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!