Atalaya – Bolognesi: River trip part 2

Sunday December 21, leaving Atalaya.

The hard part about meeting a family that takes you in as one of their own is leaving them all behind again… I always cry.

Jaime has a floating house where he guards the boats and engines of the people arriving in Atalaya. He taught me how to handle the engine and helped adding the logs to my little boat.

For now he’s looking after my most precious possession, my bicycle, which he will send me when i get to Pucallpa.

I was 100% focused leaving the city. Although it’s not so difficult handling the engine, it’s still quite new to me.

After some two hours i saw a big white sign next to the river indicating a village and headed over. It turned out to be Montevideo. No, not the capital of Uruguay. As it turns out also a small ‘caserio’ (small village) close to Atalaya.

I ended up staying for four days…

First night, there was a party to celebrate the end of the school year. It’s always pretty akward to dance while everyone is looking at the gringo, but if you look at the floor, it’s ok 

After a while i was told that i was the first gringo to visit and stay there, which somehow explains the fascination for my dance moves (which are far from spectacular). This doesn’t mean people haven’t seen gringos before. Some Canadians had installed a water system here in 2010 for example.

Allan, the villagechief, was finishing his house, so i proposed him to help in return for some food. I didn’t spend a penny in those days, which was really nice after spending heaps in Atalaya.

This way i didn’t had to take advantage of their hospitality. Carlito (little Carlos) showed me around. Good guide for being 5 years old!

They found the logs too small, so helped to add some truly fat ones. (Which i didn’t think was necessary.)

Leaving the small port and looking back at my newmade friends, I realize this little boat trip is already a success. I’m so happy i went through with this! An amazing feeling of freedom also overwhelmes me. All i have to do is fire up the engine and off i go.

Next stop was going to be Nuevo Pozo. I had met Andrès, the brother of the village chief, in Atalaya and was eager to spend some time there.


I was quickly welcomed by the workers of the wood mill (who come from other villages) and invited for lunch.

The afternoon was spent drinking too much Masato (local drink from cassava which ferments over time) and listening them talking in Ashaninka. Of course people also speak Spanish and i ended up staying two nights to get a glimpse off village life here.

First night, while going to get my things from my boat, someone robbed me though. I had left my small bag with all my important things half an hour at Andres house. It being a small village where everyone knows everyone, one shouldn’t have to be careful about his belongings.

Some 30 euro were missing, but most importantly my memory cards (with the backup of all my pictures) and Spot messenger too.

I was told not to worry and promised i would have everything back in the morning.

Armando, the chief, came over in the morning with two 5 year old boys who were seen buying candy in the shop. They quickly confessed and went to get my things (which were spread all over the place). I was told they weren’t from this village.

With all my things and money recovered (just some change missing) we could move on.

They were going to clean a field, so i grabbed my machete and joined in. While learning about which plant produces something edible and which not, i was explained the concept of ‘minga’. It’s a community work for which you’re not paid. They say: “today for you, tomorrow for me”. So people make a team and together they work on eachother’s field.

After eating lunch, the afternoon is spent drinking masato.

People are poor here. Dinner is not served. Breakfast sometimes either. Instead, the cassava (called yuka here) in the masato has to do the job.

The only other white people they know, are from charity organisations. Again, I’m the first tourist here. It’s difficult to explain the concept of traveling to gain experience while not making money. Almost every family asks me for help. They aren’t shy. Even my engine is asked. It’s hard to form an answer. They understand that gifts wouldn’t help them, but agricultural development would.

In many ways, my experiences here bring me back to Congo, where i stayed in a small village for two weeks. There as well, the soil is rich, but the people are truly poor. It’s something that will keep me busy for quite some time to figure out.

At night, there’s the birthday party of one of Andrès daughters (he has 16 children with two wives. (Yes, that are many mouths to feed!)). The three year old girl burnt her bum pretty badly by falling in the hot coals used for cooking earlier that day and isn’t seen. But the party goes on anyway. There’s music fed with solar panels (project from the state) and more masato.

The mother goes round and round serving the drink. A woman which isn’t pregnant is a very rare sight here. Girls are urgently looking for a husband when they are 15. Numerous women ask me to marry their daughter, even if they aren’t born yet.

So far the glimpse of life here.

The new logs next to my boat aren’t cut right and it’s hard to go in a straight line. Luckily Don Segundo comes over with his chainsaw and fixes the problem.

After staying four days in Montevideo, i feel like traveling. It’s December 24th. I wonder where I’ll spend Christmas night?


I want to take a lunch break in Tahuarapa, but I feel welcome and decide to spent the night (Christmas eve) there.

Elias and his son helping me moving my boat to another ‘port’.

After being invited for lunch straightaway by Elias, i go to search the village chief to present myself. My authorisation letters are carefully read, proving that I’m a tourist. I can spend the night under a roof close to the port.

The chief also asks me to go see his little niece, stating that she’s not doing well. The poor little girl has a terrible skin infection that just doesn’t go away. Her eyes are almost completely closed. She’s crying, scared of getting an injection. With her little veil, she tries to cover her face in humiliation. I quickly ask to let her get back to rest and understand the severity of the situation.

They just came back from Atalaya to get her treatment, but there was no money to buy all the medication. As she has both parents, it’s hard to understand why they aren’t able to take good care of her. But that’s not the little girl’s fault, and i give 50 soles (13 euro) to get her more help.

It´s Christmas eve, but the Catholic people tell me they don´t have money to celebrate, so nothing is going on (although i don´t think it´s about being able to party or not). I don´t really mind. I´m tired from last night birthday party, and as many people in the region, my eyes hurt a little. There’s some sort of eye disease in the area and it was unavoidable to not get it.

