Cycling, driving, flying home – Buenos Aires, Frankfurt and finally Duesseldorf!
We knew it: one day every adventure comes to an end. We bristled against it once and extended the trip. But now time has come: we arrive in Buenos Aires, the last goal of our cycle tour through Latin America.
Buenos Aires, WOW! City of beauty, gigantic dimensions, of music and nightlife, design and art, the city of the rich, of modernity and poverty likewise…
It is a shame – we cannot really discover and celebrate reaching our destination. The days are packed with organisational stuff. Preparing the 80 kg of equipment and the bikes for the flight takes time. We are so pleased to stay with the family of Diego and Pili who help us with everything we need. A huge asado at first, but then we drive around to find bike cartons and packaging material, to see the most important parts of the city (in Diego’s opinion the Boca stadium!) and we meet more and more family members, one is nicer than the other. „We always hang out with our whole families, this is Argentinian style!“ It is mostly because of them that we fall in love with the city, the two days we spend in downtown it is raining like the end of the world and Hardy is fighting a cold.
It is a hard and sad farewell from this special continent in that we immersed on our bikes for such a long time – five months in Central America and nine months in South America. We were living our dream and suddenly we are facing the end! No! We don’t want to but in only one day we will be in grey German winter!
A 24 hours flight, changing in Panama City and one stop over in the Dominican Repuclic. A plane full of sunburned package holiday tourists, no place for the legs and not enough food… Not exactly the best conditions to bring Hardy back home! But a great welcome by Julia and Frank at the airport – they even come by bike to pick us up!!! Cycling into Frankfurt we directly feel so homey although it is not our city. It is the smell of German cold, the street signs, the way people behave… The first stop after 10 minutes is a German bakery where Hardy cannot efface himself and wants to buy everything – oh gosh, how much we were missing German bread and pastries the last year!
The following days we feast through the flats of our friends and family: Hardys dad in Mainz, our friends in Frankfurt, Bonn and Cologne… We are delighted by huge breakfast tables and the well furnished and stylish flats everybody is living in. It is all so comfortable and cosy. And everything is working! No more toilet flushing to repair, the water in the shower stays on the exact temperature, we take the bikes in the train without any hassle etc… And yet, it is grey and cold and we already miss the warmth of the Latin American people and the Spanish chatter around us. On the bike we spontaneously answer greetings of pedestrians with „Hola, que tal?“ – this will probably take some time.
Finally, one week after landing in Frankfurt, we make the last kilometers from Cologne to Duesseldorf accompanied by Sören and Stefan through the cold rain. Our thoughts in these moments are hard to explain, a queasy feeling in the stomach as we arrive in our „barrio“ Flingern. And suddenly we see them: parents, sister, best friends and the little new borns! They are all there, waiting in the cold with flowers and prosecco!!! How often did we talk about this moment before?? How will it feel to see and hug you all again?
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!
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…
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!
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.
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…
Not sure for how long we are already talking about how it would be to cycle through the biggest salt desert on earth, but it has been long before really planning this trip. Now time has come: We are standing in front of the endless white in Jiria the last village before the Salar and are so much looking forward to enter this gigantic white tomorrow. Jiria has not much but a very friendly family who is running the Hospedaje „Dona Lupa“. They let us sleep in a dining room for free and we pay 20 Bolivianos for a (loooong!) hot gas shower.
The next morning and one kilometer further we are in the Salar. It is sill a bit brownish, but the real clear white is waiting in front of us. We want to follow the track to the famous isla Inca Huasi, that Dona Lupa showed us from the roof top in the morning. But we immediately leave the track when Hardy (with his bad eyes!) spots some flamingos in the water at the edge of the desert. Then we head for the real white salt. Off the track we just navigate to the black spot at the horizon (some 40 km) that the Señora showed us in the morning. The whole day we do not meet a single person, we hear some jeeps very far away. It is terrific! And then suddenly two tiny black points appear on the salt and grow into two cyclists! In the middle of the Salar we meet two Czech cyclists, how funny! Finally, we are lucky that we meet them: they tell us we are heading to the wrong island. Obviously, we misunderstood the Señora, but well… So, we do not reach it and camp on the salt which is a great idea anyway! We find a circle of salt with a different structure where we are able to put our poles in the ground. This night is definitely one of the nicest camping experiences we ever had! The sunset, the sunrise and the milky way that clearly goes down to the white horizon are overwhelming us. If it would not have been so cold we would have sat outside on the salt for hours to gather the scenery.
We heard before it is a tradition for cyclists to go naked on the bike in the Salar to confuse jeep tourists. Like our friend Steve described before a possible scene in a jeep:
„George, George, there is a naked cyclist! Look, George!“
„Elsa, you are seeing things! Here are no cyclists, and defintely not naked!
Driver, we should go back, my wife is not feeling well…“
So, Hardy is doing this job and we have great fun!
We reach Isla Inca Huasi the next day for lunch. A beautiful place! An island completely covered with huge cactus in the middle of the shiny white. Don Alfredo and his wife live here and generally host cyclists in their house for free. Unfortunately, he is not there but we are asked to write in his book like all the other cyclists who came here before. Wow, so many entries of riders we met or heard of before! We do 90 km to Colchani this day, the first village on the „main land“ this day as we stay on the tracks which are easier to ride. After two days on the salt we think it is enough. We are looking forward to a little rest and some organization days in Uyuni, 22 km from Colchani.
One of our coldest camping nights, we guess between - 10 and -15 °C… Here in between Curahuara and Turco on about 4,000 m of altitude on the Altiplano. We are already so much looking forward to some warm days in Argentina!
From Curahuara via Turco and Huachachalla to Salinas
Snow! Everything is white! Really, it feels like Christmas! I start singing „Schneeflöckchen, Weißröckchen…“ and everybody else in the village is talking about „La nevada!“. Honestly, while you in Germany are still enjoying the summer we get stuck in snow for two days… and I start building snowmen with Bolivian kids.
After the lama spectacle we just make it five kilometers further to the village Curahuara, when it first starts raining before turning into snow for the whole day and night. We find a really nice room with running water and hot shower (!) and stay again. The friendly villagers are worrying us by telling when the „nevada“ comes like this it would definitely stay for a week or so. Luckily, it does not. The night is incredibly cold, but the next morning the sun makes it a beautiful winter day. We build a funny „Señor de nieve“and then go for a snow walk on the little mountain next to the village. We really wish we will have weather like this when we will be „Coming home for Christmas…“
It is possible to cycle on the next morning. The frozen sand ways to Turco even are an advantage for us as this is easier to ride than loose sand, of course. The 55 km are not easy but incredibly beautiful: snow on the mountains behind us and in between the stone woods and pampa bushes here and there. There is just nobody on this track, we meet one person the whole day and slowly get used to the feeling of being absolutely alone. At about 4 pm we have to stop as Hardy is too tired and carving a lot. We put our tent next to a tiny river in a huge dry river bed, light up a nice fire and especially enjoy the next morning when the sun little by little warms up our frozen limbs. This is the most beautiful moment of the day! …followed by the moment when we ride into Turco at lunch time and a funny mixed group of a military man, two old women, some school kids and a street worker on the plaza start applauding loudly when we stop in front of them to ask for food. „Bienvenidos a Turco!“ This is what I call motivating! Thank you, Turco people! Not many cyclists make it to here, maybe two in a year they say.
In every village we are buying nearly everything we can get, you never know when you will have the next possibility. Most important is oat meal, tomato sauce, thuna fish and bread. Rice and pasta mostly is no problem to find. But each time we find fresh fruits o veggies we are extremely happy. And honestly, it gets worse and worse the more we come South. The villages get smaller, and often there is just nothing to buy instead of crackers and the so-called „gaseosas“, drinks like coke and lemonade full of sugar and dyes. It is sad to see the people really believe the advertisements saying this stuff is good for them and makes them stronger. In Huachachalla Hardy (wo always asks for everything although it is obvious they won’t have it!) asks in a small shop that are pharmacies at the same time for Echinacea. They don’t know it and he explains „to strengthen your immune system“. The Señora in all seriousness offers him Red Bull! Incredible!
Reaching Huachachalla defintely is the most challenging on the whole way. We need three days for 80 km, have to push a lot through sand ways and real dunes, loose our track and can just go South via the compass in the GPS. Before we did not think it would be that hard to find the way, but without anybody to ask, and tracks that split up into to six or seven traces we are just lost at one point. There is a way on the GPS but about 5 km away that we can only reach cross-country through the pampa. Hardy cuts fences, we get half naked and carry all our stuff through muddy rivers and finally frighten a Señora on her land who never saw cyclists before. Shortly before Huachachalla we funnily pass the little settlement of Centro Berlin, our capital!!!! We meet only three people there and find out it is an Estancia, a place to come for fiestas or community activities. We wonder why to come here at all, here is just nothing but sand and pampa! We can camp in an open community house and they have a well where I wash my hair at -2 °C in the morning. Quite refreshing!
On the way we see many lama skeletons and what is even more interesting: lots of Aymara funeral towers. It seems they just put the dead bodies inside, we check a few and often find the skulls and bones of their ancestors. We feel like Indiana Jones, this is not a museum, it is real, a bit spuky but every time we pass one again we are tempted to have a look.
Arriving in Salinas we are so much looking forward to a hotel room and a warm shower after eight days „in the wild“. But the whole village is out of water!!! No way, the first bigger village and they do not even have a public well most of the tiny settlements we passed on the way before. Well, we find a good hotel (Kamana) with a tank, so we could at least take a short warm shower in the evening without washing the hair… Here we can stock up veggies and fruits again and leave via Jiria to cycle the great salt desert for the next two days.
While having breakfast in front of our room the next morning the family is preparing a lama slaughtering in the back yard. Mmhh, nice to see such a spectacle for breakfast, I think, but it turns out to be really interesting, absolutely natural, and not as disgusting as I thought before.
The butcher comes to cut the lamas throat with a knife. Everything else is done by the two Señoras of the house and the sisters family. For them it is the most normal thing in the world, they do it every second day. They laugh about our curiosity but patiently answer all our questions and have fun at work. The lama meet of these healthy and happy lamas is supposed to be very nutritious and good for us humans. People in this region eat it every day and a lot of them get 120 years old – they say. At first it is quite hard to get the skin off and to cut and break the feet. Then it comes to a division of work for men and women, the man cuts the rips and the big bones. The women take out the intestines. Little daughter Anita has to help as well - while European kids today play with iPads and now all about the wipe gestures, this Bolivian girl plays with the inner things of lama. She enjoys letting it all slip through her fingers and complains when she has to stop her game to hold the lama leg up… Suddenly the younger lady comes out with some plastic glasses, they pour the liquid from the uterus in a bowl and offer me a drink. „Agua de vitaminas“ they explain and laugh. I cannot be overcome to try a nip but they happily clink glasses.
Days away from everything on the Bolivian Altiplano… This is where the real adventure starts! Sand storms, hail, extremely sandy and washboard roads, stuck in the snow, little water access on the one side – burning sun, amazing clear camping nights under millions of stars, tiny villages with poor and always incredibly guest-friendly Bolivians on the other side… We like Bolivia!
Part I: La Paz to Curahuara
I recover after lying in a hotel room in Viacha for five days (nearly too small to get all our stuff in!). The first night camping after Viacha we funnily are discovered in our hidden camp spot behind a hill: two other cyclists suddenly appear as if they knew where we are. Luki from Stuttgart and Daniel from Innsbruck. Obviously, we all have the same preferences finding a place for the night! A hilarious cyclists meeting in the middle of nowhere accompanied by Lukis guitar sounds in the night and in the morning…
But two days after taking off Hardy has the very same symptons like me before. This damn sickness really slows us down, we have to change plans and go to Patacamaya to stock up food, medecine and cash as we are not in the planned shedule any more and to give Hardy a rest day. But we are unlucky and the ATM does not work for us – we even have to go back to El Alto by bus for a day!
Being slow can get on your nerves but we have to get used to it as it would not change the next two weeks due to the worst roads we have ever been on. And it also has a good side, spending time in the villages again brings us close to the people. We have the feeling the Bolivians are a bit more restrained than the Peruvians, but as soon as you approach them, they are curious and incredibly friendly. Everybody is happily waving hands as soon as we greet them. And we hear no more Gringo shoutings – thank you for that, Bolivia!
We cycle through hundreds of lama herds. They are funny creatures: When they recognize us the complete herd stops grazing and all of them stretch their necks in our direction to stare at us curiously. Hardy is curious as well and chases them to find out if they have RFID tags in their ears. They are always faster than him…
On the way to Curahuara we pass numerous Aymara (indigenious people on the Bolivian Altiplano) funeral towers, some are still complete, some only half. That is how the Aymara bury the deads and we are quite surprised to really find some mortal remains in there!
But it is not only sickness and bad roads, it is also the weather. For the first time we experience a real sand storm, which is followed by hail and then snow. Luckily, we are only about 8 km away from a few houses when the sand storm surprises us on the flats of the Altiplano. We see it coming from far and think „Ohhh f***! We have to reach the next hills before it hits us!“ But we do not, it fully catches us. From one second to the other we are covered with sand, cannot stand the wind on the bike, and are not able to see further than one meter. We push through as fast as we can. After a few minutes the hail comes and hurts the face. But we make it to the houses, looking for shelter. Surprisingly, it is not only a lama farm but they offer very basic accomodation and food as well. The only water they use is rain water, so they are happy about the weather and catch water with plenty of buckets and basins to in the back yard. We stay and enjoy a yummy lama steak with rice and salad!
