Back on the bikes

Puerto Montt (Chile) – Villa La Angostura (Region 7 lagos – Argentina)

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We are back on the bikes! Finally! It is fantastic! On a sunny day we leave Puerto Montt and ride the road back to the region of the seven lakes north of Bariloche in Argentina.

Christy is doing fine, but every time we stop we get funny looks from people. It is quite an unusual sight when Christy is taking her crutches off the bike and wobbling around on them in her biker dress.

We take it easy and stop for the night in a small roadside hotel. I will remember that place very well for the low door on which I bumped my head almost every time I passed it. Even though I got reminded of the low door with a quite painful event every time I just didn’t seem to learn it. It was great fun to put on the helmet the next day.

The boarder crossing to Argentina was quite busy but at least here Christy’s misfortune was good for something: we could pass the long line to get upfront so the crossing was done in no time.

We have seen it a couple of times on border crossings, that in between the Chilean and Argentinian customs there is quite some distance. But nothing like here. It is more than 30km from leaving Chile to entering Argentina.

Till here it was a pretty cold and cloudy day. But the Argentinian side welcomed us with nice and warm weather. We went 40km into the area of 7 lagos on the road to San Martin. The area reminded me a lot of the Black Forest, my home in Germany. There are many huge lakes and the road winds through them beautifully and making it a great day on the motorbike. A short gravel part stopped us (we didn’t want to risk too much gravel since for Christy’s foot it was still painful to get vibrations on the bike). So we turned back to Villa la Angostura. We found a nice campsite and had a relaxing evening with other local bikers.

Chiloe

Island of Chiloe – Chile

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After we gave back our truck we stayed in a hostel for a week. It was very nice with a great view on the harbor of Puerto Montt where huge cruise ships anchored and big birds flew by our window every day.

Christy was getting better every day, but the doctor we visited here said she should rest another week before we can get back on the bikes.

After a few days I got bored and I decided to take the bike for a little spin on the Island of Chiloe.

So I packed some things together and rode on south to the short ferry crossing that would take me to Chiloe.

It was great to be back on the bike again. After the short ferry crossing I took the road to Ancud and further to a penguin colony. The ride was fantastic. A curvy road, the sun shining, little traffic and finally the rocky coast of the island. The road ended in a beach from where little boats take the tourists very close to the penguins. I decided not to join them and instead enjoyed the fantastic beach that ended on both sides in huge rock formations.

In kept going south and rode great gravel roads through forests and farming areas. All very nice and enjoyable. When I finally ended up in the little town of Castro I had a day full of great riding and I enjoyed a beer with some life music that was played in front of the colorful church of the town.

The next day I headed southwest to Culcao and Quilan. The road got a bit sandy and I enjoyed playing with the bike in the sandy bits. It was never difficult there though. The road ends at a parking spot from where you could hike 45 minutes to an outlook. The guard at the parking told me I may go there by bike that I intended to do immediately. The track was wide in the beginning and easy, but soon it turned into a very steep narrow track with big steps. It was great fun to ride it, but it would be unnerving if I met hikers on this track. There was no way to bypass hikers. So after a while I turned around and rode the steep track down again.

The landscape was incredible. The steaming and roaring sea covered the coast in a mist of salty water. Steep cliffs and flat sand beaches formed the coast. Riding was a blast and so I returned back to the north with a big smile on my face.

Short stops at some of the beautiful wooden churches contributed to these great days I had on that island. It is really great motorbike country here.

Going north

Ushuaia (Argentina) – Puerto Montt (Chile)

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It was a strange feeling. After Ushuaia we would go north. Of course, there is no road going south from there…

We had arranged to bring the pick-up back to Puerto Montt. From there the roads to Buenos Aires are all paved and we hopefully wouldn’t hit strong winds. With Christy still hobbling around with here crutches we didn’t want to risk her not feeling safe on the motorbike.

We had to cover 2300km. It was mainly flat and vast country we drove through. Unusual for this area we had very little wind. And so it was a very relaxing driving. Little traffic, straight roads, no wind, nothing to destract you from driving. For some time even Christy took over, driving with cruise control. For me it was a nice break and I enjoyed not having to concentrate on the boring road.

