From the Chilean coast, across the Andes to Salta (Northwest Argentina)

Turned out I was just in time in San Antonio for the San Pedro holiday. It’s the protector of the fishermen, making it their big day. They haul a statue of the saint on a boat and make two laps around the harbour. I was lucky enough to be on the same boat! The other fishing boats followed us along the huge container ships for the yearly ceremony.

I stayed for two days at the ‘casa del ciclista’, a project run by a group of cyclists urging to build a bike lane in the very industrialised city. The government lets them use an abandoned house, which they tidied up so they can have their meetings there and can let cyclists stay there.

After my last day cycling the Chilean coast, I got to the big city of Vina del Mar. I stayed with Pablo, a friend of Bertille, and started heading towards the Andes mountains, aka border with Argentina.

At the foot of the mountains, I had another warmshowers host in Los Andes. Before getting there, I ended up staying with another lovely family. Ruth, the mother and head of the family, fascinated me that much with her story, her wisdom, her love for her children,… that it was almost noon when I left the next day. What a privilege to meet such wonderful people… “You are the missing piece of our chess game”, she told me. I felt very touched.

The Cristo Redentor pass being closed for a while due to heavy snowfall, had me waiting in Los Andes for a day. Then I got cracking! After all, I had to get to 3200m, quite high knowing I came from the ocean.

It being the main road between Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, there’s no surprise that it was a busy road. I finished the day with some 30 hairpins, getting close to the pass. The guard of the army, although very surprised seeing a cyclist in winter time, couldn’t let me stay at the complex, but he got me in touch with a police officer working at the immigration post. It being -13 outside, I was quite happy that they let me sleep inside!!!

Up until my last night in Chile, I was received with hospitality.

At the top, I got escorted through the three km long tunnel, as it is too dangerous to cycle.

Then, one hell of a downhill! After dodging all the trucks on my way down to Uspallata, I got on the quiet road towards Barreal. I felt so good!!! I was really happy to be back in Argentina with its big distances and few people, its endless camping possibilities and superb views.

at night

My enthusiasm didn’t let me get out of the saddle and I ended up riding until 1 am, clocking up 217 km, a new record of this trip. With the moon illuminating the road and mountains, and with very few traffic, it was a magical experience.

A day later, I embarked on a 85 km dirt road of which I had gotten a lot of mixed advice. I believed those who had been there most recently. Apparently it was in good condition and police had told me there were people living there, so I didn’t need to carry much water. Ha! What a joke! I find it truly amazing how people can tell you certain things which are so not true!

In other words: I was in for a surprise. First of all, after climbing out of the valley, I got to a very soft section where I was pushing more, than that I was riding. Then turned out there was absolutely nobody living here. The road being so bad, there was hardly any traffic too.

But what a beautiful setting! There was absolutely nobody around and the views were just stunning. For a moment, Argentina made me believe I was alone on this planet.

Picking a camp spot sure was very easy! Just about anywhere will do really!

Luckily two cars passed me the next day, giving me water.

Once on the tar road, I managed to get to San José de Jachal after another 8 hours in the saddle, where I had another Warmshowers host. Turned out there were other Belgians staying there too! What a coincidence. The rest day sure was nice, I had cycled a stretch in three days which I thought might take me six…

Then back on the ruta 40! This road runs from North to South Argentina, if you remember well, and it was now the third time I got on it.

The big distances over a straight road, made me want to progress fast. Although it being winter, I was still cycling in t-shirt! Nights were more chilly, some of them just below zero.

I got to Chilecito where another warmshowers address turned out to be a small camping ground with lots of cyclists! I ended up leaving with Federico, an Argentinian who started cycling from his home town along the ruta 40, Junin de los Andes, one month ago.

The road being somewhat monotone, it was very nice to share it!

And I had a good motivation to get to Salta quick! To spent my birthday! Rocio, a friend from Buenos Aires that I had met earlier on the trip, wanted to travel a bit in her holidays so took the bus up to Salta. So couldn´t be late!

There was some stunning riding to be done between Cafayate and Salta too! Very spectacular valley!

It was quite a change to get to such a big city again! I had been getting used passing from one small village to the other through dry landscapes.

After a couple of days in the city, Rocio and I took a bus up to Humahuaca, some 250km to the North, from where we were going to hitchhike back down.

