Clean streets, orderly traffic and German beer in the supermarket – hard to believe we are in South America. Santiago was a little different than expected, a pleasant surprise really. We met up again with Guido and Sabine and also Yuki who had also decided to ship to Chile. We had a few days to kill before the bikes arrived and so explored the city before heading to the coast.
The town of Valparaiso was our destination, a good marketing campaign has ensured lots of visitors, but the only attraction seemed to be the ancient ascensores, funicular railways that connect the upper and lower parts of the town.
One of the ascensores dating from the early 1900’s that link the mostly residential upper town to the lower town.
There is no beach and most of the town is not particularly attractive, so, together with Yuki, we went to San Antonio, a little further along the coast, where our bikes were due to arrive. No tourists here, well apart from the crowds from Santiago, but lots of fish so we treated ourselves to a good fish lunch.
A day late, the ship arrived with our bikes. We went to the port with the agent from Broom and Sepp and Susi, a German couple who were shipping their huge green van with the same company. There we saw our bikes coming off the ship. They seemed at first sight to be ok and we were very pleased to see them.
San Antonio, with the ship in the background. Reunited with our bikes – the fun was yet to come.
On closer inspection however I saw that my pannier had a large dent and the whole thing was closer to the bike – it had been dropped at some point, heavily enough to dent the exhaust! Yuki was missing a few small things that were attached to the bike, nothing very valuable, just annoying to loose. We pointed all this out to the agent, who just shrugged his shoulders
The real fun came when we went to leave, only Arno's bike would start! The batteries on Yuki and my bike were flat. With the help of some port workers (not the agent who had done a disappearing act) we charged the batteries from Arno's bike, but still no use.
Trying to get Yuki’s bike to start.
Had to take out and clean the sparkplugs on both bikes before we could get going. Then we had to sort out the paperwork, for which we needed a form from the agent. A few calls were made by our new found friends at the port and the agent eventually returned. The paperwork was done and we were able to leave the port by late afternoon. It was easy doing it all ourselves, only cost us time. We heard later that the 3 riders that shipped to Peru had lots of problems getting their bikes and had to part with rather a lot of money.
So, the big question, would we recommend the roll-on roll-off ferry? For us, it was a good option. We didn’t have the hassle of building and transporting crates, it was cheap and it got us a good distance south. For 2 bikes it cost U$585 including all the paperwork. I don’t think we will use it to transport our bikes to Australia though. The ship takes around 3 months, plenty of time for someone to mess with the bikes!!
We spent the next day checking out the bikes. Arno finally got some welding done, my pannier was bent back into shape and we all did some re-packing.
Finally we had our bikes back and were ready to ride off and explore a new continent.
From San Antonio, we took the Pan Americana (Ruta 5) south, it’s a boring road that you have to pay for, but there is no real alternative if you want to get anywhere without zigzagging around like a demented insect.
We took it easy on our first day riding in a new country and decided to camp off the Pan Americana near Parral. After stopping there for provisions, we headed off the tarmac and up into the mountains on a good gravel road. While we were stopped at a junction to check the way, a jeep pulled up and the guys inside asked where we were going. One of them said he had a campsite up in the mountains and we could stay there for free, after a drink and a chat, we followed Marcelo and Alejandro up towards the village of La Balsa. The road was pretty rough but the views were good compensation.
After one photo stop the road was really stony and I hit a big rock which punctured my back tyre! We were still 8kms from the campsite but didn’t want to leave the bike so arranged to meet them at Alejandro’s place near the school, after we had repaired the tyre.
Repairing the puncture in the middle of no-where.
By the time the new tyre and tube were back on the bike, it was dark, we left the old tyre as a marker and rode on slowly towards La Balsa and our waiting friends. Surprisingly there were a lot of people around having a huge party and it was easy to find the way. Found the school but there was no sign of Alejandro and the revellers we asked couldn’t help. So onward, in the hope we could find the campsite.
Had to cross a rickety wooden bridge, after which the road turned uphill and was strewn with football sized rocks. Arno went ahead and blasted up, I almost made it but dumped the bike, Yuki and I were in the middle of picking up the bike when Arno came sprinting back down the hill with 5 guys hot on his heels. Arno had abandoned his bike outside the police station and ran back to see how I was doing and the police – being the suspicious sort - had followed.
The bike was soon upright and Arno took it up the hill, followed by Yuki. I followed on foot with the 5 policemen who bombarded me with questions, first finding out if I was ok, then the usual, who, where, how and why questions. After a while, Marcelo turned up and said we should come to the campsite, however, only now did he tell us that we would have to cross a river to get there. Arno went on foot to have a look and declared it too risky to attempt at night. The police also told us we should wait until morning.
We unpacked the bikes, left them in the care of the police and went in Marcelo’s jeep to Alejandro’s place. By now it was past midnight but beds were found for us, a meal cooked and we were made to feel really welcome.
The next day we walked back to the police station and onto the campsite. Decided to give the river crossing a miss, although the campsite was in such a wonderful place. Went to reclaim our bikes, exchanged souvenirs and thanked the police for their help, then rode the bikes back to Alejandros.
Arno riding near the village of La Balsa
After another night in the mountains, we reluctantly headed back to Ruta 5 and towards Puerto .Montt where we were due to take the ferry through the fjords to Puerto Natales.
We made a short detour into the Lake District where we camped by Lago Villarica for a couple of days then onto Puerto Montt. Found a great place to stay in a hospedaje where there was ample parking and we could also do our oil changes. We had a few days before the ferry sailed, so had time to change our tyres, glad to see them on our wheels and no longer strapped on the back of the bikes. Also did a couple of day trips, the best being a ride around Lago Llanquihue, and to Lago Todos Los Santos, both lakes having volcanoes looming over them, the snow capped Osorno Volcano most impressive with its perfect cone
Lago Llanquihue and Volcan Osorno
The road, for some stretches dirt, followed the lake winding up and around, giving some wonderful views of the lake and the volcanoes, great fun.
Sailing on the same ferry, were Asher on a BMW F650 and a German couple driving an Iveco truck that resembled a security van, so we could talk petrol as well as look at the spectacular scenery from a comfy chair in the warm. The ferry took an unexpected detour to one of the glaciers in a fjord and we got to spend a few hours watching big chunks break off and float away.
First view of one of the many glaciers in Patagonia
When we arrived in Puerto Natales, were a little non-plussed to find we had to go to customs!! Here they stamped our temporary importation paper, then we could leave, weird!!
The sun was shining the next day so we decided to head south towards the end of the world, Ushuaia.
Well we cheated a little, we have only ridden about 1500kms since Panama, the rest we did the easy way - by boat.
The start of our fifth month riding and we celebrate by arriving at the last stop on the way south. Well, not technically, but as far south as we will get. Ushuaia, a strange town that sells itself as being at the end of the world. We were surprised to find the place full of people when we arrived, where did they all come from? We hadn’t seen that much traffic on the road here. The weather was also surprising, sunny days, and little wind, is this really Tierra del Fuego?
International group at the end of the road. Peter, Yonni, Yuki, Sian, Arno.
From P. Natales we rode to Punta Delgada, where we hoped the ferry was running. We got there to find 2 other riders already waiting, Peter from Switzerland on a Teneré and Yonni from Israel on a DR he’d bought in Buenos Aires. The ferry soon arrived and the 5 of us were on the island of Tierra del Fuego almost before we had paid for our tickets.
The road was tarmac and brand new, still being built in fact. However construction had only progressed 20kms or so and then it was back to dirt. The road wasn’t too bad, a few dodgy places but we were able to speed along at 70kmh or so.
Needing fuel, we stopped at an outpost where the map showed a fuel station. After riding around the few deserted buildings and gas plant, unable to see were we could get fuel, we asked directions at what looked like a canteen. Bad news, the fuel station had already closed! It was late so we asked if we could camp out in one of the unused buildings. It turned out the canteen was part of the gas plant, the manager was consulted and we were offered the use of one of the dorms where the workers sleep. Warm and out of the wind, perfect, we were even fed dinner and breakfast.
Fine weather at the border in Tierra del Fuego
The next day, we fuelled up and headed for the border. Even though there were 5 of us, we were reasonably quickly stamped out of Chile, into Argentina and riding on tarmac towards Tolhuin. Here the road changed again and it was dirt almost all the way to Ushuaia. The scenery made it a nice ride though.
The five of us made it down to the end of Ruta 3, in the National park for the obligatory photo. It took awhile for everyone to pose with their bikes, by which time the rain stopped, the sun came out, so we rode to Laguna Verde and spent the afternoon lounging in the sunshine planning our next moves.
We left “the end of the world” in the company of Dieter, another Swiss rider, the others we hoped to meet up with somewhere along Ruta 40. Was a beautiful day for riding and we made good time despite stopping to take photos at every opportunity. We wanted to visit Punta Arenas, and so after the border took the other road towards Porvenir. An Italian cyclist we had met had said that the Estancia owners were generally pretty hospitable along this stretch of road and indeed this proved to be the case. We asked if we could camp out of the wind at one Estancia. We didn’t even have to get out our tent, we were able to sleep in a building and were again fed and watered.
Rain greeted us the next day, but we made it to Porvenir in time to catch the daily ferry to Punta Arenas. Stocked up with enough food for 4 days, the 3 of us headed to Torres del Paine to exercise our legs for a change. The road there was spectacular, wonderful scenery and a good gravel road.
A good gravel road plus spectacular scenery, moments to enjoy
The park had suffered from lot of rain in the past few days and the road up to the Torres Campsite was under water, so we decided to ride to the other side of the park and do some walks from there. After a couple of days riding around the park and doing some short walks, we went back to find the road rideable again. So the next day we trekked up to see the famous Torres. Amazing what you put yourself through to see some rock!! It was worth it though – just, and as a bonus we had great weather too.
Dieter and Arno, no motorbike in sight!
I was glad to get on my bike the next day though, even though we were heading for the first stage of Ruta 40. The border crossing at Cerro Castillo, was the fastest yet, it took longer to ride between the 2 border posts than it did to get the paperwork done. A new road was being built on the way to La Esperanza and we sneaked onto it until the turnoff for El Calafate and Ruta 40.
Our first encounter with the infamous Ruta 40.
The road wasn’t too bad, despite the recent heavy rains and we made good time. We were lucky too, that it wasn’t windy. Reached the tarmac stretch to El Calafate, a lovely ride with the road sweeping down from the plateau. After a few km’s, however, the tarmac really deteriorated, then suddenly ran out as we had to follow a diversion. It had been recently, very generously re-gravelled in large patches – my favourite!
We finally reached El Calafate and whom should we bump into, Asher. He and Arne Bomblies were staying at the same place, so we headed there too. Was nice to meet Arne as we had emailed a couple of times. Yuki and Rodi also turned up, and so we planned to ride together, to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares when the weather improved.
It was snowing when we got to the Moreno Glacier, but not for long thank goodness. It was a bit nippy however, so we glacier watched while wandering around the walkways to keep warm. It really was spectacular, no matter how many pictures you see, the real thing is just amazing. And the noise, I didn’t think ice could be so loud. Every time a chunk broke off and fell into the lake, it sounded like a 5 storey building collapsing.
Not just another glacier, getting really close to this one makes it worth the trip
Another group posing in front of the glacier, Arno, Sian, Yuki, Rodo, Dieter.
Arne and Asher didn’t like the idea of camping out, so left to go back to Calafate. Dieter, Yuki, Rodo, Arno and I hadn't lugged all our stuff to the park for nothing, and besides the camping was free now as it was out of season. The campsite was nice and sheltered, we strung a tarp between the trees, put up our tents and had a lovely evening, warmed by some Argentinean whisky.
The weather improved over the next couple of days and on the first perfect riding day, Yuki and Dieter left for El Chalten. We stayed on in El Calafate for a couple of days to catch up on stuff, eat lots of chocolate and to wait for Peter, due to arrive any minute.
The next day Dieter returned - in an ambulance! He had hit a sheep, 60kms from El Chalten and broken his collarbone and a couple of ribs!
Peter eventually arrived after some mishaps of his own and we tried to lift Dieters spirits. Arno went to El Chalten to fetch the damaged bike. He came back in one piece but it had rained on the Ruta 40 for most of the morning and the sheep had trashed the front mudguard so Arno was absolutely plastered with mud.
A muddy Arno after his ride back from El Chalten on Dieters bike
By the time the 3 of us rode up the Ruta 40 towards El Chalten to meet up with Yuki, the road had dried out a little but we still got stuck in the mud in some places. At one point we tried riding near the edge of the road where it looked more solid and stony, here however the mud was really sticky and our wheels were soon totally clogged up. We stopped, cleared out the mess and reluctantly rode back in the slippery mud.
Peter and Arno clear out the mud from Black Betty
We spent a day in El Chalten as the weather stayed fine and we could actually see the mountains. Arno was once again separated from his bike and dragged off to do some walking. But all too soon it was time to leave and face Ruta 40 once again.