We did not come far – only 40 km from La Paz we are stuck in the little town Viacha for already four days now. Lena is fighting an airway inflammation and we cannot continue our chosen route unless we are both absolutely fit. At least enough time for Hardy to cut a little video of our way to La Paz…
It seems like a quiet Friday afternoon, the villages on our way look a little deserted. But that´s obviously because everybody is in the next village or on the way – celebrating! Music, beer, dances, nearly the same scenery everywhere. Men are standing, women sitting in groups, children playing in between. They are having many different types of cooked potatoes and it is the first time we see traditionally dressed women smoking – only in celebration of the day?! But what special day is this? We are curious and stop in Copacara to find out and get in touch with the people. Hardy is directly invited by a group of men and has a nice long chat with them. They are even up for a photo session which does not happen very often in the indigenous communities. They cannot understand why the pictures do not come out of the camera so they could hold them in their hands. The old men want us to stay or come back for the fiestas next year. We learn this is a pre-celebration for the national independence day at 6th August and it won´t stop the upcoming days…
It is only about 160 km from Copacabana to La Paz. We split it into three days as it is not a good idea to arrive in El Alto and finally La Paz in the late afternoon or evening.
In Tiquina we have to cross Lago Titicaca for about 800 m with a boat, or better to say with an oversized raft. On these they even bring trucks and buses to the other side. It looks quite funny how they sway over the lake. We sleep in Taquina San Pablo in the only Hospedaje (one of the cheapest we ever had: 20 Bolivianos / about 2 EUR per person), but without running water and electricity. When we want to go for dinner (one of the worst we ever had!) we really have to fight for a room key because the Senor thinks it is not necessary in this village. We should not worry that much and then he leaves. Well, we would like to believe him, but… After one and a half hours we finally find him again and push through our will.
Once more we meet Hardy and Alena on the road the next day and look for a place to stay the night together. We are cycling into the last village 25 km before El Alto to ask in the school or health center if we could stay there. Like in the villages before, the whole community is partying here and everybody refuses to let us camp somewhere. What is wrong? We are perplex. And there is no Hospedaje far and wide. Thanks to Hardys (the other one!) powers of persuasion the doctor of the health center finally allows us to camp in the garden but only under the promise to play Volleyball with them (what we do not do in the end, we are so hungry we directly have to cook).
We are all so much looking forward to arrive in La Paz and stay there for a week or so. But we are not looking forward to cycle through the huge traffic to come into the city. After we make it through El Alto it gets much better. The 2 million people de facto capital of Bolivia lies 400 m further down in a valley basin in front of us! For everybody going by bike: It is best to take the Autopista vieja to go into and out of the city. Little traffic and great views! Ask for it, it is easy to find.
Hardy and Hardy go for an 1.5 hours hostal check while Alena and me are taking care of the little travel bike exhibition we open with our four bikes on Plaza San Francisco. Other tourists and locals come to ask everything… If you send two Hardys out together they will definitely come back with the best deal in town. We get a great room in Lion Palace Hostal, nearly a ballroom – what a luxury!
The first day in La Paz is our one year anniversary and the only one that we fill with just celebrating and having a nice dinner. All the following days are nearly completely filled with organisation. The to-do list is long: intensive route planning (including checking maps in the Military Geographical Institute), blog and sponsor work, receiving a DHL parcel with a new pump (kindly sponsored from Primus) for our gasoline stove (which takes incredibly much time for a express parcel) and therefore meeting up with Sebastian (a friend of Evas), shopping (down jackets for what is waiting in front of us, tons of food), skyping with friends and family, bike check and little rust repairs and, and, and…
No, we are not in Rio, we are in the little holiday town Copacabana at Lago Titicaca. Actually, it is even the name giver of the famous beach in Rio because of the black Madonna (Virgin de la Candelaria) in the great cathedral that once must have impressed some Brasilians. She is the patron saint of Bolivia and therefore the reason why hundreds of Peruvians and Bolivians come here every day: When they bought a new car, bus, truck or whatever, the vehicle has to be blessed for safe and good driving. This created jobs for numerous shamans and priests. The cars line up in front of the cathedral, get decorated with all kinds of colourful paper garlands and then the shaman splashes it with beer, sparkling wine or coke while murmuring his sayings. After that everybody takes a big sip himself, pictures are taken and the blessed car is celebrated. We think „Good that it is protected against accidents now“, when we see the sometimes heavy drunken drivers getting back in their car to take off… Another tradition, not typical for Copacabana, but for the whole region of Lago Titicaca is to sacrifice at least four dried out llama fetuses when starting to build a house. They have to be thrown under the fundament. We are surprised when we see how many they sell on the streets…
We like Copacabana, it feels like holidays at the sea but on 4,000 m altitude. The town is not only famous for car blessings but as well for its trucha (trout) dishes and trips to the Isla del Sol, which is supposed to be the cradle of the Inca culture, sacred to the Aymara and Quechua. We do both, we eat a lot of trout and do a one day trip to Isla del Sol together with Alena and Hardy. Walking the 11 km over the island is quite exhausting for our differently trained legs but we again enjoy the amazing views over the lake on the Cordillera Real. Though some call it the „rip-off island“ as you have to pay three times to pass different parts of the walking trail (30 Bolivianos), the trip is really worth it. What we learn on the way: Little piglets love it to be stroked! They immediately fall aside and start grunting. We get the giggles of these cute little pigs!
At the first glance, we do not see many differences to Peru. Like always in a new country we have to become familiar with the money. We go through the market and tiendas to ask for everything and check products and prices in order not be fooled afterwards. People are a bit more uninterested and reserved but generally really nice. But of course, Copacabana is a tourist place – we are looking forward to get to know the real Bolivia soon. A striking difference to Peru is the internet though. We hardly find any hotel with WiFi, only the really expensive ones. After two hours out searching we check out one that we can barely afford, we have to discuss that they won’t shut the rooter down over night and the connection is really bad. We know this won’t get better on our way through the country, probably La Paz will be the last town with usable internet for a few weeks.
Peru was definitely testing us – physically, mentally, our patience and power of endurance… At the same time it was amazingly beautiful, gigantic and definitely leaving a lasting impression on us.
Honestly, we did not have the best start into this country. First Hardys bronchitis would just not go away and then the robbery in the bus hit us really painfully – money- as well as atmosphere-wise. After that we were overcautious and sometimes maybe a bit too sceptical towards the people. This made us sad as it definitely was one of the special manners on this trip: being open and friendly to anybody we meet never knowing what would happen. Scepticism can bar your way! Unfortunately, we heard of some other attacks and robberies of other cyclists as well. The coast and touristic areas are defintely the most dangerous places.
But as soon as we were on the road again starting our way up in the mountains the amazing landscapes made us forget about the bad experiences in the beginning. This was absolutely new to us and still is the most special thing about Peru: the views, the dimensions, the colours, the lights, the long climbs and decsents in the mountains, the dry red earth in the hot desert, the small and huge rivers we followed for days and the dark blue of the huge Lago Titicaca. Our nature experiences in Peru absolutely blew us away!
But while cycling through these incredible landscapes we often wished there would just be a buttom to switch off all the Gringo shoutings and horn honkings. For many Peruvians it seems to be a necessity to shout „Gringooo“ as soon as a white person is passing by. Sometimes children said it nicely like „Look, mum, there is a Gringo“, but sometimes it was just „Gringoooo!“, getting on our nerves and not transporting any good feeling at all. Some regions were better and some worse. We started explaining, we are no Gringos, but „Alemanes“, „turistas“ or „extranjeros“ and sometimes even shouted back „Latino“! They did not seem to like that either. The horn honking had different reasons: making us aware there is a car coming (as is we would not hear or see it!), greeting us, starting kind of a communication (?) with honking a hundred times from already one kilometer away and sometimes they even come extra close and honk very long to annoy or worry us. In this case they are mostly drunk and in a group of men… Then it gets dangerous.
Of course, we met many really friendly Peruvians as well. In some villages we experienced an incredibly warm welcome, curious and smart kids and people willing to help. We could always joke around with everybody, Peruvians can be really funny. The most asked question besides: „Where do you come from? Where do you go?“ was „No se cansan?“ (Don’t you get tired?) and „Cuanto cuesta tu bici? Vendame!“ (How much is your bike? Sell it to me).
Expectations towards others and how people deal with each other were different in Peru. „Propina“ (tip) and „Regalame“ (give me a present) are standard demands that we heard all over the country. But what stands out even more is how gruff Peruvians (not all of course!) behave and communicate. Often we were shocked how respectless they are with us but with other locals as well. And they are very bad vendors, just ignoring, giving a shit about you or even telling you crap. Some typical situations:
In a little Tienda (shop or kiosk):
„Do you have peanuts and raisins?“
„No, I don’t have!“
„And what is this down here?“
„Peanuts and raisins.“
„Can you please sell me some or are you not interested in earning money?“
In a small Hospedaje (hostel):
„We are two cyclists looking for a room. Would you have some space where we can leave the bikes for the time we are here?“
„No, we don’t have space.“
„What if we lock them here in the little courtyard?“
„Ok, no problem.“
And situations like this also happened all the time:
I am standing in a shop and discuss the price for all my fruits and vegetables with the Senora when another woman comes in and says „Sell me some bread!“ She just lets me wait until she is done with other one. And this is not because I am a white tourist, she does the same with the locals. It is just about being the loudest and strongest and you’ll win.
What we liked was the often a little funny but quite pleasent way of addressing us or men and women in general with „Ja, Papa“, „Ja, Mami“! Everybody is a Papa or a Mami!
On the road we were very often faced with road constructions. Which of course is a good thing, generally… Roads were far worse than in any other country we cycled before. But considering the massive mountain routes we can imagine how long it takes to build a paved road into them – ages. The hundreds of workers we met on our way were always really nice, weaving and greeting. Often we had to discuss to pass with the bicycles when a construction blocked a street for hours. It also sometimes happened that a landslide made getting through simply impossible. Once we even witnessed rocks falling down on the street about 40 m behind us where we just stopped to take pictures a few seconds before…
Physically, the high mountains and long climbs up to far over 4,000 m tested us like nothing else we’ve been through on our way so far. We never approached our own limits like this before – a special experience with exhaution, high altitude, cold and pain - and a little bit of proud afterwards :-) !
All in all, we can state that we got hardened after our time in Peru. On the one hand we resist more but at the same time we are annoyed by little things that happen every day. We learned how to handle the attitude of many Peruvians and I hope we did not get too gruff by this ourselves. We mostly push through our will, we explain and complain a lot while still trying to keep friendliness and openness upfront.
Fertility, phalluses and fiesta! We don’t get far from Puno this day. We wound up in Chucuito wanting to visit the church and the Inca ruins of the temple of fertility: Inca Uyo. The temple is actually a parc of stone phalluses that look like mushrooms at the first sight. Back in the days Inca women who could not become pregnant pilgered here from far away. They would sit on the highest phallus, put some coca leaves beneath it and wait for their conception… mmh, maybe it works if you really believe in it??? Half of the phalluses are rammed into earth towards Pacha Mama (Goddess Mother Earth) some are upright to the sky to sun god Inti.
After this visit we cruise around in the village to find something to cook for dinner later. But instead we cycle right into a huge wedding party on the plaza. Suddenly we are surrounded by uncountable colourful skirts turning around and around to the same melodies in a constant loop. The men are dressed in smart suits and wear hats and sun glasses. A cutural spectacle we have not witnessed in our long time in Peru so far. Besides clothes and dance, beer is the most impressive aspect of the wedding: The whole scene is framed by stacked red beer crates, the old traditional women pass on the big bottles, children are searching all the crates for new bottles to bring to their parents, everybody is drinking… Later we find out that this a typical present for the wedding: one beer crate so that there is enough for everybody. Like always the people react very differently on us. Some invite us to drink and dance with them, others ask for money.
Finally, it gets too late to cycle on and look for a camp spot outside the village so we ask around if somebody knows a place to camp. People tell us to ask at Posada Santa Barbara, a well hidden little oasis in kind of Italian style with a view over Lago Titicaca, led by Señor Santiago. We find the way in between all the drunk behind the church and are lucky: Santiagos son is there and lets us camp in the garden – perfect! At night we a have a nice and interesting chat with Santiago about Peruvian culture…
Next morning we meet a 90 year old man on the road who (we don’t know why!) is so happy to see us. He is telling us we should be happy to go to Bolivia, he would like to go as well. Life should be better there for the „viejitos“, the little old ones. Evo Morales is a better president than Ollanta Humala, he thinks. We are excited to enter the next country on our list.
Hardy and Alena catch up with us again during our breakfast break. After some 65 quite fast kilometers along the beautiful banks of Lago Titicaca we have a lunch break together in Juní and then cycle on slower. Over and over again we have great views on the white mountain range of the Cordillera Real on the other, the Bolivian side of the lake. The afternoon sun dips everything in an amazing golden light, so we stop for pictures every 500 m. With exactly one of these views we find a scenic camp spot on a hill besides the road.
Now it is not far to the Bolivian border. In the last Peruvian town Yunguyo we change our remained Soles in Bolivianos and then enter Bolivia without any problems. We do not even have to discuss the 90 days length of stay. From here it is only another 18 km of ups and downs to Copacabana, our first stop in Bolivia for the next three days.