In the morning a man in his fourties wakes me up asking for a gallon of petrol to bring his girl to hospital. I refuse, thinking that I can´t help everyone. I also think that he´s a bad father, not even being able to save up a bit for when his child is sick. It´s not an easy matter. I´m trying to get my head around it.

I try to leave early, but as usual the people invite me to chat and have breakfast. It´s good not to be in a hurry to travel here 

It´s a pretty village actually. Every wednesday everyone works together to clean the buildings and cut the grass with machetes.

Off I go. It’s Christmas day.

As a last stop before reaching Bolognesi, I end up in the community of Señor de los Milagros.

The chief lets me sleep in the community hall and over some cups of Masato, I´m told I´m the first gringo to ever enter into the village. No charity organisations, no nothing. Now that´s a pretty fascinating thing, knowing how many tourists visit Peru.

They ask me all about Belgium and are eager to share their knowledge. I like them a lot, they are really sweet people and no one asks for things. I wouldn´t know why I wouldn´t stay a bit longer?

I help out on another ´minga´, cleaning a field. There are several breaks during the work to drink masato and chat. I start learning about the history of the land (big land owners used to own everything and everybody) and they teach me several knots, among other things. As usual lunch is served afterwards with masato.

I especially appreciate talking to Don Esteban. His story is truly sad and remarkable.

As a young boy, his parents sold him to a ´patron´, one of these big land owners. He must have been around six years old. He was never allowed to study and had to work on the land. Everyone who didn´t listen, got beaten or even killed. Esteban describes it as slavery.

Police never intervened. They must have been super racist. Because if the workers (all native people), stood up to their boss, police was there to protect him.

Esteban not being able to read or write, made him unable to count his money, or try something on his own. By denying education to his workers, the boss successfully managed to own them. And he treated them as property. “Imagine how much he gained on our backs”, he tells me.

As he can´t count, he doesn´t even know how old he is. Luckily one day he was so fed up with everything that he didn´t care anymore about the threats, stood up to his boss and was able to leave.

Writing this down, I realize I was the first outsider to whom he told his story. A story that must be shared. I wished I had better journalistic skills.

I also realized that the recent colonisation occupying the land made the native people destabilize. They probably lived a good life before outsiders arrived.

I see similarities with the native people I met in Chile for example. They are told they are worth less, that they are uncivilised and bit by bit their identity, culture and knowledge dissapears.

Then when they regain their freedom (I´m told as these patrones died), they probably don´t really know from where to pick up their lives again.

Suddenly it makes sense to take a break whenever you want while working to chat to your friends and relatives while sharing masato.

I hope to find more information about the subject, but I´m afraid the cruelty that occured here was never recorded or talked about.

A couple of hours more and I make it to Bolognesi, the only bigger village between Atalaya and Pucallpa.

I try to stay just one day in this small town, cause there’s not much to do apart from spending money.

I meet Joaquin, originally from Ecuador, who moved to the Peruvian jungle as a young boy when his father took part in the ‘rubber boom’ between 1880 and 1918, extracting latex from numerous trees.

Joaquin later became one of these ‘patrones’. He tells me my journey is very dangerous and that the ‘wild’ native people will kill me. He goes on: “three times they tried to kill me”.

But who will try to kill someone without that person having harmed you in the first place?

Meanwhile we talk, there are some native Ashaninka people asking for work. The disrespectful way he threats them, makes me slowly realize that I’m looking at a bit of a devil.

Later i learn more about this rubber boom. Mestizo people (descendants of the Spanish) and foreigners came to inhabit the jungle to extract rubber. In order to have the sufficient workforce, these ‘caucheros’ armed and recruited the native Shipibos in this area to capture and enslave other native groups. Thousands were displaced, many killed.

I’m sure Joaquin had one hell of an example.

Finishing off Bolivia and into Peru

After a rest day close to the Chilean/Bolivian border at the free campsite overlooking the Parinacota vulcano, we crossed back into Bolivia. I had just three days left on my visa (they give you 90 days a year), so we didn’t have time to fool around.

We were now on a tarred main road and making really good progress. After cycling on dirt road for ten days, it was a nice change! But main roads are always less eventful hence there are no particular stories to tell. We cycled 400 km in 4 days up to the Peruvian border.

We knew the route along the Northern side of the Titicaca lake is less busy, but my Brasilian cycling friends Veronica and Jay were in Puno, along the southern side, so we headed there. I had met them more than five times in Patagonia some six months ago, and was really looking forward to seeing them!

I overstayed my visa with just two days, for which I normally had to pay a 7 euro fine, but the officer didn’t bother counting my days so we crossed without any hassle.

We quickly realised the Peruvians drive like crazy! There was no hard shoulder like in Bolivia. We regretted our decision to come this way.

Camping along the Titicaca lake

But seeing my friends again made it worth it!

40 km away, we stayed in the casa de ciclistas in Juliaca for a night, meeting several other biketravelers. We were still on main road and making good progress towards Cusco.

Our first 4000m pass in Peru. We camped that night next to a hot spring. Great!

As usual, entering a big city is somewhat hectical. We had no idea what we were going to do there. There’s so much to see in the city (Inca capital) and its surroundings!

I bought a new tent, cause mine was about to die completely. The zippers had already be a problem for a long time, then the poles started showing some tear and the flysheet got very fragile. Appearantly a long exposure to strong UV rays, make it that way. While putting it up, it got a 20cm rip. Heading for the Peruvian mountains in rainy season, made me buy a new tent.

Free walking tour in Cusco

We headed out of town towards Pisac where we left the bikes in town and took a taxi up. The driver was pretty inventive! In order to avoid paying entrance fee, he hid us in the trunk of the car! Pretty scary thing to do though…


After visiting the ‘salinas de maras’, where they have been extracting salt from a mountain stream for centuries, we didn’t really knew where to go.

