Colombia 1: To Cali and a family visit

After another smooth border crossing, I was now in my eight South American country! I was given 90 days, but was probably going to need more. Everyone that I had met, talked about this country with sparkles in their eyes!

finding a place to sleep is never difficult. Here in a school

 

On my way to Mocoa, where I was planning to stay a couple of days to check out the waterfalls, I finally reached the 20.000 km mark!

Same day, I was surprised when I suddenly saw a huge traffic jam. Turned out a truck had missed one of the sharp turns and landed on its side. People had been waiting for three hours. Even I with the bike couldn’t pass. But shortly after they dragged it to the side. (No one got hurt.)

I then spent four days close to Mocoa, hiking to the waterfalls and meeting more soulmates of the road.

As in Ecuador, it kept raining nearly every day. The river was WILD! My phone also broke when in the pocket of my rain jacket, but it’s now working again after drying for a week in rice.

 

A classic sugar-hit break in Colombia: sugarcane juice. The engine is actually the same that I used to drive my canoe with!

When approaching a family while looking for a place to spend the night, the conversation went like this:

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. I’m Walter from Belgium and travelling by bicycle. I’m looking for a place to put my tent for the night. I’m a bit tired, don’t want to cycle in the night and would like to have someone’s permission to camp here somewhere safely.”

“No, you can’t camp here. There is no flat ground (true). You shall sleep in our house.

This hospitality is just so nice. In fact, people are so nice here, that it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be taken care of every night. In my whole trip in South America, I’ve been rejected just five times, of which three on the same night.

 

View outside the family’s house.

The road from Mocoa towards Pitalito was pretty hilly, but the little traffic made it enjoyable! And what a spectacle if the sun does finally break through and plays with the mountains and its clouds!

Colombia is also the country where people started inviting me again themselves. I mean, people let me camp in every country I passed, but to be invited is still something different.

Close to San Agustin for example. Upon a small chat with this family selling fruit next to the road, I was invited to spend the night there. Their coffee drying shack made for the biggest bed I ever slept in! (The whole floor is soft)

I then headed West, towards Popayan, which meant climbing to 3000m. Close to the highest point, there was another military checkpoint. I had already crossed multiple in just a week of cycling in Colombia, making for living proof of its violent history.

There’s no hassle though: foreigners never get checked. But I stopped anyway to ask advice about the dirt stretch up ahead. This then led to a 20 min chat with some 10 military guys, some of them trying to ride my bike! All very funny. Good vibes only!

After the military checkpoint, I started the 37km stretch of dirt road across the Puracé national park.

It was rainy and the road kept going up and up. The average of the day had dropped to 8 km/h, gaining some 1800m over the day.

I tried to get through, but had 22km left to reach the asfalt/village when night fell. With no camping space available, I had to camp right next to the road.

It never stopped drizzling and with my bad tent that meant that things got wet. I was told there was plenty of water along the road, which was true, but it wasn’t particularly clean. And my stove obviously didn’t work again, meaning instant noodles instead of quinoa (really have to stop using dirty ’84’ gasoline, its soot blocks where the petrol is supposed to come out).

The bridge turned out to be the favorite stopping place for all trucks. I didn’t get much sleep.

Getting in wet shoes and cycling clothes obviously isn’t a joy, but once on the road you forget about it.

So a bit of a rough start in the morning, something which changed dramatically when flying down 2000m towards Popayan! Woohoo!

first sight of the Paramo vegetation. Purace national park

 

huge downhill to Popayan

Feeling feverish, I treated myself to a dorm bed in a hostal in the nice, colonial style centre.

There was no time to loose though. My mom was due to arrive in Cali in a couple of days.

Not far out of Popayan, while in a downhill, a parked car shouted me over. I wasn’t sure. I mean, his pick-up was definitly big enough to put my bike in, and I was in Colombia! It’s supposed to be dangerous here! haha. Also I couldn’t really figure out why he called me.