The weather was on our side, the road had dried out and there was no wind. At Tres Lagos, we filled all possible containers with fuel, and headed out into the flat landscape. I had to concentrate on keeping out of the deep gravel and in the tracks, but without the wind it was quite an enjoyable ride. There was also no traffic, we saw only one vehicle the whole day.
We were able to camp wild, just off the road when it got dark and the next morning were treated to a spectacular sunrise and again no wind.
Thanks to the weather we were able to camp wild just off the road.
After fueling up at Baja Caracoles, we rode toward Perito Moreno, managing to miss the turnoffs to Cuerva de las Manos - don’t ask! - and ended up riding the last 30kms to PM in the dark. It now decided to rain of course, so it took a while.
The next day it rained and rained, so we stayed put and spent the day doing maintenance on the bikes. We left Peter in PM to wait for Yoni, who was somewhere along the 40 and rode back towards Chile and the Caretera Austral.
In Chile Chico, Arno and I decided to take the ferry to Puerto Ibáñez, while Yuki being the off road fan she is, took the dirt road around Lago General Carrera. We arranged to meet up at a campsite near Villa Cerro Castillo that evening. The ferry arrived at 6ish and we once again were riding as it got dark. It was actually more frustrating as the spectacular scenery was being enhanced by the setting sun and we just had to keep stopping to take photos.
The mountain of Cerro Castillo at dusk
By the time we got to the village of Cerro Castillo it was dark and we hoped that we would be able to find Yuki and the campsite. The road was now unpaved and rocky in places, so we had to take it slowly, after 30kms or so, a familiar big headlight came towards us, Yuki! She had been unable to find the campsite, but had seen a good place by the river, so we rode another 10kms and camped there. It’s nice being back in Chile, where it feels safe enough to camp wild almost anywhere.
Riding the Caretera Austral in the daylight was much more fun than in the dark, a little faster and time to look at the beautiful scenery. After the town of Coihaique, we rode north on tarmac at first, then back to gravel. It was a reasonably good road, but narrow with lots of traffic. On a nice straight stretch I decided to ride as close to the verge as possible, got a little too close and dumped the bike!
How did that happen and where did all that mud come from?
Ah well about time I suppose. Apart from a sore knee, I was fine. As usual, it was my carrier that suffered the most. The latest repair had broken and we had to strap up the whole thing before I could continue. At least this time, I took it all in my stride, confidence intact for a change.
The road was being repaired on a large scale, closed for 4 hours a day, for serious maintenance. Luck being on our side, we arrived just as the road was being reopened, it was like a bad obstacle course, and my idea of hell. Stretches of deep earth, deep gravel, steep inclines, narrow bridges and lots of huge road building vehicles.
Waiting for the construction crew to do their stuff
We made it through without incident and kept riding towards the Queulat National Park where we wanted to visit the hanging glacier. The lost time in the road works, meant riding in darkness again and we eventually decided to camp just off the road as there was no sign of the campsite.
The next morning after 20kms or so we came to the campsite and glacier, more wedged than hanging, but a nice walk nevertheless.
The road was pretty good after the village of Puyuhaupi and we rode almost to the border, the only thing we had to be wary of was the livestock roaming free on the roadside. They didn’t always stay off the road and with Dieter in mind we rode very slowly.
Another early border crossing in the middle of nowhere, our last for a while. After the hassles and time spent at borders in Central America, we really appreciate the efficiency of the Chile and Argentine borders. As we rode to Esquel and on to Bariloche, it felt like a Sunday instead of a Monday, the banks and shops were closed and people were out picking rosehips. Later we found out it was a bank holiday – Malvinas Day.
Bariloche was a nice town, lots of money here! Big houses, fancy shops, expensive restaurants. A nice change from the last few days! It was a good place to relax for a couple of days. I spent a lot of time on the computer and Arno spent his time looking at the chocolate shops, that is when he wasn’t fixing things on the bikes. We did get time to have a ride around the area though, and see the beautiful scenery.
Scenery around Bariloche and Llao-Llao
Tearing ourselves away from the comforts of civilisation, we rode towards the east coast of Argentina. The wildlife was calling and we wanted to see some penguins, seals and sea lions before they all left for warmer waters.
Peninsular Valdes was flat, windy and full of sheep. We rode to the east side of the peninsular, avoiding the herds of guanacos who like to show off their fence jumping skills, to see sea lions and penguins. Then up to Punta Norte and sat waiting for the orcas to come and feast on the few seals that were lounging in the danger area. It was obviously a mackerel day however and the seals lived to swim another day. It was a windy ride back to Ruta 3 where we had the wind behind us for a pleasant change.
The road was boring apart from the people we met. I was surprised to see motorcyclists still heading down to Ushuaia. One couple stopped for a chat.
All wrapped up for the chilly south
Cicero and Lourdes were from Florianópolis and had a month to do a round trip down to Ushuaia, up through Chile and back to Brazil. They were both on a Honda 350 with minimal luggage and a wicked paint job. Email addresses exchanged and photos taken, we were off again, northwards, destination Viedma.
It had just stopped raining when we pulled into town, but Oscar still came to meet us on his bike. He is a member of the Horizons Community in Viedma. We visited his place, met his family, then were found a great place to stay just up the road.
Oscar and Arno making noquis
Over the next few days we met a variety of interesting people. Oscars family showed me around the twin towns of Viedma and Patagones while Arno worked on the bikes. He got my carrier practically rebuilt and his head bearings replaced, with the help of Oscar friends. He seems to know everyone in town.
Discussing how to get the head bearings back into the bike
After a week or so it was difficult to leave, so warm had been our welcome. We had promised to be in Azul by Friday to meet up with Yuki again and attend a bike meeting. Real friends were made in that small town and with luck we will return there on our way back to BsAs. By the time we had said all our goodbyes it was past lunchtime and by dark we had only made it just past Bahía Blanca. Instead of sticking to Ruta 3, we took one of the secondary roads and camped behind a dangerous goods checkpoint.
In the morning, while adjusting the chain on my bike, we noticed the rear tyre was flat! Pumped it up using Arno’s clever gadget and hoped we would make it the 80kms to the next fuel station. The air stayed in but the petrol station had a Gomeria, so we decided to play it safe and get it fixed. We took the wheel off and got the professionals to check out the tube. They couldn’t find a puncture, but we put a new tube in, just to be sure.
While we were putting the wheel back in, another rider pulled in for fuel. He came over for a chat and told us he was on his way to a bike meeting. Not the one we were aiming for though, this one was just another 80kms north. He invited along and as we had a day spare, we decided, why not?
Diego, with Moto Guzzi and Armadillo.
When we got to Coronel Suarez, the whole town knew in which direction to point us. We signed in and went to put up our tent. It took awhile as we were surrounded by other riders and lots of kids who bombarded us with questions and asked for autographs.
So, this is what is like to be famous
Our German number plates caused some interest as there were 3 villages nearby populated almost entirely by descendants of Russian Germans, who arrived at the beginning of the 1800’s. It was surprising how many people still spoke German, even after 150 years.
We escaped from the crowds and had a wander around the campsite, checking out the other bikes. A Transalp looked familiar, yes it was one of our friends from Viedma with another couple of riders from the town that we had met. Small world!
There were lots of smaller old bikes such as Gileras and Jawas, as well as the more conventional Japanese road and trail bikes.
This group had mostly small bikes all self restored
The next morning we had to be on our way toward Azul. Again it was early afternoon before we got away, just couldn’t resist a lunch invitation and a chance to look around the German villages. It was a nice ride, until it started to rain, and rain, and rain. By the time we got to Azul we were dripping, literally! We stopped by the campsite where the bike meeting was happening, it was extremely soggy there, so decided to go on to La Posta, where we knew Yuki would be. It was a Friday night and the place was buzzing. We got out of our soggy gear, got to know everyone and ate the first of our Azul asados.
The weather improved and the next day we went back to the bike meeting with Yuki to have a look around and a chat to other riders. We also took part in the ride around town to the plaza, where all the bikes parked and the riders partied. Due to the weather there were only around 350 bikes present. A combination of bad weather and the economic situation, said our friends. Two years ago there had been over 3000 bikes!
After the weekend, things calmed down and there was room in the garage for Arno to do some work on the bikes, oil changes and routine maintenance. We stayed at La Posta for over a week, making new friends, local and international.
Jorge and a couple of familiar faces outside La Posta del Viajero en Moto.
Azul has become a stopover for riders from all over the world, Jorge has made a wonderful place for us to hang out for awhile with like minded people. If you pass through Azul, stop, say hello and spend a night or two.
Buenos Aires kept us busy for over 2 weeks, there was so much to keep us occupied, we did some research on shipping, wandered around interesting neighbourhoods such as San Telmo and Recoleta, watched some tango, visited museums, ate asados and saw a fraction of what this huge city has to offer.
The huge metal flower in bloom in Recoleta
I even tested out the very good public health system. For the second time in a month, a blood vessel had burst in my eye, causing the normally white part to turn completely red – spooky! I had to wait my turn with everyone else and after a couple of hours, saw the doctor. She told me all was ok, just stress or high blood pressure or something!
The city was full of riders, many of whom we had already met along the way, one evening there were 8 of us! Who says there is no one around? We also met up with some riders we had met at the motorcycle meeting in Azul.
Although Arno spent many a happy hour fixing the bikes, well just his this time around! I managed to drag him away so he could see some of the city too. We even went to a football game, Boca Juniors at home - a great experience.
A must for every football fan and also Arno!
We could easily have stayed in BsAs a month, but still have most of South America to see and I get the feeling we are going to be on the road for more than the 12 months we originally planned…….
Riding out of the city was as easy as riding into it, not as pleasant however, as the weather had turned wet. The rain meant less traffic and we rode westwards through a sodden countryside. There have been catastrophic floods in the area around Santa Fe, similar in scale to those in Europe last year.
After visiting friends, we headed east, to our 10th country, Uruguay, not planned, but we wanted to meet up with another couple on bikes, and that’s where they were. Made a quick stopover in Fray Bentos (yes, it really is a place and yes, it is where they canned that meat. Not sure about the pies though!) before reaching the town of Colonia. Here we met up with John and Annette, from the UK
John, Annette and yours truly outside the hostel in Colonia
and spent a great couple of days exchanging information and seeing the old town. It rained a little but it was still nice to wander through the old Portugese buildings, down cobbled streets and past so many wonderful old cars.
Old cars parked around Colonia
Montevideo was next, not as nice as BsAs, but worth a couple of days, pity the rain returned, seems we can’t leave a capital city in the sunshine. Rode back towards Argentina, stopping the night at Thermas de Daymán, where we could warm our cold bones in the warm waters there – bliss!!
Back in Argentina, we had our first experience of ‘over zealous’ policing. On being stopped at a roadblock, the copper asked if we had been riding at 110kph, assured him we hadn't whereupon he asked us where our fire extinguishers were! That’s an original one! Arno just laughed, probably not the expected response, and was taken into the office. He was shown a book that allegedly stated the fine for not having an extinguisher as 303 pesos, whereupon he laughed again and said that in 2 months riding and numerous border posts, not one Argentine official has said such a thing was necessary. He eventually got his papers back and we hurried on our way, once again avoiding having to hand over any money.
After visiting the Jesuit ruins at San Ignacio, it was back to Posadas to try and find a back sprocket for my bike. The last few hundred kilometres have eaten it away. Bought one made in Argentina and we exchanged it straight away on the pavement outside the bike shop. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
Changing the sprocket in the Pavement Workshop
While we worked, on hearing of our plans to cross into Paraguay, our audience regaled us with stories of, how we would be robbed of everything before we had ridden 20kms, how Paraguayans with guns wait on every corner to steal your car or bike and that Paraguay was full of terrorists. All this from ordinary folk, including the owner of the bike shop!! It was a little concerning, but in the café where we had lunch, we were told by a Paraguayan, that his country was no more dangerous than Argentina. Reassured, we rode over the bridge away from Argentina, where we held up the traffic at the toll booth like, little huts that are immigration and customs and into our 11th country.
Paraguay is not like Argentina at all, we were reminded of central America, as the customs official laboriously typed out the forms in triplicate for the bikes, on an ancient looking machine. Money changers were also hanging around, so took the opportunity to change some Pesos into Guaranies.
Trinidad was our destination, more Jesuit ruins and more Germans. Our original plan was to just ride up to Cuidad del Este and then onto Iguazu Falls, however, we found ourselves with a few days to spare before we were due to meet up with another rider, so decided to spend some more time in Paragauy. Opted not to take the direct route to Villarica as the road – according to the locals – was pretty bad, so we rode toward Asunsion. We passed through lots of small towns and villages, each having different things to sell. One village had stalls full of wool goods lining the main road, another had wooden furniture and toys. The fruit stalls in one village were good for breakfast and lunch.
What to eat this time?
We made the detour to Villarica and rode around the German colonies there. The countryside was lovely, rolling hills and roads with curves!! A nice change after the straight highways in Argentina.
