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