It is our first time on an Altiplano and it is so scenic, wide, steeped in beautiful colours – and flat!!! About 160 hilly kilometers after Cusco we go over one last pass of 4,330 m and then the Altiplano opens up in front of us. We are speeding through this terrific landscape always following the railways…
In these days we complete our first 10,000 km, meet so many other touring cyclists like never before (from Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, USA, Japan), enjoy the hot thermals of Aguas Calientes and finally arrive at Lago Titicaca.
1rst day – Cusco to Urcos: We leave Cusco late – my back tire is causing one problem after the other before we even leave the hotel. In between hundreds of mini buses that drive like crazy we survive the way out of the city. We stop in the lovely village of Andahuaylillas and I visit the „Sistine Chapel of South America“, supposed to be the most beautiful church in the Andes. And yes, the tons of gold inside are impressive! We already end our day in Urcos, Hardy is suffering of diarrhea again…
2nd day – Urcos to Camp: Already in the first morning hours we start meeting cyclists – seems like all the cyclists who started in the Patagonian summer are coming up this route right now. Later we cross our 10,000 km and have nothing to drink to it… But we find a nice camp spot, cook a delicious pasta dinner and enjoy the millions of stars in the clear blue sky lying outside in the crisp and cold night… being so happy and thankful that we have the great advantage of experiencing this freedom! „How lucky we are“ we tell ourselves again and again.
3rd day – Camp to Marangani: Right in time for a second breakfast we meet two Dutch cyclists on Santos Bikes like ours! Two minutes later the 2radler Alena and Hardy appear behind the corner as well – one more reunion with them. We share some route information and then cycle on in the German Hardy-Hardy-Alena-Lena-team to visit the Raqchi ruins. This time no Inca buildings but bequests of the Tiwanuku culture. Eventually, we want to reach Aguas Calientes today to camp and bath at the hot thermals but we just don’t make it. At the Health Center in Marangani Alena asks if we could camp there. The very friendly nurse and the doctor even offer us a huge meeting room, and we are so happy to be sheltered against the strong wind that is now blowing up outside. The nurse is telling us proudly how clean and safe their Health Center is: „We even cook the water before drinking“ while Hardy still cannot believe how dirty the toilets are…
4th day – Marangani to Camp: Looking forward to a hot bath in Aguas Calientes we easily climb up the 15 km in the early morning. One more time we meet another cyclists couple, two Japanese. An icy wind blows at the thermals on 4,000 m. Quickly out of the clothes and into the water – what a blessing! Fresh and clean we make the last 10 km to the pass that even comes with a sign, a good opportunity for picture as we never saw such a sign on any other pass so far. And then we start into the wide Altiplano in gold and greenish colours completed by an amzing blue sky… The Hardys cannot stop taking pictures. And at night again! When we put our tents behind one of the rare hills on the Altiplano, nature is offering us another great spectacle: the fullest moon we’ve ever seen rises behind the opposite hill, so full and near we want to hug it! Very soon it gets supercold, we only eat some bread and then take all water bottles inside the tent. Good decision: the next morning we have ice even inside the tent – frozen condensed water.
5th day – Camp to Juliaca: The first day after months without one single climb! We nearly fly over the Altiplano, 126 km to Juliaca. Blessed with some nice tailwinds and beautiful weather we enjoy this flat road only purled with adobe houses and Alpacas here and there. We split up with Alena and Hardy in the morning and will meet later in Puno again. We thought we would camp somewhere but we just don’t find anything to hide. So we end up in Juliaca in the evening, „ein Drecksloch vor dem Herrn“ how Julia would say who has been there before. I start looking for a Hostal and honestly, I check about 15, and nearly all them tell me they are full, they do not have a shower or I should go somewhere else. Most of them are cheap „Sex Hotels“ and I think they do not want to have two Gringos with their bicycles in between their other „lovely“ guests. Well, we finally find one and fall into bed like dead…
6th day – Juliaca to Puno: Easy going – only 48 km. We have a lazy morning, Juliaca is not that bad anymore in daytime and it is offering anything you need especially in electronics. That’s why Hardy has to take some time to have a look here and there. A fresh juice, some fruits for the way and in three hours we are in Puno. The route is boring, very dirty, lots of traffic, this time we are facing a head wind and another pass with 400m of climbing in front of us. And then, finally the view on Lago Titicaca! Actually, we are a bit disappointed (the lake looks more like a giant puddle surrounded by huge dried out banks used for agriculture) but happy to arrive in Puno to relax a few days. This very touristic town is more expensive again, but we find a nice and reasonable hotel (Hostal Roma) and spend three days there.
Cusco and Machu Picchu: Holidays with friends from home
For weeks we were looking forward to arrive in Cusco – thinking of a break, good food and most of all of spending time with Julia and Frank (and our new camera! :-)
And then we come in and think: Oh my god, this city is crowded with tourists, high society, schickeria restaurants, inauthentic! But as well: Oh my god, this city is beautiful, nicely worked up, offering everything we have dreamt of for quite a while!
We knew it would be like this but especially after the last weeks we are just not used to all the luxury. We are so glad we got to know the real Peru before coming here, the rough, dirty life in the villages, the sometimes nasty and sometimes superfriendly people, the magnificent landscapes, all that what most of the tourists here in town definitely did and will not see of this country… But the shock does not last long, it is too nice and too easy to just accept all the great amenities: The first night we directly go for a huge family pizza just for us two! Later we find real croissants, raisin bun, whole-grain bread, apple tarte, nice little restaurants and everything our hearts desire… (Stephi, you were so right: a real culinary highlight!)
But the best of these days: We share all this with our friends Julia and Frank from home! Even though we were allowed to experience happy freinds and family reunions like this before on this trip, it is just overwhelming seeing them here in Peru! We spend a complete week together and it feels like holiday! We do not touch the bikes, do not work for any internet, charity or sponsoring stuff but just enjoy Cusco, especially the day up at Machu Picchu and our time together. For the first time after months we go out in a bar, drink beer again, we treat ourselves with delicious Alpaca steak, Alpaca burgers and other good things… Furthermore, we savour the chic hotel Julia and Frank chose right next to our little shabby one with drinking Coca Pisco (national grape brandy here in Peru) in front of the fireplace and preparing Espresso on our gasoline stove on the rooftop terasse with a beautiful view over the city. While we have pleasant sunny weather during the day we put on our newly bought Alpaca caps at about 0°C at night and Julia and Frank think of the warm summer nights in Frankfurt that they just left! As soon as it gets dark (at 6 o’clock!) and we go out in the city we very much feel like going to a Christmas market in their summer holiday.
The highlight of these days is defintely our trip to the ruins of the Inca city of Machu Picchu. When organizing how to get there, especially Hardy and me are irritated about the prices and the rip-off around this must-see place. But it does not help, we just have to accept how it goes because we want to and have to see this ancient site in the amazing setting in the mountains… 2,500 visitors are allowed to enter Machu Picchu each day, 200 to go up to Huyana Picchu, 400 to climb the mountain next to the site to get the best views from above – what we did.
There are different ways to reach it. The cheapest: You take different buses and collectivos from Cusco via Santa Maria to Hidroelectrica (about 50 Soles / 9 hours) and walk along the railways for 2,5 hours to reach Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo). More expensive: Collectivo to Ollanta (8-10 Soles / 1,5 hours) and a train from Ollanta to Aguas Calientes (50 USD / 1,5 hours). Or you just book an all-inclusive tour from about 120 - open end USD.
We decide for the Collectivo and train combination and plan to stay the night before and after the visit in Aguas Calientes. And it is worth it, the 100 USD for the train as well as the 50 USD entrance fee for Machu Picchu itself. We have not been in a train since Romania and really enjoy the ride: a bit higher than 2,000 m we go through jungle-like scenery along the Urubumba river.
At 4 o’clock in the morning we start in Aguas Calientes looking for the way down to the bridge with Frank’s torch. With a couple of other early birds we wait that they open the bridge at 5 to climb up the 1,760 stairs to the entrance. If we would have known that we would climb up another 2,000 or more to the top of the mountain only an hour later we maybe would have considered to take one of the buses up… Well, but we directly forget about the strains when we enter the site and the ancient city appears in front of us. The sun rays slowly rise in between the mountains, it is an incredible atmosphere. Then it gets hot immediately. We climb up the next 600 m to the top of the mountain with very steep parts and edges falling down a few hundred meters right next to us – not for the faint-hearted! Good idea to directly climb up: when we go down the next 200 people are on their way up…
We chill in the shadow for a lunch picknick to start the tour through the ruins with some new energy. For us it is inconceivable how the Inca were able to work on the stones without iron tools and bring them into shape so that they perfectly fit to each other in the walls. They did not even need mortar to stabilize the walls! And how could they transport the ton weighing stones from the quarries into the city without knowing about the wheel???
When Julia and Frank leave we still have a lot to organize and stay another week. We are so lucky that they will take our rack packs home from Lima. We spend quite some time to decide what we can do without, Hardy works on the bikes for two full days to put new spare parts for the last 5,000 km to Buenas Aires.
Just one nice touristy thing we do in this week and which is affordable for us in contrast to most of the other sites in and around Cusco: The Inca Museum – really interesting artefacts, inca skulls (artifically deformated, carried out on infants) and mummies!
At the end, only one bad news from Cusco: We got robbed again, this time my good Vaude rain jacket. Sitting in a little cheap restaurant in a group of seven no one of us noticed somebody took the jacket from the back of the chair… Luckily, it is only a jacket and the pockets were empty. From now on my new jacket makes me the Lila-Laune-Lena – the only model fitting in size and price…
We like Ayacucho with its pleasant climate, beautiful colonial townscape and all its nice amenities while not being too touristic. It is just perfect to gather some new strength for the last nearly 600 km to Cusco – with a tough elevation profile:
Five times climbing up over 4,000 m (freezing!), flying down to 2,000 m (hot!) only to cross a river and struggling up again…
We hit the road together with Loic. Concerning many routines he has different habits but he is very easy going and often adapts to us. We are laughing so much together, it’s great fun! My favorite saying of Loic is his very French „Ohhh lala, come on Ardyyy!“ when he again cannot believe what kind of heavy stuff comes out of our bags every day…
We experience some very cold camping nights these days, one morning on more than 4,000 m we have ice on the tent and the water sacks on the bikes are big ice blocks. But luckily the sun comes out on a blue sky and warms us up. Hardy just can not imagine to come out of his sleeping bag before he feels the sun rays on the tent (later he will!).
The first climb is really hard for Hardy and me, the higher we come the less air we can breathe and the more we have to stop. But fortunately, we never get really high sick and the next climbs are going better and better. Loic does not seem to have any height problem at all, obviously a biological advantage of his too many red blood cells!
After the first beautifully paved 70 km on the 3N the route continues to be dotted with construction sites. We have never waited for so many road constructions, discussed with so many security guys and ladies that we please can pass with the bike and then greet hundreds of road workers. Until 2018 the complete way to Cusco should be paved they said – nice for future cyclists! And it is not only the road they are working on, quite often we see men setting up big cables on the side of the roads – the electrification programme. A lot of villages are obviously only now connected to the power supply system of Peru.
One day after Andahuaylas we try lorry surfing for the first time. It is not easy to catch them: we try to spot slow heavily loaded trucks in advance, get prepared and hope to find a good grip somewhere. Especially with three cyclists it is difficult to find enough space but this time there comes a huge one carying another road vehicle. We can all catch it but after a few meters I am too scared, the wheels are huge and so close to me, I don’t know how long I could keep the distance just by the power of my arms. Loic lets it go with me but Hardy found a good position. And as he is happily surfing up the mountain he sees Alena and Hardy sitting in the gras for picknick! They left Ayacucho one day after us and now are even in front of us. A big cyclists and namesakes reunion in the middle of nowhere!
We go on in the group which makes us slower, talking, taking pictures and enjoying the breaks is getting more important. Well, we finally end up in the little mountain village Kishuara and decide to ask in the municipality or school to stay the night as it would not be too easy to find a campspot for three tents in the mountains. Soon the whole village knows about us, of course. Some teenage girls try Loics bike and want to come with us to Argentinia, a young mother even offers him to take her baby on the bike. When we start to put the tents in a backyard of the school we are surrounded by a huge group of curious boys. Three of them stay really late and gaze in wonder at our gasoline stoves when we prepare hot coca tee and rice in the dark…
Next day we want to reach Abancay, the last bigger town on the way to Cusco. Only 10 km uphill, then a 70 km downhill (the longest we ever had!) and another 20 km climb up again. Should be possible in one day – but not today. It has been raining in the night, we get up early at five o’clock, pack the wet tents and leave the village at seven before all the school kids would come again. A partly steep and especially very muddy road leads out of the valley. The wheels spin and the fenders are full of mud – we have to push all the way up. Nice start in the day… The rocky dirt road, constructions and bad weather slow us down the following hours. Hazed in clouds and shaked by the dirt road we are not in the mood for more. Suddenly it gets warmer again, we see Abancay on the next mountain in front of us. It seems so near and is still so far – more than 40 km. After eating something in the valley next to river we manage to get all of us and the bikes on a little truck to do a lazy ride up into town – it would have been dark if we did it by bike. And even though we are in a group of five, it is no joke arriving at the dodgy outskirts of a city like this in the dark.