What an area! First we hitched up to 4300m to see the mountain of 14 colors.

Hitchhiking was so easy! It always took less than 3 minutes to get a ride! We also met great people along the way who took us around to visit other places too. Just perfect!

Then we spent two days in Tilcara, hiking and visiting the Inca ruins.

Last stop: Purmamarca. The small village lays at the foot of another very colourful mountain which is just too pretty to describe. From there, we could also hitchhike up to 4200 m, to visit the Salinas Grandes (big salt flats). Soo much easier by car than by bike!

From there, we got the bus back to Salta, where I had left my bycicle. Rocio started her crazy 22hour bus ride and 7 hour train ride back to her home… Distances sure are big here!

I had gotten a bit sick, so spend another few days in Salta with lovely people I had met in the park while slacklining 🙂

I was now so close to Bolivia!!!

photoalbum here!

El Chalten (Argentina) – Chiloé (Chile): more pampa and back to Chile!

After being sad that my trip with Jelle had come to an end, it became clear that I wasn’t going to leave El Chalten on my own.

Valmir from the extreme South of Brasil, who had been on the road for five months already, and Bertille from France, were heading the same way.

For her, it was a total gamechanger though: although traveling by bike before in France for two years, she had now been backpacking South America and living in Chile for the last 18 months. Flor, the lovely owner of the ‘casa de ciclistas’ in El Chaltén, wanted to give her an old bicycle and so it happened that Valmir and I helped her to sort out the bike. Bertille then made paniers out of plastic containers, strapped her tent to the handlebar and off we went!!!

It was a stunning day to leave. Tailwind was blowing us at high speed 90 km back to the ruta 40. And so it began! The lovely days camping together with my new friends, making fires with the little wood we could find and gazing at the stars.

We now had 550 km up North with just one town (read: shops) in the middle. We were carrying food for five days and I loaded 13l of water on ‘mi negrita’.

The scenery brought us little entertainment. Luckily there were some Guanacos to race with and an absolute silence to be enjoyed. There even were hardly any rivers! That way, we were forced to stop cars and ask water, which was never a problem.

After four days Valmir took a left to try to cross one of the most unused and adventurous border crossings between these two giant countries (‘paso rio mayer’, he made it!). Therefore Bertille and I continued towards Gobernador Gregores, the only place in this stretch to refuel. It was actually a 70 km detour, just to pass the shops, but well necessary as reaching the small town of Perito Moreno (not the glaciar!) would take six days more. We also passed three hitchhikers, who had been stuck in one place in the middle of nowhere for 18 hours already!!!

Cycling in this kind of place has one big advantage: not many do it. This means that locals still care about you and are more willing to step out of their way to help you out.

That way, by asking people if we could camp in the garden, we ended up with a lovely family who absolutely adored Lauty, their son. As it goes here, we were invited in, fed, connected to the world wide web to talk to our family and left to continue our way North with fully recharged batteries.

So far, so good. The wind (generally coming from the North-West (read: headwind)) makes the rules here. It will tell you to do 100 km no problem or kick you down to 40 averaging some depressingly low speed. Leaving Gobernador Gregores, we soon understood that it wasn’t going to go that smooth anymore.

random campspot

So in the end it took six days to reach the village of Perito Moreno, some 300 km away. We had three tough days averaging 9km/h. Bertille sometimes walked here bike, the wind being so strong, it kept pushing her off the road. The only place I ever faced such wind, was on the Mont Ventoux, Southern France, where the Mistral wind likes to give cyclists a hard time.

Perito Moreno was nothing more than just a big village, but here that meant a huge stopover for anyone passing by. I wasn’t very sure about my route now. All I knew is that I had to get to Chiloé, a big island off the coast of Chile, where I was going to do a workaway.

I had been planning to keep following the ruta 40 for another 600 km up North, but the strong headwind from the last days, put me off that idea. What’s more, Bertille knew about a ferry going from Puerto Chacabuco (close to Coyhaique) all the way to Chiloé. Sounds like a nice plan!

So we drove 60 km to the West, entering Chile at ‘Chile Chico’, where Bertille wanted to visit family of her friends in Valdivia.

She just wanted to meet them and drink some ‘maté’ (local tea which is served in one cup and shared around). Instead, both of us were invited in and we ended up staying five days….