But the landscape had its elements. The incredible vastness is something that just makes you dream and take it easy. It is like a visual relaxation program.

The last few hundred kilometers became actually really nice. The area gets hillier, and finally the hills become mountains. We didn’t stop in Bariloche but continued to a hotel next to one of the lakes in the Argentinian Lake District. A very beautiful area with dark forests and lots of lakes.

Finally we arrived in Puerto Montt where we dropped the car. For the next day we planned to visit a doctor another time to see what he says. He instructed us to wait another week and then we would have green light. Soon we would be back on the bikes again…

 

 

Penguins

Even though penguins are are to be found many thousands kilometers north as well, the proximity to Antarctica is making Ushuaia one of the best places to see penguins.

So we book a tour on a boat to see these wonderful animals.

It was a fantastic day. Lots of animals, not just penguins on a relaxing boat trip.

We were really enjoying this a lot.

Big fat cows on green meadows

Salto de Laja – Villarica-Osorno

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Just a week ago we had passed the Atacama desert, on of the driest areas on this planet. And now this: all shades of green. Big trees, high grass, thick bushes.

And all among it: cows. Lots of them. Big fat cows. And sheep.

This is cow paradise. We drove along a nice road, the sun was shining, it was warm, almost hot.

The road passes fantastic lakes with high snow covered mountains sorrounding it. This looks like picture book Switzerland except you won’t find a perferctly shaped volcano there.

We rode the bikes along the shores of Lago Villarica and Lago Ronco. The lake district of Chile is a fantastic area. And after all the desert that we have seen on our trip this is exactly what we our souls were thirsting for: lots of green and lots of water. We had sunshine all these days as well and the roads were in perfect condition. And so Christy came to the conclusion that if you could ride a bike in heaven, it would be just like here.

3P – Info Part: Southwest Bolivia – Laguna Colorada

Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama

Riding north to south it seems a logical route to go from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It is fantastic ride, don’t miss it.

Here are some pictures from our trip.

Below there is some information about the ride. But first let me give you some general information:

The internet is full of reports about this area. A lot of people who did the ride had a hard time and that’s what they write. Don’t hesitate of doing it though.

With the right preparation everybody can do it on every bike (maybe not a Goldwing or a racebike).

Update: after I got an email of Bob, a great fellow, aged 74, who asked me about some details I would like to add one more sentence here: if you are not an experienced off roader, you have to be prepared to pick up your bike a few times. Little falls just may happen. At altitude of constantly over 4000m (13000ft) and at times over 5000m (16000ft) that might be strenuous. Take your time, take it easy and you are fine though.

We did it on a F650GS Dakar and a G650GS. We had Heidenau tyres which were quite low on profile.

My girlfriend made her license not a year before the trip. She had little experience before the trip and one long weekend offroading with a little Beta200. So you don’t need to be an expert at all. Just prepare and take it easy.

What you need is:

  • Fuel for 500km (we simply bought two 5L fuel cans that we strapped on the bike)
  • Enough water (we had 4L each)
  • Some money for the overnight stays (be reminded that you enter a national park where you have to pay 150Bs entrance).
  • Some snacks to keep you going during the day
  • GPS maps of the area (OSM has a good map which turned out to be very precise in this area). (The paper maps from Reise-Know-How are crap for this part of the journey).

Take your time. We made it in 3 days, which was quite relaxing.

Don’t be worried if something happens: There are many 4×4 running these roads as this is a very common touristic thing to do in organized tours (see below), so there is always help if needed. People will stop when you give them a sign. You can also ask them if you are unsure about directions. Just stop an wait a little bit. There will be someone coming.

The most4x4 tours make the loop: Uyuni-Salar-San Juan-Laguna Colorada- Laguna Verde- Villa Mar-San Cristobal-uyuni(3 days).

The 3 options:

There are basically 3 ways from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama.