We took a break next to the river. My sister was looking at the map and found out that this river (the Urubamba) was going all the way North… Would it be possible to follow it? Maybe with kayaks? Or with a raft?

Two hours of browsing taught us that there were some dangerous rapids awaiting us, so it wouldn’t be possible to start right away.
Google also shared a brilliant idea to make a raft: with big inner tubes from trucks/ tractors. Genious because that’s something you can get in every town. We had first been looking at each getting a kayak, which we didn’t found. Making a raft to float down a river sounds like a good idea, right?
To get past the rapids, we first had to climb to 4300m, something we both greatly enjoyed. Coming from 2800m, the 35 km climb was quite impressive. But how about the descent!!!
Let’s just say that all effort to get to the altiplano was worth it. Coming down from the ‘abra Malaga’ we had a whopping 3600m drop down to 700m. Woohoooo!!! A downhill that actually takes a couple of days! Unreal! We started at the top in cold, rainy weather and headed for the tropical heat of the jungle.
I personally loved being back in the jungle! The smell of the forest makes me think of Africa! Great memories…
We decided not to give in to the machu picchu hype, although it was pretty cool to camp INSIDE some smaller Inca ruins down the road.
Finally we bought eight inner tubes in Quillabamba, where the firefighters hosted us and helped us on our way with our rafting plan.
Then we cycled another 70 km to Palma Real. There we were happy to find a small beach where we could start building our raft. The locals were supportive (although they might have wondered why there was a gringo walking up and forth with huge inner tubes) and pointed out where we could cut some wood.
Most of the work was done in a day. Rufino, the local carpenter, helped us out with making some paddles.

We were planning to get to Atalya some 500 km away by following the rio Urubamba.

After an amazing two days floating down the river and managing some rapids (so much fun!!!), our adventure already came to an end though.

It started raining heavily during the second night making the water level rise rapidly. The river had turned itself into a mighty river so we made the wise decision to abandon ship.

We weren’t far from the road, but it still took two hours to reach it because we had to cut ourselves a way with the machete.

We then easily got a ride back to Kiteni, only 4 km away. We quickly found some fishermen who were willing to take us to our campsite with their boat to go get our things.

So far so good.

During all of this though, the water level had kept rising and by the time we got there, our bags were floating around in circles and the tent had 40cm of water in it.

We luckily didn’t loose to much of our gear.

We should have been wiser and moved our stuff higher up when we left camp. But we had looked at this and as our gear was still one meter higher than the river, we thought it would be fine. Also, when leaving, we didn’t thought to be away for so long as we we had left camp just to find a way and bring our stuff to the road. But then came the two hours of machete cutting…

Anyway, we are not grieving too much over the things we lost, but very grateful for the experience. We learned so much in just a couple of days! We had never constructed a raft so we needed to google how to make lashings etc. It’s good to leave your comfort zone sometimes.
We were ready for this. But made the good decision to stop before it became dangerous.

After spending almost an entire day drying and reorganizing our stuff, we headed out again.

Anne didn’t feel so well, so she got the bus to Ivochote. I cycled the 50 km and totally fell in love with smooth Peruvian dirt roads through the jungle…

In Ivochote, Anne and i embarked in a ‘lancha’ (12m boat) together with eight more people and some chickens…

The most remarkable part was passing ‘pongo de mainique’ where you don’t know if you have to look at the crazy rapids or the waterfalls.

After these rapids there is no road anymore. Just boats.

After six hours we got to Camisea where we spent just one night. Anne got quite sick a few days ago and couldn’t do more than rest out.

I had a pretty walk through the villages and jungle to meet the native people, to learn some of their language (machi llengua) and to try the local liquor.

Next day we spent another six hours cruising on the Rio Urubamba enjoying the jungle pass by (still no monkeys though).

After arriving in Sepahua, we didn’t really know what to do next. Atalaya was now just another six hours by boat away. From there, you can start traveling by road again and we were going to head to Huaraz and the cordillera blanca.

But Anne still didn’t feel well and was going to take the bus from Atalaya to the mountains, meaning we would split up.

Then, while walking around Sepahua, I saw this local guy arriving on his own on a small boat the size of a big canoe without engine. That looked really cool!

So while helping out to pull a boat ashore, I started asking about the possibilities to go downstream on my own by canoe.

I just couldn’t let go of the idea to travel down the river independently. I knew there was so much to learn here, that it didn’t made me feel good to just pass it in a couple of days in a passive way.

So we spent a day sorting our gear out (i made quite a spectacular downsize, getting rid of my huge 70l rear panniers and replacing them with my sisters 28l front panniers) and Anne took the boat to Atalaya.

Thanks for joining me sister! You’re always great company! 


Crossing the salt flats and a last visit to Chile

Salar de Uyuni. A highlight on every cyclist route. With its 10.000 square km it’s actually one third the size of Belgium!

We knew it’s best to camp next to the islands to be protected from the wind, but we met some very interesting people and only got on the road by 2pm. First there were filip and niki from austria cycling for more than three years already, then we met two Belgian couples who were driving two pick up trucks from Alaska to ushuaia. Nothing extremely spectacular there, if it wasn’t for the fact that the guys are running marathons all the way! Crazy Belgians! (Follow them at ‘viapanam’). And then we met another beautiful French family cycling with kids around South America. They’ve got guts!

So we ended up camping in the middle of nowhere as we didn’t make it to the incahuasi island some 100 km away. Luckily there was no wind. It’s a truly surreal landscape making for one hell of a pretty campsite.

After passing the incahuasi island and filling up on water, we headed northwest towards Palaya.