Days were spend hiking around with Joaquin, one of the grandsons, as well as cutting wood, helping out their daughter finishing off her house,…

We finally managed to leave, took the ferry to the other side of the General Carrera lake and tried to make it back to the Carretera Austral.

After a very windy and rainy day, I asked this man if we could camp in the barn. Instead, we got a great bed and food! In the morning we unloaded a truck with wood to return the favor and he wanted to go for a little spin on Bertille’s bike 🙂

Back on the carretera austral, immediately climbing away from Cerro Castillo towards Coyhaique

autumn!

Then, we were close to Valle Simpson, where Jelle and I spent almost two weeks earlier with Delphine, Gabriel and Rafael. Therefore, we obviously brought them a visit, before continueing to Coyhaique.

back in Valle Simpson!

In Coyhaique we looked for the office to buy the tickets for the 30 hour ferry from Puerto Chacabuco to Quellon on Chiloé island. Turned out some fishermen had just started a strike in Quellon, which meant that the ferry wasn’t going!

Luckily, on the ferry across the General Carrera lake a couple of days earlier, we had met Nacho. He runs a camping between Coyhaique and Puerto Chacabuco, so we headed there to wait and see what happens.

It seemed unsure whether or not we would still make it to Chiloé, but after two days of waiting, it looked like the ferry was going! Finally, we sailed till Castro, the biggest town on the island, some 80 km’s North of Quellon.

From there, Bertille headed South, to spent time with here friends and to improve her bicycle. I stayed one night in Castro with David, a Zimbabwean living and teaching there, whom I met along the Carretera Austral a couple of months before.

Then, I cycled 70 km North to arrive at Jeroen’s place where I was going to do a workaway. A friend in common had introduced us, and I was very happy to read that he had just carpentry work to be done! (I did a carpentry course before leaving on this travel)

So I got cracking! First I finished off a little playhouse for their three-year old son, Gabriel, by putting on some shingles.

Then, I started the bigger project to make a kitchen out of some roughly cut pine wood for the cabin where the volunteers stay. I was in good company too! Freek and Els, from Belgium as well, had been traveling around the world for the last seven months by backpack and also wanted to divide their trip a bit by doing a workaway.

I was really happy to be back in a workshop! Sometimes it’s just good to feel you are creating something.

The area Jeroen and his wife Grecia live is amazing too. First of all, he has about 50 hectares of land to loose yourself in. Most of the land were fields before he came, but by now he has created beautiful forests with his many reforestation projects.

Because I had such a good time working and because of all the rain (winter means rain here), I didn’t get to explore much of the island. But when I did, it was always pretty special!

In the end, after working on the kitchen for two weeks, it was done and we were all pretty pleased with the result. I had never made furniture before and had never had just handtools to create something, so I obviously learned a lot too by doing.

before

and after…

Oooh! That feels smooth 🙂

“So what’s next”, you may wonder. Well, I also had the time to plan the next few months of my trip. First of all, my mother and I made the final plan that she will come over to Bolivia in September to visit me and to travel together for one month. Whoopwhoop!!! Three months ain’t much to get there, but I’ve got a pretty good motivation now!

Winter is limiting my options though. Up north, there are only two passes who seem to be open all year round. There’s Paso Jama between San Pedro de Atacama and Northern Argentina, but I won’t have enough time with my Chilean visa to get there. So I’ll probably cross the Cristo Redentor pass between Santiago and Mendoza (Argentina) to then continue the ruta 40 to the north, and into Bolivia.

So that’s the plan. Let’s do it!

 

photoalbum of Argentina here!
photoalbum of Chile here!

 

 

 

 

Back up North! Puerto Natales – El Chalten: high peaks, glaciars and pampa

So after a 40 hour boat trip, we made it to Puerto Natales, the base to visit Torres del Paine national park. After 1.5 day more with the cyclists and backpackers we met on the boat, we headed out. So after a 6.5 months, 10.000 km trip to the South, I was now heading North!!!

‘Mi Negrita’ still looking good after seven months on the road!

We aimed for the West entrance of the park and wild camped just before it at ‘mirador Grey’, from where we got to see the first glimpse of the mighty ‘cuernos’ (horns).

Entering the park as a foreigner is expensive: 21.000 pesos chilenos they let you pay (30 euro). Apart from that, all the campings are super expensive too (read: 15 euro/person/night). Wild camping can get you into serious trouble, but we were going to see if one can stand out of sight and give it a go.

