Into the rain

Chaiten – Futaleufu- La Junta – Palena

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We started out of Chaiten in sunny weather. The paved road followed a valley with spectacular mountains. After 30km the road turned into a very well maintained gravel road and we enjoyed riding quite a lot.

We heared of the town of Futaleufu which was supposed to be real nice. So we turned off the Carretera Austral to ride the 100km up the mountains. A fantastic scenery was the reward for this little detour. The town is known mainly for its class 5 whitewater rafting and so you see a lot of wild rivers along the way.

The town itself was not as enjoyable as we thought, but we were compensated with an incredible sky that was illuminated in the wildest and most intense colors at sunset.

The following day was cloudy and soon after we started on the motorbikes it started raining. And it wouldn’t end that day. We rode down the road we already knew back to the Carretera Austral in pouring rain, it got cold and so we were happy to find a cafe where we could warm up a little bit.

Soon after our break we where stopped by a motorbiker who came the other direction. He told us that the road was blocked and that the only options would be to wait until the landslide was removed or to go around it via Argentina. We stood there in the pouring rain, checking the options and finally decided that waiting wouldn’t be what we wanted to do. So we turned around and rode the road back again.

We found a nice little Bed&Breakfast where we stopped for the night. With a warm oven and a great meal in our stomachs we slowly warmed up.

The following day we would cross the border to Argentina, and again we started in the rain and it would rain until we hit the border. It was miserably cold…

Fjords, ferries and dead trees

Puerto Varas – Hornopiren -Chaiten

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The southern part of Chile consists of high mountains that arise directly from the sea. Many little islands and deep fjords form the outline of the coast. So years ago, the few little villages that exist here were only reachable by boat or little planes that had to curve between the mountains to land on gravel runways.

It had been like this until the 70’s. The dictator Pinochet wanted to strengthen the presence in these areas for strategic reasons and he therefore ordered to build a road here. And so a road, the Carretera Austral now leads to one of the most beautiful places in Chile and therefore we clearly didn’t want to miss it.

The road is mostly a gravel road with lots of pot holes, but it is getting improved constantly and so many parts are paved nicely in the meantime.

It is not really connected to the rest of Chiles road system. You need to take in total 3 ferries to get to the real start of the Carretera Austral.

We took the first ferry, a short crossing of 30 minutes and went south on a good dirt road that brought us to Hornopiren.

The town of Hornopiren is a nice little place. There is a little fish farm, some grocery stores and the little harbor. It is located beautifully at the end of a large fjord. An island separates the fjord into two arms. It was cloudy, we would only get little partial views on the surrounding mountains.

The town has a real pioneer flair. I feel very reminded of the small towns in northern Canada. Simply constructed little houses and a very slow pace. Nobody is in a hurry here. When you stand on the side of one of the few roads cars would stop to see whether you would maybe like to cross the street. Drivers friendly smile and slowly continue when you signal them that you are just standing there to take a picture of the bay.

We found a nice little cabin. It was cozy even though the bathtub was about to crash through the floor and the carpet was full of dirty spots. We stayed there for two nights and just relaxed during the day.

The ferry would leave at noon and so we boarded the bikes and enjoyed the boatrip through fantastic fjords. We were lucky enough to meet the captain who invited us on the bridge and so we had a very special view and a great chat to the captain and his pilot.

The time flew by and after three hours on the ferry we and a whole lot of other local travellers got on a dusty gravel road just to reach another ferry not 20km down the road. The second ferry took only 30 minutes though and so we finally reached the northern part of the Carretera Austral.

This part of the road leads through the Pumalin National Park. This park not only has a fantastic landscape but also an interesting history. Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face has bought large areas here and after some difficulties and skepticism of the locals eventually created this national park.

It is a fantastic area. The road cuts through thick vegetation. Leaves as big as me are next to the road. Gorgeous lakes, rivers and mountains left and right. The road is in good condition and there are many fantastic campsites. We are early in the day though and so we keep on going.

Suddenly an almost shocking change. Riding down a slope we get to what appears a river valley. But the green is gone. All the trees are dead. The riverbed is full of trunks that lay on each other chaotically. This is ground zero of a disaster.

Indeed: 2008 the Chaiten volcano suddenly erupted with little warning. Large areas were destroyed and the town of Chaiten completely vanished.

It is quite impressive to ride the bike through this landscape. But when I said there is no green that is not entirely correct. Mother nature is already coming back and small bushes and plants are starting to heal this scar.

Early in the day we arrive in the new build town of Chaiten. We find a nice restaurant for an early dinner and since the owner also rents rooms we have found our place to stay as well.

Other travellers join us on a beer in the evening and so it is a nice chatty evening with interesting people.

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

 

High mountains and deep canyons

 

The Canon de Colca is one of Perus natural highlights as they say. It is very often compared to the Grand Canyon. But other than his famous colleague in the US this canyon is not located in a flat area. It is surrounded by the Andean mountains towering with 5200m over it’s river bed. This creates an incredible sight.

The tourists get there by bus from Arequipa as a one or 2-day organized tour.

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For us on the bikes there are other options of course and so we take a long dirt road via Huambo. We start in Camana driectly on the coast very early in the morning. After 80km on tarmac we turn off to a dusty gravel road. It has quite a lot of corrugations and so our bikes get shaken pretty well.

