Lovely Chile: Our last cycling weeks in Latin America
We can imagine no better country to spend our last cycling weeks and get prepared to return back home to Germany. Even without going to the famous South “La Patagonia” we are amazed by the beauty of Chile! The sea and the mountains are so close together that you could go skiing and jump in the ice cold Pacific in one day!
We spend a few days on gorgeous Isla Negra, a peninsula South of Valparaiso, and visit the Neruda House there. Pablo Neruda was the most famous Chilean poet and author who rebelled against the fascism. Superinteresting, worth to visit!
We are in spring time, the colours of the flowers are amazing, the climate just perfect for cycling and camping. Everything is easy in Chile and sometimes even really similar to Germany. Signs for Kuchen lead us the way and we even find German products in the supermarkets. Many German influences here, unfortunately not only the good ones: When we pass the little village of La Cruz, people tell us that Dr. Josef Mengele lived in a Nazi colony near by for some years and his daughter is still here. The good thing is, most people in Chile know more about our history than in other countries like Bolivia and Peru. There we had to explain quite often that we are definitely not proud of the German history and Hitler is a real “malo“.
The Chilean people are supernice, everybody is willing to help us, sometimes inviting us to camp on their properties with access to the lake etc… Wild camping is difficult though, only high up in the mountains you will find land that has no fence – that sucks! But anyway, we feel like on holidays in these weeks!
And unexpectedly, we really like Santiago, especially because of the great company of Christobal and his friend Vero who lets us stay in her apartment. Santiago does not seem very Latin American, it is super modern, forward thinking in many cases and we come across many nice ideas like putting pianos in open spaces and inviting people to play them. We also encounter the first white bicycle in Santiago. These so called ghost bikes are set up as memorials for cyclists who were killed in the traffic by irresponsible drivers. We heard of this tradition before but never saw one on the whole trip.
Santiago is biggest city (6 milllion inhabitants) we have cycled into on the whole trip. This is only overtopped by Buenos Aires where we arrived yesterday – but by bus. Now it is time to enjoy the very last days in Latin America - sun and asados!
See you soon!!!!!!!
The date, this special date, that felt so far away for the last 15 months, is coming closer and closer, and suddenly appears right in front of us: We have a flight on the 29th November from Buenos Aires to Frankfurt and will slowly cycle home to Düsseldorf in the first December week.
If there is no big snow storm, iced roads or broken parts on the last kilometers we will arrive
at the Hermannplatz in Flingern
on Saturday, 7th December
around 1 pm.
Would be great to see many of you there!
For days and weeks we are talking about home already. Too early, for sure! We should enjoy the last weeks of cycling and freedom, the sun and the mountains, meeting different people and seeing new things every day. But it is an unavoidable automatic process. Already now we are so much in Germany with our thoughts. A big part of that is anticipation for the reunion, but a lot is already organizing the first steps back into German life. We are checking job offers and talk about how our lives could look like, seeking for a new adventure – jobwise.
It will be epic seeing you all again! And it will be great to have our home back: an own bed, a big kitchen, not changing and packing the bags every day, no cooking on the dirty ground and washing clothes by hand… An automatic dish washer and a warm shower that is always available. And how will it feel like to wear jeans again?! Or even high heels?! I will cook big meals, make tons of cake and muffins and we will celebrate our dark German bread. We will ring and meet our friends when we want to… I will go running and not cycling! We will listen to our music out of Hardys beloved high-end speakers – no more crappy sounds! The list of things we are looking forward to is looong! From over here it all seems like luxury stuff for us but we already know that we are living the real luxury (in our sense) right now:
Having the time and mobility, the freedom and courage to do what we want to do and go where we want to go.
Street art in Valparaíso
Two days wandering around in famous Valpo, how the locals call it. A lively city full of art, music, subculture and great sceneries… But definitely not made for loaded bicycles! Check out these impressive graffitis!
A thousand thanks to Carl and the whole house community who welcomed us in San Enrique street!
Just one more time: Back into the Andes from Mendoza to Chile
We cannot separate ourselves. We have to go back to the Andes – just one more time. In Cordoba we consider every possible route we could take to Buenos Aires or somewhere else to enjoy the last weeks of the trip. Paraguay, Brasil, Uruguay? Definitely not Central Argentina, this was by far the most boring and annoying region we have been on the whole trip.