Back to the main highway and into the chaos of Cuidad del Este. This town borders Brazil and is one huge shopping experience. There are huge shopping malls and a maze of street stalls, offering almost anything for sale.
Much of the suff is smuggled in from various places and sold here as there is almost no tax. Electrical goods are everywhere, but it is difficult to tell the copies from the real thing. The same goes for motorcycle tyres, there were some good copies but who knows what sort of quality they are.
The traffic here is crazy, the police control the main street that leads across the bridge into Brazil, as otherwise it would be complete gridlock. The queue stretches for a good few km’s for most of the day and we were advised to wait until late afternoon to cross, when it would be a little less busy.
Crossing the border here is easy if you dont need to complete any formalities, there are few checks and there are so many moto taxis crossing that it would have been a piece of cake to just ride into Brazil. However, knowing that it would only cause headaches for us later, we checked out of Paraguay, a 2 minute task and rode across the bridge into Brazil.
Moto taxis waiting on the Paraguayan side of the bridge
Immigration was easy, customs took a little longer, 2 hours in fact! Several forms filled out in triplicate, the longest border crossing yet!! Not to be recommended, unless you want to incur the wrath of the many truck drivers who you will be holding up! By the time we were finished, the queue of trucks was stretching back over the bridge! I hate to think about the chaos that resulted back in C del E!
Our first day in Brazil and the sun shone! We took it easy after the stress of the day before and got to know Foz a little.
We went to see the waterfalls from the Brazilian side first, where you get a good view of the whole of the falls.
An overview of the falls from the Brazilian side
The next day we went across to Argentina and saw the falls from the other side of the river. They really are spectacular and it really is worth seeing them from both countries.
A chance to see the falls close up, on the Argentine side
We were due to meet some people in Porto Alegre, who were bringing some things from Germany, so left Foz and headed south again. Took the small roads which took us up into the mountains and into the rain!! After a couple of days riding in the rain, we had had enough by around 4pm, so turned off into the small town of Soledade. Were looking in vain for a place to stay, when a pick up pulled alongside us and the driver asked if we needed any help. He showed us a good place to stay and when we had changed out of our wet clothes, took us to see his business and to meet his family. He ran an export company for precious stones and we wandered around his showroom with our mouths hanging open almost. It was huge and full ofgem stones made into all sorts of shapes, as well as the rough uncut product.
Our hosts in the hall of gems
Jairo and his wife took us out for dinner – our first Brazilian churrasco and I’m afraid to say it beats the asado hands down! A huge salad buffet and then BBQ’d meat brought to the table on huge spikes, from which slices or chunks were cut off as you wished. It was a wonderful evening!
It would have been nice to stay another day and have a look around this small town which is dominated by the precious stone industry. 50% of the jobs in the area are connected to the industry and shops and factories line the roads. However, the weather changed for the better and Arno was keen to get to Porto Alegre where a jar of Nutella was waiting……..
Porto Alegre is a big city and it took us a couple of hours of searching before we found a hotel with parking, that didn’t cost a fortune. Had a look around the city then got in touch with the colleague of Arno's brother who had brought a parcel over from Germany for us. Marcelo and his wife Alexandra, took us out for lunch and then for a sail around the bay. Arno got his Nutella and I got new clutch plates for the XT, oh joy!
Sailing around the bay near Porto Alegre
Our next destination were the mountain towns of Gramado and Canela, where we were told we would enjoy the strong German influence. The road up into the mountains was quite nice and the town of Gramado resembled an Alpine ski resort, likewise it was outrageously expensive – by Brazilian standards, anyway. We rode on and stayed in Canela for a night. We were not that impressed and far from hearing German on the streets, we didn’t find one person who spoke the language – not even in the tourist information office. The road down towards the coast was much more interesting, not yet completely paved it twisted down through small villages before spitting us out onto the BR101.
Mountain roads in the south of Brazil
This is the main road along the coast and is jammed with trucks and cars, we wanted to overnight in Laguna but didn’t make it. At Tubarao took off the main highway and headed for the hot springs at Poussa. The only accommodation was an overpriced, empty hotel, so rode back to the turnoff for a waterfall. The road was steep and muddy, so Arno went first to check it out. There was space for us to camp, so up the road I went, no problem! It was dark by now of course, so couldn’t see that much, bit of a blessing really! At the top we could see the waterfall in the distance, there was also a deserted open air café, where we decided to sleep and cook, didn’t even have to put the tent up! No-one came to disturb us, a peaceful place to spend the night.
A lovely spot to sleep – tables could have been a little wider though!
Florianópolis is a city perched on the tip of Ilha de Santa Catarina. We ended up staying on the south of the island for a couple of days before going back to explore the city and meet up with Cicero and Lourdes, the couple we had met on Ruta 3 in Patagonia. They took us along to a bike meeting of “General Custom”, one of many bike clubs in the city. We were treated like star guests, given t-shirts, stickers and met lots of other riders including members of Cicero’s club, The Toupeiras. We made a few important contacts and were even interviewed for a local TV programme. Being a Saturday, a huge Feijoada was on the menu, our first taste of this popular Brazilian dish. It is a stew made from beans and pretty much all of a pig except its grunt.
Arno sandwiched between two colourful characters. Left: Benetton, the president of Legends Never Die Bike Club and right Guto, a Toupeira
After the food, it was time for a coffee, at a place on the other side of the island! so about 30 bikes rode around the island, great fun! On the way back to the city, we all stopped above Lagoa to take some photos.
The Toupeiras plus some guests.
The evening wasn’t over, next on the agenda was a party at the house of João Gonalves or Gau to his friends. Gau is well known in Brazil for his travels by motorcycle and the walls of his house were covered in photos and newspaper clippings, charting his trips. The earliest through the Amazon on a Harley, the most recent a round trip from Ushuaia to Alaska and back on an F650. A very interesting person to meet and chat to.
We left Florianópolis but only for a couple of days, we had been invited by Alemão, another rider, to go on a short trip up into the mountains. Had to backtrack down the BR101, then at Tubarao headed into the mountains and towards São Joaquim. The road slowly wound up and up, suddenly we were in the clouds and the road was doing a serpent impression, it hair-pinned up the mountain for another few km’s, the clouds cleared and we could see this amazing road snaking down below us.
This road is one of the most interesting in Brazil
A few brave lorry and coach drivers were slowly descending, the corners so tight, that at each turn they had to stop and reverse a few metres before being able to get around. When we reached the top, the cloud came in again and as we peered over the edge, we could see nothing but a white fluffy blanket.
Up on the plateau, the road was not as exciting, however my chain decided to liven things up and jump off, on a blind corner, after fixing that, we reached São Joaquim and had to decide whether to stay there, or ride another 80kms in the dark to Lages, where a fiesta (another one) was happening. The road was ok and there was little traffic, so decided to carry on. At Lages, met a friend of Alemãos who let us stay in his wooden cabin after we had visited the fiesta. It was an interesting event, celebrating the Pinhão harvest, a sort of chestnut like thing, and we sampled the various food and drink on offer. My favourite being the fudge, a solid dulce de leche – yum!
The next day we rode back towards Florianópolis, and back to more parties!
After 10 days, Florianopolis had had enough of us and let us go. We left our many new friends and rode to Blumenau, famous for being the centre of German culture in Brazil and for holding the second biggest Oktoberfest in the world. Staying in Hotel Hermann, near the centre, we spent a day wandering around the very German looking city. As before though, the lack of German speakers was a disappointment - only in the Brewery Museum were we in luck.
The towns and villages surrounding Blumenau were much more like Germany, nestled in the rolling hills, the small town of Pomerode especially. This was probably the only town in Brazil to be supporting Germany in the last world cup final!
Pomerode, still keeping the German traditions alive
The ride to São Paulo was interesting but dangerous, the 3 lane road wound through the mountains, clogged with lines of slow moving trucks. Overtaking was a gamble, lines in the road were ignored, the crazy had priority. Hate to ride this road in the week, we chose a Sunday to ride into the city as it has proved in the past to be less stressful and much quieter.
Once inside the city itself, we stopped at a fuel station to get our bearings and directions. We got into conversation with a customer there and he phoned the hostel for us to get directions. After more chat, he offered to take us to there, wow – saving us about 3 hours of frustrated city riding! So after 20 mins or so, we were checked in and the bikes safely off the street.
We had planned to ride around São Paulo, so much for planning! After 10 days we were still there, almost a permanent fixture at the hostel. Why the change of heart, is the city really so interesting? Well, no actually, we were stuck waiting for the guys at Pirelli/Metzeler to come up with 2 sets of tyres.
One rainy day, the email came with the address of where we had to ride to pick up our tyres, it was a good distance north of the city and proved tricky to find, being up a muddy dirt track. Only Arno was allowed past the gate, I was relegated to the waiting room! One day I would like to travel with another woman – that would stump them! Arno had to have his bike weighed as he drove in and before leaving, no doubt to make sure he didn’t secrete any extra tyres under his jacket or in a pannier. It took some time, but we left a couple of hours later with the right tyres and the right sizes.
It was still raining and getting late as we rode back into São Paulo, the traffic was terrible, several accidents adding to the chaos. We scrapped plans to ride down to Santos and checked back into the hostel – the staff no doubt thinking that they were never going to get shot of us and our bikes.
The road between Santos and Rio is supposed to be one of the best coastal roads in South America, not when its raining and misty though, we gave up at the village of Boicucanga, and checked into a hotel to dry off.
The road, when the rain stopped, was nice to ride, most of the time high above to ocean and gave spectacular views over secluded bays and the islands lying off them. There were some blots on the landscape, the town of Caraguatatuba, the nuclear power plant at Itaorna and the oil tankers at Angra dos Reis.
Riding the Emerald Coast towards Rio
The ride into Rio was surprisingly easy, we had been warned of terrible driving and a lack of road signs, but we found our way with no problem and only a couple of near misses. We passed by the beach at Copacabana and we couldn’t resist parking the bikes and taking a few photos of the famous strip!
Posing at Copacabana with our new tyres
The bikes securely parked, it was back to public transport to see the city.
Bikes parked at El Misti hostel in Rio
Rio by night, the Sugar Loaf above Botafogo beach
We did get the bikes out a couple of times though, once to ride up to and around the Corcovada, the hill where the statue of Christ stands, where the views over the city were amazing.
Looking out over Rio, Corcovada to the left, Sugar Loaf the hump in the middle.
The second time we rode to Petropolis and Teresopolis for the day with a Harley rider we met at Ipanema beach. It was fun riding with a local rider and as his bike caused more interest than ours we could relax a little more than usual.
After a week in Rio, it was time to head to the beach at Cabo Frio, where there just happened to be a bike meeting happening, should be an interesting experience!
Trikes and choppers, street bikes, dirt bikes, self-made bikes, madmax bikes, mopeds and even the odd sidecar combi. Thousands of bikes of every imaginable sort were lined up along the beachfront at Cabo Frio, for the annual Bikefest, including ours of course! With our sets of spare tyres perched on top of all the luggage, we sort of stood out a little, and once people spotted the funny looking number plate, they just had to ask!
The tyres were centre of attention
By Sunday, our throats were sore with answering all the questions, but we had had a wonderful weekend, met lots of other riders and been invited to another dozen meetings. We also met another traveller, Antonis from Cyprus, he had plans to go up to the Amazon, but maybe our paths will cross again later in the year.
Paulo and Josane from Campos, invited us to ride back with them and spend the night at their place. We took our time and spent the afternoon riding along the coast, stopping at some of the beaches and small towns. It was dark by the time we got onto the main highway and it was a scary 90 minute ride to the outskirts of the city. After 2 months here in Brazil, I am still surprised how friendly and welcoming the people are to Viajeros, when was the last time a perfect stranger invited you to stay in their home? A rare occurrence in Europe for sure. Riding a motorcycle makes a big difference though, it opens many doors that would otherwise stay closed.
A few days later we were at the beach again. After the busy Bikefest weekend, it was time to relax, we ended up in the small seaside town of Conceicão de Barra just north of Vitória. It was a quiet little place, perfect to unwind for a day or two, the highlight of the day; watching the sun set over the fishing boats in little harbour.
We did manage to tear ourselves away long enough to visit the huge sand dunes at Itaúnas, a dirt ride away. You’re not allowed to ride on them, much to Arno's disappointment, but spectacular nonetheless.
Riding inland once again, we took the smallest roads, many of them dirt, taking us through small villages and the mountain roads. There were many mines and quarries to be seen in this area, and we met many trucks taking huge chunks of stone to factories further afield.
The trucks had to use these bridges too!
The colonial mining towns of Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and São João del Rei kept us busy for a few days, on our way towards Bolivia and in Campo Grande, we did some maintenance on the bikes and put on the new tyres.
West of Campo Grande is the area known as the Pantanal, a huge wetland that is full of wildlife. A dirt road branches off into the Pantanal from the main road to Corumbá and we decided to use this and do some of our own exploration instead of taking a tour.
