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.

The Lakes District

Adrian walking along the bank of a lake with a local stray dog

Adrian picked up a new friend while we were walking around Pucon…

15 November – Day 116

Pucon, Chile
Distance: 0kms

There is a giant, active, snow-covered volcano standing guard over the city of Pucon. It sort of reminds me of pictures of Japan’s Mt Fuji in advertising brochures – only in the flesh, it’s more impressive.

We’re in the Chilean Lakes District, an area considered one of the most beautiful in Chile not only because of the volcanoes, but also the azure lakes and the emerald forests. I have to say, it’s pretty spectacular. Pretty, and spectacular. It reminds me of a cross between Switzerland, New Zealand and the southern parts of Germany.

The weather has also improved – it was lovely and sunny today… which made the lakes and the volcano all the more impressive. It’s amazing how the sun does that.. a bit of bright light, and nature just sparkles.

Helpfully, there’s also good coffee and a vegetarian restaurant here… so in addition to natural beauty we’ve got our creature comforts sorted!

We walked around the various lakes looking for somewhere renting out sail boats so we could get out onto the lake, but they only had very uncomfortable looking manual paddle/pedal boats which didn’t really excite us. So instead we read our books while eating icecream in the sun on the lake’s foreshore.

 

Santiago, Chile to Pucon, Chile

14 November – Day 115
Distance: 756kms

Over 700+ kms today we went from warm (hot!) sunny weather where getting sunburnt was a strong possibility to a little town by a big lake where everyone seems to be wearing a beanie. And it’s for good reason – it’s freezing!!!

Today was the longest day in terms of distance travelled that we’ve had on the bike (although it wasn’t the longest day in terms of hours spent with bums in seat). We’ll be here by the lake for a few days… hopefully it gets warmer tomorrow!!!

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.

 

No birds…

A sculpture in the street in Chivay

A sculpture in the street in Chivay… note the streaming sunlight… literally!!!

30 October – Day 100!!!!

Chivay, Peru to Arequipa, Peru (via the not-so-forthcoming condors…)
Distance: 267 kms

We rose early to be in the at one of the highest points in the Colca Canyon – and also the best place to spot condors – by 8.30am… apparently, that’s the best condor viewing time. It took a solid hour to get there, mostly on very (VERY!) rough, unpaved, unsmoothed, un-everything roads. Honestly, it felt like someone was shaking my brain inside my skull, that’s how corrugated the road was.

The Colca Canyon is stunningly beautiful. Really, truly amazing. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US… and just under twice the height of Mt Kosciusco. So yeah, it’s high. It’s also breathtaking. And just very impressive. We sat for a while admiring the canyon in her full morning splendour while we watched/waited for the condors to show. We did see one, a juvenile, a few hundred metres away. Although.. I didn’t have my glasses on, and it could also have been a black speck floating across my eyeball. Hard to tell!

Colca Canyon

Part of the very impressive Colca Canyon

After the canyon, we headed back to Chivay to pick up the panniers from our hostel and hit the road to Arequipa. Today was the day we crossed the highest point on the trip… 4,900m above sea level. That’s my new personal (non-plane) record! Above the 3,500m mark, I’ve definitely noticed that when exercising – or even just walking up stairs really – I lose my breath more quickly and it takes longer than usual to get it back.

We made good time to Arequipa and eventually found a reasonably priced hostel with parking for the bike – inside the courtyard, of course!

29 October – Day 99

Cusco, Peru to Chivay (Colca Canyon), Peru
Distance: 387 kms

By Adrian

We left Cusco by 9am to continue our journey southwards… with Adrian doing his usual trick of riding out through the front door of our accommodation. We made it all the way to Chivay, which is the nearest town to the Colca Canyon – our touristy activity for tomorrow morning.

We were told the previous day by some Argentinian riders not to venture through Juliaca due to the fact that either they or their friends had been mugged while riding their motorcycles. We also heard later that it is one of the ugliest cities in South America so our decision to ride the straightest road to Chivay proved to be a good one.

It was a 50/50 road/off-road day with the first section being winding and smooth as silk followed by a rough road-works section, followed by asphalt once more into the isolated city of Espinar. From here it was either the graded ‘truck route’ or the unknown alternate dirt road. With road tyres on we chose the graded truck route which was smooth enough to enable a pretty good pace. We climbed to over 4,800m on that road before finishing up in Chivay at 3,800m.

I think the off-road section had Lauren yearning for the train ride with free cocktails she had spoken with Allison and Chris about yesterday…

Adrian riding the BMW GSA out through the door of a hotel

Adrian doing his usual trick of riding out through the door of our accommodation

Tall wax palms in Colombia

Very tall wax palm trees

Some of the trees in the wax palm forest

8 October – Day 78

Salento, Colombia to Cali, Colombia
Distance: 207kms

We visited the Corcora forest just after a big breakfast at the BnB of scrambled eggs, white toast and cheese (not my number one favourite breakfast…). The trees were pretty impressive! Apparently they are the tallest palm trees in the world. My little snotball was too sniffy to do the hike through the forest, so we rode around for a while and went for a short walk just admiring the view before heading back to the BnB, packing up the bike and taking off for Cali. It was a good time to be heading to Cali, where they have a BMW dealership, because on the way one of Beamsky’s warning lights came on… there was apparently an issue with the ABS. It wasn’t hugely worrying, as we haven’t had to use the ABS yet… but it’s also one of those things that you want to have ready and working for when you need it!

Anyway, our hostel – which is owned by a Colombian overland biker who leads people on bike tours around the country – was conveniently near the BMW shop so after we arrived, Adrian headed back there to get the issue sorted. They didn’t have the part in stock.. so the took it off the brand new R1200GSA they had on the showroom floor and installed it on Beamsky, and said that they could just order a new part for their display bike! They also replaced the part under the BMW warranty, pretty good service really.

7 October – Day 77

Medellin, Colombia to Salento, Colombia
Distance: 280kms

Today was mostly a riding day as we continue our journey south through Colombia. The traffic was better than it had been on the way to Medellin and the roads slightly less crazy… but honestly, they are SO CRAZY that slightly less still means that buses overtake trucks on blind corners, roadworks appear out of nowhere, and two-lane roads are treated as 3-4 lanes.

Salento is a little town most famous because the Corcora Palm Forest is nearby. We got in too late to see the palms today; so they’re on the cards for tomorrow morning.

I found a pretty cheap BnB walking distance from the town centre, so after we checked in and unloaded our gear off the bike, we walked up to the town square and then up a number of stairs to a local lookout. The view over the valley was amazing!

Adrian aka ‘my little snotball’ is feeling a bit better but is still sneezing and sniffing like crazy.