The coast of Brasil would be nice, of course, some beach days before going back into German winter sound tempting. But there is nothing exciting for cycling in the Southern part of the country… Uruguay? Too European, we will have this again sooner than we would like… Iguazu water falls? Must be amazing, but again nothing else for cycling there… Paraguay? Hot and flat, mmh… So, we soon find out the Andes are calling us back. We take a bus to Mendoza and want to cross one last Andes pass - into Chile. Mountains are just so much more interesting to cycle, we will miss them when we come back, for sure.
Mendoza – the biggest wine-growing area of Argentina in a beautiful setting at the foot of the Andes. We really like the city, it is green, has dozens of big parks and wide streets… Since we are in Argentina, wine is good and cheap, and even the tetra packs are good quality. Great! These are easy to carry on the bikes for some relaxed camping nights. But in Mendoza we really start flying on a cloud of wine. We visit the wine museum and go for a tasting at La Rural/Rutini, an amazing winery close to Mendoza. Listening to us talking about our travel project with other visitors the Rutini stuff even gives us a bottle of delicious white wine as a present!
After a little tour through the Valle de Uco in the South of Mendoza it is time to leave the easy wine-filled camping nights behind and climb up again. The pass is on 3,185m and the gradient not too bad. On the way we visit the natural bridge Puente del Inca, an arc of rock built by erosion. The sulphurous source beside it colours the stone in yellow and red tones. Just a few kilometers further we have a clear view on the highest mountain of America, the Aconcagua (6,962m). Impressive!
The last bit of the climb is not that easy any more, and finally we face a 3 km tunnel to the Chilean side. But suddenly we experience the amenities of a better developed country: Security people call us a van that safely drives us through the heavy traffic - what a service!
The descent on the Chilean side is great fun, we have the road for ourselves. In the golden light of the late afternoon (since a few weeks we have light until nearly 9 pm again!) we speed down the serpentines while the cars and trucks have to wait because of road constructions. Everything is lush green, clear rivers and nice houses next to the road, Chile is idyllic! In San Felipe we meet our namesakes again and stay two days all together in the huge house of the warmshowers hosts Jennifer and Ed. We love it! They are winemakers, great cooks and they have a dish washer – the first one we see after over a year!
We leave together with Hardy and Alena, cycle 70km to the National Park La Campana and do a hike of 10km through the park the same afternoon. Maybe a bit to much for one day, but beautiful! Only a 100km later we arrive in Valparaiso at the Pacific Ocean. The sea - nice to see you again, it has been a while…
Goodbye Andes - From Salta to Cordoba
After seven months cycling down the Andes from North to South, from Colombia to Northern Argentina it is time to say good bye… With mixed feelings we leave this incredibly long mountain range of joy and sorrow behind. One more pass and then the last descent into the flats of Argentina.
We live a great week in Salta with some tasty bottles of red wine and loads of meat for Hardy: He has to gain some weight after the exhausting weeks in Bolivia while I was continously putting kilos on eating maybe half of his portions… Isn’t this unfair?! We also work a lot and celebrate one more reunion with our namesakes Alena and Hardy – until we finally hit the road again. Cycling feels so easy the first days. On the perfectly paved roads we nearly fly into the wine region of Cafayate, 90 to 110 km per day become normal in contrast to the daily 30 to 50 km in Bolivia the weeks before. As Argentineans seem to be a camping nation nearly every little town has an official camp site and everything we like is available. We have to free ourselves from the habit to always buy and carry food for some days. Public toilets are clean again, provide toilet paper and even have toilet seats! Hardy would put it “nice and boring“. The only part that really impresses us on the way to Cafayate is the Quebrada de las Conchas with its rock formations and colours.
The holy siesta time in between 1 and 5pm is something we really have to get used to. You meet nearly nobody on the streets at this time of the day, sometimes shops only open again at 6 pm!
After some more red wine in Cafayate we make our way up to Tafí del Valle, the last real pass of the trip. One more climb from 1,000 to 3,000 m, camping in a small mountain school and then a worthy descent out of the Andes: Coming up from the desertic side, we dive into a lush green jungle on the other. We smell the rich plant life, the spring, hear so many different bird voices – I did not know how much I was missing trees the last months! Cycling through the woods after such a long time immediately makes me happy. We find a great camp spot at Rio Sosa, take a bath in the evening and in the morning and wish it would always be like that! But it is not…
When we finally turn our back to the Andes we enter the hot, the boring, the dirty Argentina. It follows a week on the looong, straight, flat, boring and dangerous Ruta Nacional 157 to Cordoba. No fun! The dirty monster trucks and buses want to honk us off the street and sometimes come really close. It is pure stress and definitely no easy cycling. Welcome back to industry! There is no more river to bath in, nearly every water in Argentina east of the Andes is contaminated. Ugly factories spit clouds of smoke in the air and stinky water in the rivers. The wind comes from the front and the only things we see are dry brambles and dead cows at the side of the street. People tell us it has not rained for about seven months, animals are dieing by the lack of water… Until the Germans come and bring the rain! It starts while we are staying in a church in Lavalle and it just won’t stop! Great for the nature, bad for us.
