Back to Argentina

Adrian taking photos of the lake in Bariloche

Adrian taking photos of the lake in Bariloche

19 November – Day 120

Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Bariloche is an absolutely stunning town. It sits on a massive freshwater lake, Nahuel Huapui, and is surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It reminds me a little bit of Queenstown in NZ and a little bit of Switzerland. Although it was really cold when we arrived last night, this morning was lovely – sunny and bright… perfect weather for a 5km walk to the base of Cerro Otto and a ride up the mountain in a cable car! The view from the top was spectacular. We sat in the sun for a while, admiring the view and watching paragliders take off and slowly descend the 2000m or so back to the Bariloche town centre. So relaxing, it was great. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering into different shops and cafes and tasting some of the town’s famous chocolate. Dinner was comprised of the best empanadas I’ve had on the trip so far… full of fresh spinach, ricotta and just a touch of garlic, onion and chilli… delicious!

The view from the top of Cerro Otto, Bariloche

The view from the top of Cerro Otto, Bariloche

18 November – Day 119

Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 280kms

We got new tyres on the bike today and headed for Bariloche, back over the border in Argentina. It’s a town famous for its chocolate – as well as the stunning lakes and mountains that surround it. The border crossing was good; another example of Chilean/Argentinian efficiency. The ride was very pretty, with huge lakes and snow-topped mountains, volcanoes and glaciers accompanying us for much of the route. We also had an early opportunity to experience some of the infamous Route 40 wind, which is so strong that it’s literally blown many a biker off their bike and the only way to ride in it is to lean the bike at quite an angle into the wind. I have to say, I’m happy that I’ll miss most of it by flying back up from Usuhaia to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip rather than riding – and it’ll be easier for Adrian to ride in it without me on the back, too.

Wow. Just wow.

Ice floes in the Atacama desert

Little soldiers of ice all lined up in the Atacama desert. There were patches with these ice dominoes all over the place. Amazing!

3 November – Day 104

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Purmarca, Argentina
Distance: 400kms

I know I keep saying this, but… today was truly one of the best days in the bike in terms of the natural scenery. From ice dominos lined up in identical rows on the hot red sand of the Atacama desert (seriously), to pink flamingos, to a lake made from solid snow white salt… the landscape was just so diverse… at every turn, I just kept scraping my chin off the bottom of my helmet; I couldn’t keep my mouth from dropping open in wondrous surprise.

The pictures don’t really do it justice, but I’ve uploaded a couple just so you can get the sense of it.

Today was also a border crossing day.. and it was good! Possibly the smoothest, most convenient, best structured border crossing we’ve done. It was seamless! Helpfully, the ‘check out’ and ‘check in’ counters were right next to each other, and the paperwork was easy. If only they’d all been this good!! Although… then I probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much.  Anyway  – we’re in Argentina!!

The ever-changing desert landscape

The ever-changing desert landscape

Pink flamingos in the desert

Pink flamingos in the desert

Lauren standing next to the BMW GSA on a solid salt lake

Salt lake near Salta



Atacama desert – wow

Red rocks against a blue sky in the Atacama desert

The Atacama Desert

2 November – Day 103

Iquique, Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Distance: 571kms

The lame jokes have well and truly kicked in, with it just being too hard to not be a little ‘chilly in Chile’ or really feeling like chilli for dinner!!

The first couple of hours of today’s ride were along the Chilean coast. It felt strange being back down at sea level after being up above 4,500m… and it was lovely just breathing in the salty sea air. The coast was rockier than I’d expected, with lots of bird life. In fact, there were so many birds in some places that the rocks were stained white with bird poop!

From there, we headed into and then through the Atacama desert. Wow! It was incredible. The colours, the landscape, the kilometre after kilometre of lifeless, barren terrain that was somehow still full of a vibrant energy. Spectacular!

Elsewhere in the Atacama desert

Elsewhere in the Atacama desert

It was another long day on the bike.. and one that culminated in me asking at at least 10m if not 15 hostals/hotels/hosterias for accommodation only to find that they were all booked out. I guess that’s what happens when you arrive at the only town in the (stunningly amazing) Atacama desert on a Friday evening! We ended up at a rather expensive campsite which was at least close to the town centre. San Pedro the town is very touristy – with the majority of tourists seemed to be local ie Chilean or Argentinian.