Anyway, I went back and the driver asked me for a big favor: turned out his wheel axed had snapped and his hand brake wasn’t working well. So he was basically waiting for someone crazy enough to stop, listen and find a big log or rock to put behind the wheels so he could lift his foot of the brake! I jumped a fence and came back with a log. The man sighed from relief, having been stuck for nearly an hour! He then switched to front wheel drive, drove up the hill and came to give me 5.000 pesos Colombianos (2USD). Funny story! And I had earned some beer money!

On a more serious note: I think that traveling and recieving so much help and hospitality on the road changes your perspective of the world. You realize the world is a good place. You feel grateful and humble. And then when there’s an opportunity to give back, you don’t hesitate too much, because moments in life to help one another are scarce.

Just a bit later, I finally met another fellow cyclist. I enjoyed talking to Felipe from Chile that much, that riding time quickly vanished. We happened to meet just in front of Alesandros house, who turned out to be a legend: Italian ex-military living in Colombia for 17 years.

I had only cycled 35 km that day, but preferred to hear their stories over making progress. We both ended up spending the night at Alesandros place, going into a nearby town together to grab pizza and beers.

Next day, with a last 100km push, I made it to the city anyway.

Again, I realized that cycling in Colombia is fun! It’s a cyclist country. Sometimes other cyclists join you for a while to show the way and to share whatever food is stuffed away in their jacket pouches. Others cheer you on, fruit vendors give some extra for free, cars honk to show their appreciation,… It all puts a big smile on my face!

Cali. View from the hostel’s terrace

 

some more photos here!

 

Ecuador: a brief visit, but back on the bike!

Just a couple of days in the city of Coca were enough to drive me nuts. I felt alone in the crowd. The doctor had told me to rest for two or three weeks, but it sure wasn’t going to be in the city.

Swapping rear tires just before leaving Coca. I had been dragging the spare along since Buenos Aires, 13.000 km ago! Rear tire did 19.000 and could still do at least 5.000 more.

In the meantime, I had found a workaway address in Misahualli, some 150 km away, where I could stay until my ankle was healed while making myself useful.

My ankle didn’t hurt while cycling, so I was to try to cycle there.

There was the main road, but i was told the alternative road was also paved…and flat. Ha! That was going to turn out as a good joke.

First, before leaving town, I gave my old MSR tent away to a fellow cyclist. I had been off the bike for five months and knew it was better to get rid of unnecessary weight. The MSR hubba hubba had served me well through most of Africa and for a year and a half in South America. Yet, it had started leaking a bit, all zippers were worn out and the fabric of the flysheet had become very fragile causing big 20cm rips from time to time.

Unfortunately, the North Face tent that I had bought in Cusco, Peru, was awful and a very bad replacement for the MSR.

Adrian from Colombia had been traveling for 36 years, of which 10 by bicycle. I met him next to the park where he was selling his handicrafts.

It was great to be back on the bike. The road was winding through the jungle, up and down uncountable hills. I camped in a small, covered football stadium (most big villages have them). My friendly neighbors invited me to eat with them.

Then by 10 am the next day, I started having a very inconvenient problem: i couldn’t pee. Worse even, when I tried, an excruciating pain would hit my ‘you know what’. I would tried a couple of times more during the day, because my bladder was so full. Having to pee so badly, but being hit with that pain just before my pee would come out, almost had me shedding in tears. I truly hope I never have to go through that again.

The road also became challenging as the asfalt stopped and loose rocks appeared. I was now pushing my bike up on quite a few hills. Although loving the adventure, I knew this wasn’t the best recovery for my ankle.

I reached the Kichwa community of Shiripuno, slightly troubled about my peeing problem. If I couldn’t pee in the morning, I would have to hitchhike to the nearest hospital. I couldn’t spend more than 24 hours like this without knowing what was going on. Definitely not because cycling might make it worse?

The man I met in front of the shop, turned out to be the village chief. He and his family were super nice to me and made me sleep in a bed and fed me. Alejandro, aka medicine man of the village, massaged my lower back with menthol and gave me a tea of various herbs against prostate problems (although I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with that, haha).

Anyway, everything was ok again in the morning! Pfuu! What a relief.

Just as I left, it started raining again. It would rain every single day, but it didn’t bother me as it’s never cold in the jungle.

