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!

 

 

Argentina 3: Mendoza – Bariloche along the Ruta 40

Mendoza meant the start of the Ruta 40 for me. This road stretches from all the way in the North to all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, the end of the American continent.

It’s a very popular route for cyclists and it didn’t took long to meet up with fellow cyclists.

I had only left Mendoza at 12 am, but with the sun going down at 8.30 pm, I still managed to do a 100K up to San Carlos. I asked the police where I could pitch my tent, and they pointed out a ‘clube’ for me which is basically an outside swimming pool where Argentinians gather over the weekend to make a BBQ. The friendly owner didn’t let me pay, but the other people staying there really turned it into a great night. We drank and played games till 4am.

Obviously I had a late start again. At around 4 pm, I met Fredrika from Sweden who’s two years into a world trip by bike. I actually knew we would catch up, because I had been following her Instagram for a while.

She seemed super strong to me and in a way, she brought my focus back to the my bike trip. I was getting distracted very easily before, I reckon because the cycling was boring and I loved therefore to do other things. Which of course is great to get other experiences, but I had now made a final plan with my Belgian friend, Jelle, who was going to join me from Bariloche onwards, about 1300 km down South and I needed to do about 100 km a day to meet him on time.

Immediately after meeting Fredrika, my Argentinian adventure really started. Distances got bigger (200 km between shops on this particular stretch), I bumped over my first stretch of ‘ripio’ (dirt road) and with no people around, I was now down to wild camping at the side of the road.

I was now cycling with the Andes on my right hand side and camping under beautiful starlit skies. The dirt road really reminded me of Namibia. With fake flat roads going on endlessly over often sandy/soft gravel, the resemblances were striking.

Still, whenever I had the chance, I asked a family if I could pitch the tent.  They sure have plenty of space here! This particular family was super sweet and the kids extremely curious therefore asking lots of questions to the guy with the funny sounding Spanish.

I got to Malarguë, the first town in 350 km, without big troubles. With only a handful of shops along the way, planning became essential. Leaving town with for example half a bottle of fuel (to cook), could mean a lot of hassle down the way. So I went shopping….

The road turned back to ripio for 120 km while following the Rio Grande and over the hills towards Barrancas and the Neuquen province. Temperatures never dropped lower than 35 or 38 at midday and were still giving me a hard time. Even at 6 pm, the sun is still burning. But in a way, you get used to this. At least, this becomes the new normal.

Finding a little bit of shade under a sign.

There was also a new challenge: biting flies. When taking a necessary break and while waiting impatiently for the quinoa to cook, they absolutely drove me nuts. In the end, I just went in the river where they couldn’t catch me. But while getting the bike ready again to go, I almost lost it. Imagine a guy running around in the middle of nowhere while trying to lace his shoes before the flies got him only to run away with the bike in his hand, loosing balance and crashing on the gravel.

To make up for this, I met Tom and Ben again, the two Australians with whom I hang out in Buenos Aires. We kinda had an idea where we would meet again, but with very limited phone signal, we couldn’t really make a plan. It was therefore a great surprise to catch them on the road and camp together! Especially because they dragged along a 3.5 kg chicken and some whiskey!

Totally rejuvenated by the friendship and epic dinner, I hit the road again.

I was now hoping to get to Chos Malal in two days to have some rest, but the wind viciously turned against me and it became three. Cycling therefore was slow, my patience got tested once again. The only thing bringing a smile back was some good music or the supporting horn from the little traffic passing me.

After some rest in Chos Malal (another very dry and dusty village), I got to work on the last 400 km towards San Martin de los Andes where the landscape would change dramatically and where I would leave the dryness behind.

Washing in the river: showers are so overrated!

In Zapala I went shopping again to be able to leave the ruta 40 and follow the ripio for three days through the mountains up to San Martin de los Andes.  So beautiful already!

dirty cyclist next to some goodlooking meat

Finally I made it to San Martin, where I was looking forward for some rest. Vinicius, a Brazilian friend whom I met in Belgium and who’s currently cycling Africa, had put me in touch with the sister of his girlfriend, who accepted to host me. Julia is also a nutritionist, so I could learn more about food! I was feeling better, but still had moments of total weakness, which I didn’t understood till then.

San Martin also meant the start of the ‘ruta de los siete lagos’, the route of the seven lakes and a booming number of cycle tourers. Many Argentinians fly to Bariloche just to do this route, and they are so right! It’s absolutely amazing and the free camp spots at the lakes make it just perfect.

I took it really easy, doing about 60 km a day. First night, I asked to fill up the bottles at a restaurant, started chatting with the lovely young people and ended up spending the night there. We made a campfire and fresh fries and pizza for dinner…so good!