This time, the wind was fierce and we definitely needed two pair of hands to put up the tent. “I feel like I’m in a MSR hubba hubba test zone”. Anne said. Luckily the tent didn’t get ripped to bits, but our stomachs kinda did. I had to throw up at night and Anne didn’t feel right either.

Getting on the road the next morning was tough, but we didn’t had any other options as we were in the middle of nowhere.

We got to the edge off the Salar without problem and then had 40 brutal kms (hard washboard, sandy, rocky ‘road’) ahead of us to get to the next salt flat: salar de coipasa.

For those wanting to connect the two salars, here’s the route: Palaya, chorcaza, villque, tres cruses. It’s tough, count on slow progress. But there is water in every village (and some very very basic shops sometimes. Bring everything from Uyuni or Coipasa).

Update! There should be a better alternative! Ask locals to direct you. The trail from tres cruses to llica is supposed to be very sandy though!

cooking on the salar de Coipasa

After crossing the Salar de Coipasa, our stomachs felt right again which suddenly gave new energy to take on the isolated region of the Isluga, Vicuñas and Lauca national park in the upper North of Chile.

We crossed the border at Pisiga/ Colchane, bought food for five days, had half a rest day, loaded fifteen liters of water on the bikes and headed out.

180 km would take four days of cycling. After six km we got off the main road towards the pacific ocean and headed north on dirt road.

We started this stretch on the first of November. When asking water at the last village, Encuelga, we were promptly invited to join their commemoration of their family members who had passed away. After a huge lunch with beers that couldn’t be refused, we joined them to the cemetery. After we made a prayer, we were handed a big bag with food and a six pack of beer. Interesting customs, lovely people.

With that much food and beer gobbled down, we didn’t cycle much more… Luckily for us, we found a great campspot overlooking the isluga volcano, which is truly spectacular as there is some smoke coming out all the time. A huge bonfire made it perfect.

After 42 km of super smooth dirt road passing Isluga and Encuelga (water in both villages), the washboard (corrugated road) started. Luckily it was usually possible to avoid the worst parts.

As we got to the Salar de Surire (yet another salt flat), we also got to the Polloquere hotsprings. These would make for a great, if not best ever, campspot. What a joy to get to a hot spring after a long day cycling!!! The dramatic sunset and flamingos turned it into an unbelievably beautiful place.

We then cycled around the eastern side of the salar (3 km sandy section. Otherwise not too bad, just some corrugation) towards the Chilcaya police checkpoint where we could luckily refill our water bottles.

Then we shared the road for 60 kms with trucks transporting borax from the salar towards the coast. The road was wider though and the drivers were considerate, making it not too bad.

In Guallatire there is a Conaf office as well as a police checkpoint, so you can get water here. Again, no shops.

Once we got the road back to ourselves (at -18.374332, -69.236347), it was truly amazing as we now seemed to be heading towards three volcanoes.

We passed another hotspring (Churiguaya) but didn’t stay. There is a small building though with hotpot where you could sleep inside!

After a last push we got to 4700m and were now overlooking the Parinacota volcano. What a sight!

The downhill to 4500m was equally spectacular (although quite sandy, climbing this part would take a decent amount of pushing). Tired we got to the Chungará lake where we could camp for free at the Conaf (Chilean nature preservation organisation) campsite.

After riding dirt roads for the last ten days since Uyuni, the restday at this campsite at the lake was more than welcome!

All in all, i had just three days left on my Bolivian visa. So it was a good idea to rest a bit and cross back to Bolivia with fresh energy.

Photoalbum here!

Workaway in Samaipata and down to Uyuni

Samaipata. A small village at 140 km from Santa Cruz where I would end up staying one month in total. After helping out David for a week making beer and fruit juice, I had the absolute pleasure to go pick up my mum and sister at the airport (read previous blogpost). We went travelling around Bolivia by bus for three weeks after which my mum went back home and my sister went to Chile for two weeks.

I stayed in Samaipata in the meanwhile to do another workaway: helping out Ruth from Manchester fixing many small things in her new house (electricity, doors not closing, no gutter at roof,…) and putting a new roof on the old house.

It quickly became clear that the latter would be one hell of a task! Most of the wood was rotten, the walls weren’t straight at all and i just had the wood that was laying around to fix it. But i was really up for a proper project!

I love my job as a carpenter so much, that it’s not uncommon to miss it while traveling. Hence i was grateful for the confidence Ruth gave me. There were some small sideprojects that needed fixing as well (dugging out a gutter behind the house in hard clayground and making a new gate) so i ended up staying three weeks (the last week my sister helped me out).

Normally you work 20 – 25 hours per week in order to earn your food and bed at a workaway project, but i think i did double if not almost triple that. This however was my choice and i was happy doing something else for a while in this trip.


Cycling from Samaipata to Sucre

The day we left, we had gotten some route advice to take an alternative road towards Sucre. The asphalt would end at vallegrande and a good dirt road would cross spectacular landscapes while avoiding all traffic.

But boy! Were we in for some tough road! We climbed from 1800 to 2900, then dropped below 1000 to the Rio Grande (big river) only to climb back up to 3000m at the other side… And all of it on dirt… We even ran out of food for half a day because locals gave us wrong information…

My sister thought this was normal for me and wasn’t too happy about continuing like this for the next couple of months. But it wasn’t normal! This was by far the toughest stretch of this trip! Sorry sister! Welcome!

lovely family hosting us

Even when we got back on the tar road close to Padilla, the hilly road made sure it was never a walk in the park. Finally after some eight days we made it to Sucre (2900m) where we stayed two nights in villa orupeza guest house (highly recommended, 50 bol for dorm bed, fast wifi, hot shower, kitchen, big garden) to rest, resupply and organise the next stretch.

The three days of cycling to potosi (3400m) weren’t very eventful, nor did they go through scenic landscapes, but we sure had an unexpected bend in the road!