  1. The Lagoon route via San Juan
  2. The route via San Cristobal
  3. The route via Tupiza
  1. The lagoon route is the by far most sandy one. It has a stretch of more than 60km (depending on the conditions up to 90km) sand. You pass a lot of lagoons and this is the route the 4×4 take from Uyuni via San Juan to the Laguna colorado all along the Chile-Bolivia border. You also pass the famous Arbol de Piedra, a rock formation that looks like a tree. For motorbikers this is the most strengous version.
  1. San cristobal route: This route is the one we took. It seems to be the easiest one. The first bit is in very good condition (almost like a paved road) and there are only short sandy bits of road (max. 1km). Most parts of the road are rocky and easy to ride. You pass a nice lagoon and some incredible rock formations that are certainly as spectacular as the Arbol de piedra. You can devide the road in 3 days or do it in 2 days (but that would be pretty hard or you are experianced off roader).
  1. The route via Tupiza is also pretty sandy, not as much as the Lagoon route (I was told by a 4×4 tourguide). It brings you to places where Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid lived and died. This route I have the least information on, but for people who are experianced offroaders and who want to spend some more remote time this would be the route. There are not as many 4×4 tours on this road.

Info Laguna Colorada

Flamingos, thousands.

Flamingos, thousands.

Route 1 and 2 are meeting at the Laguna Colarada.

There is a camp there (S22° 10.260′ W67° 49.049′) where all the 4×4 groups stay. Simple rooms usually as dorms, but you can also rent a complete dorm for yourself if you want to have some privacy.

There is another one (calls himself a hotel, but is not better than the camp(Info from a 4×4 tour guide) south of the Laguna Colorada (S22° 15.802′ W67° 48.961′). Here you can also buy water and snacks.

Close to the camp there is a lookout (S22° 10.222′ W67° 48.279′).

DO NOT MISS THAT. If you are doing route 2 go around the laguna (or take a short cut on the north side of the laguna) and go there. All the tourists go there so the place gets crowdie at times, but this place is incredible. The colors of the lagunas are in general better in the afternoon, as the strong afternoon winds stir up the water and the bacteria in it which create the great color

 Detailed describtion of Route 2:

Uyuni – San Cristobal – Villa Mar – Laguna Colorada – Camp Laguna Colorada – Geysers – Laguna Verde

The road leaves Uyuni south west direction. You pass a gas station (S20° 28.174′ W66° 49.200′) and leaving the town. The road is in very good condition. You can easily go 80km/h. In San Cristobal there is a gas station, but it does not always have fuel. So don’t count on it. But if you have very little reserve, you can try to get some fuel here.

There are also some shops where you can get water.

Shortly after the town of Villa Alota take a left (at S21° 23.974′ W67° 36.893′).

The road gets rougher now. A little bit of dust and sand is on the rocky road, so take it easy. Shortly after the turn off there is a water crossing. It is approximately 40cm deep and rocky. So you may get your feet wet. They are building a bridge there, so end of 2014 you may have a less adventurous crossing there.

The road gets up the mountain and soon you will see amazing rock formation right next to the road on your right hand side (S21° 32.155′ W67° 34.742′). If you plan to camp, this is an excellent place.

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The following part of the road is a bit sandy at parts, but never long stretches. And the sand is never really deep. So you can “powerwalk” through the sandy parts.

In Villa Mar there are a couple of simple B&B. The tours stop here on the way home from the Laguna Verde. We stayed here in a simple B&B at the end of the town and had a great meal in the evening and a good (simple) breakfast. You can also buy water here.

Shortly after Villa Mar you have to turn off the main road. The turn off is here (S21° 46.208′ W67° 27.818′).

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Turn to the right and follow up the hills into a beautiful little valley which I like to call “Lama paradise”. If you get there, you know why. The road gets pretty rocky here.

After a few kilometers you arrive at the first lagoon (Laguna Capina). You have a nice view on it. So make a break and enjoy the view.

A first lagoon

A first lagoon

After you have the lagoon behind you a pretty sandy strech begins. It is pretty much the worst part and it will bring you into the national park. There is a guy living here in a small hut. You have to pay him some money and you get a ticket. Don’t loose it. It will be checked on the way out (some told us, we were not checked).

Shortly after the entrance of the national park you hit another junction. You have to take a right here. The main road is where most of the 4×4 tours come back from Laguna Verde directly. So following the main road means you miss Laguna Colorada (and you don’t want to miss that!). If you have doubts, wait until the next 4×4 arrives, stop him and ask for directions. I think the junction is approx. here (S22° 09.125′ W67° 39.732′).

