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 too spectacular there, if it wasn’t for the fact that the guys are running marathons all the way! Crazy Belgians! (Follow them at ‘viapanam’.)

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!

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 volcanos.

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 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! Even when we got back on the tar road at (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!

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!

Mauricio

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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Argentina 3: Mendoza – Bariloche along the Ruta 40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a little bit of shade under a sign. 

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

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

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

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

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

Washing in the river: showers are so overrated!

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

dirty cyclist next to some goodlooking meat

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Full photo album here!

Santa Rosa (Cordoba) – Mendoza

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Photoalbum here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up in the mountains! And switching my bike for a horse!

I had been following mostly the coast going down from Ilhabela to Joinville, so I really needed to get into the mountains and travel on some quieter roads.

First I headed to Corupa, where I walked for three hours to visit 14 (!) waterfalls. I couldn’t see the last and most impressive one (120m) though because of the clouds, but it was still very impressive. Because it was as if an airplane was taking off, but I couldn’t see anything. It was so close and so loud, yet I couldn’t see ten meter away from me. It was even a bit scary maybe.

amerika_joinville-floripa_klein-4

I was now also in the “European Valley” where many people speak German. Very interesting! I stayed in Timbo with a friend of a friend I met when cycling around Joinville. Nice how cyclists help me along the way and get me in touch with their friends along my route.

But most importantly, I was now cycling though green valleys full of rainforest or banana trees over quiet dirt roads. I really had a good time!

amerika_joinville-floripa_klein-8

Then, I headed to the island of Florianopolis. Continuing over dirt roads to avoid the tar road and its traffic meant working hard to get over the mountains, but it was definitely worth it. I find main roads to be very impersonal and boring. And if you have no deadline, it’s fine to be making slow progress.

When I crossed the bridge to Florianopolis, I got a strange message though… The guy that was going to host me, suddenly wrote me that he couldn’t after all. “Really? You are telling me this now?” If he had told me earlier, at least I would have had the time to find another place to stay.

But it was now 6pm, and I was in a big city I didn’t knew. The guy send me an address though in the centre where people commuting to work by bike can park their bicycles and take a shower. So I went there, explained my situation and luckily the mechanic at this place offered to host me in his house.

Next morning, I woke up with a fever… Just perfect!! Haha. So I slept most of the day at this bike parking and spend another night at the mechanic’s house. I also met many cyclists there, and one of them, Daniel, offered to host me longer on the island.

First, I recovered a bit more from the fever and then I went cycling around the island for two days. It’s a beautiful place, but also home to about 400.000 people. Therefore there is a lot of traffic and Brazilians are not very patient with cyclists…

But Daniel’s family was truly adorable so It was hard to leave…

Magical km's on Joaquina beach, Floripa

Magical km’s on Joaquina beach, Floripa

 

I planned my route over some more secondary roads towards Sao Bonifacio and Braco de Norte. In both places, Daniel had given me addresses to stay. First one being a beer brewer! Just perfect J Avoiding the main road, meant some more climbing again, this time to about 800 m (coming from see level).

I descended again, this time over dirt road towards Braco de Norte where I stayed with Daniel’s nephew, Pedro. At one point I got very lucky (see picture), this made me laugh so hard!

Then a big challenge awaited: the Corvo Branco pass (over rocky dirt road towards 1239m). Climbing went gradually, but the last 3 km were brutal! Straight up over bad road. But the whole ‘serra’ is very beautiful, making it all worth it.

When I took a break 20 km after the pass in a restaurant, I met Marcos who invited me to come stay with him. He breeds horses, so it was interesting to help him a bit.