After 20 km on the second day we got to a small village where there seemed to be a cattle fare going on. But as it turned out, there first was a bicycle race and then a bull fight! I had never competed in a race, but it seemed like a pretty funny thing to do!

So i unloaded my bike and headed for the starting line. I ended up losing terribly over the 40 km (20 times a 2 km lap) race across potato fields, but it was so much fun! People were very enthusiastic and didn’t stopped cheering me on: “dale gringo, dale dale!!!” The bull fight wasn’t as cruel as we expected it to be as men are not involved. Instead two bulls are left to fight with eachother until one gets tired/scared and runs off… into the crowd! Run! We had wisely chosen the safety of a car next to us.

To top off the day there was a prize ceremony (where i ended up earning the money back i had payed to enlist in the competition after which i had to give a speech) and a party.

Unfortunately people tend to be so drunk by this time that we didn’t stick around too long. We could sleep in the school.

I really wanted to visit potosi and its mine as it’s an important part of European history.

The Spanish started exploiting the mine in 1545. Since then 8 million people have died here. We’re talking about mass genocide due to forced labor of first nation people. People sent into the mine would usually die after three months of work. The amount of richness taken from here is staggering. Between 1503 and 1660 for example, 16.000.000 kg of silver and 185.000 kg of gold were shipped oversees. Hence the name Cerro Rico (4782m) meaning rich mountain.

This capital was very important for the development of Europe, some even say it made it possible.

1492 was a very important year for Spain. Not only did Columbus arrive at the Bahamas, it was also the year they finally won back their territories from the Moors after eight centuries of war. A war that had left Spain nearly bankrupt. Therefore huge amounts of the silver were used to pay off debts to European bankers (German, Flemish, Spanish and Genoan).

What’s more, Spain ended up controlling only 5% of the silver trade due to numerous reasons, further enriching the rest of Europe.

Therefore I found the mine truly important to visit, but I knew it would be hard. Going up there with a group of tourists who found it o so funny to put on the suit and helmet, made me wonder if they really had no clue about the tragedies that had occurred there.

The guide made one bad joke after the other, to make the visit nice and to keep spirits high. But how about teaching us what truly happened there? Not a word was said about the genocide, atrocities and injustice.

The injustice continues. We met eighteen-year old Juan Carlos in the mine. He had started working there with his father when he was just thirteen to be able to feed the whole family.

It’s not our fault to be born where we are born. But it is very important to realise the priviliges that come with our nationality.

So please, let’s not be ignorant about our priviliges and the economic injustice (the current economic situation is still stuck under control from the imperialist countries (US and European) who make more money from trading the products coming from Latin America, than the countries do from producing them) that keeps feeding our big salaries.

Next time you’re moaning about some futility, think about Potosí and Juan.

(Information from the book “the open veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

We had now also finally made it to the altiplano (the high plateau) putting an end to never ending climbs and downhills.

Another three days of riding got us to Uyuni, a small city next to the huge salt flat. This time an amazing, brand-new tar road winded through more and more spectacular settings. We were in for a treat! It was also beautiful to see people working all together on the land. Women and men, using castrated bulls to pull the plough while their children play around or help.

Uyuni (3600m) itself is a dusty little town made up of unfinished concrete buildings. Some may call it a ‘shithole’. But there are shops and hostals with hot showers! That’s all we’re after anyway when we roll into town. We prepared the next stage well, as it was going to be somewhat isolated: crossing the two salt flats (by bicycle this time) and a very last visit to Chile!

Photoalbum here!

On to Bolivia! (Salta (Arg.) to Samaipata)

After hitchhiking for one week with my friend Rocio, I got back to Salta. I had gotten a bit sick so it was great to meet some people in the park who were slacklining and who ended up inviting me to stay with them. Therefore, I could spent some more days in the city to recover.

I helped around the house renovating a room while everyday my throat hurted a little less and my voice came back bit by bit.

I didn’t really had an idea about my route. As I was going to make a loop with my mother and sister in the West of Bolivia, I ended up cycling towards the border at Aguas Blancas/Bermejo more to the East.

The road taking me there was awful. No hard shoulder, lots of traffic and uncareful drivers who don’t respect cyclists. I couldn’t enjoy at all and had to be super careful.

I took half a day off in the national park of Calilegua to hike a bit in the tropical rainforest.

But although the road was horrible, people kept hosting me beautifully as always…

And how exciting to be close to Bolivia! After spending eight months in Argentina and Chile, it was going to be nice to have some change of scenery!

I happened to cross the border on the 6th of August, Bolivia’s national holiday. Let the party begin!

I ended up in a small village where the people had gotten together next to the soccer field to watch some competitions, drink and dance. What a first great day…

Someone had also invited me to come stay with them in Tarija, the capital of the region, some 150 km further. The quiet road following a river through the jungle was absolutely beautiful.

After a one day stop in the city to fix some stuff and hang out with newly made friends, I started heading towards Samaipata, where I wanted to do a workaway (volunteering).

I felt motivated and wanted to make good progress. On the first day though, I crashed in a downhill on dirt road.

The nearest hospital was 35 km away, so I headed there. Luckily it was almost all down, because my left knee didn’t want to bend much.

At first, I was asked how I was going to pay and that they wouldn’t accept my travel insurance. But in the end, they really took great care of me. To top it up, the nurse filled in the name of her son on my form, making me use his insurance… So beautiful if you meet people who treat you as on of their own!

I searched a hotel to spent the night where I was offered a private room for the price of a dorm bed. Again! So nice!

I ended up staying there two days because of my knee not wanting to cycle much. It wasn’t too far to Villa Montes, where I would join the main road again, but it was surprisingly hilly and the road was under construction, which always means that it is in a bad state.

