar. We should try and make the 100km to the other side in one day.

The ride on the sea of salt was a bit relaxter this time, for the sun burned most of the clouds away and the salt surface got nicer and dryer the further we rode.

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But then it started to drizzle a little and the sun was hiding again. We were hurrying once more. By lunch time we reached isla de pescado, where jeep load after jeep load of tourists arrived.

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We asked the local drivers about the weather and salt conditions and the southern end of the Salar. Of course they can’t predict the weather, but they adviced us to stay on the island for the night if we couldn’t make it off the Salar that same day, because there was a big chance of getting rained on that night. For the Salar that could mean getting a layer of 2-5cm of water in which we wouldn’t want to be camping. On the island was a beautiful path through cacti and from its top we had a panoramic view of the whole salt lake.

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We stayed in a hut, the bikes ready to go for early next morning. It had just gotten dark, when the raindrops started their rhytmic music on the roof. Shortly after our room was lit in white light and dark again. The growling thunder added his part to the tune.

Blue skies and no clouds at all awaited us in the morning as well as a Salar turned into a lake. Flo went to check the depth of the water and found it to be only about 2-3cm deep Should we ride out or not? We had already decided to go to Uyuni in the east instead of San Juan on the southern end. In the south we would have more sandy washboard paths that by now had probably turned into mudholes.

The day was so beautiful that we started to ride. It was pretty eerie because we couldn’t really make out the depth of the water and it just looked like we were riding through a huge lake.

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Also it was very hard to see the tracks of the jeeps we had to follow in order of not getting lost. There were no landmarks by which to know the directions. After about 5km the surface got dryer and was finally completely dry and easy to ride on.

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Now we started to really feel the intensity of the sun, reflecting on the big white. 70km it was to the ramp at Colchani. About 3km before getting back onto land, the Salar became very wet and this time soft and muddy as well because they were harvesting salt right around the ramp. I was very upset because we got wet and salty feet so close before getting off the Salar. It is so shortly sighted not to leave a dam for the cars and busses crossing the salt flat. But then we were off it and very happy. We finally crossed the Salar de Uyuni ourselves and just in time!

Colchani was a miserable little village and there was no place to stay besides some star hotels at the edge of the salt. It was mid afternoon and we decided to keep going for the remaining 25km to Uyuni on gravel and sand.

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No more rain, no more plants

We wanted to take the train to Chile.

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The roads leading there are really bad and with all that rain probably almost unpassable for us. But aparently the train to Chile consists of only one wagon and you can’t take luggage on it. So we were told at the train station. We could show up at 3am, just before the train’s departure and talk to the conductor, for he would maybe let us on, we were told too. Instead of getting up in the middle of the night, not knowing, if we would get a ride or not, we prefered to take the bus. There we got space for all our bikes and we knew we had a seat.

Chile doesn’t allow bolivian busses to enter their country and Bolivia doesn’t allow chilenian busses to enter their country. Everybody has to get off in the noman’s land zone between the two countries and switch busses. We just unloaded our bikes and rode to the chilenian boarder post ourselves, while the other passengers had to wait for their bus. Chilenian immigration can take 2-4 hours if you’re in a bus. It took half an hour for us. But we didn’t know, that we couldn’t bring honey into Chile. We are sure that the immigration officer is enjoying it now himself.

Even if it was only midday, it had been a long day for us and we decided to stay in Ollague, the border village. We also had to stock up on water and food for the next three days on gravel, washboard and sand in the Atacama desert, aparently the world’s dryest place.

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For 200km there was no vegetation at all, not even cacti. We were surrounded by smoking vulcanoes and boulder.

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We passed another salt flat, had to climb a hill, but there was no place to hide from the sun and no place to rest in the shade. Our tent we put up in a recess of the boulder to be sheltered a little bit and hidden from the road. The next day we reached a campamiento by noon and found a store there, where we could fill up our water from the tap. The store had a few rolls of cookies and crackers, three bottles of coca cola, two cans of tuna, one can of cream and two cans of peaches. We bought coke, crackers, the cream and a can of peaches. From here the road was supposed to be better. It was only true for the next 7km, where it was sealed with salt. Then we were back on sand and a strong head wind added to the strains. We made it 50km through the desert before we set up camp in a gravel pit.

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Now the road was sealed again, downhill mostly and we enjoyed a nice tail wind for about 20km. We wanted to reach Calama and ride 100km that day. Our lunch break we took in Chiu Chiu an oasis with the first green vegetation in Chile. From here we had headwind for the remaining 30km which took us 5 hours! But we were in Calama now, it was hot and one day before Christmas. We checked into a hotel for one night. They were closed for Christmas. Next morning we went to look for another one and had quite some trouble finding one that stayed open. Then we went to the supermarket to buy food for our next leg of the journey, again through the Atacama desert for 300km, over 4800m and with no water or food along the way. The store was overflowing with people There were no empty carts. People were trying to get one by catching people finished with their shopping, following them to their cars to be able to get a hand on the cart.  Finally after about 15 minutes, we were lucky as well and could start our shopping.

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It must have been about two hours later, when we got ourselves an ice cream and sat down exhausted in the supermarket’s own cafeteria, before standing in line for check out.

We are now in San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis two day rides east of Calama. Here we want to relax for a day or two and take a jeep tour to the wonderland of geysirs before heading out into that lonely 300km part of way into Argentina.

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