I did thought I had stopped travelling by river since selling our boat. But now I was cycling/walking up the road which looked like a river!

I asked directions in another Kichwa community. It was still raining and people invited me in, offering a hot drink. The man used to be a carpenter, but that all changed when he had a bad accident while cutting trees. After 1.5 years, he was still recovering from a badly broken arm and leg. I suddenly felt really stupid to talk about my ankle.

They were lovely. While waiting for her to come back, I started helping them making new gates. I ended up staying the day, finishing off the gates. They thought me some Kichwa and we went around the small village to meet their family and drink masato, which they call chicha here. I had only cycled 12 km that day, but in the end it’s not about the kms at all.

In front of the gates we made.

I got to Misahualli the next day, where I would help out Scott from Canada for a while. He had recently bought four hectares of land along the Misahualli river. A beautiful spot.

With my ankle being weak, I focused on fixing things around the house: wiring electricity to add lights and plugs/ fixing doors/ making shelves and a work top for cooking out of wobbly wood fetched out of the river.

 

Although I was having a blast at the volunteering, I realised my ankle wasn’t recovering. Hence I decided to move to Tena, just 25 km away. I knew taking the bus was the smartest option, but I just couldn’t brake the cycle of never having hitchhiked/taken the bus on this trip!

 

 

unable to stretch my foot all the way down

 

‘Thousand’ year old red Ceibo at Pununo, Misahualli.

Once I got there, I knew I had to stay until my foot got better. It was time to take this injury serious.

Finally, after twelve days, I got a green light to move on. Yes!!! On to Colombia!!! I had 18 days left till my mom arrived in Cali, 900km away.

I tried to make the best of my time off the bike: working on the photos to make selections and backups, do some sightseeing, get some tests in the hospital to figure out my peeing problem (all good, nothing going on),… And go to the fysiotherapist every day of course to get some electric shocks sent through my foot.

It was hard to leave the Zumag Sisa hostal in Tena, I really felt part of the family! If you have to spend more than ten days in a city, a great hostal with great people is a lifesaver!

 

But I was really excited to be back on the bike!

The road winded through the high jungle, offering many waterfalls and caves to visit. Climbing back to 1400m was a good first test.

Getting close to the Colombian border, I stayed with a Kichwa family for the last time. We share food together and they give me a room for the night. Lovely.

My ankle is now strong enough to cycle, but I have to stay careful and do exercises every day.

Then I dropped back to the lower part of the jungle. The road straightened out and Colombia became tangibly close by.

I then camped on the 2nd floor of a hut overlooking the Sumaco volcano. It’s still rainy season and cloudy, but I was lucky to get a glimpse of it at sunset.

I had a warmshowers host for the next day. Walter and his family haven’t traveled themselves by bicycle, but once met a cycletraveler who showed it to them. They have enjoyed making foreign friends, taking selfies with them and helping travelers on their way ever since.

I wasn’t planning to, but they invited me to stay a day and visit the area. It was fun to paddle around the lake! Felt good being in a canoe again! Also met his family and went walking to a very old Ceibo tree. And it was beautiful to see their love for their baby they adopted one month ago.

He also took me with him along his job: selling perfumes in night clubs. I thought night clubs were disco’s, but they’re actually brothels. We went to six in total. Not my kind of place! As Walter was trying to sell his merchandise, I had time to observe these places. First of all, I was surprised there were a lot of people. It’s like a bar with small rooms of 2 by 3 m all around. Most girls are from Venezuela and have fled their country’s misery. It’s all very sick and sad.

Later that day, I got a message from Emmely, a Belgian friend with whom I went to college. She and a friend of hers, had been doing an internship as medical students in some hospitals in Ecuador and were now traveling around the country. So crazy to see her again on the other side of the world!

Next day! Border crossing!!! Yes, that’s right! Colombia!!!!

 

Some more photos here!

 

 

Up the Napo river towards Ecuador

As usual, it took a long time to get ready to leave the city. My bike took a long time to arrive from Pucallpa and the boat getting stolen didn’t help us much either.