The wind had picked up tough! Here that meant 60 km/h side wind, making you lean into it. We wanted to spend three days in the park and the dirt road is only about 60 km long, so plenty of time to take it easy.

At the end of the day, after visiting some waterfalls, we found a spot where there was a little less wind. My tent being stronger than Jelle’s, we just pitched one. We sure needed two pair of hands to not have the flysheet fly off to the other side of the park! Amazing how much protection you can get from just 1.7 kg of plastic and aluminium.

Next day, after breakfast, we were both curious what we could see on top of the hill. So we hiked up a bit, only to get more curious and go higher…and higher…and higher. In the end we hiked for 4 hours through beautiful scenery, to an amazing and unexpected viewpoint over the ‘Cuernos’.

hiking up from our campspot

our beautiful view, all to ourselves

Then, we cycled out of our illegal wild camp spot to approach the east entrance of the park and do the world (?) famous hike to the ‘torres (towers) del paine’. Spectacular to say the least, but with hundreds of people around, definitely a very different experience too.

 

yes! that’s a puma! very safe though, we sure weren’t alone here…

Same day, we cycled out and camped at the lake with a beautiful sunrise over the ‘torres’…worldclass!

back into argentina

We were now at 60 km from the border with Argentina, from where it was another 210 to El Calafate, the home base to visit another world-famous site: the perito moreno glaciar.

So we got back on the ruta 40, which I was now planning to follow 1500 km to the North. It only took me 7 km though to totally loose it mentally. Headwind was slowing us a bit down, I was using Jelle’s draft, but still couldn’t follow. Hearing me telling him that I couldn’t keep up, really pissed me off. It had been more than three months since I started to feel weak, and still had these kind of very weak moments. With such a large distance still to go to the North, I got a bit desperate for a moment. But hey! What can you do? Sitting next to the road doesn’t fix anything. So slowly we continued a bit, to pitch the tents in a creepy field with animal parts (including a horse head) laying around all over the place. The dead trees protected us from the wind though. All I thought off was to search an nutritionist in town. I couldn’t continue like this.

on the road towards El Calafate, playing basketball at the petrol station of a ‘village’ with about 6 people

I wasn’t very sure what to expect from the ruta 40 going North. Other cyclists we had met, warned us of the killer headwinds slowing you down to 5 km/h. So we were pretty happy to average 90 km/day and get to El Calafate without problems!

camping at the ‘vialidad’, the company maintaining the road. very helpful!

We had now swapped the spectacular mountain landscapes from the Carretera Austral with the monotone Pampa landscape this part of Argentina had to offer. A landscape like that simplifies the day a lot. There’s almost nothing to visit or stand in awe for and the only people you usually meet are other cyclists or hitchhikers.

Therefore we met Hugo again, the Argentinian who teamed up with us for five days north of Coyhaique, Chile. The feeling to see a soulmate of the road unexpectedly again in the middle of nowhere, is hard to describe. Utter joy!

He gave us a great address in the city, where we pitched the tents in the garden of a lovely grandmother running a guesthouse. We ended up staying four nights… Jelle decided to not continue cycling the ruta 40, but instead take a bus to Bariloche from El Chalten. That way he could discover the beautiful lake district, be in time in Santiago to catch his plane home and spend his last weeks of holiday in slightly more entertaining landscape.

From El Calafate it’s 160 km up and back to the glacier, so we wanted to hitchhike. Waiting for two hours for a ride, tested our patience pretty good. But we got there! We were happy that it all worked out, but it also convinced us once more that traveling by bicycle and having the freedom to go wherever you want, is a true luxury. There’s just something depressing in getting refused that many times.

Not only it’s size, but definitely the noise of ice blocks cracking and falling off, make the glacier a very impressive sight. It’s actually one of the only glaciers which is in balance, meaning that it’s expanding and retrieving at the same speed.

We also met a lovely Belgian couple, with whom we had a great night in town, but also happened to know lots about nutrition!

So with a new diet, Jelle and I got cracking on the last days we would cycle together up to El Chaltén.

We camped another two nights next to the road to make it to the trekking mecca of Argentina. We looked up the ‘Casa de Ciclistas’, where the solidarity and friendship between the cyclists is so beautiful, that we ended up staying a week.