The paved road from Campo Grande to Corumbá skirts the lower part of the wetland and, after passing through the town of Miranda, the wildlife began to appear. Jacarés (a medium sized crocodile) were basking in the sun on the edges of waterholes and the amount of bird life increased dramatically. We got to the turn off to Passeo do Lontra at the same time as one of the tours, they had spent 3 days in the Pantanal. We chatted to the guides and asked about the roads and the ferry across the Rio Negro. We had been told various tales, but they said that the ferry was running, despite the higher than normal water levels and that the road was a little muddy after the recent rains.
The road was indeed pretty dry and it was fun, riding around the mud holes, glimpsing various wildlife. At Passeo do Lontra, we stopped to get a few extra litres of fuel, the sun was beginning to redden, so tempting as it was to keep riding, we decided to stop at the campsite there. A good decision, we later found. The campsite was part of a hotel complex, all suspended on wooden walkways above the swampy ground, even the camping area was a wooden platform. As we carried our stuff across the bridge – no bikes allowed! – the wildlife was also preparing for the night, not exactly peacefully either.
Capybaras were snuffling in the swamp, birds were twittering in the eaves, monkeys were chattering in the trees above our tent and of course the mossies were making their presence felt.
The next morning we were up early, along with all the other local inhabitants. The birds came for their morning feed and the monkeys, still above our tent completed their morning grooming and crapping rituals. Lesson learned; never camp under a troop of monkeys!!
We made an early start, hoping to be at Porto Manga and the ferry by late morning, the road however had other ideas. It lay much lower than before and so was wetter and muddier, in most places there was a dryish track to ride on but at times water covered the road and there were a few long stretches of mud to negotiate.
This isn’t going to go any longer is it?
Now mud and my bike don’t get along that well and I am the one that ends up on the floor, only twice today though, it could have been a lot more!!
A little frustrated?
The compensation however, was the wildlife, hundreds of Jacarés, a couple of deer, lots of capybaras (a strange dog sized aquatic guinea pig), thousands of birds and my favourite, the giant anteater, who was strolling along the side of the road.
Capybaras look on as Arno slithers through
We reaches Porto Manga around lunch time to find the ferry waiting to leave, what good timing! Just had to manoeuvre the bikes up a temporary gravel ramp and we were across the swollen Rio Negro in no time. The road didn’t get any better and we slithered our way through the mud for the rest of the afternoon until the road took us back to tarmac just before Corumbá our last stop in Brazil.
For the fourth, or was it the fifth time this morning, I ended up in the sand, my bike complaining loudly beside me.
“The truckies didn’t tell us there was sand” I muttered for the hundredth time,
“we didn’t ask” came the reply as Arno helped me get the bike upright.
Sian in the sandpit of life
Maybe we should have taken the train after all I thought, but only briefly, the road was a great introduction to Bolivia, hard as it was and some of it was actually fun!!
Leaving Brazil was a bit of a hit and miss affair, after waiting an hour for the customs guy to arrive and push the relevant bits of paper around, we were then told we had to ride back into Corumbá to get our passports stamped at the bus station.
The Bolivian side was no better, had to pay 4 Reais each for our immigration stamp and then told Customs were closed, come back tomorrow! Luckily it was only a few km’s to the next town, Puerto Quijarro where we planned to catch the so called “Train of Death” to Santa Cruz.
While waiting for more papers to be shuffled, the next morning back at the border, we got chatting to a couple of truck drivers, also on their way to Santa Cruz, they however, were driving! We had heard that a road existed from another traveller in Rio, who had been put on the bus instead of the train for some obscure Bolivian reason. He had said it was a pretty bumpy trip, but faster than the train. The truckies said that the road was pretty good, dry, with plenty of places to stop along the way as well as fuel. Now our interest was aroused, was it possible to ride this road, should we try it, or should we take the train?
A visit to the station was next, we took our bikes along and chatted to the guys in charge of transporting goods. They quoted us a kilo price of 0.86 centavos, a total for 2 bikes around U$50. The cost for ourselves was around U$40 and at least another U$10 for the guys who would help load the bikes, so around U$100 for the 20 hour journey. Not a bad deal, but the thought of actually riding to Santa Cruz kept nagging away at us.
The only thing to do was go and see for ourselves.
The road was surprisingly good for the 30kms we rode, wide gravel with only a few potholes and although we knew you can’t judge the whole road from a such short ride, we were positively encouraged.
Good gravel, wonder why the bus takes so long?
On our return to P.Quijarro, at around 5pm, the station was still full of people waiting for the 3pm train, there was some demonstration occurring, with tyres burning on the tracks. At 9pm as we ate supper, the train still hadn’t arrived and that speeded our decision, we would ride.
After 100kms of good gravel road we were congratulating ourselves on our decision. While stopped for a break, a small Honda 125 road bike pulled beside us. It was a brand new bike bought in Corumbá and on its way to Santa Cruz to be sold there. Chatted to the rider for awhile, he was going to ride through the night and do the 620kms in 24 hours or so. The road can’t be that bad if this bike can do it! We ate our lunch by the side of the road and watched a goods train putter by at 30kms an hour, no wonder it takes so long by train.
One of the many goods trains that use the single track
After 200kms or so, the road changed to packed earth, still easy to ride but now and again it was covered with sand. Not a problem but it slowed us down a little. There were lots of villages along the way, mostly by rivers. Most of the rivers were dry or pretty low and most had bridges – at least for light vehicles. A couple of times though we got wet feet as the bridge hadn't yet been rebuilt after the last flood.
engine cooling and chain cleaning all in one
It started to get trickier and the sand deeper, as the afternoon wore on and so at around 5pm, we decided to stop for the day. There was a conveniently placed restaurant, behind which we camped, an outdoor shower where we could admire the scenery and to round off the day a cold beer.
riding towards where we camped
The next day Arno’s starter motor turned temperamental and wouldn’t work, perhaps it knew what was ahead. It eventually sprang to life and we continued on towards San Jose, 100kms away. Now the road got really interesting, the hard earth sank deeper and deeper under the sand and we were ploughing our way through soft deep stuff in the ruts left by the trucks. Arno was struggling to stay upright, as I parted company with my bike again and again. It took us 4 hrs to ride 70 kms but then the road relented and we had it a little easier for the last few kms to San Jose. Here we fuelled up the bikes and ourselves, had a quick look at the Jesuit buildings, then on again. The road was much better and we rode another 70kms or so before it was time to look for a spot to camp.
Enough sand, where’s the mud?
The deep sand was past, the road was much better and we were at Poso de Tigre by 9am for coffee, only 80kms away from tarmac. A further 20kms along the road and we came upon a tanker truck on its side, its load of diesel leaking out into the fields. The truck had rolled a couple of times and the cab was pretty much destroyed. The driver had been thrown clear and was sitting by the side of the road, somewhat dazed, looking on as the local population of Memonites salvaged some of the diesel before it ruined their farmland.
We were invited by one of the group, back to the colony to see their way of living and for lunch. It was very interesting and they had as many questions for us, as we had for them. During the conversation they said that there was a bus to Santa Cruz every day and it only took 3 hours, at the time I thought this a little strange, but a few km’s after Tres Cruces all became clear. Yet another type of terrain, this time very hard and uneven, not exactly potholes, just differing levels of road within a short distance, with rocks added. Combined with a fine cement type dust that filled the holes, making them seem less severe, but filling the air with any passing traffic for nil visibility, it was a bone jarring, bike wrecking 40kms that took a couple of hours.
The tarmac came sooner than expected but the fun was not yet over. There was a bridge to cross, a long one lane bridge shared with the trains. Had to get the bikes over one rail, then ride in the middle of the tracks, the planks full of gaps and nails, before getting over the other rail to leave the bridge at the other end. Eventually, we arrived in Santa Cruz, tired and dusty but happy we had survived the Road to Hell.
Santa Cruz is a big city and it felt more Brazilian than Bolivian. We were in need of a place to do an oil change and some maintenance after riding the Road to Hell. Found a workshop that on first sight wasn’t encouraging, a young lad was drilling out a cylinder with what looked like a Black & Decker!! The guy in charge knew what he was about however, Snr. Becerra had worked in the States and Japan. Besides we didnt need anything complicated doing, oil change, wheel bearings, and while we were there, Arno took the chance to check out his shaft.
Arno checking how clean his bike is, or was it the bearings?
Antonis turned up while we were in the city, he had the good sense to take the train from Brazil and decided to come with us to Sucre. Arno assured us that the road was paved the whole way, I had my doubts – this is Bolivia after all – but we set off expecting tarmac. We got it too, well for 70kms anyway, until Abapo, where the road works started. We got fuel here too, by the side of the road, jerrycan and funnel replacing the usual pump.
Filling up – don’t think this is Shell!
We had to ride across another of those railway/road bridges, this one in a worse state of repair than the last if that were possible, no side rails and the tracks not flat into what little wood there was between them. On the other side of the river, the road works awaited, we thought we had missed a turn but no, this was the new road, trouble was, it was still being built.
We did actually get to ride on parts of the new road, at other times however we had to contend with the sand. Antonis was having a harder time than me, the big 1150GS kitted out with road tyres was not easy to keep upright. It made a change for someone other than me to be dumping their bike in the sand! We’d planned to be in Monteagudo for the night, but we were far far away by the time it came to look for accommodation. Asked in a tiny village if we could camp somewhere, it didn’t look very secure, but then a truck driver told us there was a construction workers camp a few km’s further on and we should ask the boss there. We did so, and were able to put up our tents in a nice fenced compound complete with semi-permanent bathrooms and even a canteen.
Packing up in the early morning
An early start the next morning after a Bolivian construction workers breakfast, of steak, egg, chips, rice and coffee – all at 7am!! We actually got to ride on new road for most of the morning – we sneaked onto it when no-one was looking and kept going. Had to move the occasional branch out of the way but was preferable to riding on the sand holes the trucks were making. Unfortunately, at a junction, we had to turn off the nice road and go back onto the sandy track that was the road to Sucre.
It took us a few more days than planned, but it was a good ride and took us once again away from the other travellers.
Antonis battling with the sand
The city of Sucre was a great place to hang out for a couple of days. Arno found a workshop and we spent a day doing a few things to the bikes; fixing panniers, cleaning air filters and fiddling with our carburettors in anticipation of higher altitudes.
The town was full of historic buildings, the market was wonderful to stroll around and we even managed to be there for a big Fiesta.
Our next destination was Potosi, 160km’s away, another 2000 metres higher but tarmac all the way. Took it slowly and had lots of breaks to try and avoid getting sick. The 2 BMW’s had no problems with the altitude, my XT though was stuttering a little above 3500m.
Potosi is famous for its mine – well mines, the mountain towering over the city is filled with small mines, some of which you can visit. It was hard work clambering around in the small tunnels, to see the appalling conditions in which the miners have to work. Glad we were only down there for a couple of hours and not a working lifetime, not surprisingly shorter than the average!! Dynamite is used to reveal more seams of zinc and …… when underground, the whole mountain seemed to tremble as the charges went off. It was interesting to wander around the miners market, where the full array of mining paraphernalia was on sale for anyone to buy – including sticks of dynamite. Now Arno is a bit of an explosions freak, so there was no way he was leaving town without a few sticks to test out somewhere in the desert. Antonis and I patiently waited while he chose between the various sizes types and lengths, then he had to choose the fuse!
Arno deciding which dynamite to purchase
Antonis wasn’t too keen to tackle anymore dirt roads, so he rode in the direction of La Paz, while we took the dirt road to Uyuni. It wasn’t too bad this time and the scenery of course pretty spectacular.
We arrived in Uyuni late afternoon, a strange little town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand and plastic bags. Booked into the Hotel Avenida where most riders seem to stay and were amazed to see a huge Yamaha Dragstar complete with trailer, parked inside. Can’t wait to meet the owner of that one!
The hotel where we stayed in Uyuni is a real meeting point for motorcycle travellers preparing for, or recovering from, a trip onto the Salar. Almost every day a new bike or two appears and sure enough the next morning there was another bike parked in the courtyard.
It belonged to Simon, a Brit who had been on the road for nearly 3 years raising money for bike related (www.millennium-ride.com) charity projects in Latin America and Asia.
Simon on his hand made bike
Yukiko, the Japanese rider we had previously travelled with was due to arrive in the afternoon, so with little else to do, Simon, Arno and I rode out to the train cemetery. Spooky it was too, with steam locomotives sitting in the sand, surrounded by piles of rusting junk. After the obligatory photos, we wandered around through the junk. The army had been using the area as target practice and maybe that was were inspiration came from, to test out some of the dynamite Arno had bought in Potosi.
Bikes and trains in the desert
We waited until sunset, by that time Yukiko had arrived and could join in the fun. Apart from a couple of locals removing metal to repair cars, there was not a soul to be seen. So, Arno and Simon put the dynamite somewhere in a train, lit the fuse and retreated. It took ages for anything to happen, I thought the fuse had gone out, but suddenly there was a big bang, a cloud of dust and a big dent in the steel.