Longest day yet – and breaking the biking rules

Adrian riding through the desert

Adrian riding through the desert

By Adrian

1 November – Day 102

Arequipa, Peru to Iquique, Chile
Distance: 738kms

Leaving Arequipa and heading towards the border with Chile we were mesmerised at times by the stark beauty of the desert landscapes flowing past us and the myriad colours and shapes the mountains formed. The border crossing was one of the quickest so far, however still not very straight-forward, needing (amongst other things) to fill out a passenger list before exiting the country which it turns out is the means via which they ensure there are no stowaways by the other end of the crossing. Not sure how we’d get a stowaway on the bike?

We were a little shocked that we weren’t surrounded by money changers sticking wads of cash in our face and offering exchange rates stacked in their favour. I missed the to and fro of negotiating the rate… and it also meant we were in a foreign country with no local money and in need of petrol! We ended up finding the bus terminal in the next town to convert our Sols to Pesos.

Somewhat stupidly we thought we’d press on for the next town only to be held up by roadworks.. and the next town turning out to be no bigger than a fuel station and a restaurant. By the time we reached Iquique it was 9pm meaning a full 12 hour day on the bike AND we’d been riding at night, against the golden rule. We were both shattered and further shocked to find out we had lost two hours crossing the border with a time change and that it was actually 11pm.

And… there was an issue with the bike just as we arrived into Iquique… a very loud bang followed by an extended whirring sound had me pulling over to the side as quickly as I could, convinced that – highly inconveniently – we’d just ‘achieved’ our first popped and now flat tyre… late at night, without accommodation, after a loonng day, in the middle of nowhere. However… lady luck was shining on us and instead of a flat tyre, it was actually ‘just’ that the mud flap on the back wheel had snapped off and was dragging against the tyre. Not so bad after all!

Eventually we found some accommodation (at the third place we tried) and that was it for the night.

On the positive side – we got to see (well, Lauren mainly – I was concentrating on the road) a spectacular desert sunset. The colours were amazing… and post sunset, when it was actually dark (and definitely past our ‘riding time’) we both saw a shooting star! Very nice.

The amazing scenery between Peru and Chile.. wow!

The amazing scenery between Peru and Chile.. wow!

The colours kept changing from grey to red to orange to white to maroon and so on... it was just really spectacular.

The colours kept changing from grey to red to orange to white to maroon and so on… it was just really spectacular.


Best day on the bike so far

Snow capped mountains

Our view along the way today

21 October – Day 91

Huaraz, Peru to Chavinilllo, Peru

Distance: 200kms

What a difference the sun makes! Huaraz is lovely. The view is amazing… it’s what I imagine being in the Himalayas must be like, surrounded – no, dwarfed – by incredible, and incredibly different, majestic mountains. Wow. I can now understand why people come here!

Today was the best day on the bike so far. The scenery, road, weather and the riding conditions generally were just fantastic. And ‘best day’ is an even bigger call given I was struck down in the morning by a case of Bali Belly… or, more accurately, Peru Belly. It’s the first time on the trip that I’ve had any sort of health hiccup. Although Adrian wasn’t happy that I was feeling somewhat suboptimal, I suspect a little part of him was happy that – for once – it was me! He was fine. The upside of Peru Belly is that it distracted me from any sore muscles I might have otherwise felt from yesterday’s intervals!

I wasn’t in a state fit for riding until about 11am, and we finally hit the road at noon. Once we managed to get through a short yet crazy part of the town where the roads were dirt and stones, and the tuk tuks moved in all directions ie not only up and down but also back and forth across the street, we were just blown away by the view. We were riding on a smooth, nicely asphalted, gently curved road alongside some of the most spectacular mountains I’ve seen. And they were big… we were already at about 4,200m ourselves, and we were being dwarfed by some of the biggies. Really, I can’t describe it – it was spectacular. The serpentine of the road was matched by the serpentine river than snaked between us and the mountains. There were little towns and small villages dotted along the way, with the brown mudbricks and thatched rooves providing a nice contrast to the fields terraced with rows of small, carefully assembled, rocks. Animals were kept from roaming either by similarly assembled stone pens, or by having their two front feet tied together with a stocking. Seeing pigs and sheep hobble along the road in their own version of a personal three-legged race was really funny, in just a lovely sort of way. We also saw lots of locals, in traditional dress, walking along the road. Sometimes carrying a switch made from straw which they used to spur their animals on, sometimes just walking with their family, always smiling and waving hello.