The next days we stay in huge sport halls, in an old lady’s house, in a community center – in every village and town we meet incredibly nice people who are curious and always willing to help. Somehow the open Argentinan mentality reminds us of Colombia. The people are our highlights of these days!
In another heavy rain we finally arrive in Cordoba. But we get a really warm welcome by our www.warmshowers.org host Willy and his family. For two days we feel like in a casa de ciclastas, the two French Leo and Damien are staying here as well and we have a great time all together. We can imagine no better place to get to know the Argentinean life, learn a lot from refreshing conversations and enjoy good healthy (!) food! Muchas gracias familia Espíndola and friend Pablo – you are great!
For our last weeks we do not want to keep on cycling on these horrible roads through Middle Argentina. Probably we will take a bus to somewhere else the next days to enjoy our last weeks in nice nature instead of risking our lives…
Fundraising success: 3.500 Euros = 35 Bikes for Africa
We achieved our latest fundraising goal!
Wooohoow – a few weeks before reaching our cycle goal Buenos Aires we overtopped the fundraising one! You and us brought together funds for 35 bicycles for education projects in Zambia. That’s above all imagination from the beginning!
But of course, donations are still welcome, we’ll keep on spreading the spirit for bicycles.
Compared to walking an individual can ride 4 times the distance as someone walking. A bicycle increases a person’s capacity 5 times and can safe a lot of valuable time. Giving bikes can make hard lives easier!
Valle de la Luna - Atacama Desert
Our first day off after the lagoon route! We spend it with Cristobal from Santiago and his friend Rajinie from India. They met us in the situation when we just came out of Bolivia and kissed the tarmac after five weeks on dirt roads. They were thinking „What the hell are they doing here on the ground?!!“ they tell us later when we accidently meet again in San Pedro. They generously present us with fruits, tomatoes, avocados and even invite us for breakfast the next morning.
We oversleep for more than an hour, we are like dead this night… But then we enjoy the nicest breakfast after weeks: sitting in the sun, feeling the warmth on the skin and having scrambled eggs, coffee and a huge fresh orange juice in front of us. This is real luxury! We appreciate every tiny bit so much…
In the afternoon the two take us to “El Valle de la Luna“ – by car! We cruise through these moon-like landscapes (part of the Atacama desert) and eat fruits all day long. The mountains of the “Cordillera de Sal” create one of the driest places on earth, because the salt is absorbing every little humidity in the air.
We have a really good time in San Pedro but decide to leave already the next morning because it is too expensive for us. We go by bus over the Jama pass to Salta in Argentina, no more need to cycle in these winds in the desets and to camp that high in the cold for another week…
And Salta is beautiful! The climate is great, the people are superfriendly, everything is available, we have warm water even to do the dishes…. Suddenly, we feel culturally so close again. We know the songs in the radio, we find good bike shops and nice coffee…
Incredible. Now we start into the last two months of this trip. We are talking about some easy cycling to Buenos Aires. Hardy is already getting melancholy and we slowly have the feeling the adventure is over… But well, it is still some 2,000 km to go.
Our new red down wonders: CUMULUS Panyam 600 sleeping bags
The last three months in Peru and Bolivia sometimes gave us a really hard time regarding the temperatures at night. Sleeping in the tent became torture over 4.300 m because we just did not have the right sleeping bags… Fortunately, our friends brought us brand new CUMULUS sleeping bags when they visited us in Cusco – from that on we were safe! Especially on our route through Bolivia we would have been lost without them.
A big thank you to CUMULUS from Poland who sponsored us with one of these down wonders. With only 990 g of weight, an 8.2 l volume and a comfort temperature that goes down to –14°C they are just the perfect sleeping bags for touring cyclists in these regions.
In all these cold nights we were always so much looking forward to cuddel up in the bags. We often zip them together and enjoy them as a double. In the mornings they are also great for enjoying the breakfast outside in the rising sun – what we really recommdend, it is such a great feeling!
La Ruta de las Lagunas – Through the deserts in Southwest Bolivia to Chile
Nothing, absolutely nothing can really describe my feelings for the “Ruta de las Lagunas“. It is a route of the extremes, so beautiful and so hard to cycle. We especially have bad luck with the wind, everybody is telling us it is the strongest of the whole year so far and that it just started when we started. It is definitely an endurance test for the cyclist and the equipment.