 

Last night, I arrived in Bariloche and cycled towards the airport. Just a couple of km’s before it, I put my bike over the fence and camped in the field with a beautiful view while some planes flew over me. Next day Jelle was going to arrive! Although I like to travel alone, I was really looking forward to travel with him for a couple of months.

His plane arrived on time, but Jelle turned out not to be on it. His flight somehow got derailed, and he arrived three hours later…without luggage. The adventure had started! His panniers got there another two hours later. We packed up and cycled out of town!

 

Full photo album here!

Santa Rosa (Cordoba) – Mendoza

Ooh Santa Rosa de Calamuchita. With your beautiful river, waterfall, lake, hills and people you were hard to leave. Here’s what I’ve been up to spending two weeks in this village and cycling up to Mendoza.

 

Like you read before, I managed to cross the Pampa from Buenos Aires up to Santa Rosa just in time to spend Christmas there.

I was now reunited with my dear friends, Daniel and Carla, whom I had hosted in Bruges, Belgium about three years ago. After driving their old Renault around Latin America for four years and cycling in Europe, they had now settled in this beautiful village. With the birth of their lovely daughter, Sol, and buying a piece of land to live off the grid in harmony with nature, many of their dreams are becoming reality very soon.

While traveling Latin America for such a long time, they obviously made lots of friends. Many of them settled in the same region later so I met quite a few of them.

In the end, Carla and Daniel and their friends, turned Santa Rosa into a truly inspirational place for me. All of these long-term travellers, that shape their life in a way to still have freedom and time, even when the trip has finished. Seems like traveling makes you understand you don’t need much stuff or a big house. And that opens so many possibilities. It’s quite simple: don’t spend money on stuff you don’t need and use your time to actually LIVE the way you want to.

For travelers that seems to be having a simple life, living small and close to nature. Many of them had built their own house using mostly wood or other natural materials. I can definitly see myself heading the same way. Having lived in a trailer for six months while studying back in 2013, I already now I only need 15m² or so to live my life.

Anyway, that’s for when I one day finish doing big trips I guess!

 

So apart from hanging out with all these lovely people, I also got to improve my Spanish, help Daniel and Carla at the bar they run next to a swimming pool, play basketball and football at the local court, go cycling around the beautiful area, running up the hills to take a dip in the pool at the foot of the waterfall and swim and study Spanish at the beautiful river that makes Santa Rosa so famous.

No need to tell you it was hard to leave!!! Again, I felt I had made some more family along the way. And it’s never nice to leave family. Love and hugs to all of them!

 

But off I went, although a little insecure. This because I didn’t really felt that strong cycling up to Santa Rosa, and now, after a two week break, I still didn’t feel that strong. I had gotten my blood, urine and faeces tested in Santa Rosa, but there was nothing wrong with those. So I then knew I had to eat better and regain strenght by doing so.

It was only on the second day cycling, when I got super weak and had to stop every three km or so to eat a little, that I got the real wake-up call though. Cycling up to the pass which divides the regions of Cordoba and San Luis had taken two days, and I had barely made it.

The descend into the touristic town of Merlo was simply stunning. It had been a close call, and getting to the pass felt very sweet! And what a view!

First I had to find a working ATM to get some money as I had only 6 pesos left. (There was a two hour waiting line at the ATM in Santa Rosa and I thought I would easily make it to Merlo…) With another 2000 withdrawn, I headed to a hostel to recover.

I stayed two nights there, until the hostel was fully booked and I had to get out. There was a truly great atmosphere hanging around (so much better than the hostel in Buenos Aires) but all I did there was sleeping and eating.

I guess it wasn’t the best idea to continue the trip without fully recovering. But I was now back in the pampa so I could cycle at a low intensity along the flat plains.

And it got even better when the wind decided to push me to the South! First night after Merlo, I got invited by a family to pitch my tent in the garden after asking for water. Of course, a hot shower, dinner and breakfast were included 😉

Then I had a wonderful 140 km day with the tailwind towards San Luis, great to boost the moral! I put on Netsky, Belgian dubsteb music, at the end of the day which got me dancing on the bike, a mountain range lay on my side and I felt stronger again with the wind pushing me at 30 km/h.

When you feel down and weak, it’s easy to doubt the trip. Even one km can seem so hard sometimes and thinking that there are about 30.000+ to make seems absolutely impossible. But turns out all it takes is some Netsky, a sunset and some tailwind to get back at it!!

Finding a campspot again was easy, definitly with such a big grin on my face. Always makes it easier to get permission from a family if you’re all positive.

The guys went out in the middle of the night to hunt for wild pigs with their dogs. I passed, and had a great night sleep.

