Going east

Villa La Angostura – Azul

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The following day was offering a great surprise as we expected a little bit boring riding. Instead we followed the Rio Limay north in an amazing valley. Rocky needles and walls on both sides of the valley accompany a green winding river. The road is in good condition and so riding is a blast. When we stopped for gas the whole valley was covered in dust. The fine dust was everywhere in the air. A small and dusty dry riverbed crosses the valley of Rio Limay and the strong wind blows up the particles in the air and into the valley. We followed the cloud of dust for many kilometers until the valley opened up and formed a huge lake. The landscape became less and less hilly until it became what we expected: vast, flat, boring.

We stopped in little roadside hotels in little towns with nothing to offer. Except one thing: it is Argentina here! So we enjoyed the great steaks for dinner.

We past an area where they produce a lot of fruits. On both sides of the road endless fields of apple trees. Heavy trucks transport the fruits on the road. The heavy load is often secured very poorly on the trucks, so we keep our distance when we pass them. On one of the stops we meet Karl from Türkenfeld, not 30km from Munich. He is a great guy travelling the world without speaking anything else than Bavarian. We shared a coffee and had a great chat with him. He had quite some stories to tell.

The more east we got the dryer and vast the countryside became.

We stopped 2 more times before we reached Azul a little boring town with nothing to see, except La Posta and Jorge. But that is something for the next blog entry….

Now what?

After a restless night’s sleep, my foot was still hurting madly so headed out to the hospital for an x-ray. I’d been researching online about strains and sprains to know how long I’d be laid up, what to could expect.

Andy got a wheelchair from hospital staff when we arrived there. (I think nobody there could stand to see me hobble around either.) How nice that felt to not have to walk! It also ensured I was sitting when the x-ray came back. I sort of just stared at the doctor in disbelief as he showed me the breaks. How long will this take? Some absurd estimates were thrown around and ended with me understanding that if I screwed it up, I might need a surgery to line up the bones again. So far, it was the luck in this misfortune that the breaks were clean and not displaced. And I get to make a choice (yippee!)… a solid plaster cast for 6-8 weeks or a stiff removable boot that I have to wear day and night at first and then see how it progresses. That was an easy one. We went on a little shopping spree at the orthopedic supply shop down the road for a new boot and threw in some crutches to go with it.

More difficult choices were ahead. We left the hospital and I had no idea how we were going to continue our trip. We wouldn’t be sitting it out in Coyhaique. Stopping or going home didn’t cross my mind, I was too busy trying to figure out how we’d continue on.

After about a week of what felt like denial, I started researching for a local orthopedic doctor. We had questions we were too stunned to ask initially. I came across a blog of a pair of world travellers on a bike and got in touch with Ivana. She had broken her leg and was treated in Coyhaique a couple months earlier. She had a surgery to insert several pins in her leg and after several weeks, had continued on south by hitch hiking while her partner continued on their bike. That’s tough! Ivana was encouraging, and informative about the local doctors. I’m glad we’re in touch now to follow up how the travels are going. In the meantime, they are riding two-up again somewhere in the Atacama desert.

What are you doing New Year’s?

The x-ray answered the question we’d be asking for the past year, “Where do you think we’ll be for the holidays?” In the beginning, we speculated Ushuaia. Then we thought we should be past there so we could have plenty of time to loop up to see Iguazu and into southern Brazil to visit my colleagues there. Recently we’d revised the estimate to somewhere around Torres del Paine. We came committed to the road, not to a set route. When I found out my foot was broken, we just went with it. We’d sit out two weeks in Coyhaique for the holidays and decide from there. How long can a foot take to heal anyway? (And when will it stop swelling and hurting?)

Two weeks passed quickly while we were doing a bunch of absolutely nothing. I was content with my small trips around the cabin. Oh yeah, and we got a cabin! The hostel owner couldn’t stand seeing me go up and down those stairs any longer, so we were moved to a cabin across the street. ‘Twas the Christmas season and all… Very kind of her! So we had a cozy little fire, Andy stocked the fridge, and my days consisted mainly of wobbling from the bed to sofa.