The road climbs up the mountains and slowly the desert gets a more and more spots of vegetation. Small bundles of grass start to grow and once in a while even a little bush finds enough humidity to live here.

Little flowers contribute yellow spots to the brown of the grass and dust.

After we have about half of the dirt road (80km) the road gets steeper and we start noticing snow covered mountains around us. It turns out to be the surrounding volcanoes, some of them reaching more than 6000m. The landscape is fantastic. A mountain pass at 4200m offers a breathtaking view into a broad valley, which ends in the far distance with a sharp edge, the first sight of the Calco canyon. We make a break, but after being on the coast at sea-level for more than a week, we are pretty out of breath. We continue on the road which is getting more rough but with less corrugations which makes riding actually more enjoyable. There are hardly any cars here. During the 6 hours we spend on the bikes we only saw a handful of cars or trucks.

 

As we descend from the mountain pass we enter the little village of Huambo. Lots of people in traditional clothing are gathered on the Plaza del Armas, the main plaza. Traditional music is being played from loudspeakers and a lady is commenting the appearance of little dance groups. Trucks and even a bulldozer are setup as floats parading in front of the inhabitants of the village. It is the 124th anniversary of the village and they are celebrating it very nicely. We stand somewhere on the side and get in contact with people immediately. So we stand there, drink some coke and eat some cookies, which we bought from the store next to our bikes and watch the parade going on.

It is really nice and enjoyable.

After a while, just before the parade is finished we jump on our bikes and continue the last 30km to Cabanonde.

 

The place we stayed is famous for its kitchen (Kuntur Wassi) and so we had a delicious dinner of Alpaca meat. We got up early in the morning to reach a steep cliff. When the early sun hits the canyon condors use the thermal lift to rise up and go hunting. As we approach the Cruz del Condor there are already a couple of tour busses waiting. We jump off the bikes and just make it in time to see some of the huge birds flying-by real close. It is an impressive sight to see this majestic birds sailing in the warm wind.

After 15 minutes the birds are gone. Time to see what else there is to see. The canyon is incredible: deep down you can see the Colca river a 1200m below. Above it the 5200m high Senal Ajiruha mountain towers over the canyon. There are some frozen waterfalls up there. It is almost unreal as the rest of the area is quite dry. We enjoy the view for some more time and keep going following the route of the busses back to Arequipa.

The Canyon gets wider and lots of terraces are build into the walls. It turns very green with all these fields. It is one of the main agricultural areas of Peru. We reach the next town that is at 3600m and fill up our bikes. Then we start the ascent on asphalt now, up to the 4800m mountain pass of Patapamba. The ride is incredible, with great views into the valley of the Colca canyon. The top is quite flat and offers a fantastic sight to the volcanoes surrounding the area.

As we don’t want to take the long main road to Arequipa we decide to take a little short cut. A dirt track leads in between two massive volcanoes (Misti 5800m and Chachani 6000m). The road is pretty good and almost flat so we proceed very well. As we hit the flank of Chachani it gets pretty sandy at some parts though. It is not real sand, it is ashes from the volcanoes and it is very very soft. Christy had some difficulties and I fell twice as well. Since we were at 4000m altitude picking up the bikes was quite a strenuous work.

But most of the time the road was very rocky and so we made it back ok to tarmac and then into the nice city of Arequipa.

We decided to stay a full day there to “recover” from all the incredible sights and rides we have had the last week.

Into the Cordillera Blanca

National park of Huascaran – Laguna Orconcocha – Huaraz

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Even though the weather was not very stable and clouds covered the mountains most of the time, we wanted to get into the national park of the Cordillera Blanca. A small dirt road brought us the few kilometers from the valley to a deep cut in the mountains. We enter the mountains through these pillars of rocks left and right. It felt like entering a cathedral. The road constantly lead up and finally a crystal blue lake on the right side appeared. The water is intensively colored and looks almost artificial. We stopped and had a look around.

We passed the small lake and continue the valley to a second lagoon. The landscape is unreal. The colorful lakes, steep walls of rock, and above, visible from time to time through the clouds the white glaciers of the high peaks.

At the end of the second lagoon there is an open area, which is marked as campsite. We pitched up our tent and met the only neighbors, a young couple from France who travels for more than one year in their camper with their 2 little children. Since they come from south, we exchanged some information and have a little chatted before the cold forces us to return to the tent.

 

The next day we made a little hike. We actually wanted to go to Lake 69, a little lagoon which lays in between high mountains. It is a few hour hike, but I didn’t feel very well and so we decided not to finish the way to the lagoon as it is located at 4700m altitudes. It was still really beautiful and we enjoyed every step we took. The hike led through a valley with cows enjoying the warmth of the sun. The flat ground of the valley had rich green gras, a little stream peacefully led through the meadows. As we continued to hike further down the valley, the flat area suddenly ends with steep walls. From all sides long waterfalls feed the little stream that flows in the valley. The highest peak in Peru was just uncovering from the clouds and so we have fantastic views into the high mountains surrounding us.

We left the beautiful valley and headed for Huarez, which we reached just after sunset.

As many cities of Peru Huarez is pretty chaotic when you enter. Traffic and the chaos don’t make it very pleasant to ride through the city.

The city itself doesn’t really have much to offer either. The main topic here is the mountains. On every corner guides offer their trips, rent equipment and advertise adventure tours.

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