In Abancay we split up with the cyclists crew, we take a bus to Cusco to meet Julia and Frank in time, the others leave by bike and will arrive two days later…
From Huancayo to Ayacucho – beautiful times in the Andes
We take a night bus from Huánuco to Huancayo – it does not feel good because of our last experience but we have to arrive in Cusco in time. It is the best and safest bus ever – they even offer WiFi! Do we have this in Europe?
The route from Huancayo to Ayacucho is incredibly beautiful! We enjoy cycling so much these days, the landscapes are changing again and again, the people in the villages are honestly friendly, it is a pleasant up and down and one day we do 98 km the first time after ages! We feel fit, no more bronchitis, no diarrhea, no sniffles…
The Peruvians always have something to complain about. They love their country but not the politics. And they love to celebrate and drink. So, in nearly every town or bigger village we witness either a demonstration or a procession, parade or huge party going on. In Huancayo it is a demonstration against the military service fine: because of little numbers in the army the Peruvian government is discussing to establish a fine of about 750 USD for those who refuse to serve. This would of course free the rich and leave the poor with no other choice than to join the army… Huancayo is a student city and a modern city, we do not see many traditionally dressed people here. We finally declare it as a very educated city: children shout „Mira, mira! Turistas!“ instead of „Gringos!“ when we cycle out of Huancayo in the afternoon. Happily we shout back „Correcto! Muy bien!“…
After a looong but relatively easy climb we are looking forward to a beautiful 50 km descent the next day. We stop at a very authentic market in Acostambo where people welcome us friendly and are so curious about everything that belongs to us that it is not easy to take off again. They teach us some words of Quechua and once more we eat through the whole market…
Now we follow the river Mantaro for days. The road goes up and down right next to it. Beautiful, but quite difficult to find a place to camp. One day it is just impossible to spot some flat space. And just today children follow us for kilometers on their bikes and hinder us to hide somewhere… In the dark we arrive in the village of Mantacra and finally have to ask the people. As soon as you ask, the villagers are so happy to help. We are offered to sleep in a wood workshop, in an engineer’s room of a school construction and finally end up in a private room with a bed of a young worker. He vacated it for us and slept at a friend’s house even though we did not want to accept that. Incredibly guestfriendly! We are so happy to meet all these nice Peruvians here in this region, it is so different in contrast to many other places we have been to before.
A day later we ride through the heat of a semi-desert, enjoying the landscape of red and violet earth surrounding the blue river, but suffering of thousands of these little black bastard flies again. They fly with us and would not let us escape as we are quite slow on the dusty dirt road. Close to the next town Huanta we suddenly find ourselves singing and dancing with a funny group of Peruvians filming „Isabelita del Andes“. We pass this hilarious scene and are directly invited to take part in the video – huihuihui, you will laugh even more when you’ll see the video of it! A shabby cassette recorder is lying in front of is in the gras blaring horrible Peruvian folk music…
People on the way keep on telling us of a German couple that is cycling in front us for days. We speculate it might be our namesakes Alena and Hardy from Berlin who we heard of from another cyclist in Colombia before. They are on more or less the same route like we are, but coming down from Alaska. In Ayacucho we finally meet them - really funny! We relax for three days, organize the last things that Julia and Frank will bring us and also meet up with Loic again.
Hardy is always worrying about food. We normally carry a lot, more than we need. Just in case, you never know… This is the first time we honestly have nothing left when we arrive in La Unión (a little town that is so nice that you directly want to leave again!), one day before Huánuco.
We leave Huari late, there is so much to organize with the new stuff we need because of the robbery. Luckily, Julia and Frank will bring us a lot from Germany. And we don’t kow when we will have the next internet option… So, today we have just a nice afternoon ride with Loic. A great descent in an amazing light through the Peruvian Andes. We do not want to arrive in the next village San Marcos, we want to camp. A ruin of an old mud house next to a little creek is the perfect spot for us – hidden, flat and with water supply.
Next morning we fill up our food stocks in San Marcos: rice and veggies for dinner, oatmeal for breakfast, fruits, cookies, crackers and some cooked food for take away for lunch. Yes, it seems a lot, actually too much, but later we will be happy to have it…
The next pass of 4400 m is waiting in front of us. First km’s are paved, then dirt road follows for the next days. We meet three chicas from Trujillo on the way up, art students who sell their paintings in the little villages, in the cities the competition is too high, they say. They go from house to house, if they are hungry they ask for food, if it gets dark they ask for a bed – seems to work quite well. „You should do it like us! You need a lot of food as well!“ Mmhh, we are not convinced, we just cannot ask these poor people to give us Gringos food. But the girls are funny, they insist on giving Lena presents and equip her with plastic jewels.
It is a really hard full day climb again. And in the steep serpentins there is just nothing to camp. With our last ounce of strength we make it to a plateau on 4200 m. It is nearly dark but we see three houses that look abandoned. The doors are closed with a wire but easy to open, inside we find nothing but a bunch of firewood and some old potatoes. We are sure nobody would live here and decide to sleep inside. Will be definitely warmer than outside in the tent. We put our matresses on our tarp on the floor and sleep in all the clothes we have. Still, it is freezing cold. We will need new sleeping bags for these heights. Next morning while preparing breakfast Jaime, the neighbour, comes over on his horse with a friendly smile on his face. We can hardly believe him, but he tells us, his uncle normally lives in this house. Well, but it seems no problem that we spent the night here.
The day starts with a short downhill only to climb up again – into a mining area. „Peru is like a `queso suizo´ with all its mines inside“, a worker tells us. But it is mainly Canadian, American or Swiss companies who run the mines, so, the real money does not stay in the country, of course. The area is really interesting and fascinating for us but it is sad to see how this beautiful piece of nature is and will be more and more destroyed. The mining sites are mostly very close to the lagoons, we have to be careful where we take our water from because it often is contaminated. It always has to be higher than the mines.
We split up with Loic because he is so much faster. My map says there must be a village directly in front of us, Antamina. We are hungry, lunch time is already over, we just want to get there. But the road goes on and on, up and down. Hardy gets nervous and starts asking passing workers in pick ups about the village and fooood. Disappointment: Antamina is the whole region, actually the name of the mining company. There is a workers settlement but we will not be allowed to enter without a permit, so no food. We have to cook, what takes time and thwarts our plan of crossing the pass of 4400m in the afternoon and sleep a bit lower. With the setting sun we are on the highest point, beautiful light and views but no camp spot. It is all very rocky and steep. We will have to take the next flat possibilty, wherever. That the next piece of flat ground would be that awesome we did not expect: a plateau with a huge lagoon in front of us. No chance to hide, but that’s the risk we have to take now.
2 am, in the middle of the night: "Lena, Lena! Get up, sorry, but please get up!“ Hardy comes back from a pee and brings me out of my sleep. "They are coming, get your pepper spray ready!“ We see a torch coming down from the only house far and wide. Heading directly to us. Hardy stays outside, I am immediately fully awake, but stay inside. "Buenas noches, como estas?“ The friendly old man seems to be just curious and wanted to check out what we are doing here on his way down to street to catch a bus at 2.30 am. Puhh, Hardy tells him he scared us, what makes him laugh. "Aqui no pasa nada, no te preocupe!“ Ok, back to bed…
Only my need to pee gets me out of the tent the next morning, it is so damn cold, I do not want to leave the sleeping bag. It is the first morning that we have ice on our tent. But as soon as I am out I am overwhelmed, I have to get the camera and wake Hardy up: the morning sun slowly blazes its way through the fat clouds we are in. First we only can divine the huge lagoon in front of the mountain range, then little by little, the water is mirroring more and more light. It is so good to feel the warm sun rays on the body – I take off my two pair of socks and hold my feet in the light. I will never forget this feeling of how the warmth slowly conquers the icy cold inside… A coffee with some rice and oatmeal in cacao and we are happy!
This is the start into one of the most beautiful days of the whole trip. In front of us is a 50km descent through amazing landscapes. We hardly meet any people on this dirt road, it is so quiet, only some shephards with their herds down at the grassy sides of the river. On the way we cook our very last food, veggies and rice, and arrive in La Unión in the late afternoon. We take a hotel, cannot stop bying food and sleep quite long that night. Next morning we take a taxi car (with the bikes on top) up to the next pass of 4000 m to roll down on a 60km descent into Huánuco and rest there for two days.
Moments of suffer and joy – so close together while crossing the Cordillera Blanca by Punta Olimpica
I fight with my bike against this damn mountain, against the rain, the height, the cold… I am loosing my power, every 300, then 200m I have to stop, my heart is beating fast, I can hardly breathe. Ok, maybe I push a bit, but the bike is so heavy, the road too bumpy, the turns too steep. Rain turns into snow, the air is freezing cold, everything is wet – and my fingers hurt! I see Hardy fighting with the next turn in front of me before he stops and waits for me again. I feel dizzy, my stomach is not good, diarrhea in the morning, no food during the day… What am I doing here? Whyyy?!
We are on our way up to the 4.890m high pass of Punta Olimpica through Huascaran National Park. The beginning of June should be the beginning of summer as well, but we have very bad luck with the weather. Climbing up to 3900m in beautiful sunshine the day before, we could see the top of the glacier Huascaran (6768m) right in front of us. We camped in front of it full of hope to have a sunny morning and a good photo light to ride up in between the other surrounding glaciers… But we get up in little rain, being enveloped in subtle haze, and it will only get worse during the day…
Why? Why do we put ourselves in such situations and suffer so much - voluntarily? What is suffering about? We could be in our comfy home now, have a relaxed Saturday afternoon with friends and eat a piece of cake! Ohh, what would I give for a hot tea, a comfy sofa and a nice chat with my friends now! But no, we rock on. Hardy asks me again if we should try to get on a truck that is passing. No! I wanna make it! At the same time I wish there will be one more when I really cannot move any further – there are not many. Am I too ambitious now? No, I still have some power… Hardy makes me eat something, but it directly comes out again – better no food.
About 100m below the pass we arrive at a tunnel construction site, take a break and talk to the workers. We jump up and down and try to warm our fingers. One worker says it is too dangerous to climb up to the pass, there is a storm going on, snow and ice on the way, we should better go through the tunnel. It is not finished yet, but it would be possible to pass by bike. Really? What an alleviation! Hardy and me look at each other, laugh and are so happy not having to climb up there, in this weather we would not see the glaciers anyway! Only five minutes through the tunnel, 30km downhill and we would be in Chacas, the next village, where a warm bed would be waiting for us! But then…
„Stop! Stop! It is not allowed to go through here! Who let you in?“ Oh no! Please, don’t destroy our dream of a close warm bed now! „I am the security engineer here! I decide! You have to go back on the pass, the tunnel is not finished yet!“ Hardy gets really angry, tries to explain the urgency of our situation, but he just not listens to us and continues shouting. What a power-crazed ashole! „Look, my wife is ill, we have to go down! Up on the pass it is too dangerous by bike!“ Hardy is ready to just drive through, we can already see the end of the tunnel. Under tears I start asking a thousand times „Why do you just not want to help us?!“ After maybe ten minutes feeling like ages he finally says the Technician has to decide and it is no problem to just go through…
We come out of the tunnel into rain again. Just fly down to Chacas now, we think. But downhill the cold is even worse, of course. We have to stop every 2 km to blow into our fists – the fingers hurt like hell. It is a real pity we cannot really enjoy this paved road through the beautiful mountains.
And then 6 km before Chacas we pass a long cue of trucks and cars: the road is blocked, a rockslide, no one comes through. „Only one more hour“ they tell us. Looks like they have been working for quite a while on it. The warm bed seemed so near and is again so far! It gets dark, I am shaking of cold, an ambulance driver gives me his jacket. It is eight o’clock when we finally come into the ancient village of Chacas and find an even nicer Hospedaje than we expected. But the shower… is cold!!!
We sleep about 12 hours that night and meet Loic again the next morning looking for a hot soup for breakfast. Meeting other cyclists always means there are a lot of stories to tell and we always learn something from every other cyclist as well. This time it is defintely that we are still to heavey. Loic carries about 10kg less than each one of us and is so much faster uphill. He is mostly a few km in front of us, so we loose and find each other again…
After Chacas we cycle together to Huari the next pass over 4.300m. We camp at 3.800m and enjoy the incredibly nice downhill through numerous mountain villages and settlements the next day. The people are living in mud houses, they are extremely poor and inexplicably some are superfriendly and others can just shout „Gringooo!“ and ask for money. „Regalame!“ (give me a present) in one village and 20 minutes later a group of kids invites us for a Volleyball game in Huamantanga. We play with them, take off, and in the next settlement of Colcas the partying community integrates us in their special dance on the ground where a little clinic will be biult in the following months. Luckily, the traditional dance and rythm is quite simple so we can easily step into it – only interrupted by all the men wanting to take photos with Lena, fascinated by her blue „Gringa-eyes“.
This is why we love cycle touring so much, you never know what waits for you around the next corner, in the next village or the next morning. We can be so spontanious, we cycle, play Volleyball and dance nearly at the same time – and that’s probably why we decide again and again to suffer – to feel the joy even greater afterwards!
As if the Andes would just get more and more impressive from North to South – Colombia, Ecuador and now Peru – the mountains here are incredibly massive, beautiful, gigantic… we are lost for words! What will wait for us in Bolivia then?