When my bike finally arrived, I was so excited that I forgot my camera bag with my money and passport in a restaurant. I realized it half an hour later. I was fearing the worst. I mean, I had eaten at a small table next to the road at 100m from a busy harbour… No good! How could I ever even forget such an important bag? Anyway, the restaurant owners had found it and kept it without taking anything from it. Faith in humanity restored! But let’s not lose it again! My trip would have been very different if I had…

We took Silan from Germany and Geoffrey from France with us from Iquitos, cause we were heading to monkey island, a so called rescue center. No idea if they actually release animals into the wild though. But I got to see my o so cherished Macaw from up close! These are so pretty!

We dropped our hitchhikers off in Mazan, from where they took the fast boat back to Iquitos.

We then start negotiating with some locals, because we had heard it’s possible to haul boats by road to the Napo river (4km away), saving a huge 120km detour by river.

It sounded good, but it ended up being a bit of a nightmare. First of all, I realised I should never have bought this boat. As it turns out, I’m very talented to buy old, partly rotten boats! I guess it’s not so easy to judge it when it’s in the water.

Then the transport was so rough on it, that the pitch sealing the wooden boards, broke. When we wanted to put it back into the river, it almost sank.

We had no other choice but to spend two days fixing it up. When were we ever going to get going?

We removed the pitch on the inside, let it dry (luckily sun was out!) and sealed it again. We improved the roof and put new plastic on it.

Unfortunately, still lots of water was coming in and we had to add pieces of tin with card board to it. It still wasn’t perfect, but we now just really wanted to go.

leaving Mazan, saying goodbye to the carpenter and his family that helped us

We were absolutely stoked to be back on the river after all the delays!

Shortly after leaving, a drunk driver was following us. In trying to overtake us, he hit the tail of our engine! We got really mad and annoyed as he kept following for ages.

There luckily was another boat who had seen everything though, and they sticked around a bit to keep an eye out. They ended up inviting us to drink masato (made from cassava). There’s a birthday party too, but we want to go a bit further after being held up for so long in the city. 

Camping on the beach while having a couple of beers, was stunning! There weren’t even any mosquitos around. So beautiful to be on the move. So beautiful to watch the stars.

Catz had to wake me up in the middle of the night though. He was sleeping on the floor of the boat and woke up with a wet back. Oh boy, how I regretted having bought this boat! There was so much water in it, that the back of the boat was about to go under. The rest of the boat would have followed quickly after that.

We would start making two hour shifts to bail water to keep the boat from sinking. Then during the day and in the evening we nailed tin and cardboard on to patch the biggest leaks, reducing the amount of times we had to get up in the night.

With a patched up boat, we could now really start enjoying our camping.

Sometimes one slept in the tent and the other in the ‘bed’ (two wide boards on top of the buckets) in the boat, other times we both slept on the boat (Catz in his hammock). The latter is definitely the case is we suspect crocodiles to be around (which I thought was impossible because they don’t live in the big river). The traces we saw turned out to be from capybaras.

The biggest advantage of it all was that we didn’t have to unload the boat every night!!!

Catz tries his ‘throwing fishing net’ out next to our camp spot.

Traveling upstream on the Napo river meant staying close to the side to avoid the strong current. Our cruising speed had dropped to eight km/h, where it was about fifteen when going downstream (even with a smaller engine). The water level is not at its highest, meaning there are many sand bars and logs (which are stuck in the river) to avoid.

I hit about five sand bars a day, while Catz, with his experience as a captain, hits nearly none. But what can’t be learned?  I learned to read the river, and avoid its problems.

Once though, while hugging the river bank, I hit a log which was just low enough to be invisible and just high enough to get us stuck. The boat got lifted up and dangerously got out of balance. I jumped out to push us off, but Catz knew what was going on, kept calm and just drove us off with the engine.

Stuck in another sand bank

Another night is spend camping in front of a Kichwa community, Puerto Aurora. I head over to talk to the ‘teniente gobernador’, one of the village authorities, to explain who we are and what we do.