This will bring you to the laguna colorada. Don’t miss the viewing point (S22° 10.222′ W67° 48.279′) and stay a night here. Watch out, the way from the camp to the lookout is best on foot (500m from the camp). The road there is really really sandy. (deep sand).

It is worth it. Going around the laguna is pretty sandy. There is a track right north of the lagoon. I have not checked it out, but it would be worth a try. It would be a lot shorter than around the lagoon. (More info see chapter INFO Laguna Colorada)

The bit around the Laguna is pretty sandy.

The bit around the Laguna is pretty sandy.

After a cold night at the Laguna Colorada the road goes up the mountain. As soon as you have left the laguna the sandy bits are over. No more sand.

Leaving the Laguna Colorada up the mountain.

Leaving the Laguna Colorada up the mountain.

There is the Aduana (S22° 26.454′ W67° 48.357′) but you DO NOT NEED to go there You can do the customs directly at the border since 2014!

There are some geysers (S22° 26.002′ W67° 45.696′) and they are most active in the morning. So 4×4 tours start at 4am. We took it more easy and it was still impressive.

You pass another laguna (Laguna Chelviri) with hot springs. At the hot springs there is a little shop and you will find dozens of 4×4 from organized tours.

Shortly after that on your left hand side there is a fantastic rock formations on complete flat sand. For a reason this is called Disierto Salvador Dali. Its quite nice.

Finally the road leads between the Laguna Verde and the Laguna Blanca. Its a real highlight (S22° 47.292′ W67° 49.067′).

The Laguna Verde. The strong and cold wind stirred up the colourful lagoon.

The Laguna Verde. The strong and cold wind stirred up the colourful lagoon.

The road goes along the south side of the Laguna Blanca and is a bit soft (the road on the north side is a bit better id guess), but no bigger problem. Just take it easy. It is not far to tarmac anymore.

The border is not far away, just up the hill (approx. S22° 52.434′ W67° 47.426′). Not to miss. It is a small building in the middle of nowhere.

The little border crossing to Chile.

The little border crossing to Chile.

The border stuff for Chile you do in San Pedro de Atacama. Here:( S22° 54.666′ W68° 11.615′). BEWARE: you are not allowed to bring any fruits or seeds with you.

We did this route, and I didn’t have the feeling of missing something. I saw enough lagoons, and instead of the Arbol de Piedra we saw fantastic rock formations. But if you want to learn to ride sand you’d certainly should do the route 1.

GPX Tracks:

The tracks are found here:

http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=8390836

 

Dust and colored lakes

Bolivias Southwest

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The south of Bolivia is a wonderland for off-roading and landscapes. And of course we wouldn’t want to miss that.

I wrote a long report about this part of the trip. But I just realized I can’t express this in words.

We saw the most amazing places, rode fantastic dirt roads. The landscape was dusty, colorful, vast.

We suffered from the intense sun and the dust. We hit some sandy roads and got our feet wet in river crossings. We crossed the border at over 5000m.

We saw red, white and green lakes with flamingos. We saw mountains of green, red and yellow. We had chilly nights and strong winds.

We had a fantastic time.

Take a look at the pictures and enjoy.

Cattle and penguins

After we stayed in Lima for another day to fully recover from my illness we started on our way south. Parracas is a small town 200km south of Lima that lives from the tourism. The reason for tourists to come to this little place is a couple of islands close to the cost. A huge number of different birds live on these little islands together with a small penguins and sea lions.

After a noisy night (it has been Halloween night with a lots of drinking and singing going on in town) we got up to line up with these hundreds of tourists. Large groups of tourists were coordinated by the trip organizers. I felt a little bit like being in a herd of cattle, not exactly knowing what was going on around me. The tour guide that picked us up from the hotel has disappeared and so we end up in a different group of people. And like one of the herd I just thought we best go with the masses and finally just ended up in one of the boats somehow.