Next morning, I left my panniers at his place and climbed to the Morro da Igreja at about 1800 m. Truly incredible!!!

amerika_floripa-cambara-13

This whole region is amazing actually…

I was now on the ‘altoplano’ (high flats), but it sure wasn’t flat! After about 100 km on the plateau I made it to the famous road ‘serra do rio do rastro’. It sure is spectacular!

amerika_floripa-cambara-20

I stayed with Daniel’s parents at Urussanga, close to Criciuma. There, I went shopping for some stuff. I for example needed new shoe laces, which was very nice to look for, because it seemed that all the pretty girls from town are working in the shoe stores 🙂

I cycled out of town and camped at a rice farm. Then I headed to another challenge: Serra do Rochina over dirt road back to the altoplano.

amerika_floripa-cambara-27

I had now cycled a long way since my last break in Florianopolis and I was getting a bit tired. Climbing to this pass therefore took half a day. I also learned an important lesson: a dirt road under construction is much worse than a normal dirt road! It’s very rocky instead of hard sand for example.

I stopped at the first farm I passed after the pass to ask to pitch the tent. It was a ‘fazenda’ with about 300 cows and around 350 hectares of land. The people in this region are called ‘gauchos’, which could be translated to Brazilian cowboys (although they also live in Uruguay and Argentina).

The owner was getting older and his children came to help because all the cows had to get vaccinated. They told me it was quite a lot of work and asked me to help the next day. I couldn’t wait! Always great to get some experience, besides the cycling.

Next morning, I first saw how they milk the cows by hand and gave it a try myself. It took some time to get the technique, but I had a patient teacher. Then the mother came to make ‘camargue’, which is basically half a cup of coffee filled with fresh milk straight from the cow.

amerika_floripa-cambara-30

We then went to collect the cows to vaccinate them and give them some medicine. The one year olds were also branded/ burnt with the owners label. I was forced to improve my Portuguese. “No, not this one, we need to get the black one and her calf!”

amerika_floripa-cambara-34

Then the cattle had to be moved eight km to another field. In the morning, I had sat on a horse for five minutes and now they asked me if I wanted to ride the horse to guide the cows. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I was going to learn a lot If I accepted.

So there we went, Gabriel and I, behind about 100 cows on the public road.

I did some horseback riding when I was 7 and later I made some laps once with my sister’s horse when I was 17, so it’s not an understatement to say my experience was rather limited. And now I had to ride 8 km and I was also responsible for not losing any cows. They gave me a whip to scare the cows so they would move and we headed out. Luckily the road was quiet, my horse was very easy to control and the road was fenced, so the cows can’t really escape. But still, I didn’t knew the route and open gates along it and it was difficult to understand the rare directions that I was given. There were also some slippery wooden bridges with holes in them which kinda scared me.

Using the whip was rather difficult, so I had to scream my voice out to keep the cows moving. It got really interesting when we got to the field and had to keep two herds apart. We had to speed up, I was now galloping fast and I got the hang of the whip.

So there I was. On a horse. Racing across a field to avoid the herds to mix, slamming my whip and shouting ‘yihaa’!!! If you would have told me the day before I would be doing this stuff, I would never have believed you.

amerika_floripa-cambara-37

We got all the cows safely to the field and I returned with a big grin on my face. The rain didn’t bother me, I loved the factthat  I was learning things by just doing them.

 

This was for sure the best experience of the trip so far. It made me realize cycling is not important. It’s just an opportunity to meet new people and do new things.

Next morning, milking the cows went a lot better already and I also learned some knots to tie the cows to the wall. Then I fixed the roof of the barn by reinforcing the wood that had rotten and replacing some roof tiles.

In the afternoon (after another great lunch!) I left to reach Cambara do Sul, where I had a warmshowers host.

I think I could have stayed much longer at the farm because there were still many things to learn. But I should get to Patagonia in summer, so I kinda have to keep cycling a bit for now. Still I’m traveling a lot slower than before. I’ve now cycled 2300 km in Brazil in 7 weeks, but Sao Paulo is only about 1300 km from here. Talking about some detours… But going slow is the only way that interests me these days, to get different experiences like I had at the farm.

 

Cambara do Sul is a small town in a beautiful region where one can admire many waterfalls and canyons. I’ll write more about this in Montevideo, Uruguay, which I hope to reach in about two weeks.

 

photoalbum here!!!