They tell us about two Spanish brothers who stayed in the village for a couple of nights some weeks ago. Some people were so scared of them, that they went to camp in the jungle under a plastic tarp with their dogs protecting them.

Because the thing is, that native people are really scared of gringos/whites. Not all of them, but many. They think that we travel here to tap off their body fat while still alive, steal their organs and cut of the skin of their face. We are called ‘pelacaras’, facepeelers. Hence the importance to have authorisations of the Navy and organisations representing the indigenous people. With these ‘constancias’, we search the village chief, proof that we are just tourists and gain confidence.

Some guys and kids came over in the night to chat around our bonfire. They were playing a football tournament the next day in a village two hours upstream. We agreed to take them, if they would drive.

Turned out it was the village anniversary, featuring football games and a party. As usual, we are invited to drink masato (drink made out of cassava). It being still early, we keep heading upstream.

After all this camping we realize village life is an important part of travelling through the jungle. As we camp next to this Kichwa family’s house, we are thrown back to realizing in which poor conditions people live here and back to realize how unfair life can be. We try to help by sharing our food and some petrol.

We are now getting close to the border. We have a last bonfire where Catz cooks up some bushmeat. I feel lazy not having cooked a single meal, but then Catz is a much much better cook!

With Catz running out of time, we had also decided by now to try to sell the boat at the border. Then, it was going to be a last eight hour speed boat to Coca, the first Ecuadorian town.

Upon arrival in Pantoja, the last Peruvian town, we head to the immigration office to get stamped out. I had recently realized i had overstayed my visa by a week, but the fine was just 1 euro/day. (Upon arrival in Perú, I told my sister that i was going to try to not overstay my 90 day visa for once. Even after getting a 60 day extension in Pucallpa, I somehow still managed to overstay… Never imagined to spend more than five months in Perú!)

Selling the boat goes much easier than imagined. We meet a couple traveling with their dog who fall in love with the idea of traveling by boat down to Brazil.

We make one last ride in it. We pay a man to take us to Nuevo Roqafuerte, the first Ecuadorian town, and to then bring the boat back its new owners.

Thank you Perú! You’ve been good to me!

Getting our bikes loaded up again in Nuevo Roqafuerte made us utterly happy. Freedom for the road was now thrillingly nearby.

We got our entry stamps and jumped on the fast boat to Coca for eight hours.

Catz jumped on a night bus to Quito from where his bike and some more busses were going to bring him back to Lima to catch his flight leaving from Peru.

I was very excited to get back on the bike and to get up in the mountains again. But I had also realized a while ago that my ankle probably wasn’t going to allow that (I fell close to arriving in Iquitos while carrying the engine and twisted my ankle). So I went to see a doctor to figure out what was going on with it.

15 days to three weeks of rest was the verdict. What the hell was I going to do in the city of Coca for so long?

On the plus side, healthcare turned out to be free in Ecuador! I got some pills and a shot in the but against the inflammation. I was also given painkillers (something I didn’t need), but I was told to give those to the nurse as her tip 🙂

I probably felt a bit lost after that. How to make a plan? I was to rest for a couple of days and see from there.

 

Some more pictures in the photo album:

 

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…

Pisac

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! 

 

Coyhaique – Puerto Natales: finishing the carretera Austral and ferry to Puerto Natales

After an amazing two-weak break in Valle Simpson, close to Coyhaique, with Delphine, Gabriel and Rafael, it was time to hit the road again. Even though we spent little time together, we both felt very close to these lovely people and left with tears in our eyes.

First we said goodbye to Gabriel’s family in the centre of the village, where his mother once again showed us the generosity of the Chilean people by inviting us in for a delicious lunch.

So with renewed energy we continued the carretera austral south!

The asphalt stopped after 90 km and would never show itself again. From here on it was ripio (dirt road) all the way.

At the end of the day, we ran into Andrea and Lautaro from Mendoza again. We had met in Futaleufu in the beginning of our stay in Chile and shared a camp spot together at a Conaf (organisation for the preservation of the parks, the parkrangers) campsite.

