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

Incan ruins in Peru (not Machu Picchu!!)

Pre-incan ruins at Pikillacta

The pre-Incan city of Pikillacta, just outside of Cusco

27-28 October – Days 97 and 98

Cusco, Peru (and surrounds)

Distance: 0kms

Well – we had a lovely surprise on our first full day in Cusco.. it was the anniversary of the Patron Saint of Cusco, so the city is awash with celebrations. There were people dancing in bright, traditional outfits in the square, military marching bands and parades galore. It was excellent! We spent most of the day exploring Cusco city, including wandering up to the Incan ruins just above the town, Sacsahuaman (colloquially referred to as ‘sexy woman’), which National Geographic magazine has called “arguably the greatest Incan ruin outside of Machu Picchu.” It’s thought that it was once a royal complex, and the way the giant stones have been slotted together to form massive walls and fortresses was very impressive.

We also met up with another Aussie couple staying at the hostel, Allison and Christopher, and ended up hiring a taxi and a driver for the day on the 28th to visit some of the other sights that are close to the city – but too far away to walk. This included a Church at Andahualillas and pre-Incan ruins at Pikillacta, where you can still see the original street walls over an expansive grid. It also included the highlight of my time in Cusco, Tipon.

Tipon is a ginormous, 500 acre site all about water engineering and conservation. It was incredible! The walls, the waterfalls, the channels, the streams, the baths, the view, the constant sound of gently bubbling water… I loved it. We spent a while just walking around checking it all out, climbing incan steps and listening to the water gurgling away.

For the rest of our time in Cusco, we wandered around the old town in the city, went to the markets, did some washing, got Adrian’s motorbike jeans restitched after they were torn in the wash (oh yes.. understandably he was NOT happy about that) etc etc! All in all, it was a lovely couple of days off the bike.

Adrian at the ruins at Tipon

Adrian at the ruins at Tipon

Terraces at Tipon

Terraces at Tipon

A military march

Marching bands in Cusco celebrating their patron saint… just to the right of this picture is where the dignitaries were sitting… and the leg kicks got MUCH higher as they paraded past their mayor etc, that’s for sure!!!

 

 

An earthquake measuring 6.6…

View across Lake Atitlan with two boats

The very impressive Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

6 September – Day 46

Panajachel, Guatemala (Lake Atitlan)
Distance: 0kms

We were woken up this morning by sunlight streaming in through the windows of our room. Such a contrast to yesterday afternoon, when we walked in the middle of the road to avoid the ankle deep rivers of water running down either edge of each street. After a disappointing breakfast in the hotel (which was included with our room – again, a total rip off!!), we walked down to Lake Atitlan. Wow! It reminded me a little bit of the Bay of Islands in NZ… lovely clear water surrounded by (now dormant) volcanoes. It was beautiful! So beautiful, that we decided to go on a boat tour to some of the villages dotted around the lake. Although they are accessible by road, the roads are windy and in very poor condition – so it was much easier for us to just take a boat across.

Firstly though – we moved hotels and ended up being closer to the centre for just over one third of the price. Sure, it wasn’t quite as ‘polished’ – but it was clean and quiet and more than adequate.

We could not have had better weather for a day on the water… it didn’t rain at all! Today was the first day in a while that we’ve not at least had an afternoon shower. We went to San Marcos, San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan – the first is a hippie gringo yoga/drumming/chanting town; the last is one of the biggest cities in the area with a population of 60,000.

Later that night, while sitting on the terrace at a pub, we experienced an earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale. So it was pretty big!! Although it was apparently 70km underground, which is why the buildings etc are still standing. In quick succession – ie over about two seconds – I thought:

  • I am having some sort of delayed ‘land legs’ experience after rocking on a boat for several hours today.
  • Adrian is jiggling his legs and therefore rocking the table because he is bored and/or impatient, wanting our drinks to arrive.
  • Oh wow, it’s an earthquake. I can see the walls of the building swaying.

Adrian hadn’t noticed it – or rather, he’d noticed it, but though that the ground was rumbling because a car was going past, until I said the ‘e’ word. We were on the ground floor terrace of a two story place; people started running from upstairs out on to the street. People in the market stalls across the road also ran outside – including the locals. I started thinking which was the quickest way to higher ground, just in case there was a tsunami (we were maybe 100m from the water). And then the ground stopped shaking and everything went back to normal. The diners from upstairs returned inside, the shopkeepers went back into their stalls, our drinks arrived.

Tomorrow we’re going to Antigua where we’ll be for a week! Yes, a whole week. I’ve enrolled in Spanish school for four hours a day; Adrian’s thinking about what he wants to do. I can’t wait!

View of the volcanoes across Lake Atitlan

View of the volcanoes across Lake Atitlan

Monument Valley and a desert storm

very windy road along a cliff face

If Harley riders can do it…

Monumnet Valley

Monument Valley

delicate arch in arches national park

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

11 August – Day 20

Moab, Utah to Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
Distance: 240kms

We started the day with an early morning ride back into Arches National Park to see the delicate arch. It was in a part of the park we’d missed over the past couple of days; and we’d heard great things about it. It was impressive – although I don’t think it was necessarily the most impressive thing in the park. It’s the whole national park that’s just so special, so amazing. If you’re ever in the area, I really recommend a visit. The system in many of the national parks over here seems to be that your entry fee is valid for 7 days, which means you have lots of time to go in and out and explore the park.