We finally stay four days in Caraz to get rid of the diarrhea which (we are sure!) is caused by bad chicken fake China food from Jenny’s restaurant. Nobody would believe us, of course the restaurant denies, Police finally takes us to the hospital to get checked but the doctor does a three minutes examination, testing only blood pressure and temperature. Laughing a problem away is their way of handling situations like this. Next day we find a laboratory in town ourselves and the test confirms what we thought before: an infection because of bad food!
But Caraz is a really friendly and cute town worth staying a few days: it is authentic with a nice mixture of traditional and modern Peruvian life, not too dirty, not too clean, not many tourists but a few…
We meet a group of French and Swiss while waiting to get fit enough for the bike again and decide to go up to Laguna Parón together. And we don’t regret to pay the few bucks for the car – this piece of nature is fabulous! The water has such an intense turquoise colour that you could not even think of this being natural! And this in front of the Pyramide mountain – the one we all know… Mmhh, where from? It’s the Paramount Picture!
Being so close to the glaciers the problem of global warming becomes so obvious at the same time. The whole Huascaran Nevada is in danger, in the last 33 years the glaciers lost about 27 percent of their ice! The days we spend in Caraz the catastrophe of Yungay, the neighboring village, is very present as well. In this week is the anniversary of the tragic earth quake in 1970 when a massive piece of the North Glacier Huascaran broke loose, cascaded down the valley and covered the whole village – only 92 of 25.000 inhabitants survived. This piece has been noticed as being fractured because of global warming before by American scientists but the Peruvian government did not want to see it…
Loic, a touring cyclist from France, joins us as well. We are on the same route and decide to take off together to cross the Cordillera Blanca either by the Llanganuco lagoon pass or the Punto Olympica. We finally toss a coin three times to verify our decision. The Llanganuco pass would cost 65 Soles (26 USD!) entrance fee to stay over night in Huascaran National Parc because the famous Santa Cruz Hiking Trail goes here as well. So, of course, we go for the other option.
Peru – along the Rio Santa in between the Cordillera Blanca and Negra
Chimbote – we mainly see different police stations of this city. Telling the robbery story again and again, the report at the police finally takes five hours. Maybe due to our still not perfect Spanish, maybe due to other cases like a murder of a negro that pop up in the same time. But they are really nice to us. When the chief officer realizes that we hardly can keep our eyes open and nearly fall off our chairs he tells the younger one to bring us to the cafeteria where we can chosse between fried fish and tamales for breakfast.
After finding a hotel to get some sleep we shortly take a look at the sea before going to the Tourist Police who should continue to work on our case only to find out they will send it to the other department of Piura where it all happened. We leave with no hope that anything will ever be investigated here.
Well, the journey goes on. This will cut deeply in our travel budget but we are ok and can continue which is most important. And luckily, we still have Lenas compact cam and our GoPro, so we can keep our blog alive with some pics.
We are more than ready to leave this extremely noisy city smelling like fish, want to go into nature again. Three and a half days just on our own, cycling through strange and beautiful landscapes, camping, cooking, water filtering and getting our heads cleared. We move towards the Andes again, in front of us the first mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. It is like cycling through a painting, in the valley of Rio Santa we are surrounded by green fields, a few meters higher the massive mountains appear in white stone without any life on them.
Of course, cycling without GPS is a little different now, we are dependent on our map and on what the people tell us. This is no big deal, but not always reliable as well. Often the locals do not count in km but in hours in motorcycle or bus. So, we are very unsure about when the next villages come, means we go with filled water sacks and bottles all the time and buy what we can get if we pass a little settlement: potatoes, carrots, onions, oat meal and fruits.
The first night we camp in between sugar cane fields, not too bad but these little black flies would not stop biting us, even crawling into the clothes and eating tiny pieces of our skin. Next morning the green banks of the river turn into beige and grey, the nice asphalt of the first day into a dusty rocky dirt road but the tailwinds helps us to get on. We are completely shrouded in dust by the few cars and buses passing .
The second night we find one of the nicest camp spots ever: a little paradise beach directly at the Rio Santa, hidden under a broken off stone edge, invisible from the street. We enjoy a beautiful evening with millions of stars and feel absolutely safe. All the dust from the dry rocky surrounding makes the water from the river is totally grey. When we take a shower with it, we feel clean, but this is relative. Exhausted we fall asleep at 9.30pm to get up at 5.30am again (well, Hardy maybe at 6am).
The third day we think we could maybe make it to the next bigger village on the map: Huallanca. But we are absolutely unsure about the distance. Again we buy everything we can get in the first settlement we pass, which is not much. On the whole way we just cannot find bread. People seem to just eat rice. But we find out we have to look for white flags on the houses which means „hay pan“. Some of the single huts and settlements are extremely poor, it has been a while that we saw poverty like this, maybe in Nicaragua the last time. And our cycling friend Steve was absolutely right when telling us the Peruvians seem to suffer by a „Gringo-Tourette“. We hear it all the time, little children start running as soon as they see us and screem „give me a present, gringo!“. This demanding behaviour makes us a bit sad and we hope the friendliness of the Peruvians will change when we get deeper into the mountain areas. When we start looking for a camp spot something like a football stadium pops up on a little hill, we think it belongs to a factory ground a few hundred meters away. Cycling up there we frighten a flock of sheep and a shephard lady who all immediately run away. She seems to know it is not the best for the soccer field to fertilize it with sheep puh. But when she finds out we are only two gringos with strange bicycles she comes back to let her sheep grasp the rest of the field. Well, we discover a hidden place under a tree and are obviously no the only ones who are happy about the water hose on the field. The next morning men appear with donkeys to fetch water as well.
Two km further we reach Huallanca the next morning and take some time to skype with Julia and Frank who will have to bring new equipment for us. Even Huallanca has nor bread neither fruits to sell. But today we are sure we will make it to Caraz, the next bigger village with hotels and everything that a cyclists heart desires.
We pass the „Canón de pato“, a gorge where the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra come really close together. The road goes through one tunnel after the other, cycling is exciting here! And then, after meeting Swiss Motorcyclist Hans, we are suddenly on fresh buttery asphalt gain and roll into Caraz right in time before it gets dark.
Caraz is a cute small town, a nice mixture of indigenous and modern Peruvians, very few tourists, not too dirty, not too clean… Hungry as we are we go into the first restaurant seem to take the wrong choice. The kind of Chinese pasta with chicken causes us severe problems already an hour later. We take turns sitting on the toilet the whole night and just get up to filter water and take electrolytes the next day. As Hardy’s bronchitis does not want to leave him completely as well, we have to take nother unwanted break, need a few days to recover – no nos gusta!
From Ambato to Peru – summary of the last two weeks
Five days in Ambato
We stay with Leo and his wife and daughter in his casa de ciclistas and fill the time with a lot of sponsor and blog work, another laboratory test for parasites and haircuts for us both.
Leo is one of the best cross country riders in Ecuador and is training hard for the national team in this season. He is really impressed by the number of sponsors for our trip – and considering the level he is cycling on we are surprised he does not have a single one… One of the daily things that remind us of how lucky we are to be grown up in Germany with all the chances of life. Even though he is living rather poorly (earning 17 USD a day with his „Bike House“ is a good day he says) he is a very generous guy and loves helping other cyclists. One night he surprises us: a pick up ride with a friend’s car up in the mountains to see the fire spitting volcano Tungurahua that we can already spot from the rooftop. Unfortunately it is too cloudy to take pictures but we can hear it – an intensive sound that we never witnessed before! The only thing that dimmed the atmosphere in the casa for one day is that Lenas quite expensive long bike trousers are suddenly missing after the laundry – trousers that we would not be able to buy here again… The silly stupid annoying dog Barbie had taken them off and hidden them under the bed! As a penalty she has to stay on the rooftop for two days.
Riobamba and Guamote
It is a rainy morning and the first 35km are „pura subida“. Hardy starts struggling, he cannot breathe properly and starts coughing more and more. We finally arrive in Riobamba by bus and stay with the Bomberos again.
That night we talk a lot about our route. We know we will have to speed up a bit, time runs so fast and we do not know how we should reach Argentina in the next months. Furthermore, we have an appointment for the 1rst July since Ambato: our friends Julia and Frank are coming over to Peru and we will probably meet at Lago Titicaca – and this is a loooong way! So we deicide we will not hesitate any more to take buses when the route is boring or we do not feel well. Probably we will skip Northern Peru completely. But because we just had a five days break we were desperate to cycle at least for the next days.
For lunch we make it to Guamote, a village in the mountains, the following day. Once more we realize the huge difference between city and village life here in Ecuador. People in the villages are so much more traditional and we are absolute strangers here – some look at us as if we just flew in from another planet.
But of course, things are strange for us as well, for example the regional specialty we have for lunch: udder soup! They cut the udder in little pieces and cook it in a potato soup, chewy and with an undefinable but rather awful taste. Noticeable here in Guamote are the red ponchos and the really bad teeth nearly everybody has. Some men are curious and ask us everything bout these hypermodern bicycles. On the way out of town we pass the market and watch the ladies dountlessly grasping into the pig’d heads to get out even the last bits that can be used for the next soup – mmmmh.
We want to reach Alausi that evening, but Hardy’s coughing gets worse and worse the higher we climb. 15km before the town we stopped a truck with an open loading space and ask the driver if he would take us. It turns out that he even goes to Cuenca that night and was happy to drive with us the whole way. Wow, that easily safes us 250km and comes exactly in the right moment.
It has been a while that we did Couchsurfing but for Cuenca we found a young Canadian family who would host us. We get a really nice room in their beautiful wooden house, immediately feel home and are so happy meeting Deborah and Mathieu from Montreal. After such a long time it is one of the first Friday nights that we spend like we would be with our friends at home – cooking a nice dinner together, having some drinks and chatting the night away… Ohh, we missed that! Thank you for your great hospitality!
In Cuenca we also meet the English cycling family again and have a great time wandering through town with Steve and the boys, talking about our latest adventures and news in the „Latin American trvel cycling scene“. Hope to see you again soon, guys!
But we have a little To-Do-List for Cuenca as well. Finding an original Panama hat for Hardys father (and because they are so nice finally one for Hardy as well) and choose some glasses for Hardy. He has real problems working on the computer especially with all these pictures… As it is much cheaper here in Ecuador he just has to decide for a model, make the eye test and wait one day for the glasses. A funny procedure!
But Hardys cough does not get better. Although we are on our way out of the Andes, meaning going down a lot, he still has problems. After staying the night in the tiniest Bombero station we’ve ever seen, we go to visit the little village hospital the next morning. The doctor there is supernice, takes a lot of time for us and gives Hardy a gratis examination. The result: Bronchitis. „You should better directly go down to the coast and relax a few days in a warmer climate“. Oh no, no buses again! We want to take this loong downhill by bike – but what should we do?
What a border! We are so annoyed by their love of making things complicated here!
Arriving in Huaquillas by bus, finding out that the migration system in town does not work, having to go eight km out of town to the new border station on a bypass road (that they are all very proud of), going into the freezone to get both Ecuadorian leaving and Peruvian entering stamp, having to take different country taxis in the in-between-zone, finally driving back into town and going over into Peru by foot that night without being checked but directly feeling the difference:
Hectic, loud and bustling, people screeming and honking the horn all the time. Tuktuks everywhere, dirty streets and very old cars. Even though the people are a bit rougher they are nice and helpful with us so far.
We find a rocked down bus to Máncora. Of course, it took much longer than promised but we arrived at the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon. After three months we are at the sea again and crossed in between the Caribbean and Pacific side for the fifth time!
Máncora is not really our kind of place, too touristy, but we stay for three days in a nice room to get Hardy healthy again…
Finally: bikes packed again, a bit heavier than before, but back on the road… The way out of Quito was not too easy, another 25 km through bad traffic, so lunch still in the city! But then it was a great feeling to leave this huge urban area behind us and feel so free again!
Like always it started raining after a sunny morning, that day already at 1 pm! So we just cycled another two hours on the Panam to Machachi and received once again a warm welcome at the firemen station. The firemen gave us matresses to make ourselves comfy in the gym room and we went out for an endless food tasting walk through town that evening: some cow claw soup, passion fruit cream, fried raised pastry in honey and finally again grilled meats, potatoes and salads - one day on the bike again and not being able to satisfy Hardy´s appetite!
So, we were well prepared for the Cotopaxi volcano climb up the next morning. We started in beautiful sunny morning fresh air, it became nearly hot, a feeling quite rare in the last weeks. Starting the climb up on 12 km cobblestone it got even hotter. The front wheel hopping over the stones often was uncontrollable and made us stop again and again. Even Hardy who always stays on his bike no matter how steep it is had to get off and push. Ja, this was quite demanding. And of course, it started raining at noon which made it even harder on the slippery stones. We kept on for two hours as there was nothing for shelter anyway… But the hunger stopped us, we needed some of our peanut butter and empanadas con ceso… As a perfect timing it stopped raining and behind the next curve Cotopaxi with its snow-covered top appeared in its full glory. What a sight!
With renewed energy we kept on and suddenly it was so much fun. Alpacas grazed along the way and wild horses were galopping in some distance in front of the volcano. This was exactly how we wished it to be! Now all we wanted was a camping spot just as fine. Actually, that was not too difficult on this endless open space on 3.800m. It was the earliest we ever put our tent up, luckily, before it started raining again. We cuddled ourselves in the sleeping bags to get warm, in a rain break we went out to cook a soup and then watched a movie in the tent… this is how nice camping can be!