Another day and more riders, a Swiss couple on F650’s, with no time to chat, they were off again early the next morning! The couple with the Yamaha came back from their Uyuni tour, they were planning to ride the Trans Chaco, and dissuading them was hard work. Must be very different travelling with such a big bike and trailer.
Hard with this trailer on the dirt roads of Bolivia.
After a couple more days making sure our 3 bikes were ready for the Salar and the rough terrain afterwards, we were ready to hit the salt.
On the road to Colchani, gateway to the Salar, I discovered a sand hole while riding a little too fast and came off rather spectacularly. Not a good start to our day! Dazed but otherwise ok, I was not happy to find my windshield broken, Arno was more unhappy about the frame which looked a little out of line. Ah well, something else to add to the list of damaged in action.
We finally made it onto the Salar and what an amazing experience, like riding on snow as hard as concrete and flat as far as the eye can see. Probably the only place on earth where you can ride with your eyes closed for a minute or two, exhilarating!
Riding on the Salar de Uyuni
We camped in the shelter of one of the islands and spent the next morning riding around on the salt taking photos and using up the last of Arno's dynamite.
We left the Salar and rode to San Juan, rough terrain, rocky and sandy. Got fuel and decided to spend the night there. Next day an early start got us to another Salar, not as white and spectacular as Uyuni, but with different scenery that made it just as interesting.
Salar de Chiguana, covered in jeep tracks
We followed the myriad of jeep tracks towards the military station at Chiguana, and from there it was up into the mountains. The scenery was breathtaking; volcanoes, rock formations, lakes, and all under a bright blue sky.
The scenery changes once again
It was slow going however and as dusk approached we had to look for a spot where we could camp wild. We ended up in a dried river bed, a little out of the wind – which later of course died away. It was damn cold out there, all the water we had in the tent froze, as did we!!
Laguna Colorado was our target for the next day, another day of hard riding, amazing scenery and a wind that belonged on Ruta 40. It blew both Yuki and I over as we got closer to the lake. The last hour, was for me a real struggle against the wind, with energy levels dropping faster every time we had to pick my bike up.
A llama gets refreshment at Laguna Colorada
Thankfully the last 120kms from Laguna Colorada to the border with Chile were much easier, we had planned to treat ourselves and camp by the hot springs, but when we got there we were rather disappointed, one small shallow pool with no shelter from the icy wind racing across the lake. Yuki decided to stay, (once at a hot spring no self respecting Japanese person can resist taking a dip) so we agreed to meet later in San Pedro. It was downhill for most of the way to Chile and even tarmac for the last 60 or so km’s to San Pedro de Atacama.
A strange place San Pedro, full of travellers and tourists coming from or going to Uyuni, this oasis town was not the quiet colonial place I’d had in mind. After Bolivia it was expensive too, so when Yuki arrived after her hot soak, we rode down through the desert towards Antofagasta.
My bike had been spluttering and smoking ever since we rode over the four thousand and something metre pass shortly before the hot springs. We had hoped it was the altitude, but as it continued on the downhill stretch after San Pedro, now at less than 2500m, this seemed less and less likely. We stopped to clean out the air filter and change the sparkplug, which helped and got us down to Antofagasta, however the bike was drinking oil and a visit to a local mechanic confirmed what we feared, the engine needed to be overhauled.
Demonstrators were out on the streets and roads into La Paz were blocked by protesting campesinos. Away from Plaza de San Francisco, where protesters were rallying, the city centre was quite, more so than usual. The Prada, usually 6 lanes of gridlocked traffic, was a delight to wander along, as were the streets near our Alojamiento, equally peaceful without the buses and collectivos, which had stayed at home in support of the demonstrators.
The streets of La Paz full of demonstrators
We were in La Paz for a week, while waiting for the spare parts we needed to fix the XT. It turned out to be a city of renewing old acquaintances, we bumped into Ian who we had met back in Guatemala, and also saw by chance Sascha and Monique, Swiss overlanders we’d met in Santa Cruz. Dieter, the HPN sheep killer also turned up. It was good to see him and his bike fully recovered from that accident.
We had ridden up to La Paz via Iquique and Arica, on Arno's bike, stopping off at Putre to test out the hot springs – no disappointment this time! Again the scenery on the Altiplano was amazing, especially around Lago Chungará near the Chilean border.
Lago Chungará with one of the many volcanoes behind
The city of La Paz – highest capital city in the world, was amazing, approaching from the south, you see nothing of the city until the autopista winds down from the sprawl of El Alto, then suddenly there it is, an enormous canyon filled with a city! The centre is a good 500metres lower than the rim, but still almost 4km above sea level! It’s a busy and very colourful city, our accommodation was close to Plaza V J Eguino where a multitude of stalls sprang up every morning.
Arno getting the bike out of our Alojamiento
After a few days of demonstrations, some roads out of La Paz were open and so we took the opportunity to take a ride down the so called “most dangerous road in the world” to the village of Corioco. This is the main route down to the Yungas and to the jungle lowlands of Bolivia and until recently the only road. The road itself is not too bad, it’s the fact that it is, in most places a single lane, and clings to the mountainside, with a sheer drop of at least 200m.
One of the many buses we met on our way to Corioco
There are few safety barriers, many blind corners and one moment of inattention would prove deadly. This fact is clear as you descend, passing the crosses that mark the many places where vehicles have left the road. The most recent accident was less than a month ago.
Sitting behind Arno as we rode towards Coroico, I had more than enough time to look over the edge, it was pretty scary and I wondered as we came face to face with yet another truck, why more traffic doesn’t make use of the new road, fully fitted out with safety barriers and tunnels?
Time to pull over as trucks speed past
We survived the most dangerous road, but still ended up lying in the street that day. As we rode over La Cumbre pass, on the way back to La Paz we met rain, the first for awhile. It had rained in the city too, making the cobblestones very slippery, the bike just slid from under us, it was even difficult righting it again.
We got to Arica a few days later, lucky not to have encountered any roadblocks on the way down from La Paz. Back down the coast in Antofagasta, I was relieved to find my bike still where we’d parked it and the arrival of the new piston etc, meant Arno was able to start working on my bike.
Not a sight I expected to see on this trip – my bike in bits!
It took 4 days in all, from the morning the postman delivered the parts, to restarting the bike after taking the engine apart, having the cylinder redrilled and putting all back together. We had a lot of help from the guys at Motosport, and owe them a big thank you for letting us work at their place and helping out when we got stuck!
Mechanic Luis and owner Jaime Rios at Motosport, Antofagasta
The coastal route to Iquique is amazing, but as we rode it for the third time, the impact was somewhat lost and we were glad to get to the city. We didn’t bother with the Zona Franca this time, having discovered on our previous visits, the ‘Zofri’ is only interesting for camera film, absolutely useless for anything to do with motorcycles. There is however a very good welder in the city, so we spent a day in his workshop getting Arno's panniers and rack sorted out.
Everything on the bikes now fixed, checked and run in, it was time to leave Chile and head to Peru.
With not too many forms to fill in and plenty of people ready to point us in the right direction.
Entering Peru was easier than leaving Chile, but we were used to that by now, the Chileans seem reluctant to let you leave, wonder why?
We spent our first night in the small town of Moquegua, away from the coast for a change. The next morning we changed our plans for the umpteenth time and instead of riding north towards Arequipa and Lima, we headed back up into the mountains towards Puno and Lake Titicaca. We climbed steeply out of the valley and soon found ourselves at 4000m. The XT was not amused and started spluttering again, we took the cover off the air intake and that helped. The road went up to over 5000m and although we had to go slowly both bikes made it. Celebrated by buying lunch from one of the roadside shacks that lined the road at a junction. The wasn’t a menu, no choice either, just a bowl of thick soup with many unidentified objects floating around – welcome to the culinary delights of Peru! In the countryside anyway.
Bypassing the town of Desaguadero, close to Bolivia, we got our first sight of Lake Titicaca, over a hill, round a curve and there it was in front of us. More blue and dazzling than I thought it possibly could be.
First sight of Lake Titicaca
We followed the lake as we rode to Puno and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains as we reached the town. There was a huge choice of places to stay, each eager for our custom. A big change from Chile, where it was sometimes a problem to find a place, that didn’t mind a couple of dirty motorbikes parked on their patio. Bikes and kit safely under lock and key, it was time to explore.
Had to leave the bikes behind for a day or two, so we could visit some of the islands in the lake. Not far from Puno are the floating islands of Uros. Made of reeds, these islands really float, must be strange living on such a small space, especially with boatloads of tourists arriving every morning to have a gawk.
The floating islands of Uros.
We spent the night on the peaceful island of Amantani, an island with no police, no dogs, no traffic, no electricity and not too many tourists.
Back on the mainland, Arno spent a morning taking the carbs on both bikes apart, putting copper wire in the nozzles so they should run better. We left Puno and Lake Titicaca behind and rode towards Cusco, stopping along the way at Sillustani to see the towers that the Colla tribe built in which to bury their dead.
Our bikes were running a lot better than before and even the pass of La Raya at 4300m didn’t cause any problems.
La Raya Pass, 4300m
As we descended, the scenery changed again as we rode into the valleys, towards Cusco. Terraces covered the hillsides, in use since before the Incas were around, and the fields were full of crops, irrigated by a maze of water channels.
After a couple of days in Cusco, we rode to Ollantaytambo and caught the train to Machu Picchu from there. It was one of the highlights we had really been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. We didn’t do the Inca Trail, too much like hard work if you ask me and damn expensive to boot. Instead we climbed Huayna Picchu, the mountain overlooking the site and got an amazing view, then spent the rest of the day wandering around the maze of buildings and plazas.
Machu Picchu, from the mountain behind
We left Aguas Calientes the next morning at the crack of dawn, the train, the carriages crammed with Inca Trail porters carrying the most amazingly huge loads and kids on their way to school. We decided to spend a few more days in Ollantaytambo as there was a festival going on. The place was full of people from the neighbouring villages having a great time and drinking large amounts of the local home brew – chicha. Unfortunately I spent the whole time either in bed or on the toilet, suffering from a serious bout of “Incas Revenge”.
Villagers arrive for the festival in Ollantaytambo
After a dose of antibiotics, we got back to Cusco, without having to stop by every bush along the way. We did stop at a couple of interesting Inca ruins though.
After a week, exploring the city, visiting a number of museums and markets, it was time to head back towards the coast and investigate the strange lines in the sand at Nazca.
Attracting a crowd in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco.
The road down to Nazca is now almost all paved, with the exception of a few places where the bridges have been washed away, and strangely, in any decent sized town, where the tarmac stops on the outskirts, only to start again where the buildings stop. A couple of passes over 4000m, spectacular scenery and changeable weather, make it a good 2 day ride. We stayed the night in Abancay, hoping to meet a couple of other riders, should have ridden further though, the next day was a long, hard ride!
We had climbed back up to around 4000m and the landscape was bleak, a lake or two, with a flamingo here and there, broke the monotony of grass and rocks. The sun shone but in the distance dark grey clouds threatened. It was here that my bike decided it didn’t want to play anymore! It just died out, as if from lack of fuel. We had only done 350kms and normally I can get at least 450kms from my tank. On reserve we managed a few more kilometres, then no more. So, Arno rode off to the next town, 52 kms away, Puquio, while I waited in the middle of nowhere, with only the occasional lorry thundering by for company.
Arno fills a coke bottle with fuel as the hailstones fall.
At first I enjoyed the silence, sitting in the shade of by bike. As I watched however, the sun soon disappeared and the black clouds came my way. It didn’t rain, it hailed, long and hard, my bike wasn’t much protection and I was huddled next to it wearing all my kit, helmet included when Arno returned. He gave me some petrol and we continued, so unfortunately did the rain. I’m sure it followed us, along one valley after another. Eventually we reached the desert, left the clouds and rain behind and rode towards the clear blue sky over Nazca where it almost never rains.
Arno took a flight over the lines, while I was ill again. There was no way I was going up in a small plane with no toilet, didn’t want to be lynched by the other passengers!! I did get to see some of the lines from the lookout tower though, and Arno got to see some mummies, in the pre Inca graveyard just outside of town.
Near the lookout tower in the desert, Nazca
We really wanted to ride north and see more of Peru, despite all the stories of theft and rip-offs, we have really enjoyed the country and haven't encountered any problems whatsoever. However, our time is getting shorter, the budget getting lower and insurance’s coming to an end. We don’t want to fly through the north of Argentina at the speed of light, so from Nazca, we rode south to Arequipa.
An amazing road as it turned out, first through the desert, where in the valleys, the monotonous sand and rock was replaced with groves of olives around Yauca and fields of rice paddies at Ocoña. Near Chala, the road then wound spectacularly along the coast, sometimes next to the ocean, at other times high above. My bike decided to play up again, this time I had plenty of fuel, so looked like a problem with the carburettor. Twiddled a few things and gave it a knock with a screwdriver and we were on our way again. Arequipa was still 150kms away, as dusk approached, so decided to stay the night in the small seaside town of Calamá.