That sofa is really memorable. I would just sink in and prop up my foot. When I was on FaceTime with Julia, she remarked how it looked like I was in a sea of roses. Yep, the pink posy print matched the curtains. But the sofa had seen better days. The cushions were worn out and rising from it was like lifting myself out of a deep hole. Everyone without crutches looked stiff and old getting up from it. With my crutches, I felt like a giraffe, so it was good for a smile or laugh every time.

Strangely enough we didn’t really go stir crazy. We just kind of chilled out and were astonished how two weeks can slip by nearly unnoticed.

Evaluating plans B, C and D

There were still quite a few highlights to come in the area and we wanted to get out exploring again. We just had to figure out how. In the best case, we’d be able to travel together or at least sort of coordinated so that we could see and experience sights at El Calafate and Torres del Paine together.

We could park the bikes and rent a car for a couple of weeks, but then we’d have to come back to Coyhaique and riding out of their meant dirt and gravel roads. I had no idea how long it would be before I could manage just any kind of unpaved road well again. We’d also have to get something worked out for the board crossing and customs since we’d exit without the bikes that were noted in our passports. It would all be possible, but this didn’t quite feel like the right solution.

I started looking into the many boat options around. If we could find a cruise operator that had a ship equipped to roll the bikes on, maybe we could just set sail for the south to Punta Arenas or Ushuaia while my foot heals and then ride back up north. It would allow us to travel together and would add a pretty neat aspect to the travel. We both enjoy boats and this would be an unforgettable way to see the icebergs and fjords of the region. Bot the cruises are not only pricey, they also fill up quickly and don’t have the flexibility we’d need to take the bikes with us.

There are some online travel groups, but I decided to start small and just send a few quick notes out to people we’d met along the way and other travelers we know. No familiar overlanders were nearby, and we didn’t meet any in town with similar plans. Sonia from Motoaventura told me that the paperwork to transfer my bike over the boarder to Argentina by someone else would be a hassle at the notary, especially around the holidays, but they could transport it within Chile if that would help. She also gave me the number of their contact person in Coyhaique, Rolf Traeger. We got in touch and it turns out, he’s a biker and has a car rental company. That got us thinking. How about we put our bikes up on the back of on one of his rental 4×4 pickups? He agreed. After a short discussion about how to do it, he and his team spent half a day welding a frame and tracks into a truck, then they helped load up our bikes and we were on our way. We could take the truck one way to Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, or elsewhere. This solution really fit the bill: we’d get to travel together, the bikes were with us, we could be flexible and it added a really fun aspect to the travel.

Our friends down at the firehouse

You never know who you’ll meet. Travelling on a bike increases the number of people to chat with immensely. It’s nice. No asks “where you from & where are you going” to people driving cars, but very often, when you stop the motorbike, friendly people appear.

Somewhere in the north of Chile, on a stretch of desert highway south of Calama, we stopped for fuel and guy jumped out of a truck next to us and introduced himself. Cristian is a friendly guy, curious about our trip and he told us about a German volunteer fire squad in Santiago. He suggested we stop by when we’re there and he’d show us around the fire station. A German firehouse? Sounds interesting. Cristian noted the contact details for the 15. Feuerwehrkompanie in Santiago on our blog.

When we arrived in Santiago, our first priority was getting our bikes in for service, but I remembered Cristian’s offer and was curious to check out the fire station. Our bikes were in service and looked up the location. Turns out, the Los Dominicos station was right on our way to the BMW dealer. The next day we started off a little early to pick up the bikes and stopped by to have a look. We were unannounced guests, and unfortunately, Cristian wasn’t there. His friendly colleague, Boris, gave him a call and found that he was out of town. Boris was friendly and welcoming, and showed us around the station himself.

It was amusing seeing all the “German-ness” right there in Santiago. The station has a super facility and walking around there, it felt as if we could be anywhere in Germany. They even speak some German. This “freiwillige Feuerwehr” (volunteer fire department) is similar to the model in Germany. Thanks to Cristian and Boris, we were able to experience their hospitably and learn about their proud fire station.

People we met: Pastores Alemanes

I know Padre Eduardo from the last time I was here in Peru. And my Mum knows him from her many visits here in Palca. He is a good friend. He knew my Dad. They both liked and respected each other a lot.

Padre Eduardo and his colleague Padre Luis are taking care of the needs of the people here in Palca. And they do this since many years, as they are both far over 30 years in Peru. And they do it with a dedication that blows your mind.