Late in the afternoon, we got stopped at some roadworks where we were about three cars from the front. When we asked the lollypop lady how long we’d be stopped there for, she told us two hours. Two hours??!!! It was already 5pm and we still had about 100kms to go before reaching our intended destination. Fortunately, the two hours turned into thirty minutes, and we were on our way again… only to be stopped by Jeremy’s bike failing. We’re still not sure what’s wrong with it, and we did manage to limp another 40kms to the next town (we were in the middle of nowhere), but he’s essentially got no throttle control and the bike revs up and down independent of the throttle. Not great – especially when you’re pushing sunset and are riding on windy, narrow roads along a cliff edge.. with no fence, of course.

For now, we’ve got a hotel, the bikes are securely out of sight and we’ve eaten dinner at the only restaurant in town, a roast chicken place right next door to the hotel. Somewhat bizarrely, three Germans arrived here just after we did (I mentioned we’re in the middle of the Peruvian highlands, didn’t I?), only they were in two tuk tuks and are in the middle of a charity tuk tuk challenge around Peru.

We’ve got 60kms to go in the morning before hitting the town we’d hoped to reach tonight. We’ll be staying there in a BnB run by motorbikers and ADVers, so hopefully the fellas will be able to get Jeremy’s bike sorted while I wander around the town.

The road through the mountains... very windy,and in surprisingly good condition!

The road through the mountains… very windy,and in surprisingly good condition!

Older Peruvian couple

The couple who owned the hotel we stayed at

Volcanic eruptions…

Adrian in the foreground with a volcano

Adrian watching the volcano

13 October – Day 83

Quito, Ecuador to Banos, Ecuador
Distance: 130kms

Our somewhat loose plan of meeting up with Jeremy again at noon on the road leading into Quito actually worked! This was after a couple of hours – for us at least – on the road from Quito, where strangely the traffic was worse outside of the city than it was in the city, and there were a few more 20c tolls which are pretty common here. Unlike in Colombia, where the roads are free for motorbikes (if your bike is skinny enough to ride through the very narrow bike lanes! We’d heard stories about overlanders losing panniers on the cement barriers on either side… and it was a very tight fit!), here in Ecuador there’s a discounted rate for bikes. Which is good!

Banos is a very popular holiday town famous for its waterfalls, landscape, massage and ‘adventure activities’. The three of us – as we’re now a travelling party of three – decided to take tomorrow off and have a good explore around the valley. The scenery on the way in was pretty spectacular… a smooth winding road down along a steep valley face lined with lush pasture and dotted with farmhouses and.. gumtrees!

After settling into our hostel, we went for a long walk around the town to get a feel for it and also decide what we wanted to do tomorrow. Adrian and I got a massage – for Adrian, it was his first ever hot stone massage… and I don’t think he’ll be rushing back for more! Apart from having his leg hairs singed from a stone that was just too hot, apparently his person spent all 65 minutes just sort of patting him like you would the head of a dog.

After dinner we took the bikes up one of the nearby mountains to have a look at the local volcano, Tungurahua, which is currently active. It was amazing… you could see plumes of lava just spewing up and out into the night sky. Really, it looked incredible and was quite moving, in a wow-nature-is-amazing kind of way…

Tungurahua Volcano, Banos, Ecuador

Tungurahua Volcano, Banos, Ecuador

Dirtbiking in Ecuador – and crossing the equator!

Adrian and Lauren standing on either side of the equatorial line

Standing across the equator!

11 October – Day 81

Otavola, Ecuador to Quito, Ecuador
Distance: 140kms

We spent the morning wandering about Otavola including the Otavola Indigenous textile market (where yes, we did buy a couple of smallish things). The market was excellent – and an unexpected surprise. We knew about it, but thought it was only on weekends.

After the markets, we headed up to a lake that Adrian had heard about which was apparently both good and not a place tourists usually went to, Laguna de Mojanda. It was a bumpy twenty minute ride on a cobblestone road up into the mountains to reach the lake… and that was only the start of it! Once we got there, we found out that there was a road around the lake that (eventually) led back to the Pan American Highway… it was dirt, but there were a couple of locals up there (on small, easily manoeuvrable, light dirt bikes without any luggage) who assured us that it was passable. Hahaha. To be honest, they were right – it was passable, and we made it through. However not without me getting off and walking down and up several muddy hills (at an altitude of 4000m!), and not without Adrian dropping the bike. Argh I really don’t like being a pillion for the off-road stuff. I actually didn’t want to take the dirt road at all. Adrian did, so we scissors-paper-rocked it and Adrian won… so it was off road we went! Adrian and Jeremy loved it.