During suffering, fighting, screeming, freezing… our thoughts drift into so many different directions. We maybe mostly think of warmth, food, relaxing and all the things we will do and enjoy when this route will be over. But we are also just here, appreciating being in this incredible surrounding and cannot believe we really do it: cycling the “Ruta de las Lagunas“. This is a once in a lifetime experience! Sometimes tears just come out because it is so overwhelming and nearly unreal to cycle in these amazing landscapes.
The sand goes into everything. Cooking without sand in the food is an art in itself and our laptop and hard drive are soon packed in some extra bags. Some plastic things break probably because of the cold. Sand inside our air-pump makes it difficult to fix Hardys flat tires. One more spoke of my back wheel breaks, my Magura HS 33 break starts leaking and the screws of our panniers loosen one after the other…
We carry about 28 kg of food when we leave Uyuni, which is a lot. Too much, we sometimes think, but it is definitely important (especially for Hardy!) to feel safe with that. For the first week we still have a daily apple and carrots, then no more. Find the food list below…
Cold. As long as we move in the day, everything is fine. The nose is constantly dripping, but physical exertion is keeping us warm. But as soon as we stop, especially when the sun is leaving us, it gets incredibly cold. Finger and toes are hurting, depending on the height we sleep in about four layers of clothes, zip our sleeping bags together and cuddle as close as possible to steel some of the other’s warmth. Mostly, it is too cold in the evenings to cook outside. We either cook a quick packet soup with soy meat in the vestibule of the tent or just eat crackers, nuts and raisins. We definitely do not eat enough considering the calories we burn in these days. So, we start preparing rice or noodle dishes for the day in the mornings.
Headwind. So strong that we cannot hold ourselves on the bikes. Never felt the power of the wind so strong before. One little sandstorm after the other – we can do nothing but turn our backs to the wind and try to cover the faces. The first days we still hope it will get better but it only gets worse and worse. No chance to cycle against it if it comes from the front. So many days we are pushing the 65 kg loaded bikes for hours against it through sand. At one point I just cannot go any further. There is no power left in my arms. The wind makes me angry. I hate this bastard, I screem against him, finally I just cry and keep on pushing. Hardy is only 15 m in front of me but does not hear anything, the wind absorbs my cries. Everyone has to fight on his own. But 20 min later in a short break it is a hug and some nice words that make me go on. Mutual motivation and shared suffering becomes so important. I am sure I could never do it on my own.
Jeeps. A jeep full of guys of our age stops. Oh, they want to take another photo, we think. “You’re insane, but you’re heroes!“ they tell us. This lets us forget the wind, the sand and the suffer for a few minutes. It gives new motivation. The other day a jeep stops and offers us water. We have enough for the next day but are so happy about the chocolate we get instead. There are jeeps passing every day. In joke, we call them “would-be adventurers“, they are always friendly and wave hands. In real emergency these jeeps are the only ones who can help you out there.
Refugio. We are sitting at the breakfast table, 10 pancakes, butter, dulce de leche, coffee, tea, and tinned fruits in front of us. Tourists from the other tables stare at us whispering something. They cannot believe what we are able to eat. We explain we are cycling and then they start to give us all their rests of their included breakfast. The owners of the Refugio even give us some joghurt that a jeep group left and make me absolutely happy with that. Joghurt!!! That was a long a time ago… In total we spend three nights during the route in a Refugio. These are very basic hostels at some lagoons that accomodate the jeep tourists. They do not always have running water, sometimes generator electricity at night or solar energy during the day. For us it is pure luxury in these days just do be inside and not coping with the horrible wind outside in the tent.
Tailwind. The wind can change from enemy to your friend. When we turn South after Laguna Hedionda we suddenly feel the power of it in the back. It is incredible how it pushes us uphill, makes us even too fast on the bad sandy washboard so we have to thwart it. Que pena!
Lagoons. Appearing in amazing forms and settings and sometimes full of flamingos. Laguna Colorada, Verde, Blanca, and many more. Each one has its own beauty. The colours are incredible. The pink of the flamingos in blue, green, white, turquoise or even red water. The different substances like salt, copper, even arsenic and algae give the water different colours and make these landscapes unique, fascinating – surreal.