First night, I ended up camping where they had a small party at night. People sure like to drink here!

It seemed like I was never going to make it to Villa Montes. Someone had invited me there, but the road through the narrow canyon was just too dangerous to cycle at night, so I pitched my tent next to the road.

Finally back on the main road, I was surprised to see a small hard shoulder, not too much traffic and a nice landscape! Very nice change to Argentina!

As it goes with main roads they usually smell like dead animals and there are fewer encounters with people. Still I was for example lucky enough to pass a ceremony for the virgin of Urkupiña, where I was inmediatly offered beer and food.

I also got an invitation to stay in the next town. It wasn’t far, but with a few beers, it took a long time.

Just when I arrived with my contact, he was backing up his car. He did it way too fast and smashed into the wall, almost crushing his son. ‘thanks to god’, he told me, nothing happened. What a hypocrit thing to say when you’re just too drunk!

To make things worse, at 10pm they came to tell me I could’t stay after all and I had to move my tent outside their walls. What a strange day… By then, I had also gotten a fever which would make me do 30km average for the next two days. Great! Haha.

By now, I had also totally destroyed the front hub. It had been making an awful sound since I got to Bolivia, but now the bearings were totally worn out and it was braking me a lot.

So I searched another wheel, but turned out that they only sell 26″ around here. I only had 450 km to go though until Samaipata. As my mother and sister were coming over, they were bringing some spare parts.

Some nights were spend camping next to the police, some with families. I also learnt that people outside the villages are quite scared and won’t let you camp. Therefore I always searched a place in or close to a village.

I got to Samaipata one week earlier then my mum and sister, so I went to do a bit of volunteering helping out David who makes beer. The work itself wasn’t too interesting (making fruit juice, picking mandarines, washing bottles,…) but hanging out with the other volunteers, the great vegan food, sleeping in his old truck, the pretty area,…. sure made it worth it.

And then!!!! I went to pick up my girls at the airport!!! How exciting! We were planning to go around Bolivia by bus for three weeks.

I wasn’t used to travel with backpack and by public transportation.  It ended up being a very interesting experience! I sure have more ‘saddle sore’ sitting in a bus for 9 hours then cycling!

But all of this didn’t matter. I was reuninted with my family, and it was just so beautiful to be able to share some moments together after being separated for a year. There are no words to describe this really.

hiking around tupiza


Check out the photoalbum with comments of our roadtrip to find out where we went!

Last photos of Argentina added here

And the photoalbum of Bolivia:

And the album of our roadtrip together

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!

Up the Chilean coast: Valdivia – San Antonio

Leaving Valdivia meant leaving some people who had become very dear to me. It’s very rare to meet someone who you feel so connected to and who truly understands you. But yet, when the road is calling, you just have to answer it. Doesn’t matter how sad you feel, deep inside of you, you know you have to go. You know that you have to continue your own way, because there’s still so much unknown about yourself and the path has yet plenty of surprises, life-changing encounters and otherworldly places to discover.

Only five km out of the city I was already climbing over some mountain on a dirt road. I was back on track!

Then I had to follow the main road for 60 km and just before getting off, something quite terrible was about to happen. When I passed a farm, the dog, a big Rottweiler, clearly didn’t like the look of me and the bike. From the other side of the road, she came barking at me, crossing the road without thinking.

There was a lot of fast traffic. When I heard a big slam just next to me, I knew very well what had happened. A car had hit her with his front left corner, catapulting her away. She would eventually land at 30 meters from the gate…

Surprisingly, she was still alive, so I searched the owner to send her to a veterinarian. By the time we put her in the car, she had passed away though. The people hitting her, hadn’t bothered looking at the dog. They were just sad over some broken plastic.


In the week that it would take to cycle from Valdivia to Concepcion, I wouldn’t be lonely though! Chilean hospitality was about to show itself at its best. Following the coast, the scenery wasn’t too bad either! I almost wouldn’t even have any rain! Just splendid.

This lovely family was going to let me sleep outside under a roof, but after spending the evening together next to the warm fireplace, they showed me my room 😉 In the morning, I fixed the son’s bicycle as an exchange for the food and bed I was offered.

Next day, someone I had met in the village of Toltén, invited me to come stay with them. The French girlfriend of his cousin happened to know Bertille! But they had no idea they were in the same country. What are the odds…

Exactly when entering the coastal village of Puerto Saavedra, “mi negrita” refused to continue on. The body, the part where the sprocket is mounted on, didn’t hook in the hub anymore. In other words, the rear wheel wasn’t moving when I pedalled. It being a Sunday, the only bicycle shop was closed. I asked around, and found where the mechanic was living. I explained the situation and Guillermo was so kind to let me sleep in the workshop and brought me a mattress and food. In the night, I took apart the hub.

I really thought I had to hitchhike to Concepcion, 300 km away, to find a spare. But Guillermo somehow managed to make a custom part! Therefore I was quite surprised to be on the road again with just half a day of delay!

I was having such a good time! People were taking such good care of me!

Beautiful family taking me inside.

Karen, Pipa, Joaquin and Maxi showing me how it’s done.

By now, I know how to handle these situations, how to gain confidence from people. I knock on the door of a house where I’m sure there’s someone home and where they have the fireplace going. Then I present myself and ask for a small place to pitch my tent. It being rainy and a little chilly at night, people aren’t happy to let you sleep outside. But it’s also not that convenient to invite a stranger into your house in this fear-filled society.

Being aware of this, I just talk about whatever comes up in my mind (their beautiful house, the quiet region, my trip, the road ahead, etc…) until they trust me and invite me in. Then it are the usual cups of tea, the dinner, the funny conversations in which we exchange about our countries and the warm bed they offer me in the end.