I got some supplies in the city of San Luis. Since Merlo, I started cooking meat and rice for lunch and taking a nap/siesta afterwards. I definitely felt better with that, although there’s not much happening in a park on your own for 2 or 3 hours. Once, a young woman and her family saw me sitting in the park and invited me to finish me lunch and have a rest in the house, before continuing my trip. So nice of them!

I had now 260 km left up to Mendoza, and the road got busier. Luckily there was a hard shoulder most of the time! That was a first in Argentina!

I camped at the local campsite of Balde, which turned out to be free. I had cycled late after sunset and had a puncture just before entering the village (and just before a police checkpoint). So I had some company while fixing my puncture. They told me there are puma’s here! I didn’t need to be scared of them, put still good to know! I thought they only lived far away in the mountains, but apparently they also roar the plains.

Of course, I met some people at the campsite, who shared their food with me. You’ll never be alone here!

Then two long days across the boring pampa again with a side wind slowing me down. Not much happened during the day, I was just hoping time would pass quickly as I listened to some Spanish podcasts.

In La Paz, I found a nice family once again to pitch my tent. The daughter studied oenology, the study of wine. I was definitely close to Mendoza now!

Some 30 km from my destination, I looked up from the tar road and saw some strange white things peaking through the clouds. The Andes!!! I was truly impressed and stood next to the road for a while with my breath taken away. 6000 m mountains flank the city, which was also going to be my start of the famous Ruta 40.

I easily found my Couchsurfing host in the center which accomodates about 130.000 people at the foot of the Andes. Next day, I joined some other couchsurfers for an asado and a swim in the river, some 30 km from the city. I met Che, a backpacker from Israel, and Julianne from France.

My couchsurfing host turned out to be somewhat weird. He was very mysterious if you ask me. We had made a plan three days in advance to grab some artesanal beers when I got to the city, but instead he left the appartment to see someone without inviting me, asking me to cook and I spent the night with his mother. He would leave two more times to meet with friends without inviting me. I don’t know the guy at all, I couldn’t really talk to him, while couchsurfing should be all about the exchange of experiences. Then later, he had an argument with his mum about hosting people and he was being really mean to her. So I left. Luckily I could spent two more nights at Julianne’s place before continuing South along the 40!

 

 

Photoalbum here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Argentina (1): Buenos Aires – Cordoba region. Recieving many pre X-mas gifts

I was looking forward to stay at the adventure hostel in Buenos Aires. A Belgian friend of a friend started his backpacking trip in Buenos Aires and he brought a package for me with a new Brooks saddle and some other stuff which he left in this hostel.

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There’s always a great vibe hanging around hostels and many travellers to meet. Unfortunately though, most of the people staying there were residents who have seen so many travellers passing through, that they just don’t care about you anymore. But luckily I met Tom and Ben, two Australian cyclists, with whom it was really great to hang out with! They are both really impressive guys with unconventional life choices and great accomplishments, but still remaining really integer. In other words: great partners in crime to roam around the city and grab beers in the park.

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I also got to see Elias again, whom I hosted through couchsurfing in Bruges half a year ago on his trip around Europe. He and his friends submerged me in Argentinean culture by making an ‘asado’ (BBQ), making me drink Fernet and, of course, by going out.

Seems like big cities are not that fascinating for cyclists. We didn’t really care about visiting all the sights. But it was great to go out, to do some other stuff than cycling and to get our energy level back up, before hitting the road across the boring pampa’s.

I also had to fix my laptop, clean the sensor of the camera and make my plan for Argentina. So with all of that sorted out, I headed West towards Cordoba, where I had friends and where I was hoping to spend Christmas.

 

Cycling out of Buenos Aires wasn’t so hectic as getting out of Sao Paulo. Of course I had to be careful, but I could ride on the ‘collector’, a road parallel to the ‘ruta 9’, the Panamericana! What a beautiful name for an ugly six lane road.

First I headed to Pillar, where I stayed with Inaki, a friend of Elias who I met around the campfire.

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The quest for quieter roads was on. Turned out though, that there are no roads here with little traffic.

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The view through my side window. Booooriiiing! But impressive birds though. Once in Brasil, I saw one of these birds eating a snake!

For some odd reason, the Argentineans stopped using the railway to transport crops, meat, wheat, soja, mais,… about 10 years ago. So now, all of this is going by trucks towards the capital and the ports.

To make things worse, main roads don’t have a hard shoulder here! From Buenos Aires towards Cordoba, I only had about 50 km of it. It had been a long time since I wore my helmet, but that seemed to be a must here. Luckily I have a mirror on the bike, so I can observe the traffic and get into the grass if necessary (which I had to do many times).