We then easily got to Cerro Castillo, from where one can do a one day hike of which the beauty is compared to the legendary Torres del Paine park. So off we went! It being semi-cloudy, we only saw the glacier and lake at the top, and not the famous ‘Castillo’, meaning castle/mountain, but it was still very worth it.

Only down side: I had muscle sore for two days!

In two days cycling, after spending the night in another abandoned house, we got to Puerto Tranquilo. From here one can visit the glacier ‘de los exploradores’ and the marble caves. The excursion to the glaciar costs about 100 euro, so we gave that a miss.

I had no idea what to expect from the marble caves and if it was worth the 9000 Chilean pesos (13 euro) for a one hour boat trip. I was totally amazed! For 320 million years (the guide told me, hard to believe), the water has been sculpturing these rocks to mind-blowing shapes.  Nature never ceases to amaze!

We then had another two days up to Cochrane, a village with only 3000 inhabitants, but yet it’s an important place to rest out and stock up on supplies.

Lago General Carrera

We were planning to go to the camping, but while searching it, we met Soledad, a primary school teacher who told we could also camp next to her house! So friendly!!! In the end, we could even sleep inside, use the washing machine, use the kitchen to cook up some other food than rice or pasta and take a godly shower. So, so nice. In return, Jelle baked pancakes and I chopped up wood.

From there, it was a two day ride to get to Caleta Tortel, the end of the Carretera Austral for us. The whole stretch south of Coyhaique had been truly amazing, and we enjoyed it till the last km.

Biggest difference was that we didn’t have any rain! There’s also less traffic and a perfect dirt road going through forests and along lakes with stunning views makes it absolutely world-class.

Yes, I think we’ll camp here!

Carretera Austral: we’ll miss you!

I also crossed my 10.000th km! 1/3 or 1/4 done? My objective also hasn’t changed, Canada is still very much the goal.

Caleta Tortel isn’t just any place to arrive to though. It’s position on the hill, makes it impossible to make roads and use vehicles. Therefore, all the houses are connected with boardwalks made out of durable Cypress wood. Our reason to come here is the harbour actually. In order to travel back to the north without cycling the same road, we decided to take a very long ferry from Tortel to Puerto Natales, a 40 hour trip though the Bernardo O’Higgins national park.

We arrive at 11 am and the boat goes at 11 pm, so there’s plenty of time to stroll around the intriguing village. We also bump into our British friends Matheo and Helen again! We met them in Puyuhuapi, north of Coyhaique and are happy to hear they are also taking the ferry. We’re now sure to spend the trip with good company!

The boat goes through the Bernardo O’Higgins national park, with 3.5 million (!!!) hectares, the biggest of its kind. Truly impressive to see island after island of pristine forest, untouched by human kind. One would forget these places even still exist.

As it turns out there are four more cyclists on the boat! So plenty of stories to exchange. I also cease the opportunity to really start studying the book ‘teach yourself Spanish’ that Delphine gave me in Coyhaique. We don’t sleep that well on the reclining seats, but the food we got wasn’t too bad (although little if your used to cyclist’s meals), so we didn’t complain too much ;).

Still nice to get to Puerto Natales, find a camping and sleep stretched out in our tents!

Crazy Angelo from Italy. At the camping in Puerto Natales, with a bunch of other cyclists!

 

Photoalbum here!

 

 

 

Futaleufu – Coyhaique: First part of the amazing Carretera Austral and a long break in Coyhaique

Futaleufu. Our first stop in Chile. Rafting heaven at the same time. Unfortunately 1.5 hours of incomparable fun will cost you around 80 euro, so we just headed down the road, admiring the wild river from time to time.

As always in this beautiful part of the world, we had met other touring cyclists. Pim and Marlies from the Netherlands had started in Ushuaia (the most southernmost city) and gave us heaps of tips where to go in Patagonia.

Of course, we met Jayson and Véronica, our Brasilian friends, again. For the fourth time now! And it wasn’t going to be the last. Great to meet soulmates along the road!

Futaleufu was also the place where it started raining…and it would go on and on and on…

So we put on our raingear and headed West, towards the famous carretera Austral, which runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgens, covering about 1250 km through some of the best scenery there is for touring cyclists (if you like dirt roads and mountains that is!).