These two men were selling seaweed in ‘Los Alamos’


Next evening I passed two men who were cutting up trees with a pretty cool saw bench. So I went over to see how it’s done… only to get invited by one of them to stay with his family.

Next morning, eager to learn to use the machine, I joined them to help out a bit.

I now entered the pine and eucalyptus tree plantations. It was a very different sight, and the people were different too. No more car honks, no more enthusiast greetings.

With a storm coming, I didn’t fancy pitching my tent among trees that might fall. So I knocked on the door of one of the only houses around.

First, the same distant approach. Then after some time, the friendly invitation to come inside. Two brothers were living there with their two sisters. There were no neighbours, only some animals to take care off. The sisters took care of the household, while the brothers went out to work. There was no television or radio. They just had some Evangelic magazines, of which they believed every word. So what to talk about? I ended up playing a movie on my laptop, they really enjoyed it!

Next day was a tough day. Headwind and rain made it difficult to make progress. I had to get to Coronel, where I had a Warmshowers address. Finally, after many detours on dirt roads, I was forced to pick up the main-road for 60 very dangerous km’s. The thousands of hectares of tree plantations meant lots of trucks on the road. The moment I could, I stopped to buy a reflective jacket…

It was so good to get to Gabriel’s house! The 95 km at 13 km/h had turned it into a long day. The warm shower sure was nice!

At Coronel, Gabriel showing me around

I ended up staying three days. I rested a bit, planned the next leg of my trip, Gabriel showed me around and on Sunday we went to Concepcion where his students had a music competition (3rd place!).

So I left Coronel with renewed forces. Quickly, I got to Concepcion where I passed every single bike shop to look for a new middle chain ring. After changing the chain and sprocket in Valdivia, I had noticed that the chain was skipping over the middle chain ring, meaning that it was worn out. I wasn’t able to find a replacement in Valdivia and as it turned out, neither in Concepcion…

It didn’t bother me too much and was hoping to find something in Valparaiso.

I kept on pushing and asked the firefighters in Menque, a village with just 500 people, for a place to stay. They let me sleep in the community hall.

Then I had a big day to Cobquecura, where I ended up camping close to the beach. It was already dark when I asked around if I could pitch my tent in the garden, but people were scared and didn’t let me. Timing is essential!

At 10pm though, while studying Spanish in my tent, I heard a group arriving close to my tent. Not wanting to create an awkward situation, I went over to them and we ended up having a pretty funny night.

I was hoping to get to Constitucion the next day, so I didn’t join them too long in their drinking.

But when I woke up with a crazy headwind, I knew I would never get there!

I put on some stand-up comedy making me forget about the time and fight the hills and headwind with a big grin on my face. I ended up doing 65 km in 6 hours. Nice and slow!

Rocks with seals

In Chanco, I passed the firefighters and asked them if they didn’t knew a place where I could pitch my tent. Mauricio, one of the volunteers promptly invited me to come stay with him and his family!

We were hanging out with the other guys at the station, when an emergency call came. A house was about to flood, so we headed out. I say ‘we’, because the guys gave me a full uniform, including helmet, to join them. I sure was well-equipped to just take some photos!


Later, we went over to one of his friends. It had been an interesting and eventful night, but I was sooo tired and it was 2am by the time we headed home.

Next day, I had just 60 km to Constitucion, where I had another Warmshowers address. Joaquin and his mother invited me to stay three days, until the storm had passed. With the ‘10 km/h against the wind’ day in my mind, it sounded like a good idea!

I really loved their energy! There was so much love between them. Joaquin also took the effort to correct every single mistake I made, so I learned quite a lot of Spanish while staying there.

I really had a nice time there: meeting their friends, going to a birthday party, fixing my bicycle, having the time to write/study/watch documentaries,…

Constitucion was actually the epicentre of the big earthquake in 2010. The stories are horrible, 120 people died here due to two tsunamies.

I now had 300 km till San Antonio, where I could stay in the Casa del Ciclistas.

Hilly, but beautiful weather

Waiting out the storm sure had been a good idea! I was now blessed with beautiful sunny days. The road was very hilly, but I was able to make good progress. So after camping for two nights, I got to San Antonio without problems.


Photoalbum here!

Leaving Chiloé and on to Valdivia (Chile)

So after almost three weeks with Jeroen, Grecia and Gabriel, I was ready to pick up my nomadic rhythm once again.

When I arrived in Chiloé, I had no idea where I was going next. So after a good rest and some decent planning, I now knew where I was heading the next few months.

In a way, winter simplifies my route options a lot. North of Santiago, snowfall closes down all the mountain passes/borders between Chile and Argentina, except for two. There’s the paso Cristo Redentor between Santiago and Mendoza and the paso Jama, all the way in the North, close to San Pedro de Atacama.

Winter in this part of the country means rain. Therefore I wasn’t very tempted to go wander off in Chile’s lake district either. With some detour, I would make it to Valdivia. Then I would follow the coast up to Concepcion and Valparaiso, to cross towards Mendoza and Argentina. From there, I’ll be heading towards Salta and Jujuy in Argentina before entering the fifth country of my trip: Bolivia.

What’s more, is that my mother is going to come visit me in Bolivia in September! This is a great motivation to keep going the next couple of months. It also gives me a time frame: I have to get there in the beginning of September.

“So let’s go!”, I thought.


After a beautiful day cycling towards the north of the island (rugged coastline, little traffic, lots of steep mountains, dolphins playing in the waves (!) and spectacular bays), I got to Chacao from where one can take the ferry back to the continent.

Leaving Ancud, Chiloé

The former boss of Grecia and his wife hosted me. I had talked to him on the phone in the morning, but when I got there in the night, he had no clue who I was. Turned out he has dementia. Luckily his lovely wife saved me and they took me in as I was their grandson.