Took our time over breakfast the next morning, only a ride of 150kms, should get us into Peru’s second biggest city in time for an early lunch. We reckoned with out Black Betty however. We were all packed up ready to go, but the BMW wouldn’t start!! No sign of life. Tried bumping her down the kerb, nothing! So, out on the street, Arno started dismantling stuff, to find the problem. A few neighbours stood around and watched, soon to be joined by what seemed to be half the town.
A crowd watches Arno working on his bike
After a couple of hours, Arno was all out of ideas, he had tried everything. The owner of the hostal, kindly went and fetched a bike mechanic and an electrician. The latter seemed to know what he was doing and after a while, had the problem sorted. Bare wires in one of the cable trees, so off he and Arno went to his workshop to repair it. The crowd dispersed, only to gather again when Arno was putting the whole lot back together again.
We reached Arequipa at around 4pm, the traffic was crazy, many junctions had no signals or control of any kind and were gridlocked. We managed to creep our way through and stopped at the first hostel on our list that had parking. A day in the city was enough, saw what there was to see and headed for the countryside once again.
El Misti volcano near Arequipa
An overland truck driver, staying in the hostel had given us some great road info, we wanted to ride back towards Lake Titicaca, via Colca Canyon and were not sure which route to take. He told us that there is a new road from Arequipa to Juliaca, fully paved! That’s the sort of info I like!
Also from this road is the turnoff to the Canyon, some of the way paved, some not, but all ok. Sure enough, the road out of Arequipa was paved and smooth, at the 78 km mark, we turned off and headed towards Chivay and the canyon.
Llamas, on the way to the Colca Canyon
Had to climb over another pass over 400metres, but the road was reasonable and we were in Chivay for lunch. The minibuses filled with tourists began to arrive, they were to spend the night here, then get up at some unspeakable hour and drive to a lookout point, where if lucky a condor or 2 can be spotted. We decided to do something else – no surprise there then! Still had the whole afternoon, so rode towards a village called Cabanaconde, another 60kms or so into the canyon.
The road through the canyon towards Cabanaconde hugged the side of the valley, red cliffs to our left, the river to our right.
There were a couple of tunnels carved out of the rock, one at least 500m long and curved, a little scary in the dusty blackness, luckily there were no buses coming in the other direction! There were also a few lookout points along the way, nobody there, just us. We reached the famous Condor Lookout Point late in the afternoon, no condors to be seen, so we decided to do some riding shots. Arno had just ridden off, when what should I see just over the hill, yes, a condor, a pair in fact! Forgetting about the riding shots my camera was pointed at the sky when Arno came around the corner!
At last we see a condor in the Andes
His puzzlement soon forgotten, we watched in awe as the huge birds circled around the canyon, one even coming within a few metres of us.
We left Cabanaconde not quite at the crack of dawn, having seen condors already, a good breakfast seemed more important so early in the morning.
We stopped at the first lookout, quite close to the village, almost the only people there we saw another 3 condors. One soaring away on the thermals, while pair sat together on a rock about 300metres away. They sat there for a long time, we were just getting ready to leave when they stirred, took off and glided over to the other side of the canyon.
Further on at Condor Lookout, there were loads of people both tourist and locals. The former trying to spot a condor, the latter trying to sell their handicrafts.
Condor Lookout, plenty of things to buy here, while you wait for a condor
No condors to be seen, we headed back up the valley towards Chivay. The road was being repaired and was narrow, we stopped to let a truck through and as it passed, a condor flew towards us about 10metres up, following the road. There was no time to get a camera out, we just sat on our bikes and watched as it flew right over us, checking us out. An amazing sight!
Back on the tarmac we rode towards Juliaca on the road that was not marked on any of the maps. It pretty much followed the railway passing by the huge lake of Legunillas. Not wanting to stay in Juliaca, we rode to Puno, for the second time arriving as it was getting dark.
The next morning we left for Bolivia and Copacabana. We were enjoying the views of the lake when we saw another bike coming towards us. It was a Harley from the north of Brazil. Stopped to chat and found out the couple had ridden from Salvador to Titicaca in two weeks!!! That’s fast! Took photos and swapped info, then we had to get going before the border guys went for lunch. It was a quick and easy crossing, no waiting and no bribes. Perhaps the Harley rider had given them enough already!
A very shiny Harley from Salvador, Brazil
Copacabana was a nice surprise, a little town wedged between two hills right on the shores of Lake Titicaca, with a laid back feel to it. Much less busy than Puno, just a couple of streets of shops, a small market and a huge church, where the patron saint of Bolivia, the Virgin of Candelaria, calls home. Spent a few days relaxing, took a boat trip to see the Island of the Sun, from where the first Incas came, according to legend, and caught up on some writing.
It was an easy mornings ride to La Paz, had to wait awhile in Tiquina for a ‘ferry’ to take us across the lake, it was a Saturday morning and all the traffic was coming in the opposite direction. Fancy 4WD’s lined up on the other side, escaping to lakeside retreats for the weekend. Eventually a minibus arrived, bound for La Paz and we were off, bobbing across the lake on a sort of raft, powered by an outboard motor.
Yes we did make it to the other side!
We were later told that bus passengers have to get off the bus and take a different boat across, since one "ferry" sank complete with bus and passengers.
La Paz was the same as before, not much evidence of the troubles that had happened only a month ago. A police post in El Alto looked bombed out and the road was still pretty damaged in places, but that was all we could see.
It was actually nice being back in the city, we knew our way around, so could just enjoy the craziness.
Busy, narrow streets of La Paz
We finally got to meet up with Lois and Amalia, not under the best of circumstances however. On the way to La Paz, Amalia had crashed badly and now was in hospital in intensive care, while Lois was running around the city sorting out everything that needed to be sorted. Had dinner with Lois and Robb, who was travelling with them, and got to the hospital to see Amalia briefly. She was all bandaged up but in good spirits under the circumstances.
We left La Paz behind and headed south, stopping in Oururo, a small town famous for its carnival. A sort of practice carnival took place while we were there, no fancy masks or costumes, but groups accompanied by a band, danced their way through the streets for a whole day.
Dancing in the streets of Oururo
It was very relaxed, not too crowded and everyone could enjoy the spectacle. Even Arno got off his sick bed and watched the procession for a short time.
The next day we left Oururo and rode towards Sucre, where we had a lot of work to do.
Oururo behind us, we took the long way round to Sucre, as we had been told the more direct route was much tougher, 300kms of hard dirt. As we approached the small town of Challapata however, we began to think that maybe the direct route would have been faster. There were rocks littering the road as we approached one of the toll stations and a large crowd was gathered around a truck on the other side.
A bloqueo or roadblock!
Rocks on the road to stop the traffic
We parked up some distance away and watched for awhile. A lorry pulled up behind us and the driver came over for a chat. He didn’t know what the cause of the bloqueo was either. He said that we could probably pass if we were quick, either going around the side of the toll station, or going off the road onto one of the sandy tracks that led around the town. We could see the local cars doing just that, ferrying locals from one side of the bloqueo to the other, the long way around.
We decided to chance it and went for the short option, anything to avoid battling with sand! What we didn’t see was the trench that the campesinos had dug, obviously to prevent bus drivers and silly tourists from trying to get through. Luckily it must have been coca break–time before they had finished, as the trench was only 20cms or so deep. Still was a bit of a shock as we flew over it, accompanied by the whistles from the crowd.
We had to ride some dirt, but only 60kms or so, most of it right next to the new tarmac road, not quite ready to be opened. Looked ready to me, but there was no way to sneak onto it, more’s the pity.
Another toll station marks the end of the dirt
The rain clouds were following us as we left Potosi, maybe that’s why we were going a little faster than usual and got caught in the only speed trap we have seen in Bolivia. The radar gun showed 93kph not very accurate, we were going at least 100!! The two uniforms were very polite, asking if we realised we were going a little fast, saying the fine was 50 bolivianos per bike (around €5) and that we would have to go back to the station with them to fill out the paperwork. We asked if it was possible to pay on the spot. Normally yes, they said, but they didn’t have any receipts left – how convenient. The on the spot fine was only 30 bolis, we didn’t have change of course and so produced U$6. They were happy with that and so off we went, a little slower of course.
Arriving in Sucre before the rain
Back in Sucre, at Nikki’s workshop, we had lots to do, got things repaired, cleaned and checked all the necessary. Met lots of interesting people there, got invited to see a chocolate factory and were told of a guy in Cochabamba who deals in old bikes and cars. That got Arno's attention and we had to then decide if we wanted to backtrack and visit him. Meantime, Marco and Cornel arrived, Africa Twin riders from Switzerland, who we had first bumped into, in La Paz. They were on their way to the Salar, so gave them our map and amongst other things told them where they could buy dynamite in Potosi.
Swiss riders Marco and Cornel leaving Sucre
Arno, was by now in old-timer fever and after a few phone-calls to Cochabamba he couldn’t wait to leave!
Not to keen on riding the same bad road twice, we left the bikes in Sucre and took the bus. Yes we finally got to see the inside of a bus station. A night bus was the only option, saved us some time but it wasn’t exactly very restful and we didn’t get to see anything. What is the point of travelling if you never see any of the countryside?
Once in Cochabamba, we met up with Mike and were taken to see some of the bikes that have been collected from around the area. For once communication was no problem, we spoke German; his parents were German and he had worked in Germany for 8 years or so.
We were taken to one workshop where 3 or 4 guys were busy welding bike frames together inside, while outside stood at least 30 bikes, in differing states of decay. Some of the big names were there, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, Harley, BSA, Indian, even an Ural with sidecar, but no BMW’s. There were a couple of cars too, waiting for the restorers touch.
Objects of Arno’s affection
Back at his home, Mike showed us his treasures; an NSU Fox and an Indian from the twenties, both complete and running. He also had a couple of Indians in a crate, waiting for someone to put them back together again. Who would have thought there would be so many bikes like this in the poorest country in South America?
Mike with his Indian
Back in Sucre after another night on the bus, we picked up our bikes and headed back to Potosi, careful to stick to the speed limit this time. The town of Tupiza was next, as we rode south towards the Argentine border, the dirt road not half as bad as we had expected.
Tupiza was a small town, we found only one hotel with parking, so it wasn't surprising to find a couple of bikes already there. The Africa Twins belonged to Claudio and Eduardo, from Santiago, on a 2 week holiday, heading towards Uyuni and the Salar. They were spending the next day riding around the area, but we were anxious to reach Argentina, so agreed to meet up again in Santiago.
Africa Twins from Santiago in Tupiza
Leaving Tupiza was another toll and police post. Here our papers were checked thoroughly for the first time in Bolivia. The road from Tupiza to the border, was a little more difficult than the previous day, more gravel and more corrugations. We met the grading machine after awhile and for a few kms afterwards the ride was a little smoother.
Waiting to get our papers back and to pay another toll.
Despite some carburettor problems with Arno's bike – for a change - we got to Villazon in time for lunch, stamped out of Bolivia, rode 10metres across the bridge and started the entry process for Argentina. Immigration done, we had to wait awhile for the aduana bod to come back from lunch.
Now lunch in Argentina is a long affair, luckily Bolivia is one hour behind, so we didn’t have to wait too long. A constant stream of people crossing the bridge kept us amused for the first hour at least. After awhile, we realised that it was the same people, they would go over to the Argentinean side, load themselves up, cross back into Bolivia, then start the whole process again. They were carrying all sorts of things, sacks of cement or grain, crates of beer and soft drinks, boxes of groceries etc etc. It wasn’t personal shopping, it seemed as if they were emptying a truck. Indeed, when we finally got across the border, we found out that was exactly what they were doing. Seems like the Bolivians don’t want Argentinean trucks on their roads. Or is it that the Argentinean truckies don’t want to ruin their nice trucks on Bolivian roads?
Eventually the lady from Aduana appeared, her lunch must have disagreed with her as she wasn’t too happy about us wanting to bring the bikes into the country. She wanted to know where we had last left Argentina, and examined our passports trying to find the relevant stamp. Then marched off to consult with a colleague, came back and reluctantly said we could have 3 months, but then we had to return to our country of origin, she even wanted to know which hotel in BsAs we would be staying in.
The forms slowly typed up on an ancient typewriter, we then had the bikes inspected by 2 different officials before we could eventually enter the country. All the other Argentine borders have been speedy and friendly, but this was by far the worst border experience of our whole trip. So if you want to enter Argentina at Villazon, just beware the Aduana Dragon.
Our first night back in Argentina, we camped behind a fuel station, good for the budget and the tent which we haven't had a chance to use for awhile. The next day, riding to Salta, the landscape suddenly changed from dry dessert to lush green and between JuyJuy and Salta the fields were filled with lush green tobacco plants. We found the hostel that had been recommended to us, Terra Occulta, a great place with a garage for the bikes, where Arno could spend some time fiddling.
Cornel and Marco arrived a day later and we drank a few beers on the rooftop terrace and traded Salar stories.