From Arches, we headed to Monument Valley via a back road that some Harley riders had told Adrian about. Gravel, multiple severe hairpoint turns, very rapid descent…

I wasn’t sure about revisiting gravel roads, but as Adrian said, if Harley riders can do it, well – so can we! I’m glad we did… it was amazing! Up there with the Beartooth Highway and several other bendy roads we’ve been on. The pictures don’t do it justice really… the turns were literally on a hairpin, on a cliff edge, next to a 300m drop, with no safety barrier. Now it was my turn for white knuckles – and Adrian couldn’t  wipe the smile off his face!

And then we got to Monument Valley. Approaching it as we did, I felt a little bit like someone stumbling across an ancient civilisation. The stones rose up from the earth in a seemingly random yet structured pattern, and looked as if they could or would be home to an ancient people – in caves, temples, cliff homes.

clothes  and a tent floor covered in red dust

Inside our tent after a desert dust storm!

We camped again tonight and it was… interesting.  A few days ago, I talked about how I scooped up a handful of Moab desert sand and let it run through my fingers – just to feel it. Tonight, obviously, the desert wanted to get a feel of me.. We experienced our first desert dust storm – wow! We had just finished setting up the tent and I was sitting inside when Adrian called me out to look at the horizon. It was strange – the horizon was starting to blur. It was as if it had been drawn in graphite pencil, and someone had gently smudged it with a rubber. And then the smudge got bigger. And bigger. And closer! All of a sudden, we – and the campers gawking at the impending dust storm around us – realised that we had about 5 seconds before we’d be hit. So everyone hightailed it into their tents to batten down the hatches… to no avail! The wind was filling my ears with sound, as if I had two giant conch shells glued to my ears and all I could hear was the rushing of the sea in the shells. Inside the tent, it was raining red dust. Literally. Although all zippers etc were firmly closed, the dust was so fine that it was just pouring through the mesh of our tent, coating us – and everything inside – in a film of desert sand. A desert storm – it was incredible!

Muffin flavoured muffins – and a (mountain) ‘bike killer’

Loz and Adie's shadow with Arches National Park in the background

Bikers on tour in Arches National Park, Moab!

9 August – Day 18

Vernal, Utah to Moab, Utah
Distance: 331kms

There was nothing to see in Vernal – so we were out on the road by 8.30am. Good to see that we’re reclaiming the morning! Adrian did his research in terms of the best biking road into Moab and it paid off big time… we had an absolutely spectacular ride through the desert. The stark, barren landscape, the red soil and yellow desert sand, the clumps of green – it was just so raw in its beauty, it was breathtaking. For me, the mountains of the trip so far have nothing on the awesome, vast power of the desert. Dead straight roads gave way to tight corners and windy climbs up and over desert mountains, where chipmunks risked death by darting across the road in front of the bike and eagles soared high overhead. Moab. Wow. The town itself isn’t up there with my favourites – but the desert gets under your skin and just draws you in.
The early start meant we arrived in Moab by lunchtime, which was good given how hot it was. For the first time this trip, I had to take all liners out of my jacket and open all vents… and I was still hot. I’m thinking I’ll need (read: wish for) vented shoes/motorbike jeans as we continue further south!!

We walked the main street and tried to find a mountain bike hire place with XXL bikes available for Adrian to hire… preferably also with size 48 clip in bike shoes. Yeah – no. Nowhere had bikes or shoes in that size, and a guy at one place actually said to Adrian ‘we don’t hire bikes to guys your size. You’re a bike killer’… which Adrian had to concede… Apparently, because the available bikes aren’t big enough, he’s got to put the seat up as high as it can go, which places significant extra strain on the seat post and bike frame which is weaker at maximum extension. Anyway, we eventually found a bike that was only a bit too small, so that’s what Adrian’s got to ride ‘Slick rock trail’ tomorrow.

We then headed out into Arches National Park to watch the sun set over the desert. The rock formations, the arches, the red and yellow desert soil – it truly is a special place. At one point, I just picked up some of the rich, ochre red sand and let it run through my fingers, hand under hand, watching as it danced in the wind back to the earth, settling with the millions of other grains of sand, millions of years old.

We climbed up to the hollows of one of the arches and sat 15m above the desert, encircled by rock as if we were sitting inside a giant, ancient hula hoop. In front of us, the sun was setting – with the landscape seeming to change colour, shape and texture with each change in the light. The rocks got darker, a rich earthy red as the sun disappeared behind one of the few, scattered clouds on the horizon. Then the sun reappeared to illuminate the rocks, glowing a bright ruby red. And as the clouds started to gather around us, the rocks changed again. And again. And again. A spectacular light show; nature at her finest.

The day was topped off with dinner at a local restaurant with live music – a guitar and cello. It was excellent! A Texan musican, Amanda Mora. Check her out: http://www.amandamora.com.

Oh and the muffin flavoured muffin? That was in the town of Rangely, Colarado, where we stopped for a break on the way to Moab. We got (very average – no surprises there) coffees and a muffin. Through the gladwrap, it looked like it might have been an apple muffin. Post-purchase, and on closer inspection, the ‘apple’ looked more like melted chocolate. And on tasting… it was impossible to tell what sort of muffin we were eating. It had no discernible flavour, leading Adrian to declare that it was a ‘muffin-flavoured muffin.’

Arches National Park, Moab

Arches National Park, Moab

Sunset, Arches National Park, Moab

Sunset, Arches National Park, Moab