The high Andes near Tarma

The high Andes near Tarma

The conditions to live in this part of the Andes are harsh. But they visit all the little villages up there in the high Andes. It is difficult to get up there. But people ask them to get a mass and so they go. They go as far as the 4×4 gets them. And then they walk. To the little “Nest” up there as the Padre puts it in German. They sleep in the houses of the poorest of the poorest, because they ask for spiritual succor. Because they ask for help.

Because the spiritual succor the two can offer have a lot higher meaning here in Peru than we can imagine. We have this so very different image of the church in mind that is present in Europe. Here this all means a lot more. This is what religion and church is really about. This is where people like the two padres really make a difference.

The two pastores in Tarma

The two pastores in Palca, Padre Eduardo and Padre Luis

And they are dedicated. Padre Luis tells us his story of when he arrived in this area after he had spent 14 years in one of the most polluted cities worldwide, Cerro de Pasco. He has been working as a priest in different countries already and knew his ways around when things get difficult. So when he was asked in his first month in Palca to hold a mass in one of the little villages up the mountain he didn’t hesitate. Even though it was a long way up, even though it was a difficult rugged road up the hill, even though it was rain season. He jumped into his 4×4 and slowly drove the road up the hill. It became difficult, but he knew how to use the power of the 4-wheel-drive car and made it. After he held the mass, he picked up two young priests in another village and wanted to get down again. In the meantime it got dark, the rain had started and the road turned from a rugged road to a bad slimy and slippery mud pipe. The road went along a steep mountain with a 200m cliff on his right side. Going around a corner there was a landslide. They got out and worked with the shovels on the slide to make it possible to pass. After half an hour he decided to give it a try and got back into the car. He sort of slid through the passage as the tires spun in the mud. Suddenly the back of the car drifted to the right until one of the tires hung over the cliff. They all got out. Continuing was too dangerous, so they called for help. Eventually some people from the next town arrived with a couple of tools and ropes to securely get the priests car off the cliff and back on track.

The priest went to this village the following week and many times during the rain season again.

The slopes are steep and many little towns are very hard to get to, especially during rain season.

The slopes are steep and many little towns are very hard to get to, especially during rain season.

His colleague Padre Eduardo is from South-Tirol. A quite elderly, and wise man with a great sense of humor. He has a million stories to tell about his time here as well. During the main time of the activity of the shining path he was held hostage for a day. When the commander of the group pointed a pistol at his head and asked him to kneel down, he told him he wouldn’t kneel in front of anybody. The terrorist was impressed. They let him go.

Both persons are great and of an impressive coolness when they talk about the difficulties and dangers they had here, especially in the days of the shining path. People around them have been killed and slaughtered. And they were asked whether they would like to stay. All other authorities had left the area. But they stayed.

When Padre Eduardo was asked whether he was afraid he answered in his great humor: “No, tenemos dos pastores alemanes aqui”. (No, we have two german priests here.)

A great wordplay since pastores alemanes has a double meaning: it can mean “german priests” or “German shepard dogs”.

We were deeply impressed by these two old fellows. The braveness, their trust in God, their dedication, their will to help other people, their modesty.

It makes you ask yourself about your own attitude about the world that we live in.

The first inch

We’ve been in South America for only a month and we’ve already seen so many fantastic places. We constantly get recommendations from locals which would probably all be worth an additional three week holiday.

We took one advice of Daniel, a Frenchman who retired and is on a two year trip together with his wife in the Americas. (Check out their blog here.) They told us of the “Swiss Wassi” a little camping place and home of a Swiss-Peruvian couple directly over the boarder in Peru. We’ve decided to spend a couple days here in this wonderful family atmosphere with the sound of the South Pacific waves constantly present. It’s a wonderful place to reflect on the amazing month we’ve had.

Ecuador is overwhelming and I can’t imagine how this trip could have possibly be better so far. The proximity of coast, volcanoes, Andes, Amazonia together with an abundance of friendly people and many new streets tempting us to stay longer and longer. However after three weeks of incredible roads and sites, we took a look at our 1:4 000 000 map and realized this is only the first inch and we have so much ground left to cover.

Omaere, in Puyo was a highlight:

As were wonderful rides

 

And getting to know about local life