After a couple of days, it was time to head south, decided to ride together for a couple of days and take the gravelled Ruta 40 towards Cafayete. Was a lovely ride through lush valleys along the river. The then road twisted up to a pass at 3000m before dropping down toward Cachi.
The Ruta 40 between Salta and Cachi – Easy!
Shortly before Cachi, the road was paved, and for 11kms or so, dead straight. This section was named TinTin, don’t ask me why!
Arno at the beginning of Tin Tin
We camped in the tiny but lovely town of Cachi for one night, then on towards Cafayete. Marco and Cornel are much faster on the dirt than we are, well ok, than I am, so we started out a little earlier, knowing they would easily catch us up. The road for the first 50kms, was really narrow in places and we wondered if we had missed a turn-off. After the village of Molinos the road widened and passed through valleys filled with spectacular rock formations.
The road passes through weird rock formations.
Reached Cafayete in time for lunch and Arno and I decided to stay there. Cornel and Marco decided to keep riding as they needed to be in Santiago for Xmas. Found a nice hotel, then spent the rest of the day wandering around the town and doing some sampling. Most people come here to sample the wine, but we made do with the wine flavoured ice cream. Most of the Bodegas being closed over the weekend.
Chilecito was the next stop, had trouble finding accommodation, full, overpriced or with no parking. No-one seemed to know where the campsite was and the fuel stations were in the middle of town, so no camping there. For the first time, we checked out a hotel run by the ACA, the Argentine motoring club, which is supposed to recognise members from the British AA and the German ADAC. We did get the members discount, so checked in and were treated to all mod cons, cable tv and a pool, which of course we made the most of. Sometimes its hard to be a traveller!
The air was full of dust and we couldn’t see the mountains surrounding us, so decided to give Valle de la Lunar a miss and ride on towards Mendoza. We took a wrong turn in the village of Huaca and ended up on dirt. It wasn’t too bad and the small river crossings cooled us and the bikes down. We were soon back on tarmac, but it was so potholed, the dirt was preferable. Two lights came towards us, bikes with metal panniers and lights on - must be travellers! KTMs in fact, ridden by Austrians in search of some good dirt roads and on the way up to Bolivia.
Off the beaten track and still bumping into other travellers.
Chatted for an hour or so then they went north, us south towards San Juan. It was getting late and it was still 70kms to San Juan and the next fuel station, but we only had enough fuel for half that distance. How did that happen? Something to do with taking that wrong turn, bypassing the last fuel station and riding against a strong headwind for the last 100kms.
We stopped at a campimento by the side of the road and asked if they had some spare fuel. They had a couple of litres for the XT, and some gasoil, a sort of diesel, which Arno put into the Beemer. We made it to the next fuel station, Black Betty not suffering at all from the strange fuel.
Camped behind a fuel station next to the Ruta 40 (now smooth tarmac and 4 lanes wide) just outside San Juan. The next morning we took it easy, only 150kms to Mendoza and I thought we would be there for lunch. The Argentine police however had other ideas.
At the provincial border between San Juan and Mendoza, there is a check for fruit and veggies, then 50metres on, a police check. Had to show our papers as usual, then they asked us for our insurance. Arno got out some German papers, I did the same, we handed them over and crossed our fingers.
The police were quite happy with my insurance papers, however the date on Arno's had expired, Uh Oh. He was hauled into the office and told he had to pay 300 pesos, about U$100. We tried showing other papers, but they weren't having any of it. They gave us the option of riding back to the previous town , on one bike, to buy an insurance, decided to sit it out and see what would happen.
Were busy formulating a plan, when after an hour or so, a guy came over and asked if there was a problem. We explained and he went in and talked to our tormentors. After a few minutes and raised voices, he came out and was explaining that he couldn’t do much, when the policeman came out of the office, shook our hands and wished us good luck - our cue to get out of there ASAP. Thanked Rubén and arranged to meet up later.
Arrived in Mendoza and were greeted by traffic chaos and demonstrations. At a major intersection, tyres were burning in the middle of the road, the police standing around watching.
Tyres burning in the middle of a busy Mendoza junction.
We managed to squeeze past and find the hostel we had booked for Christmas. Mendoza is a lovely city plenty of shady streets, tree filled plazas and open spaces.
A few days of rest and it was time to head over to Santiago for the New Year. We stopped briefly at Puenta del Inca to test out the hot springs there. The wind was blowing a gale, so decided not to camp and rode over the border to Chile. After the border post, the road dropped down into the valley in a series of about 20 hairpin bends stacked on top of each other, spectacular.
The road of many curves, Chile
Got to Santiago in the evening and booked into Scott’s Place, a hostel a little out of town but with parking and a good atmosphere. Met up with the Swiss guys and also Claudio, one of the Africa Twin riders we’d met in Bolivia, and went for a meal out in the trendy Providencia district of the city.
Together with Alex, a Dutch rider also staying at the hostel and needing parts for his F650, we took a bus and visited the BMW dealership where Arno was expecting to pick up a starter motor under warranty. Unfortunately the person he has been dealing with wasn’t there and they refused to let him have the thing unless he paid for it.
Arno with his hands almost on that starter motor at BMW, Santiago.
Frustrated we left with no spare parts, no starter motor but lots of muttering about BMW and their ever declining customer service for riders of older bikes.
Mendoza was calling, pleasanter and cheaper than Santiago, we hot footed it back over the Andes in time to see in the New Year with Rubén, Marco and Cornel and in true Argentine style we were still eating at midnight.
We did eventually tear ourselves away from Mendoza, albeit reluctantly and rode south through San Rafael and the first rainstorm since we arrived in Argentina.
Riding reluctantly towards a rainstorm on the pampa
At Bardas Blancas, we turned off the ruta 40 and headed towards the Chilean border. No, we hadn't gone mad and changed our minds, no, we were headed to the hot springs at Cajón Grande. It was a 12km ride along a track, through a beautiful valley, before we got to the campsite and the end of the road. Here were the hot springs, a meadow in which to camp, next to the river, surrounded by snow capped mountains, all for 5 pesos a person!
Campsite and hot springs at Cajón Grande
We were so impressed by the place we decided to stay there the next day. It was so peaceful, we walked up the valley then soaked in the hot springs for a few hours, before relaxing by the river and watching the sun go down.
We took our time leaving Cajón Grande, but we were still quickly back onto the Ruta 40, which according to our information, was paved but with lots of potholes. There were more potholes than tarmac in fact and riding in the gravel that lay at the sides of the road was preferable to the rim-wrecking road surface.
Volcanic landscape south of San Rafael
In contrast, the scenery was again spectacular, rocky desert suddenly gave way to a valley filled with lava, at one point the river, which had previously meandered, shallow and wide through the valley, was forced through a narrow gap in the lava which had all but blocked its path. In the distance, the source of the lava flows, we counted 6 or 7 volcanic cones, all now dormant, having spent their energy a long time ago.
We had hoped to reach Zapala, however the bad road had put us behind and a chance meeting delayed us again. Two bikes were coming towards us, loaded up with luggage – must be travellers! And so we met Bernd and Jörg from Germany on BMWs of course. Their luggage system was one of the largest I’d seen so far, aluminium panniers with extra compartments attached plus a huge extendable alu topbox. Plenty of room for all those travel luxuries!
Bernd & Joerg, with their large panniers
After camping the night at yet another friendly YPF fuel station we rode on towards the Lakes area and San Junin de los Andes. Stopped in town to visit the supermarket and internet café, two or three people asked us if we were in town for the bike meeting. Well, not intentionally, but as we were in the area…………..
Getting ready to leave for Lago Paimún, a couple of guys came over for a chat. One of whom turned out to be the president of the bike club organising the meeting and so we were formally invited along for the weekend.
We had time for our ride out to Lago Paimún, a good gravel road along Lago Huechulafquen then a narrower road through the forest towards Volcan Lanin and the campsite by the lake.
Riding by lakes and volcanoes
It was a beautiful spot and peaceful, despite the fact that almost every camping spot was taken.
We rode slowly back to San Junin, found the campsite and signed in for the 4th International Encuentro de Motos. No sooner had we pitched up our tent in a relatively quiet corner, than two other travellers rode in our direction. Jürgen and Sabine, from Germany but not travelling on BMWs, Yamahas in fact.
Juergen and Sabine arrive at the campsite
We all really enjoyed the meeting, everyone was friendly and wanted to chat. There were the obligatory bikes games and then the ride around the town, much tooting of horns, especially past the police station, and then by the main plaza everyone parked their bikes for all to see.
The last of the bikes to ride into the main plaza
Sunday morning and it was time to leave, we were all sent off with stomachs full of pastries and hot chocolate (supplied by the army in a huge 500 litre tank).
We headed south again towards Bariloche, via San Martin de Los Andes and the so called Seven Lakes Drive. It was a beautiful route, some of the road paved, some gravel that wound its way past lakes and mountains. There were several free campsites along the way, so decided to make the most of one of them and spent the night next to Rio Caleufú. The next morning we leisurely packed up and rode towards Villa Angostura.
One of the 7 lakes between San Martin and Bariloche
There was much more traffic this morning, a constant stream of cars making it a very dusty ride. Ate lunch on the banks of Lake Nahuel Huapi, then rode into Bariloche. Was strange coming back, there were a lot more people in town and we were lucky to get the last 2 bunks at the hostel we had stayed in the last time we were here.
We had planned to take the train over to Viedma, unfortunately, being high season, it was fully booked, for a week. Now the question which of the 3 routes over to the Atlantic coast to take. Most direct of course was the gravel road, two paved roads, one looping north, the other south, were also possibilities. We had ridden the northern route the last time, the southern route was much longer and so in the end we decided on the shorter gravel road – probably the last of this trip!
Riding dirt roads is all about confidence, it took me 15 hard months and numerous crashes to work that one out!! The last dirt road of the trip was probably the easiest for me, although I probably would have not have thought so a year ago.
Ruta 23 is the most direct road from Bariloche to Viedma its gravel, but like most Argentine gravel roads, in pretty good condition. Lucky for us really, our knobbly tyres had knobbles no more and we were praying that we wouldn’t get a puncture.
After 50kms or so of curves, the road straightened out and we were able to blast along at 80kph. Occasionally there would be a patch of deep gravel and my front wheel would weave violently from side to side nearly throwing me off. The first time it happened I was terrified, but just kept going. Each time after was a little less frightening and with the help of a tail wind we rode the 600 km’s easily in 2 days and no punctures!
It was great to be back in Viedma again and meet all the friends we had made there 9 months ago. We arrived at Oscar Knechts place, in the early afternoon and in no time we were drinking maté and catching up with all the news.
At Oscars, chatting over a maté
We stayed with Enrique and Marie-Luis on their campo (small farm) just outside the town. Here we were really made to feel at home and we spent a good week recharging our batteries. We took the opportunity to wash our dusty kit as well as the bikes and Arno was kept busy making apple strudel and other delicious cakes.
A real treat was a traditional Patagonian Cordero, where a whole lamb is staked out and barbecued, then what seems like the whole neighbourhood is invited to demolish it and a mountain of salad.
This a what you call a barbeque
All too soon however, it was time to head north, this time along the coast towards Mar del Plata, where we wanted to visit Marcelo, a guy we’d met almost a year ago in Azul. It was a shame that the actual coast was always a good 30kms from the road, our first sight of the sea was in Monte Hermoso a surprisingly large seaside town, where we spent the night in a crowded campsite.
The city of Mar del Plata, Argentina’s most famous holiday resort was even more crowded, on one of the many beaches just a stones throw from the city, you could hardly see the sand for bodies.
We stayed at Marcelo’s place, again the hospitality shown to virtual strangers in Argentina is a lesson to us Europeans!
We spent a day doing bike stuff, making the most of Marcelos fully kitted out workshop, and also visited another place in town where he works. This place was really the bees knees of workshops, probably the best we have yet seen since leaving Germany.
Once the bikes were sorted, we could then spend the day riding around the city and its many beaches. There is also a huge harbour to see, with a sealion colony, fishing boats and a graveyard of rusting ships.
Its not all lying on a beach in Mar del Plata
After a few days by the sea it was time to ride inland for another reunion, this time in Azul. Our last ride there, we remembered well - it rained the whole way! This time it only rained for the first 150kms, at Tandil, we left the dark clouds behind, and by the time we reached La Posta we were almost dry.
Jorge had made a few changes since we were last there, but it was still the welcoming place everyone raves about! Martin and Jo from Australia were already at La Posta and the next day Claudia and David from Switzerland on 2 KTMs arrived. Of course this meant Asado!!
After a couple of days, we had to go to BsAs to sort out the shipping of our bikes and buy a flight back to Europe, but promised Jorge we would be back!!
Ruta 3 was dry but boring, we decided to try the old road into the city instead of the autopista, big mistake!! It was really busy, with trucks and buses and of course traffic lights every 50 metres or so.