Our next stop was the equator! Today we crossed the equator – and I can now say that I’ve stood with one foot in each hemisphere. One of the benefits of this is that the days will start getting longer again, which I’m looking forward to.

The ride into Quito was surprisingly easy. The road was great, and even once we hit the city, there was no traffic. We realised why once we’d actually arrived… Ecuador was playing in some sort of pre- Soccer World Cup match 99% of the city’s population was off the road, cheering their team on. The first couple of motels we stopped at were full – apparently because of the soccer – however we eventually got the last room in the fifth or so place we tried. It was getting dark so we went to a local place for dinner and that was about it. Tomorrow we’ll have a good look around Quito.

A roast pig on a spit with chillis in its ears

Lunch, anyone?! So far on the trip, when I’ve asked what sort of vegetarian food a place has, I’ve been offered a prawn salad, a chicken pasta and a range of other non-veggo options. It seems that ‘vegetarian’ has a different meaning here!!

Brightly coloured friendship bracelets made from knotted embroidery thread

Friendship bracelets for sale in Otavola

A small fruit market on the street in Otavalo

A small fruit market on the street in Otavola

A local’s tour of Medellin

Brightly coloured buildings in Medellin

In the old part of Medellin

6 October – Day 76

Distance: 0kms

Another excellent day in Colombia, a country which continues to exceed my expectations and has been one of my favourites so far.

As we were walking around looking for a café for brekky before heading off, we for some reason decided to go up a little side street… where Juan, the helpful stranger from yesterday, was sitting at café with his wife! How he recognised us I have no idea; he’d only seen us in all our gear including helmets… but he did, and came and sat with us for quite a while. He was pretty disappointed that we were planning on leaving Medellin straight away, and said that he’d love to take us around the city if only we stayed in town for another day. Plus his favourite local soccer team was playing that afternoon, and we might want to watch it with him? It was an opportunity not to be missed – spending a day with a local, in his own city?!! Yes please!

Twenty minutes after breakfast we were at the designated meeting spot, and the tour began with a close look at the Gaudua bamboo that was growing nearby, and a discussion on how it’s used in construction. It’s apparently known as ‘nature’s steel’ because it’s so strong – and flexible, which is helpful in earthquake prone areas.

We were going to get a taxi into the town centre, but while we were waiting the bus arrived and so on we jumped. It was our first local bus ride in South or Central America. It was pretty obvious that we were tourists, so along the way almost everyone in the bus was pointing things out to us, wanting us to know which street we were on (‘the car street’, where all the car dealerships are) etc etc. They were just so friendly! I know I keep saying this, but really – it’s such a change from previous countries, where people were either not friendly, or just wanted money. Colombians are friendly for the sake of being friendly.

Anyway, we hopped off and Juan was right into the tour, taking us to San Antonio Square which is where, in 1997, the FARC set off a bomb inside a statue, killing 17 people. 1997… it’s not that long ago.

We then went to look at the second hand book sellers’ offerings… on Sundays, the streets are lined with people selling old books. It was bliss. Our tour also took in a couple of the big churches in the town centre, as well as the more famous buildings, made all the more interesting by being with a local who knew the history, including information about the architect, year of construction, any issues or scandals associated with the building, current use etc etc. I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing on a tour of Sydney; I just don’t know enough about the history of the place. So I was even more impressed, and grateful, for the tour. At one point, Juan even sweet-talked a policeman into escorting us into a restricted area so he could show us a couple of monuments and explain some more about Colombia’s history. The policeman must have walked around with us for over 10 minutes, and he got into the tour too, pointing out various things and sharing bits of information.

One of the statues in this area is of Guillermo Gaviria Correa, the former state governer and his Peace Commissioner, Gilberto Echeverri Mejía who were killed by the FARC in 2003 after being held hostage for a year.  They were captured when participating in a peace march.

After a quick refreshment at a very local pub, Juan’s wife Sorel picked all of us up and took us for lunch, and then we went back to Juan’s place to watch his local soccer team’s match over a few more refreshments including a delicious traditional Colombian fried plantain and avocado dish from Calli, which is where Sorel is from.

All in all, it was an excellent day.