Around the little village lays a web of beautiful one-day and multiple day hikes. Another pearl of Patagonia! We were being so spoiled these days.

We hiked for four days, seeing Fitz Roy mountain and others from different angles, but hanging out with our new-made cyclists friends, was equally as beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Leaving Argentina for the first time: Bariloche – Futaleufu

So Jelle arrived on Sunday fifth of February, ready for a couple of months of cycling across Patagonia. He sure made a good choice! This Lake District, which started in San Martin de los Andes, was possibly the prettiest area that I had seen on this trip.

With Bariloche being very expensive, we cycled out of town without spending much time there. Instead, we headed to the South of the Guiterrez lake. There we spent a whopping 200 pesos (13 euro) per person at a camping, but the setting at the lake was beautiful and it was a good and quiet start for Jelle.

Jelle absorbing his first views of Patagonia

The landscape continued to amaze. We cycled along beautiful mountains and lakes. Just how you would imagine Patagonia!

Second day, we crossed path with Clovis from Brasil and Bob from China. I had met Clovis in Uruguay and again in Montevideo, so it was great to camp together and catch up.

We got to El Bolson the next day, which is another hiking paradise. Another cyclist, Maya from Japan, had suggested that I should go to the camping run by Jorge Rey, who was the first person to cycle from Ushuaia to Alaska in 2001. Since then, he had kept traveling, by any means possible. He rode a horse for example from Patagonia to Brasil, went to Antartica three times, walked the length of Argentina with his dog, intended to climb Mount Everest, but broke his leg at 6000m, served in the army and fought in Iraq where he got shot 12 times,… He had photos and scars to prove all of this, but I felt that he really needed to hear from us how amazing he really was. So I do wished he was slightly more integer, but still he had great stories.

From El Bolson, we continued a bit on the Ruta 40 which was quite busy. Therefore leaving and taking the 71 (asphalt up to Cholila, ripio afterwards) was very sweet. We now headed towards the national parc ‘de los Alerces’. Jayson and Véronica, a Brasilian couple I had met just before Bariloche, had told me about it and apparently there were many free camp spots at the lakes. That sounded good!

We had a big day with 105 km including half a day of headwind and 30 km of ripio. Jelle did really well and survived his first stretch of dirt road fine. The free camp spot at the Rivadavia lake was truly amazing and we bumped into my Brasilian friends again!

So we spent a day there to relax, swim in the lake and make friends around the camp fire. Next day, we went for a small hike to a waterfall with Flor and Valeria from Cordoba, Argentina to have lunch. Then, we continued bumping 28 km down the ripio towards the ‘playa Frances’ to enjoy another free camping. Flor and Valeria caught up with us by bus and we camped together, making a nice fire. So nice to take it easy, travel slow, enjoy the beautiful area and make lots of friends!

Using the moonlight to photograph us with our newly made friends at lago Rivadavia

Then another 25 to villa Futalaufquen, close to the end of the park. We met Robert and Ivan from Argentina on the road and camped together at another free camp. Flor and Valeria joined us once again and we all enjoyed the amazing cooking skills of Robert and Ivan.

beach close to villa Futalaufquen

In the morning, I fixed up Ivan’s bike and gave him a short course how to fix his brakes, gears, etc…

playing basketball at villa Futalaufquen

We left around 1 pm, and literally while getting back on the road, we saw Jayson and Véronica again. So the six of us cycled towards Trevellin, where we stocked up on food for the last time before heading towards Chile.

filling up the water bottles

But Argentina didn’t let us go that easily. 40 km of bad ripio took quite some effort. We camped somewhere along the road, before finally crossing into Chile!

The border crossing went smooth. The Argentinian side was even funny. The customs officer let us pass without any questions because we were on bicycles and while stepping out of the office, one of the immigration ladies started singing Shakira’s song mentioning ‘bicicleta!…’ Haha, buena onda (good vibes), Argentina! See you later!

The Chilean side was more strict, with more serious customs officers. Here, we weren’t allowed to bring in any fruits or vegetables, nor seeds. So there went the quinoa and lentils in the bin…

We cycled ten km to the village of Futalaufu, where we crashed at the campsite, searched a bank, stocked up on food, got in touch with our families, wrote the blog, and planned our Chilean adventure down South.

Photo album here!