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Rare stretch of hard shoulder

 

There is no need to write a day to day report about this stage. These 800 km were some of the most boring I’ve ever ridden. Wind came from the North creating a strong side wind which slowed me down. And then there was the 35-37°C heat! This made me only cover about 100 km a day (which is not so fast for a flat, uninteresting landscape). I tend to live on the rhythm of the locals. Here that means having dinner between 9-11 pm. So I didn’t get to leave early. Therefore I usually only did about 35 km until lunchtime, after which the heat forced me to take a break till 4 pm or so. I then tried to do 60 or 70 more till around 8 pm. Most of the time was killed by listening to my Spanish course on my phone, but it was still a very long way across nothing.

 

But! There were still many experiences along the way!

While getting closer to the 25th, I was receiving many pre-Christmas gifts!

First there was Fabrizio from Rojas, who invited me to stay with him, join him and his friends for an asado, go fishing the next day, to eat more asado and to go out.

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Then there were the members of a club in Hughes who invited me for lunch after I stranded with 6 pesos (30 eurocents) and a cash-machine that wouldn’t accept my card.

Then there was Sr. Pruzzo, the entendente from Canada del Ucle who organized my stay in his village including a shower, an asado, breakfast and many lovely people. I felt Iike I could stay there a long time, I felt so welcome. People give you the type of hugs one could only give to his family.

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It’s good to know btw that villages here have an ‘entendente’, a village chief, who will take care of visitors. And although I don’t travel at night, it’s comforting to know you can get to a village in the dark and still find a good place to rest.

 

In Chazon, Pablo from Warmshowers paid for my campspot.

In Monte Maiz, the sign of ‘Empresa Belgica’, Belgian enterprise, caught my eye of course. They fix up big New Holland machines, but somehow I managed to forget my camera there…? They came tracking me down the road to return it to me. Good guys! Might not be so lucky the next time.

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People invited me for lunch, when asking directions for the shop and I couldn’t pay for lunch in a restaurant.

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… Incredible people, these Argentinians!!!

 

Many villages also have a ‘clube’ which is a place to make asado’s, camp and take a dip in the pool. Perfect places for a siesta or camping!

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Apart from that, it’s also common to camp at petrol stations. You can take a shower there too, so it’s a pretty good option too.

 

Happy to get to the hills after 800 km straight on

Happy to get to the hills after 800 km straight on

My last night camping was kinda tense… I had quickly set up camp before it would start raining, not realizing it was the lowest point of the parc… I slept very well on my waterbed!amerika_buenos-aires-santa-rosa_klein-37

 

And so, nine days after leaving Buenos Aires, I made it to the hills of Cordoba region where I got to see my friends, Carla and Daniel, again after hosting them in Bruges and Ghent three years ago. They now have a beautiful daughter, Sol. It’s so good to see them again!

Next day, we spent Christmas together: mission accomplished! Of course, in Argentinian style with one hell of an ‘asado’!

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Photoalbum here!!!!

 

Here’s a text I wrote on Instagram after staying with Fabrizio in the beginning of this stage:

Love and peace from Argentina!

After a very hot and boring day on the road, this happened.

When I got to Rojas I parked the bike at the first shop I found to quench my thirst with a cold drink.

I greeted some people with an energy only achievable by spending hours alone in the saddle looking at the tarmac.

for some reason, I’m never bored answering the basic questions about my trip. meeting people might just be the essence of my travel.

almost immediately Fabrizio invited me to stay with them.

an encounter so spontaneous, no way not to trust reach other.

and before i knew, I joined Fabrizio and his friends for an ‘asado’ (barbecue) and stayed one more day to go fishing, another BBQ and a party.

the road had been boring, but it sure had some twists in it!

I left this afternoon. dark clouds held off the strong sun for once. the wind had turned too. I rode 50 km without stopping.

I rode feeling happy. I rode and rode and forgot the time. i rode with a very full stomach. I rode with a warm feeling. a feeling so strong, it proved me once again that, although I travel alone, i’ll always be surrounded by family.

I felt alive. I felt privileged to be offered so much hospitality. I felt grateful to experience from a first row seat that the world is a good place.

from Iran, Tajikistan and Tibet to Mali, Gabon and Zambia, to Brazil, Argentina and onwards. there seems to be something connecting us all. one might call it humanity.

again, the world is a good place peeps! just turn off your television and get out there. see with your own eyes that those lunatics making the headlines on the news, don’t represent us, as humans.

don’t be scared, there is no need. by traveling, I gained more and more confidence. no need to worry where I’ll sleep. every night, some one will reach out and help me.

I’ve cycled across 48 countries clocking up 58.000 km along the way. nothing has ever happened to me. if that is not a proof, then I don’t know what is.

so go on, smile along, say hi to strangers (it’s ok, really!!!), help each other out, take care of each other as if we’re all one big family. and remember: we are all in this together.

peace and love from Argentina!