Stone arches and a wooden roof inside a church

Inside one of the big Churches in Medellin city

Our lovely Colombian hosts for the day

Our lovely Colombian hosts for the day – Matteau, Sorel and Juan




Toad Hall

View of Toad Hall Costa Rica including pool and house - and tropical jungle

This motorcycling caper ain’t half bad! Our accommodation at Toad Hall

21 September – Day 61

Samara, Costa Rica to Fortuna, Costa Rica
Distance: 200kms

It took us a looong time to get going this morning! We started our day with what was a fairly average breakfast and then a fantastic swim. The water was the perfect temperature, with lovely, glassy rolling waves big enough that it was fun to float over them and not so big that you thought you might get smashed. Sensational. It was hot early, so we procrastinated and just faffed about, delaying the inevitable. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worn heavy, baggy jeans in hot and humid weather? I can tell you that the jeans stick to your legs, making it hard to pull them on – the kind of stickiness that’s like a wet plastic bag. It can also be hard to even bend your leg at the knee, as the denim stuck to your skin acts as a sort of brace. So yes, we were putting off putting on our bike jeans for as long as possible.

Eventually, we got going and it was actually pretty nice riding. It wasn’t as hot on the bike as it was off the bike, there were some windy parts for Adrian and not much traffic. We stopped for lunch by a lake by a volcano which was pretty impressive… and we decided to find some accommodation nearby.

Enter Toad Hall. We’d been seeing signs for it for several kilometres, including “world’s best guacamole” (a VERY big call), “shoes”, “wine”, “great accommodation”, “pub”. After we decided against the first place we stopped at, we made the call to find this Toad Hall. And – it was excellent!! For many reasons, including that the moment we pulled up outside, it started to absolutely bucket down with rain. I think it was a sign.

In a role reversal, I did the room checking/price negotiating – and I did a fantastic job, if I do say so myself! We’re in the “Jungle Suite” which is actually more like an apartment than a suite and has an amazing, 180 degree view of the lake and surrounding tropical rainforest, from the floor to ceiling windows that form one wall of the suite. There are some rescue birds in aviaries just below our room, including parrots that whistle, cackle like Dr Claw at the end of an Inspector Gadget episode and also a wicked witch sort of a cackle, and call out ‘hola, hola’ on a regular basis. It’s hilarious. And so nice.

Oh and the guac? It was very good!


20 September – Day 60

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Samara, Costa Rica
Distance: 267kms

If ever there was a bureaucratic process in need of improvement, it’s the process to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica with a vehicle. And I’m saying this as someone who has experienced more than her fair share of bureaucratic processes in the past! Wow. Talk about long and convoluted…  to get the bike in, we (well, Adrian) had to go from immigration, to customs, then back to immigration and then back to customs. No biggie, as often there are different offices involved. It’s just that for some unknown reason, in Costa Rica these two offices are 400m away from each other – which means walking over 1km just to get in to the country! In hot, humid conditions. In full bike gear!

Anyway, we got through in the end and made our way to Samara. The roads were pretty good… fewer speed bumps and chickens than previous countries.. and more horses. We were stopped at one checkpoint not too far from the border and the police officer took down Adrian’s details and then waved us through. Not sure what it was about….maybe to cross reference with immigration that we’d entered the country legally?

Samara is a little beachy town with a relatively high proportion of westerners… which means it’s reasonably expensive for Central America; prices are pretty close to Australian prices. Still, the beach is lovely!


A day of highlights

View from cabana down across the town to the coast

The view from our cabana in San Juan del Sur

19 September – Day 59

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Distance: 0kms

Today was a day of highlights.

The first highlight for me today was getting some washing done. Seriously. I know that sounds like a strange thing to consider a highlight, but when you’ve only got two t-shirts, when you don’t always stop somewhere for long enough to get washing done and dried, and when every day is hot and steamingly humid, the thought of a freshly washed shirt is definitely something to be excited about. For me, and presumably anyone and everyone I happen to walk past on any given day.

The second highlight was the discovery of a combined bookshop-café. My favourite! With excellent, excellent books and organic shade grown in-house roasted Arabica coffee from the proprietors’ very own coffee plantation located just up the road. And delicious smoothies.

The third highlight was getting my legs waxed by a woman who knew what she was doing. Again, a leg wax generally isn’t something to particularly celebrate… but when your last leg wax in Central America took almost a hour, included at least 20 minutes of the waxer individually and painfully tweezing hairs with unnecessarily sharp tweezers AND left you with legs almost as hairy as they were before you walked in to the joint, a good wax somehow seems more valuable.

The fourth highlight was an excellent dinner at a restaurant just down the hill from our cabana. The restaurant had its own generator. This was a highlight in and of itself given that the power went out at 4pm and didn’t come back on until about 10.30pm. It was our fourth blackout in four days.

Tomorrow we’re off into Costa Rica – I’m looking forward to seeing how it compares with Nicaragua (which I’ve really liked).