Next morning we had to pack everything wet, went on cycling a bit through the national park before nearly flying down on a brand new road with a bike lane to Lasso. In Lasso it was the first time the firemen refused to host us, so we camped at a Hospedaje. Next morning: heavy rain! Much more than before! Should we really go on the back road Quilotoa loop in these conditions?? We decided for yes! Bought some new rubber work gloves and put some extra plastic sacks on as our jackets would not resist this rain. Even GoreTex does not live up to what it promises - after two hours in this rain, everything gets through! Well, three hours later, we were in the sun again and so happy we decided to come here. Beautiful views turned up and we enjoyed incredible downhills, too mean that we would have to climb it all up again into Sigchos in the evening. The last kilometers we accepted the offer of a friendly driver and jumped on his road works vehicle with another 30 workers, to avoid struggling into the night… Very dirty but happy we arrived in time in the nice little town up in the mountains. People look very different here in the remote areas than in the towns. The women are very colorfully dressed, different styles and colors are hip in different villages. Ecuador is famous for its hats, everybody is wearing one. The women, even very young ones carry their little children on the back, and all of them have very funny but nice red cheeks.
In the park in Sigchos suddenly a young dog, some shephard mixture, ran into us, jumped up and up again and seemed so happy to see us! What was going wrong here? Normally, dogs do not like us cyclists at all, never ever one was so friendly to us! But with him it was directly mutual liking. He waited in front of our hotel and found us again the next morning. We called him Scrumpy, gave him the rest of our breakfast and he just kept on running with us all day long. We were not very fast on the dirt roads in the mountains, so it was not too hard for him. But again from noon onwards: only rain! We just didn´t want any more - no more self-torment! We stopped and stayed the night in a nice hostel room which was just too expensive for Ecuadorian conditions (12$ per person including dinner and breakfast) but warm and cosy.
Next day we wanted to start early to arrive at the Quilotoa lagoon before the afternoon rain comes. A beautiful route through the mountains, enjoying it so much! Just hoped to arrive at Quilotoa without rain for a good view… That´s why we decided to take a short cut for the last 3 or 4 km: a new road, still under construction, quite steep but much shorter than the old road. The workers at the fork said we could cycle up without any problems… Hahaha - very funny! It was all rocky sand, the huge vehicles passed every few minutes and fogged us in dust, most of the time it was just impossible to drive. It took us about one and a half hours with really difficult pushing. Again and again we had severe problems breathing properly in this altitude of 3.800m, air was cut off immeadiately and Lena nearly hyperventilated at one point… At the end of the construction, when the sand just got too deep, finally some other workers helped us pushing - gracias, muy amable!
One more time it was worth the torment: The Quilotoa lagoon is breathtaking! And no rain for the whole day! After Hardy took thousands of pictures we looked for a nice camping spot for quite a while but would not find any flat or big enough space on the crater rim. The Quilotoa village actually was a crappy touristic place that we not really wanted to support. Already on the way to Quilotoa which is a popular hiking area as well we were quite disappointed how tourism took away the real friendliness of the indigenous. Conversation and especially taking pictures was all about money - sad, sad, sad. Could not remember when we experienced it like that before. When we arrived at the lagoon they got even crazy: “No, it is forbidden to go here with the bike”, “Why? Do we bother anybody? No, we are alone here!” “It is because of the wooden floor… But do you need a room?” Nice welcome, we want to go back to Colombia! After we checked nearly every accomodation in this crappy village, we decided: if we are spending money here, then it has to be for the nicest and friendliest! It got really cold that night, we were happy about the comfy and warm bed and the little fireplace next to it… how romantic!
Two nights in Ibarra, one in Cayambe at the nicest firestation we ever stayed at (with own room, new beds and great firemen!), crossing the equator and then rocking on to Quito… Honestly, not one of our best days, Lena’s spokes kept on breaking on fast downhills, and we only had two spares left… Finally police helped us out and took us up for a few kilometer on the long climb up to the city, buses wouldn’t take us. But it was still another two hour climbing into the center of Quito – the highest capital on earth.
We were already looking forward to Quito for quite a while: meeting up with Aaron again, giving our legs a rest for a few days, buy some new mountain equipment, and whip our bikes into shape after nearly nine months. Who would have thought before that we finally stayed for two weeks?!
Our first day we spent with Aaron and the Genners Family Pippa, Steve and their two boys Henry and Charlie from England. Aaron traveled with them ten days before Quito. How refreshing getting to know them all and see how they are cycling as a family! They defintely took away some of our fear or respect of cycle touring with children – we are often talking about that as an idea for the future. Also Jens, who we met before in Colombia, came as a surprise, so we were a big cycle touring group wandering through Quito as very normal tourists.
Aaron had organized a great deal for us to stay with him in the beautiful house where he has a room now for his time in Quito. Zita and some of her daughters are living there, supernice women and Zita is an incredibly good cook! We felt so much like home from the very first moment, enjoyed the luxury and beautiful view over the city from our balcony every day and definitely put some weight on. Actually, we did not want to leave again… But this had another reason:
One day before we wanted to leave Hardy had a little accident in a parking garage of a Supermaxi. We cycled in from the rainy outside and when he wanted to stop he immediately slided away from the ground which was superslippery as soon as it good wet. Peng – autsch! Hardy was so angry about the person who installed this floor covering that he directly went to the security to vent off his anger. He just asked if he did not see the sign: „Piso resbaladizo cuando llueve“ (Slippery floor when raining). What, where? No, of course not it hangs over the car parking section and not over the bike parking! And actually he drove really carefully and slowly. We had to let his shoulder be checked and luckily the first diagnosis of the lady doing the x-ray was wrong – the collar bone was not broken, but next day the MRT showed that the muscles obviously were inflamed and Hardy had to rest for three more days… So, we would stay to celebrate his birthday in Quito! A really nice and relaxed day: with the teleferico (cable railway) we went up on 4050m and enjoyed the view over the city. Like every day in Quito, it was sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon. So we went for a yummy chocolate cake in the historic center later, and of course, in the chocolate nation Ecuador, it is a real chocolate cake! For dinner we even had a second chocolate cake from Zita that we enjoyed with Guanabana ice-cream! Yum, yum!
For the whole time of our stay we had the great luck that we could use the workshop of www.tatoo.ws where Aaron started a job as the head bike mechanic for the next six month and starts building a cycle touring section. He also helped us a lot with spoking a new wheel for Hardy as his dynamo hub did not work any more and had to be changed as well as tensioning all our wheels – thank you so much for your support, Aaron! Since four of Lenas spokes broke in a row, it was high time to check the tension and find new spares. So we cycled three days through the city to check every single bike shop (and they have loads! a really big bike scene here) for new quality spokes. We finally found some DT Swiss ones but had to shorten them and cut new threads so they will fit for the Rohloff hub. Also some new Continental tires were waiting for us at Tatoo store, and after a full day allround treatment for each one of our Travelmasters they looked like brand new!
If you come to Quito and would like to stay in a very nice and familiar accomodation ask us about Zitas contact. We absolutely recommend staying in this beautiful, kind of Italian house up the hill, quiet but very central.
Frailejónes wonderland – the Páramo at El Ángel in Ecuador
First day in Ecuador we stayed at the Bomberos (firemen) in Tulcan and were surprised how well done and brand-new everything was. Luxury indoor camping, hot showers, WiFi and a really good cooking lady who even invited us for dinner with her husband. Not only about the firemen station, but in general we would find out very soon that our image of Ecuador we had before was slightly wrong…
Aaron, who was riding about a week in front of us by now, told us about an epic route that we should not miss: through the El Angel Nature Park. We already checked it on the map before as an alternative to the Panam anyway – so we went for it. A very small path that we nearly missed about 10km South of Tulcan directly led us on dirt road, not as hard as the Trampolin de la Muerte, but exhausting enough. 35 km up on 3.700 m and most of it through the Páramo full of these beautiful Frailejónes.
A Páramo is a form of vegetation that appears in the high mountains in the tropics, typical for South America in a height over 3.200 m. Frailejónes are very wooly semi-shrub plants growing only about two centimeters per year. That means most of them are really old, in El Angel they are up to six meters high. Most of their needed water they get out of the air, when it gets really cloudy. Their leaves are so cuddly that you can even use them to warm your ears…
„It is just so many of them, I can’t believe“ I was repeating again and again. In the late afternoon we arrived just in time at the refugio on the highest point of the way. We knew they had beds for visitors, so we were relaxed not having to find a camp spot for this freezing night. It got dark very quickly, the clouds thicker and thicker and it was just us the night security and a coyote up there. They did not have running water, but we could get some from the nearby creek to give ourselves the coldest shower that we ever had with our outdoor shower sack – temperatures nearly dropped under zero… The next morning we got up early and could not even think of coffee and breakfast, the light was so amazingly nice that we directly went out to walk up to the look-out (3846m) behind the house – and yes it was „such a friggin’ great view that makes you wanna to cry for your mama“, like Aaron would say… Just the perfect scenery for a little shooting with our beloved triple2 shirts.
We did not want to stop taking pictures but at one point we had to leave as we wanted to reach the next town Ibarra the same day…
More climbing: Pasto, Las Lajas and finally Ecuador
Ok, it won’t stop now for the next months: we are in the Andes and we will have to climb every day! There was always still a little hope left not having to pedal up another major hill every day. But well, we’re getting fitter and fitter, and climbing gets easier day by day.
On our way out of the Sibundoy valley we met the Basque cyclist Sebastian and shared a really nice day cycling together to El Encano, through the so-called Colombian Switzerland at La Laguna Cocha. We rarely met such a positive character like him before, he was so happy, even about the climb ups: „que buena subida!“. He is one more great example of how to follow your dreams even without much money and good equipment, cycling with water gallons as panniers like many others and just shorts and a rain jacket… Everything is possible if you really want to! He is so right: „Cada día, estamos muy feliz en bici!“
Next day Sebastian wanted to camp at the lagune and we kept on going to Pasto, stayed there for a day and then cycled towards the border. That night we camped in „el Jardin del Éden“, a garden paradise of a very nice Senora. She was surprised when we asked if it would be possible to camp, „I sometimes see cyclists passing here but nobody ever asked me to camp in my garden!“ Finally, we think she was happy that we were there.
While cooking an Indio from the neighbourhood came over and told us lot about their situation in Southern Colombia. He suffered a lot under the Police, he said. They often try to bring Indios in jail, put drugs in their stuff, to blame and arrest them afterwards. But now he got a special passport for indigenous people, and police cannot bother him any more. They are only allowed to hand him over to the indigenous judge in his community. He seemed to be a very clever guy, but emphazised again and again he only wished to have more education. In the morning the Senora and her helping lady explained us all about the different fruits and herbs in the garden and packed us a huge bag of many yummy fruits we never saw before like chirimoya, uchavas, lulos and maoncillos. They even breed guinea pigs, an expensive delicatessen already here in Southern Colombia, we only expected this to come up in Ecuador…
On the way to the border spokes started breaking at a 60km/h descent in Lenas back wheel. After over eight months without anything, now the first problems appeared.
From Ipiales we cycled down a few kilometers to see the Las Lajas Sanctuary, built in 1949 in Gothic Revival style. We did not make all the way down into the velley, climbing out again would just have taken too long to cross the border into Ecuador the same day.
And before we really leave our number one country now, here are some very typical things in this country:
Typical Colombian lunch and dinner (and sometimes even breakfast) is the so-called bandeja: a soup, sometimes served with bananas, and a main dish with meat, rice, beans, platanos or lentils, salad, sometimes fries, salsas and a fresh juice. And all this for about 3.500 to 8.000 Colombian Pesos, which is in between 1,70 – 3,50 Euro. You definitely cannot cook for that money as supermarket prices are nearly comparable to ours in Germany and in some cases even exorbitant expensive, for example milk products, thuna fish or our beloved energy snack peanut butter…
So many fruits we have never seen and tasted before: Colombia is especially famous for guanabanas, supposed to be very healthy and good against cancer (if you believe the Colombians even better than chemo) and digestive problems. You can get it as a milk drink, joghurt or as the whole fruit which is actually a bit expensive.
Pastelerias y Panaderias
Why? We just cannot understand why everything has to be so artificial, colorful and still same tasting. The colors are revolting, but the Colombians love these cakes and tortes. And unfortunately, we hungry cyclists are often disappointed stopping at a bakery with a seemingly huge selection of pastries only to find out that everything tastes the same…
Everybody is drinking tinto – black coffee with a lot of sugar in small plastic cups. It’s a really nice culture that everybody offers you to have one together especially when it’s rainy and cold in the mountains and it’s a social thing as well… But when it comes to taste we actually like our stronger and less sweet coffee better. We are so happy that we still carry the extra weight of our little espresso cooker!
Colombia is famous for its beautiful women, and often this is true. But considering the mannequins in the shop windows, mmhh, subject to interpretation: are we in Silicone Valley? They all have huuuge tits, so huge that they sometimes even do not fit in the displayed tops…
We heared that Cali is the city with the highest density of artificial boobs in Colombia – Hardy is very sad that we haven’t been there :-).