After pitching our tents in the rain that first night after Futaleufu, our trip got focused on finding shelter for the night, taking breaks in bus stops and having lunch in a simple restaurant next to the fire to warm up a bit.

So although the weather was against us (read: full days of rain), our quest for shelter also got us some nice stories.

First, there was a beautiful enclosed bus stop to crash for the night, then there was an abandoned house. We were planning to pitch the tents in the barn, but the door of the house was kind of open, so we stayed inside. We found dry wood in the barn, Jelle lit the fire. What an amazing feeling to feel the warmth on our faces and dry our clothes!

Our own little cabin was so sweet, that we both didn’t feel like getting back in the rain the next day…so we stayed another night. Turned out the cabin was the reception of an abandoned camping with access to the lake and a nice trail to walk along it. Dream spot!!!

We stocked up on food in Puyuhuapi, and continued our way South. Up till here, half of the road had been tarred (asphalted). The many road works tell that Chile wants to continue smoothening out the road.

On this section, they were blowing up the rocks to cut a way through it. Therefore there are many roadblocks were we had to wait up to four hours (!). We met Hugo again though, an Argentinian cyclist, whom we met when we just got on the carretera.

He’s a brilliant guy who’s been traveling for the last ten years. Always going back to save some money, then heading out again. A true pleasure to cycle along with him, so we teamed up for four days up to Coyhaique.

He’s also the kind of traveller who has such a positive energy towards everyone he comes across, that he receives a lot of help. They have a description for it here. “Buena onda” could mean something like ‘good vibes’. You can use it to describe a person, a situation,…

So with his ‘buena onda’, he for example managed that we could sleep in the reception cabin of a fancy hotel next to the fire. Then the next day, after hiking up to a glaciar (that we didn’t see, because it was cloudy), he chatted with some people organizing a fancy lunch for their clients. In the end they asked our pots to fill them with delicious chicken and potatoes that were left over. Only to get a bottle of wine too! It’s hard to describe how these things work out. Just by being genuinely good to your fellow human beings, without expecting anything in return, people will find you sympathic and are willing to help you along the trip.

And I haven’t even mentioned the scenery! Raindrops kept coming down day after day, but we were cycling through immense valleys with waterfalls everywhere! Then once in a while a glacier to finish it off. The dirt road was really enjoyable too. Chileans are so much better in making ripio roads than Argentinians! And with a rainbow appearing once in a while and the great company of Hugo, we were really enjoying the road.

In the end, we cycled together up to Coyhaique, a city with 60.000 people. Every village we had passed earlier, was home to about 1000 people or much less, so we were kind of shocked to get to the city. Coyhaique was therefore an important stop because it’s one of the only places to fix your bikes etc.

And we happened to be blessed to have a place to stay close to the city! Delphine, the cousin of Lara, a Belgian friend of mine, moved to Patagonian Chile with her partner, Gabriel and their lovely son, Rafael.

After cycling for six months, covering nearly 10.000 km, I also really needed a break. So it all worked out perfectly!

We arrived at sunset at their ‘campo’, overlooking the river Simpson. It was absolutely stunning. Delphine offered us a D’olbek, a delicious Belgian beer brewed in Coyhaique. And a hot shower topped it off! Oh wow! Arriving here was so good! We ended up staying eleven days…

the view from the back yard with the 2 horses. stunning!

Here, winters are tough, so people do a big effort in summer to get ready for them. They had just ordered a truck full with wood to be cut with the chainsaw and chopped with the axe. So, in order to offer something for the food they shared with us and the place we could sleep, we got cracking…

Apart from the wood, there were also fences to be fixed, fields to be cleaned, peas to be picked, a very cute and energetic young boy to be entertained,…

We were really happy to be off the bikes for a while, to do some other things, to make FRIENDS, to meet Gabriel’s family, to go on a fishing trip and learn a bit how to fly fish, to ride the horses,…

A truly beautiful experience in Chilean Patagonia!!! We both left with teary eyes and with a lot of gratitude for the love and generosity.

 

photoalbum here!