The constant stop-go, stop-go was frustrating, the bikes began to overheat and so did we. Stopped at the side of the road for a break hoping we were not in a dodgy area, got some strange looks, but no-one bothered us. Once in the city we made our way to where we had arranged to pick up our new tyres. This time the arrangements had gone really smoothly, no waiting around for 10 days!! Two sets of shiny new tyres were waiting for us along with t-shirts and the obligatory stickers.
Another set of tyres from Metzeler
After stacking them on the back of the bikes, it was time to get onto the autopista and try and find the way to Villa Martelli.
We found the right neighbourhood and almost the right road, but how to get across that railway line.
Parked at a junction, map in hand, a Transalp rider came to our rescue and led us to where we needed to go. And so we met another link in the HorizonsUnlimited chain.
Sandra and Javier are the HU community in Buenos Aires and go out of their way to make sure any travellers that arrive there are well taken care of.
The first thing we had to do was change the worn out tyres on our bikes for the shiny new ones we had picked up on the way into town. Javier knew a place nearby where we could get them changed quite cheaply, so we loaded up the BMW and he took us over there.
Transporting the tyres to the Gomeria
The guys at the gomeria were fast workers and had the 4 tyres changed within the hour. 'Quite cheap' turned out to be very cheap, we paid less than €4 for the lot!
Not bad for 15,000kms and not one puncture!
We had arranged with the BMW dealer in the city, that they would keep some wooden crates for us. Sandra had already picked up one and soon after we arrived, two more bikes were delivered, so 2 more crates were there for us. We just had to pick them up. A flete - truck, was arranged to transport the crates, but when the rundown old truck arrived, I didn't think there would be enough room for the boxes. There was of course and we went in the truck to take the crates to a warehouse that belonged to a friend of a friend.
The crates are not strong enough to be used as they are and we calculated that we would have to use the wood of another crate to strengthen ours.
Getting the crates into the flete
The last time we were in BsAs, we had done the rounds of the shipping agents, so we knew what sort of prices we were looking at to ship to Australia. A couple of other travellers had some recommendations, which we followed up, but in the end we stuck to our original choice of company. Hellmans quoted a good price and gave a good impression, they seemed to know what they were doing. We arranged to have the bikes shipped in the second week of March, then went to look for a flight.
We wanted to go back to Azul, but Arnos bike didn't, it was probably as bored as us with Ruta tres. The battery wasnt charging properly so we took it to Javiers shop Dakar Motos and he and Arno spent the morning testing, replacing and testing all the possible thing that it could be.
Sandra and Javier outside Dakar Motos
The problem was not solved, but after so much fiddling around the bike decided it wanted to go to Azul afterall and worked fine!
Back at La Posta, we cleaned the bikes and waded through a mountain of photos, picking out the best ones. Many travellers came and went while we were there, locals and international. Daniel from Switzerland on a Teneré; a couple of locals from Bahia Blanca; 3 Swiss riders, Sepp and Gari on TDMs and Urs on a TTR; Carl from Germany on his F650, Juan Carlos from Mexico on a KLR and our friend from Mar del Plata, Marcelo on his Goldwing.
Juan Carlos from Mexico on his KLR
A Japanese cyclist also turned up, he looked familiar and it turned out we had met him up in Mexico over a year ago. Its a damn small world!
It was wonderful to meet all these travellers and of course it was a good excuse for Jorge to get the Asado fired up!
On sparkling clean bikes, we left La Posta and for the last time, rode up Ruta tres to BsAs. The usually boring 3 hours was made somewhat more interesting, albeit more dangerous by drivers rushing to get back to the capital as it is the end of the holidays. Buses and cars, overloaded with kids and grandmas were being driven by the mentally challenged. One bus came so close behind me, that I couldn't see the driver, just the big Mercedes star on the front of the radiator. Unfortunately, Arno had taken his 'Bolivian security' a machete, off the bike, so we had to settle with the usual hand gestures that seem to be internationally understood.
Javier and Sandra were taking a well deserved holiday when we got back to BsAs, so we had to fend for ourselves. While looking for a cheap hotel in their neigbourhood, we stopped for a chat at another bike shop. The owner knew of a house that rented out rooms by the week and took us over there. It was a sort of boarding house and we were soon unpacking the bikes and settling in.
Everyone once in a while along the roads in Argentina, markers appear telling anyone who is interested how many kilometres away the Capital, Buenos Aires happens to be, almost a year ago it was quite interesting to find ourselves more than 5000kms away, down in Patagonia. Now however, riding back to Buenos Aires from Azul, one last time, I wasn’t too pleased to see the marker for 100kms, not far to go before our journey ends.
We had spent yet another week in Azul, filling up on asados with a variety of travellers that regularly turned up at La Posta. While we were there, we started the long job of getting the bikes clean enough to get past the pickiest AQIS man in Australia.
Our last kilometres behind us, we got busy in BsAs getting the bikes ready to ship to Australia; cleaning, cleaning and cleaning.
It was then time to build the crates as the bikes would be going by sea. We’d got 3 and a bit original crates from the BMW shop in town, but had come to the conclusion after speaking to the shipping company, that to use the original crates as they were, would be very expensive. After a bit of calculating and measuring, we decided to build one box for the two bikes, hopefully saving around 200U$.
Will they both fit?
We had the use of a workshop of a friend of a friend, so could hammer and saw to our hearts content. One crate worked, we managed to squeeze both bikes in and all the luggage too. We had given ourselves a week, but after 3 days full on carpentry we were done!
Well, we thought we were……Over dinner at the BsAs community, we got chatting to Maarten, who had recently travelled in Australia with his bike and told us how he had to show the AQIS guys his air filter!!!
So, back to the workshop, to take the lid off the crate and try and extricate the air filters.
Where is that air filter?
That done and everything cleaned again, we nailed the lid on for the last time. We measured the crate and worked out the shipping cost; 3.2 cubic metres instead of 7.4, so shipping would cost us 560U$ instead of 800U$. Of course there are still charges to be paid when the bikes arrive in Australia, but we were reasonably happy with the cost.
We had a few days to enjoy the city before the bikes had to be at the harbour, so time to visit Boca, the colourful area by the old harbour and to do some last minute shopping.
We had to visit customs before taking the bikes to the harbour, a small office that deals with unaccompanied baggage entering and leaving the country. Didn’t think of our bikes as “baggage”. After waiting around for a couple of hours for someone to turn up, the paperwork was done and dusted in a few minutes and it was time to get the bikes to the harbour.
The truck we had hired arrived surprisingly on time, but not surprisingly, without the requested pumptruck, needed to get our large and heavy crate onto the truck. Luckily a factory around the corner was willing to lend us one and we were soon on our way to deliver the crate, or so we thought.
Getting the crate into the truck
Despite the driver having the address already written down, we had to lend him our city map and he had to stop and ask the way at least a half a dozen times. Even by argentine timekeeping, we were late arriving and the guy who was meeting us there to fumigate the whole thing was not amused another 10 minutes and he would have left!
Luck was on our side yet again though and the warehouse lads soon unloaded our crate and put it in the “special fumigation area” which in fact was an old container. This was then pumped full of a foul smelling smoke and doors closed.
Fumigating the crate at the harbour
It’s a funny business getting bikes into Australia, everything has to be spotless and the wood for the crates either treated, fumigated or destroyed on arrival, can understand that the Australians don’t want any more strange creatures imported, but it seems to be getting stricter every year.
All that remained, was for customs to come and inspect the bike. Persuaded the guys at the harbour that we could do it while we were there and not have to come back in the morning as they were suggesting. We had to wait around for the rest of the day, then at 4.30, one of the guys took our papers over to customs. Of course being late in the day, the customs officer wasn’t too keen to come and start inspecting things, so he just signed the papers and we were free to go!!
Shipping out of Buenos Aires was for us a simple operation, but we had help. Sandra from the HU community arranged transport of the crates and bikes and a place to build the crate. Gabriella at the shipping company arranged the fumigation and told us how to do the customs paperwork ourselves. Flying out, according to another traveller we know, who used the same company, was even easier – just more expensive.
All that remained was for us to get ourselves to the airport, trip over.
Well, almost over…………………………
Here it is, the book to accompany the trip!
Written by Arno, with contributions from Sian and others, this book is in German, and follows our 18 month trip of 55,000kms, from the beaches of California to the most southerly city in the world. As we ride down Central America, past Mayan ruins and steaming volcanoes, read how we then cross into South America, battle through the endless Pampa in Patagonia, along the Altiplano to the heart of the Inca kingdom, ending after 18 months in the city of tango.
At almost 340 pages and with over 150 photos, both colour and black and white, the book really gives you a feeling of participating with this journey, even if you cant read German!
Some photos have been used previously in Sians blogs, but most are brand new.
The cover of our new book, yours for just 14.95 euros.
Here some extracts from the book to read, and if you enjoyed this, see below for details on where to buy it.
Dollars und Reiseschecks sind nutzlos und die Kreditkarten werden aus allen Geldautomaten wieder ausgespuckt. Mir hängt der Magen jetzt schon in den Kniekehlen und der Sprit reicht nie bis nach Antigua. Kurz vorm Aufgeben finden wir eine noch offene Bank mit schwerer Bewaffnung vor der Tür. Zwei mit schusssicheren Westen, Schrotflinten, Pistolen und langen Messern ausgestattete Herren reißen die Türen auf. Eingeschüchtert zeigen wir der Dame im Nebenraum unsere Kreditkarten und Pässe. Sie schaut sich die Karten ungläubig an, stellt Fragen, die wir aber nicht verstehen. Besser ist es, jetzt nichts zu verstehen und den Eindruck zu erwecken, dass es das Normalste der Welt ist und wir uns nicht eher von den Sesseln erheben, bis wir Geld bekommen. Es funktioniert. Sie rennt zwar mehrmals zu ihrem Boss im Nachbarbüro, der uns kritische Blicke zuwirft, aber ich schätze, die wollen auch Feierabend machen.
Die Grenze zu Chile diesmal etwas zügiger hinter uns, kann ich beim Kaffee in der Tankstelle zusehen, wie mein Motorrad vom Wind umgeworfen wird. Den zerbrochenen Blinker können wir mit einem Plastikmesser und viel Klebeband wieder zusammenflicken.
Erizo, ein italienischer Fahrradfahrer auf dem Weg nach Ushuaia (Respekt), gibt uns einen Übernachtungstipp für die Strecke nach Punta Arenas. Die Strecke ist gute Piste, die durch eine raue Gegend mit starkem Wind führt. Fast flach, kein Baum, nur Steppe mit ein paar Farmen. Eine dieser Farm steuern wir bei einbrechender Dunkelheit an, um nach einer geschützten Zeltmöglichkeit zu fragen. Ein kleiner älterer Mann mit einer Schüssel Fleisch in der einen und einem Messer in der anderen Hand, kommt aus einem der vielen Häuser.
Auf der genialen Küstenstraße fahren wir an der Copacabana und all den anderen Stränden entlang zum Aussichtspunkt, um die Stadt im Sonnenuntergang zu betrachten. Während wir der Romantik frönen, kommt ein älterer Herr auf einer brandneuen Harley angeballert. Als pensionierter Pilot hat Paracelso viel Zeit und schlägt uns einen Ausritt in die Berge vor. Mit seiner chromgeschwängerten Harley fällt er mächtig auf und wir genießen es, mal nicht im Kreuzverhör der Neugierigen zu stehen. Die Strecke durch von Schweizern und Italienern besiedelten Berge ist schön, nur muss man sehr auf die Löcher und den in meinen Auspuff kriechenden Verkehr aufpassen.
Up on the Altiplano
Komplett angezogen kriechen wir in die Schlafsäcke und ziehen sie so zusammen, dass nur noch eine kleine Öffnung zum Atmen übrig ist. Wir versuchen einzuschlafen und es gelingt sogar, aber immer wieder wache ich mit Schmerzen in den Knien auf. Beim Umdrehen spüre ich den gefrorenen Atem an der Zeltinnenseite, der den Schlafsack bei Berührung nass werden lässt. Mit schmerzenden aufgeplatzten Handrücken und hart verkrusteten Lippen frage ich mich, ob es das alles wert ist.
Sobald die Sonne das Zelt trifft, suche ich Wärme in den kräftigen Strahlen, doch das Thermometer zeigt immer noch minus 25 Grad Celsius! Die Wasserflasche im Zelt ist durchgefroren und der Abwasch muss mit Sand erledigt werden. Das wärmende Zusammenpacken und eine Schüssel Haferschleim bringen uns zurück ins Reich der Lebenden.
Authors Arno and Sian
So, that's a little taster for you, if you want to read more, you can buy the book from a couple of places: if you live in Germany or Australia, send an email to: bigtrip_2 @yahoo.co.uk and don't forget to mention "Horizons"
Otherwise you can order Motoqueros from the Touratech website www.touratech.de
Motoqueros - the book.
2005 finds us living in Melbourne and we are looking forward to meeting some motorcycle travellers, so send us an email if you are heading this way!
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