Geysers. Sol de mañana. It smokes, bubbles, sizzles – and smells of sulphur! We are on 4850 m and feel like in another world. Muddy water is boiling at about 90° C in holes in the ground, some have such a pressure that the brownish water and smoke is blown into the air – it is nearly scary, we think of a witch’s cauldron. These are the venes of the volcanic mountain chain in the back. Just some holes let the bubbling inside go out.
Thermal Bath. Laguna Chalviri. 11 p.m., the night is dark, but the nearly full moon is lightening the clear sky, the cope of heaven is arching over us in the quietness of the desert. We are lieing in a hot thermal bath, the muscles are relaxing the first time after days and we marvel the scenery: At the banks of the lagoon we spot the silhouette of three foxes hunting for flamingos. Wow – what a moment! We are relaxed, excited, tired and just happy.
Height. The highest point we reach is 4950 m, it is above the geysers and we have to camp there as the sun is already setting. Imagine a strong ice cold wind plus the freezing temperatures you anyway find on this height. Going out of the tent to pee is torture. Luckily, we don’t have any problems with the height in respects of respiration, headache or altitude sickness. Being over 3500 m for over three months now we are quite well acclimatized, though we always are gasping for air in moments of special effort.
Landscapes. Pampa, deserts, stone forest, volcanoes, lagoons… Unique on earth. Every day we are stunned again by the colours, views, rock formations and the seemingly endless landscapes. Lost for words, I cannot describe the beauty of what I see… You have to experience it yourself.
Chilean border. The last day of the route. We know we will make it to Chile and finally San Pedro de Atacama today. Again an incredible strong headwind that makes us pushing up the last 7 km from Laguna Blanca to the Chilean border. I just wish it would be over right now. The border is so tranquilo like no other before. Two men sitting in there, no electricity, so no computer, just a stamp and then we are suddenly in Chile! But still another five kilometers hardchore climb to the international PAVED! road which will take us 43 km downhill to San Pedro. Asphalt, after five weeks on dirt roads, finally on tarmac again! I am totally done, fall down on the road. We feel like kissing it… and still I have to pedal down the descent because of this hated headwind…
Information: Only 3 km outside of Uyuni we visited the train cemetery before hitting road 5. We went South to San Cristobal and cycled via Villa Alota to Laguna Hedionda (no good idea – headwind from the West!). There we hit upon the real Ruta de las Lagunas and continued South to Laguna Colorada, Sol de mañana, Laguna Chalviri, Laguna Verde and Blanca. At Laguna Hedionda the hotel owner was an unfriendly ashole and did not want to give us sweet water although we were paying guests for the night. The tap water was much more salty than usual because of the strong wind that mixed sweet with salty lagoon water. We really had to fight for it, stuff wanted to help us and the owner wanted to make us pay for sweet lagoon water they fetch from a few kilometers away. In the „Hotel de Desierto“ we experienced the complete difference, everybody was superhelpful and nice. They even gave us boiled drinking water although we did not stay. At Laguna Colorada you find many options to spend the night. We even found a refugio with a (nearly!) warm shower. The last night at Laguna Verde and Blanca the walls of some abandoned houses are definitely the best option to camp (our tent EXPED Orion Extreme just fits into it). If you have the legs to pedal some 9 km further the only better option is to stay in the quite new Refugio South of Laguna Blanca.
Everybody who wants to cycle this route by bike should check out this PDF. It helped us a lot, especially regarding the very good description of camp spots, as you cannot just pitch you tent anywhere. You definitely will need wind breaks. We nearly flew away and bent the tent poles by trying to pitch it in the wind one night. Huge thanks to everybody involved in working out this perfect information sheet!
4 kg rice
3 kg noodles
4 kg oat meal
1 kg peanuts
0.5 kg raisins
1 kg cacao
0.5 kg milk powder
1 kg carrots
1 kg onions
3 packages of olives
10 tins of thuna fish
10 packages of tomato sauce
6 packet soups
0.8 kg soy meat
5 packages of biscuits
2 packages of salty crackers (bought more in a Refugio)
5 chocolate bars
15 nut and honey bars
salt, sugar and spices
0.7 kg coffee
bread, butter and marmelade that lasted two days
capacity for 22 l of water
2 l of gasoline for cooking
5 rolls of toilet paper (bought more in the Refugios)
2 packages of baby wipes
Since we had the opportunity to eat six meals in a restaurant or refugio, we did not need all of the carried food. But it is defintely a better feeling to carry it and be safe with it…
Velosophics and Supernova-Lights
Check out our story in the new Supernova-Lights catalogue 2014!
We are very happy about the great support of and cooperation with the Supernova-Team - it is a pleasure working with you.
Supernova is lighting the way - we are biking it!