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Werner Zwick

Northern-Chile/Bolivia

- The Land of the Condor -

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Second stage of my South American Journey

When I lifted the cover under which I had parked my bike in this Chilean seaside town 8 months ago, I could not believe that this rusty something was my Honda Transalp, that had served me so well for 130.000km so far.

Transalp, Altiplano

Transalp, Altiplano

With the help of my host Raul and his family, and a motorcycle shop, we got it running again. On the way to Santiago, I got used to my bike again. The rich central valley is full of large vegetable and fruit processing plants. Large plantations of apples, grapes and pears dominate the countryside.

When riding the spectacular road over the Cumbre (sometimes also called Los Libertadores) pass between Santiago and Mendoza in Argentina,

Mt Aconcagua

passing the highest mountain in the America's, Mt. Aconcagua (6959m),

I detected dripping oil below the motor. This worried me and I feared that the engine leaked or some other bad problems might have occurred. Some oil-refills and 60km later, I reached the nice town of Los Andes with a motorcycle shop. It turned out to be just a leak in the new oil filter that was fitted in a motorcycle shop in Chillan.

Travelling north from Santiago, I experienced the gradual climatic change from rich agricultural country to the vast Atacama Desert. Between Ovalle and Vicuna, I took the gravel road through the foothills of the Andes.

Cumbre

Cumbre Road

 

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Zwick's Home

Stories and Photos -2000-1
Patagonia -
where the
neighbor
lives
beyond the
horizon
Northern
Chile
/Bolivia -
The Land of
the Condor
Peru -
Colca Canyon
and Machu
Picchu
Ecuador -
dream roads,
volcanoes and
the equator

More to come...
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The road winds through the fertile Hurtado Valley before climbing up into the dry mountains. It was a beautiful ride on a single-track dirt road with almost no traffic. Visiting the charming towns of Vicuna and La Serena was the last dose of civilisation before entering the Atacama desert. Distances between gas stations rose to 250km, towns along the paved main road were sometimes 500km apart. Many so-called oficinas, huge abandoned nitrate mines, were situated in the desert. Thousands of workers were held like slaves in dusty barracks all over northern Chile in the first half of the 20th century working in the mines.

Shortly before the turnoff to Antofagasta I saw a hand rising 20m out of the desert soil. It's the hand of the Atacama, a monument built in the middle of nowhere in 1992.

The Hand of the Atacama

The Hand of the Atacama

The small and attractive oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama is the jumping off point for many sights. Blue mountain lakes, huge volcanoes, Inca ruins, the desolate Valley of the Moon and the salt lake Salar de Atacama are some of the attractions in this region. The El Tatio geyser basin is the best of all.

Lagunas Miscanti

Lagunas Miscanti

The Technoflex shock absorber had some hard work to do on the 90km washboard track with sandy and rocky sections that took me to the geysers at an altitude of 4300m. There was nobody else, all the tour groups that frequent the area every morning had already left. I set up my tent and spent one of the most impressive days, and nights, of my life between the bubbling and steaming hotpots. As I was not acclimated to the altitude, I had a bad headache all night long, but when the sun rose over the horizons and the geysers spewed huge columns of steam over the frozen land, I forgot my headache and enjoyed this natural spectacle.

 

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El Tatio geysers

El Tatio geysers

Cooking in the hot water of the geysers

Cooking in the hot water of the geysers

Campsite at El Tatio

Campsite at El Tatio

 

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Further north, on the border to Peru and Bolivia is the spectacular Lauca National Park. The tranquillo Laguna Chungara is dominated by three Volcanoes, each one more than 6000m high, covered by gleaming glaciers.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

From there, the road leads over a 4700m pass to Bolivia. The road from Arica in Chile to La Paz in Bolivia is now fully paved. It's an easy ride, the only dangers are altitude sickness and large flocks of grazing lamas.

Routa 5

Routa 5

 

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Before entering the chaotic traffic of La Paz, I spent two relaxing days in the hidden Termas de Urmiri. The single lane dirt road descends steep into a valley, with many narrow curves. Looking down it resembles a corkscrew on the hillside.

Urmiri Road

Urmiri Road, Termas de Urmiri

La Paz is a very busy city, and large parts of the town are an open air market. Just outside of the hospedaje I was strangled and robbed by three men. Luckily I was not physically hurt, just my ego was damaged and I lost my daypack with my camera, some money, and worst of all, my diary.

Puente del Inca

Puente del Inca

 

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I parked the bike and explored the fabulous Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is a nice town on the lake, with good restaurants and many tour operators, who offer boat trips to the nearby Isla del Sol (Sun Island) and Isla de la Luna (Moon Island). These islands are the mythical birthplace of the first Inca, Manco Kapac and his sister.

Bike is admired in Copacabana, Bolivia.

Bike is admired in Copacabana, Bolivia

In a few months, April 2001, I will visit my Transalp again, returning to Bolivia to explore more of this fascinating country.

Werner

 

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Story and photos copyright © Werner Zwick, 2000-2001.
All Rights Reserved.
Webmaster:
Grant Johnson

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