Once we left the harbor the many boats spread so that you could hardly see any other boats. We past a large sign that was carved into the shore, a few hundret meters long. As the geoglyphes at Nazca they meaning is unknown but quite impressive. And even though this carving has been directly at the sea, influenced by the strong winds here, it lasted for so long.

We leave the coast and the boat takes course to the islands. The islands are a sight for itself: a couple of rocks laying there in the sea with steep cliffs and a lot of caves and bridges. It looks like the phantasy island of a pirate movie and I wouldn’t have been surprised a lot if the Black Pearl appeared suddenly.

There are birds everywhere: small black ones, large pelicans, white middle sized… in fact birds of all colors and sizes. And they are all in large numbers. A constant cawing of thousands of birds mix with the splashing sound of the waves crashing on the rocky shores of the islands.

The smell is an interesting mixture of the salty sea and the bird’s dung in which the rocks are covered. In fact this dung used to be one of the main export goods of Peru as it is known as one of the best fertilizer.

The captain of our small boat maneuvers the vessel very close to the shore, so we got a perfect view on all these different animals. And there is more than just birds: sea stars, crabs, shells of all different kind appear. And finally some birds I wouldn’t have expected here: penguins. These little cute things are staying here on this island. It is a very small type: Humboldt Penguins. They are really fantastic with their clumsy way they move around solid ground. And it is tricky terrain for them with all the steep rocks and the high steps they have to take. Just watching one of them helplessly trying to get up on a rock made my day. He fell over on his belly again and again, but eventually he made it. Persistent little guy!

Going around another corner of the islands finally sea lions hang around on little mini islands. The males posing and showing off, some getting into a real fights and others (most of them) just hanging around lazy on the rocks. The way they lay there make the rocks look like a real cozy place even though some of them lay there in a real uncomfortable situated places.

It was fantastic to see these animals so close in their natural sorroundings. They seem to be totally fine with the situation and just look at you in a mixture of boredom and curiosity.

The whole boat trip took two hours of which one hour we spend with the animals on the island. It was a fantastic tour and made me even forgot the terrible herding experience from the morning.

We happily returned to the hostel and packed our bike to make it to Nazca the same day.

 

The cloud forest

Mindo is a small town which lives from local and international tourism. The landscape surrounding the town is characterized by steep mountains which are covered in rich vegetation. The clouds from the ocean collide with the Andes so that this region gets a lot of rain.

We decided to make a little walk to a waterfall. A pick-up taxi brought us up the mountain. We were sitting in the back of the truck as it went up a steep and bumpy dirt road. On a little cabin we jumped off the back of the truck. We new that there was some sort of cable car that we would need to use in order to get to the path that leads to the waterfall. We did not expect what we saw.

A small cage, hanging on a steel cable transported people from one side of a large valley to the other. The cage was moved by a second small steel cable that was driven by a truck engine. A guy was sitting there, acceleration with food-pedals. After max. 5 people entered the cage, the guy put in 1rst gear and accelerated the steel cable, shifting to second gear as the load was getting some speed. To get the cable car back from the other side of the valley he was putting in reverse.

Cable car to the waterfalls

Cable car to the waterfalls

We paid our 6$ return-ticket and entered the rickety transport. There were 2 benches facing each other for 4 persons. The fifth has to stand and hold on to a cable. And off we went. It was quite impressive. This thing got pretty fast, swinging left and right. It started with the tall trees left and right and very quickly the treetops were far underneath us. The view was incredible. We could see the forest from a very unusual point of view. Safely arrived on the other side of the valley we started our walk to the waterfall. The path was winding along the mountains ledge. We were walking like through a tunnel of green leaves. In all shapes sizes and shades of green. In between once in a while some glowing red bloom.

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The sheer variety of plants was mindblowing. The eye could hardly separate one from the other as they all grow on another and in another. A wild chaos of all kind of exotic plants with leaves 3 times as big as we are.

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Humming birds flying to get the nectar our of the flowers, always a bit to quick to make it into one of my pictures.

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Once in a while you could see through the thick vegetation into the steep valley. This view offered the 3-dimensionality of this whole scenery.  As we walked clouds moved into the mountain range opposite of the slope we were walking along. The air was very humid, but fresh and cool.

It was a fantastic walk.