Jeroen had also set me up with Miguel, a tourist guide in Puerto Varas. Just before getting there, in the city of Puerto Montt, I had also met Zara and her husband who invited me for lunch the next day in Puerto Varas. The beginning of some weeks full of lovely encounters!

Miguel and his lovely family

So after cycling for only two days, I already had myself a rest day, which also made me finally update the blog.

Miguel’s family turned out to be really sweet, especially their daughter was just too cute. I headed over for lunch to Zara’s house and joined Valentina, the oldest daughter, to have dinner with her friends. I sure wasn’t traveling alone these days!

I had now made it to the Llanquihue lake. Two volcanoes, Calbuco and Osorno, turned it into a very spectacular setting! Calbuco had erupted just a couple of years ago, the footage is mind-blowing!

sunset over the Calbuco volcano

I camped at the beach of the lake, overlooking both volcanoes. Not bad, not bad at all!

When I got to the bigger city of Osorno, I still didn’t want to follow the highway number 5. So I cut through the fields, asking if I could pitch my tent at a farm. They wouldn’t let me! Instead they would take me in, put me next to the fire, feed me and let me sleep in a bed. A beautiful gesture that would be repeated!

I crossed the Rio Bueno by boat (the man only wanted to charge me 1.5 euro) and headed down a ripio towards Hueicolla at the coast. Little did I knew what awaited me…

Road conditions had always been good in Chile, making me not worry too much.  Therefore I didn’t asked around how the road up ahead was. First, there was a ridiculous amount of steep hills, just one after the other. Up and down, till I would make it to the office of the Conaf, the nature preservation organisation, at 1000m. There was only one ranger staying at this time of the year, and it was so kind of him to let me stay in a house, light the fireplace and ask his only neighbour to bake bread for me.

Next day, I went hiking a bit, because the oldest living thing that I will see in this entire continent was standing at just two km from the road. Alerce trees grow with just one mm per year, and there I was! Facing a 3500 (!!!) year old tree! It’s greatness was hard to capture on photo. The front was about 1.5m wide, but the side was almost 4m!! That sure was worth a small hike!

Back to the road then. More up and down (loose rocks also made me push the bike more than I would like to admit), before having a huge downhill towards the coast. Dropping 1000m over 17 km over bad dirt road, sure was fun! But even here I had to push some km’s! A layer of 30 cm of mud blocked the road. The few locals that had passed me, even had to put on their snow chains to get through!

While having lunch, my legs and bike all covered in mud, I had a big grin on my face. I felt so alive. I was absolutely loving the struggle, not bothered whatsoever with the slow progress. Last couple of years of cycling had tought me how to deal with these situations, how to be patient, how not to worry, and how to enjoy while keeping your head up.

It wasn’t over yet. A 30m river crossing awaited, after which I had to climb back to 700m altitude. I could only guess how the road was going to be on the other side of the river, too…

The beautiful bay of Hueicolla and the river I had to cross

Stupidly, I first crossed the river at the wrong place, which just got me to the beach (very pretty though). So I headed back, searching where the actual coastal road was running. By now I had discovered that my panniers float! I couldn’t believe it! With not much current in the river, it was much easier to cross it than expected, even if the water reached my hip.

After cleaning off all the mud in the river, I started climbing through the ‘Valdivian jungle’. With such a high water level in the river, it was obvious that not many cars (or any at all?) could cross. Therefore, the road was now totally deserted and unmaintained. Dodging rocks, branches and creeks, I slowly made my way up. I pitched the tent next to the road, before continuing the struggle. Rain had washed away a great part of the road, still there was some absolutely great cycling too. The brakes got a very good test-run and I was having one heck of an adventure.

For the first time in a long time, I put on my helmet and kept the speed somewhat down in the downhill, knowing very well that it could take a looong time for someone to pass me here to help me out.

I got out of the jungle and back at the coast without big problems and headed towards Corral to take the ferry to Niebla, close to Valdivia. Not having a place to stay in Valdivia yet, I asked a family if I could pitch my tent in the garden.

Next day, I got to Valdivia early. Although my panniers had floated in the river, crossing it three times had made everything somewhat wet. My toes were killing me already for some time (winter toes they call it in Belgium: red, a bit swollen, itchy, burning feeling), and a wound was starting to infect (while doing the workaway I had somehow managed to drill a small hole in my foot). I was going to stay with Tamara, Grecia’s daughter, but she went to Chiloé for the weekend. It was raining and I was cold. So I searched a room to spent the night. At the market, I met a woman who charged me 13 euro to rent a room in her house. The place was all rundown and dirty, but the shower was hot. Nice!!

The bike needed some essential maintenance. After 12.500 km, it was time to change to chain and sprocket. The brake pads were gone too. But first: new shoes! With my toes still burning, I couldn’t bear the idea of wearing these wet, rundown shoes any longer. Therefore I searched some proper waterproof hiking boots (the guy gave me a lovely 15% discount luckily).

Bertille had been offered some work in the city as a French translator, so she hitchhiked from Chiloé to Valdivia, leaving her bike. Great to see her again! She had been living here for 10 months already, so she was a great guide too.

I then moved to the family where Tamara (Jeroen and Grecia’s daughter) also was staying for two nights. It was great to meet her, to finally get to know the whole family. She studies English, so I helped her out a bit with that, and we went to visit the museums Valdivia has to offer.

Finally, Pamela and her mother, Bertille’s friends, offered to host me for another couple of days. In return, I helped them around the house.

I spent some more days hanging out with my new friends, cycling around searching parts for the bike, going to the movies, learning about the German colonisation,…

The costanera (along the river) and cycleways make it nice to go around by bike. And the sea lions are just too funny!

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


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.


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.