We knew it would be one the toughest routes we ever rode – and it truely was! Two and a half days 80 km from 600 m up to 2770 m on bad and really bad dirt roads in constantly changing weather from sun to angry rain, fog and cold… But it was absolutely worth it! We do not regret any suffered minute of this awesome ride. We got directly paid for our endeavours with these incredible views over the clouds…
After a rich breakfast at 7 o’clock at Mocoa market we started climbing up the trampoline of death which is supposed to be one of the most dangerous roads. Many people died here in accidents because of lacking side shells, it just drops down into nothing for a few hundred feet. All along the road sad crosses, candles and car lights remember the victims…
On the bike it did not feel dangerous at all, we were small enough to always stay away from the edge. But for trucks and cars it can be tricky to pass each other on some parts that are only three meters wide.
The first day we made 34 km up to the look out where a friendly black lady Monica let us camp in her little restaurant shack – one of the few tiny places that are plane up there. Definitely the better option than camping in the wet and dirty ruin that another lady offered us. She prepared us a warm dinner and we slept like babies that night. The second night we ended up camping in a school. It was freezing cold but we even took that ice-water shower in the children bathroom and it was great to be under a roof against the steady rain. Our bodies were constantly claiming more food, so we had a whole bandeja with soup, meat, rice and potato for breakfast the next morning before climbing up the last few hundred meter to the top. After that the rest was only downhill, finally even paved into the first village of the valley San Francisco – it felt like flying down there after two exhausting days on wet stony, muddy, pebbly grounds…
In San Francisco we accidently ran into hundreds of school kids marching for peace – „la marcha por la paz en Colombia“. It was an interesting spectacle but as soon as they did their „job“ they all came running towards us and started bombarding us with questions. We were besieged by younger and older excited kids wanting to know everything about us strangers and asking for autographs.
Very nice to see how naturally curious kids are… Finally, we had to get ourselves out of it because we were nearly dying of hunger again :-) We made it to Sibundoy where we gave our legs a break for one more day…
We were so fed up with the rain that we decided to leave the Central Cordillera via Ibagué and continue further South in the valley of the Rio Magdalena. And yes, it got dry and hot again, especially in the „Desierto de Tatacoa“ where we cycled and camped two days. Actually, it’s a semi-desert, a 330 square kilometers area of ocher and gray brushstrokes of green cactus growing up to five meters high.
Cycling in a desert was a very new experience for us, but great! The landscapes changed again and again, and we absolutely enjoyed the lonely ride through this rough vegetation. Just camping was a hard thing, the ground was nearly too hot to lie on – we were sweating even more than on the bike with not a single breeze coming up at night! Not to talk of these damn black flies that bit tiny little pieces out of our skin and left itchy read spots all over our non-covered skin parts, at day and ight time – ahhh!
From Tatacoa we went further South to Neiva (which did not impress us much!), Pitalito and finally Mocoa. In between we stopped one night in the pretty village of La Jagua where lovely aunty Tila picked us up in the parc, invited us to her home and even offered us to sleep in her sister’s room! While sun was setting she took us down to the Rio Magdalena for an ice cold bath after this hot cycling day – why can’t we have that every day??? All the people we met in La Jagua were incredibly welcoming, making us presents like fruits, bred and eggs and even called us on the cellphone weeks after we left, just to know if we are fine…
One day later we stopped at a huge ancient finca in the mountains where Orlando and his wife invited to camp and served us fresh milk. It was so interesting for us to see their way of living and working in this beautiful and quiet place – well, and for them to ask about our life in Germany which is just inconceivable for them.
Taking off from Medellin was climbing on the Panam – nice landscapes but no fun in the traffic. So as soon as possible we turned left to ride back roads again. But it did not go as we expected! We did neither imagine it to be so hard but nor to be so beautifulamazingbreathtaking at the same time! Honestly, we had days in that we were only climbing without one meter down and only made 25km in total… That can be frustrating but these views directly compensate the suffering.
And the people in the little mountain villages were awesome as well: In a heavy rain we were stopping on a street café for a hot drink and some chocolate. When we wanted to pay the lady said „Oh, the guy leaving in the white car over there just payed for it all…“ Wow, we could not even thank him! The same situation on a toll station: We suddenly had two fresh orange juices in our hands, paid by a lady who was just taking off in the same second. This went on and on with beer appearing on our table whithout ordering or truck drivers who even invited us for a huge trout dinner in a mountain restaurant where we camped. The Colombians are incredible! So warm welcoming, chatty, always interested and curious but never intrusive – we really enjoyed their mentality and learned a lot. Not only languagewise but as well about an adorable culture and interpersonally.
One of these nice Colombians was Humberto with whom we stayed in Pereira via warmshowers.org. He was so happy to host us and we directly got along very well together. We slept in his „guest tent“ in his basic flat in a very typical Colombian barrio and enjoyed being in the midst of very normal life there. Muchisimas grcias, Humberto!
Next day we took off to visit the quite touristy but cute town of Salento in the famous coffee region in Colombia (check out this great ancient coffee machine – about 100 years old!). Again cycling in the rain – we were so pissed off with that! Everything wet, wanna-be-waterproof clothes sticking to the skin, not being able to distinguish if it gets wet because rain comes through or if it is the sweat from the inside…
Looking around for a place to stay in Salento, I was waiting for Hardy who came back around the corner with his typical smile on the face (everybody who knows him probably can exactly imagine how his face looked like) „Guess who I met, Lena!?“ It was three guys on motorcycles with backpacks tied in fruit baskets on the back of the motos! Philipp, Sepp and Yu Ya! Three weeks that we seperated after my birthday – they bought their motos in Medellin and now absolutely fit into this motorcycle enthusiastic country – with or without driving license, who cares?! Yu Ya continued further South the next day and we four spent two more days together, sharing stories, rum and coke, a great funny Saturday night in the village and especially the walk through the „Valle de Cocora“. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Nature Park with incredible flora and fauna and the highest palms in the world: up to 70 m high wax palms, the national symbol of Colombia. We rent some rubber boots and wandered the whole day through this breathtaking piece of nature, accompanied by beautiful birds, from parrots and toucans to tiny sweet hummingbirds. Let the pictures speak for themselves…
Colombia treats us well from the very beginning! So well, that we actually needed some time to get used to it. Although Turbo defintely not belongs to the nicer towns in Colombia, people directly welcomed us so warmly and friendly that it seemed not right, just too much… „Si Senor… si Senora, con mucho gusto!“ At first we did not want to fall for these typical offers like bringing us to the bus station or showing us the next ATM and tried not to go with these guys, but finally we accepted and it was just their friendliness and nothing more… The Colombians would surprise us later again and again with their open and helpful attitude – they just love their tourists and foreigners!
From Turbo we took a bus together to Santa Fe de Antioquia, and needed eight hours for 200 km on this bad road blotched with potholes. We arrived late but were lucky to find a nice little Hosteria to celebrate into Lenas 30th birthday. Oh yes, we had a great time there, enjoyed the sun, the pool and the Colombian mentality so much! Just right for the birthday we accidently met Philipp, Sepp and Yu Ya again and had one more rum and coke night – qué chévere!
But then it was high time to get our bums into the saddles again, it has been more than two weeks without cycling! We got packed on our freshly cleaned Travelmasters and started cycling up the 1000 m on 60 km to Medellin – mum and Paul took a bus and expected us o arrive a day later. But this time we surprised them: after 35 km we were facing a 5 km long tunnel and police would not let us cycle through. We had to take a bus and decided to renounce the tempting downhill after the tunnel into Medellin and just stayed in the bus. So, we had one more family day to explore Medellin together, the second largest city in Colombia. For a very long time public life in Medellin suffered under the drug mafia (Medellin Cartel) of Pablo Escobar who was one the most powerful and brutal drug bosses in the world. But since 2005 the city went through a major change, today it is much safer, it is a modern city, quite hip and full of nightlife especially in the Zona Rosa – and people are proud of that, rightly.
We went to see the Botéro exhibition, the most important modern Colombian artist who worked with the presence of full forms. His sculptures are placed in the „Parque de las Esculturas“ in the heart of Medellin and we had fun watching and how people were getting „in touch“ with them.
We explored the crowded city centre and observed police drug dogs at work in the parks. The police men are simply going for a walk with their dogs and as soon as they straightly run to a person, he or she directly hands out the stuff without a word, and that’s it – unless it is more than the decriminalized amount.
Saying good buy the next morning was not easy, too nice was our time together… But mum and Paul flew back to Panama to relax one more week after these exhausting days with us :-)
And we? We moved all our stuff over to our new friend’s house: Raul. We met him on the street asking for the way the other day and five minutes later he invited us to stay with him. How nice – awesome hospitality! Finally, we spent nearly five days together and became real friends! Raul is a Cross Fit trainer, a sports junkie and just an extremely loveable person. As he cares a lot about his body and health we cooked great healthy meals (always without carbohydrates!) together and had great fun visiting his Cross Fit competition and his gym. He showed us how to treat our muscles for better relaxation and gave us some (nearly too hard, but grateful!) massages – auuhh, I still feel it when I think of it! Thank you, Raul, for showing us your world!
There we were: standing in Carti harbor, just a small riverbank, trying to find a lancha to bring us four and the bikes to one of the little beautiful Islas San Blas. We ended up on Isla Franklin, a very small island that you can run around in two minutes, with nothing on it but some palm trees and cabanas.
The islands are all owned by the Kuna Yala, indigenous people who rule their own autonomous area all along the East stretch of Panama, including the 365 San Blas Islas (check out their flag! They were using the swastika before Hilter gave it the evil meaning of his ideology, but have a new one now since 2010). There are bigger and smaller islands, inhabited and crowded ones. The Kuna are very tradition-concious people and know how to make their business. The women all wear the beautiful and colorful „molas“ and string of pearls around their wrists and ankles. You are not allowed to open a coconut on the islands because they are articles of trade for them, taking a picture of a person costs a Dollar. But when we arrived with the bikes on Isla Franklin, the Kuna boys started taking pictures of us as we were the first cyclists on the island.
Puh, finally, the first day of relaxing and just doing nothing! The only thing we had to organize was finding out about the next lancha going to Puerto Obaldia. Some phone calls, no signal because of bad weather, mmh, no information yet. „Mas tarde!“
Day II Isla Franklin to Isla Carti
An easy morning, swimming, snorkeling, reading – still no news from the next lancha going to Colombia. „Mas tarde“ – o.k. back to relaxing. And then, suddenly Franklin came and told us we had to leave to another island to get a lancha the next morning from there to Puerto Obaldia. We had about 15 minutes to pack and get our stuff and the bikes on the lancha to Isla Carti.
Carti is the complete opposite of Isla Franklin. About 1200 people living there, it is packed with little wooden houses, only small sandy paths lead the way through to little tiendas, to the docks and one restaurant. You would better not go swimming there as the toilets are just some planks cobbled together with a whole in, so you do your thing and watch the fishes enjoying what you’re leaving at the same time!
We met a guy called German and stayed in his house that night which is prepared for a Homestay with three very basic rooms on the second floor. My mum had her first bucket shower in the more or less clean backyard – her first real „third world travel experience“. Very interesting for all of us four staying that day in the Kuna family. The men were all very open and interested, but the women did not talk a word with us or even greet… a cultural thing that is hard to understand for us. Luckily, we had some rum and coke left so we could sleep that night…
Day III Isla Carti to Puerto Obaldia
We got up at six, were ready to leave half an hour later – and then waited for another three hours until the lancha finally arrived. At least we had some time to get into contact with the Kuna lady after giving her a Dollar for a photo. The captains showed up with a boat nearly full of people. Bueno, the day before they told us we would be eight people in the boat, now we were 16 including the captains. So, where should we place our 16 bags, two bikes and us four? While we were wondering something was going on with the captains – seemed like they just managed a second boat. Then we had the choice: we would either let our bikes go on a different lancha or sit with them in this really crappy thing without real seats and seperate with mum and Paul. We decided to go together… into hell for the following hours! Rain, wind, a grey and rough sea, water smashing into our faces from the sides, everything was wet and cold – no fun at all! At the first stop on another island we ran through the whole village to get some more plastic bags in that we could cower and cover ouselves. Honestly, we felt like African boat people trying to reach Europe… The motor striked several times, and we just didn’t know what would happen.
More than happy we arrived in Puerto Obaldia in the late afternoon where our bags and the bikes were already lying on the banks – all good! After this nearly eight hours trip it was clear we could not make the boder crossing over to Capurgana. They close the border office at 3 pm in the afternoon, a good idea to keep travelers in this shithole of town and make them pay for at least a night. Well, we were not really up for a second lancha ride anyway. To enter Obaldia all the luggage had to be checked – the first time on the whole trip. In this moment Hardy cried out „damn, no, no, no!“ He obviously forgot our bag with nearly all of the cash we had planned for the trip (there are no ATMs on all of the islands and coastal towns) under the mattress on Isla Franklin! This night we stayed in a crappy Hospedaje, showered with a rat and just wanted to leave the other day early in the morning.
Day IV Puerto Obaldia to Capurgana (Colombia)
The office would open at 8 am they said, but of course nothing happened until 10 am. Time for us to try to ring German and Franklin, but no signal and the only landline phone working in Obaldia did not come through, no chance. Going back on the eight hour lancha ride to Franklin was no option either. It was only money, we had our credit cards and everything else… So, Hardy created a little treasure island in the Caribbean!
Again waiting for hours, and then everything „rapido, rapido!“. This time it was even more people, just too many and no space for the bikes. Then after paying struggles our friends Philipp, Sepp and Yu Ya had to go off the boat and wait for another one – we could just screem goodby as we already took off. In the open sea before arriving in Capurgana we stopped in the big waves – no more gasolina! We had to wait until another lancha came by and gave us some, just in time before Hardy got too seasick…
„All I want is a nice Hotel, a real shower and dry clothes“ my mum was daring it so much. Getting to Capurgana was already like a release, the Columbians welcomed us very friendly, we found the nice Capurgana Hostal, the perfect place to rehabilitate from these exhausting lancha days as well as to clean the bikes from the salt water. We relaxed for two days before we went on to Turbo. The last lancha was a bigger one – space for 34 people and every seat occupied. Lena’s bike was positioned in the back close to the two engines. Those guys just put a paddle in the frame to prevent it from slipping into the sea – didn’t look secure at all. While Lena and her family had some seats in the middle of the boat, Hardy got into the first row – the worst place considering the two meter high waves… But we all survived and a very warm welcome in beautiful Colombia!
Panama City and the great question how to cross the Darién Gap
Days of camping along the beautiful and quiet road to Sona and Santiago and then damn hard cycling on the dirty and crowded Panam against one of the strongest winds we ever had, through hot and boooring landscape… Finally a we took bus for the last 200 km and slept one the night at the Bomberos in Arraiján – these were the days before we arrived in Panama City.
An impressive and very controversary city, with its cosmopolitan, financial and very gringo business center on the one side and the real Panamanian center on the other. Half of Panamas entire population is living here. The so called Casco Viejo is quite interesting as it is absolutely run down in great parts but now bit by bit very pretty renovated. Of course, we wanted to explore the no-go „red zones“ and soon found out that when entering the area police would come at one point and accompany us out again. We tried a few times and were lucky to get not only security to take pictures but as well a complete guided city tour! Very nice police men!
We knew we would stay at least a week to wait for Aaron (we split up a few weeks before) coming back from the US as well as a friend of Lena’s mum who both would bring over some equipment and stuff for us for South America. And anyway we needed time to find a solution for the big question that we were facing like every cyclist heading from Central to South America: How to cross the Darién Gap?
It is impossible to cycle from Panama to Colombia over the land route. There is a gap of 110 km of the Panamericana which is not paved between Yaviza y Baranquillita, obviously for different reasons… The area consists of huge swamplands what makes building a street difficult and expensive, the indigenous people want to keep their land for themselves, conversationists are afraid of loosing the intact rainforest and finally the Columbian part is known to be FARC and ELN area where the two Guerilla groups are active again since 1997.
We were researching for weeks already, talking to locals and other travelers, writing emails to captains, agencies and hostals… Nobody knows why there is no simple ferry established, especially because it is promoted in the internet for quite some time. Even tickets are already sold, but no ferry going. So, the easiest and fastest would be flying over, of course. But about 370 USD for the flight plus 100 USD for the bike? Expensive! We tried to find a sailboat for quite a while. There are some normally leaving from Portobelo or Porvenir to Cartagena, and the trip is supposed to be beautiful! Sailing along the San Blas Islands, but very hard to cross the open water to Cartagena in this season – with a guarantee to get sea-sick for at least two complete days. Mmhh, do we want to pay 500-600 USD for puking over the railing? Too expensive as well! The cheaper option would be little lanchas along the Caribbean coast, going via San Blas Islands to Obaldia, then the border crossing over to Carpurgana in Colombia and finally to Turbo. San Blas sounds nice, the rest would be just hard wave jumping in these little nutshells. In Panama we finally found out about an alternative via the Pacific what would mean a crappy wooden cargo boat from Panama City to Jaqué, border crossing in lancha to Jorado, and then on to Buenaventura in a cargo ship again.
We were cycling around the city, receiving new information and phone numbers every day, the cargo boats leaving dates changed again and again and these boats as well as the people in the harbour did not look trustworthy at all, but ok, we are not the first ones, we would do it.
We still had no decision when Aaron came back (he had a flight the next day) and I got crazy about the whole thing: „I want to leave now, the next option if it is a crappy cargo boat or a nutshell on the Caribbean – I want to get myself out of here, we need to move now!“ Hardy could only laugh what made me even more angry! Why??? When we wanted to meet my mum’s friend the next morning in another hostal to get our stuff, my uncle Paul suddenly stood in front of me and I was lost for words… But two minutes later my mum appeared in the door, and I could just cry for joy! What a suprise – I couldn’t believe! Hardy secretly arranged everything with her for months, so we would be together for my 30th birthday. The most beautiful gift I can imagine!
Ok, that was why there was no decision yet, we would make one together now. One more day of researching, checking, talking… We decided for the lancha hopping thing via the San Blas Islands. The next morning we left in a pickup to Carti, wanted to spend some relaxed days on the islands and then go on to Colombia. It all turned out a bit differently as we thought before…
Everybody who is struggling with the same question and looking for the best solution, here are some information:
Lancha from Carti to Carpurgana
Jaime is a nice guy who can bring you to Carti port with his pickup for 25 USD per person, other hostals charge 30 USD (plus 10 USD per bike). His number: 61221552
German Perez knows about captains and lanchas leaving from Carti to Obaldia. It is possible to stay in his house on Carti Island as well (bed, bucket shower and a toilet called Scheisshaus built on some planks over the sea)… His numbers: 67343454, 61419518
The lancha goes via Puerto Obaldia (stamp for passport on Panamanian side, note: the border office closes at 3 pm or even earlier like others told us, so they make you stay a night in this shabby little town of nothing) to Carpurgana (stamp for passport on the Colombian side) and costs 125 USD per person plus 25 USD for a bike (not 75 USD what they will tell you in Panama City!). From Carpurgana there are daily lanchas to Turbo for about 30 USD plus 22 USD for the bike.
Cargo boats and lanchas from Panama on the Pacific side
Go to the Muelle Fiscal with all the Ceviche stands in Panama and ask for Archibaldo, he owns the the two cargos going more or less regularly to Jaqué, „Victoria C“ and „El Amparo“. He used to own a third one „Nino Josué“ that was exposed by police when smuggling from Columbia, this is what we read in the news…. His number is 66677336. Maybe you find the captain Nachito as well. Hardy was introduced to him with these nice words „There he is. Now talk to the Mafia!“
The last one in the pile of all these little Central American countries was of course Panama. This long stretch of land offers it all: the Caribbean, the Pacific, a beautiful mountain range, the huge controversial and cosmopolitan capital Panama City as well as little indegenous communities living their traditions as good as they can.
We knew we would have about a month of time to explore Panama before going over to South America. We would wait for Aaron to come back from a short trip home to the US and bringing stuff for us as well. So, we went nearly everywhere :-)
One tough cycle day through the first hills after the Costa Rican border and a lancha ride the next morning and we arrived in Bocas del Toro, a beautiful archipel of differently sized islands in the Caribbean. We stayed for five days and unfortunately only enjoyed exactly one of these: our „half-a-year-on-the-road-day“ on Bastimentos island with our cycle friends Aaron and Nick was sunny and great! The other days we have been sick and the weather was grey and rainy – but perfect for blog and bike working…
When we felt better we started slowly climbing into the mountains heading to the Pacific side again. It was hot, the slope partly extremely tough and we were not really fit. But the route was beautiful and we did not want to give up. Sitting at a gas station one morning drinking some coke to get sugar, we met Marcia, a Panamanian lady, who directly started chatting to us in English: „Are you crazy or what? You want to cross these mountains with your bikes?“ She offered us a ride with one of her truck drivers of her wood business. When we refused she gave us her number just in case, she really wanted to help somehow… This night we slept in a basement of a house up in the mountains, enjoying the fresh cool air before it would be hot again at the Pacific side. But then at midday we both had a really bad diarrhea attack again, on top of the mountain range –not nice! Over the last hills we went on the back of a pickup and then called Marcia who said we should directly come to her and her German boy-friend Will’s house. Luckily, we just had to roll down to David. And now she could really help us: we stayed in their house and she drove us and our little puh samples to the laboratory. The result: Amoeba, some of the bad ones, probably from bad water. Marcia and Willi were so cool, we could stay until we got better and in the third day we already climbed up the volcano Barú near Boquete together. At least Hardy and me made it to the top through amazing and quickly changing vegetation, walking through enchanting farytale forest, through the clouds up to a space-stationlike top. But the 28 km with 1,200 m of climbing (up to 3,400 m) was definitely too much for our poor cycling legs. Just not used to walking that much any more!
Happy that we could use the other muscle groups again we cycled on to Las Lajas, a very laid back village and beach community at the Pacific. Once more we were lucky and could camp at Peter and Astrid’s Dive Center – playing pool, sharing nice food and stories before heading on to Panama City…
We saw, we smelled, we felt the difference as soon as we entered Costa Rica – like we never did before moving ourselves from one country into the other…
First of all: this country is sooo clean! No rubbish and junk in the streets, tidy little gardens and an obviously well working waste separation. We can drink the tab water without worrying, people on motorcycles wear helmets and reflecting stripes, pickups do not drive with bunches of people on the back and we even found a little bicycle path out of the first town!
The only thing that diminished our joy was the fact that streets in Costa Rica are generally narrow and do not have side shoulders for us to cycle on, the drivers often behave like asholes. But anyway, we enjoyed our first day in this country so much, cycling up and down and up through beautiful hills, aromatic orange and pineapple plantations…
The first night we ended up camping next to a (very clean!) cowshed. Orlando, the owner, directly offered us fresh coconuts (actually a really good natural electrolyte source for us) and was so happy to help us as he never saw cyclists like us before. This night was a very nice and quiet one – a beautiful start into a beautiful country!
We headed east to the Caribbean coast again and were lucky meeting the nice family Aguilar in Aguas Zarcas who let us camp on their land and even invited us for breakfast the next morning. It has been some time that this happened to us – Costa Rica is different! Of course, it is really rich in contrast to other Central American countries and accordingly more expensive. Costa Rica always had good relations to the US and realized very early how to benefit from tourism. This is what it is all about in the country, but in a very positive way. We were just not used to such an touristic infrastructure any more.
The scenery was overwhelming for us with the rainforest on endless hills, but very humid, too. Aaron said it reminded him very much on Hawaii. But as we have never been to Hawaii we were really impressed.
It was the fist time after months that we saw professional cyclists on the streets again and people reacted differently on us. Cars stopped to take pictures or videos, a Chiquita manager desperately wanted to help us with whatever (and bananas are always welcome, of course!) and there were no more „Gringooo“-yelings on the streets.
But people started warning us – Limón (the first Caribbean town on our way) is dangerous, don’t go there! Well, we did, but just for a lunch stop. And they were right: the city and people are just not nice and you want to get yourself out of there as soon as you can! So we stopped at Cahuita that day and stayed to see the small but beautiful National Park in which the rainforest directly hits the water, slightly interrupted by some heavenly white sand beaches. We walked the 8km trail, full of hope to point a sloth for the first time. And yes, there it was! Hanging in between some palm tree leaves it choose a comfy place to do just one thing: being lazy! It moved sooo slow, taking its time for every toe, arm, leg… Supposedly sloths need one month to digest after eating!
The way to the Panamanian border took us through banana land for hours. Plantation after plantation, in between some poor worker settlements. This is where our bananas come from, Chiquita, Dole, del Monte, they all are all there. It only takes about two weeks that these brightly green bananas arrive in the German supermarkets, 10 to 11 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean, that’s fast, isn’t it?
As we try to avoid the Panamerican Highway as much as we can we decided to take a route around the Eastern side of Lago Nicaragua down to Costa Rica. This decision was against Ometepe, the little Volcano island in Lago de Nicaragua, against the beautiful beaches at the Pacific but for a route with a very different beauty. A beauty of loneliness, rawness and realness. Dusty roads through kilometers of rice fields neither shown on our maps nor on the GPS, the real friendliness of the poor, children being so happy to see us strange cyclists that they followed us for kilometers with their little bicis. We camped in between the rice fields next to the workers’ shacks, being bothered by millions of moscitos and in beautiful seemingly endless hilly landscapes.
We welcomed every day with the sunrise (got up at 5.30 am!!!) and a coffee in front of the tent, being so happy about our decision to realize this trip, just to go and enjoy every single day of our great lifes! Thanks to our friend Aaron even Hardy gets up for the sunrise now! We are so proud of him, nearly every morning :-) !
The route first took us to Managua where we had to stay for a night. We met the English touring cyclist Dr. Steve Fabes and had a nice chat on the street exchanging information. We also had an interesting stop at an (in our eyes) oldschool brickworks. This guy produces 200 bricks in one day by his own hands! But there is not one single reason why a cyclist should go to Managua, it is ugly and dangerous and does not look like a capital at all. So we just tried to get out as soon as we could the next morning. After a few days on back roads at the Northern end of the lake we turned onto the brandnew road from Juigalpa to San Carlos. Again, it was the friendliness of the people that made it such a beautiful experience, we met huge families, the poorest of the poor, proud gauchos and learned about horse harness traditions. We had very little traffic, perfect asphalt, beautiful untouched nature as far as we could see, but a strong headwind! For days!
After a tough day of 116 hilly kilometers we finally arrived in San Carlos, it rained and we took a rest for two days, saw Niko again and got prepared to leave Nicaragua by boat on Rio Frio to Los Chiles in Costa Rica – one of the most relaxed border crossings… up to the moment when a fat Tica guy wanted to fumigate our bikes and Aaron got into such an agressive discussion with him that finally Police showed up… Well, just a question of power…