Monthly Archives: February 2013

Santiago to Bariloche


We left our new friends in Santiago and we headed south again, as we have a mission: we have to get to Ushuaia before it snows.

The road south was beautiful, some paved and some really loose gravel for about 50 km. I think it was the loosest gravel I have ever done so far. It looked like someone just dumped trucks of rocks and pebbles on the road. And to top it off, there were up and down sections. As I did not know for how long we were going on the gravel and how bad it was going to be, I did not turn my ABS off. On one of the down sections there were tight turns as well, so I tried to slow down and feather the brakes, but my bike’s ABS is very sensitive and it kicked in, so my bike actually started speeding up big time. I was almost sure I was going to fall on that loose gravel, going down and taking a turn at that speed. But I was lucky and I managed to control it, so no crashes:) But now I make sure I turn off my ABS every time we hit gravel.

On the side of the road there were plenty of blackberries (as they have no bears here), so I could not resist to stop and have some, straight from the source.

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As lodging is more expensive in Chile and Argentina, we decided to camp for a few days. So we started to look for a place to camp. After a few attempts on some dirt side roads, where all we found was private properties, we turned back to the highway. And when we were about to give up and go to a hotel, we saw a camping sign. Decent, nice and green, showers, it even had a pool that we never got to use, as we left early next day. For $8 USD per person it was ok, especially that we were the only people in the campsite, so it was very nice and quiet.

Next day more highway and gravel roads were waiting for us, with the majestic view of snow-capped volcanoes.

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We stopped for lunch in the beautiful town Villarica, on the shore of Villarica Lake. Very touristic town, with high prices. But this does not take away from its beauty created especially by the beautiful architecture with a lot of Swiss and German influence and the view of the Villarica Volcano. After lunch we kept going and we stopped for the day a little bit further, still by the Villarica Lake, in Pucon. Pucon looks very much like Villarica, it looks just as touristy, and the prices at least just as high. An average hotel room goes for around $100 USD. We found a decent campsite, set the tent and opened a bottle of wine. But as we should have known better, Latino people like to party, so all night long we could hear people singing and laughing. Promised ourselves next time to camp in the wild.

Next day we headed for the border. This border crossing was somewhere in the mountains, where there was only a small gravel road so we were not expecting it to be busy. And it wasn’t too busy. But that doesn’t mean it was fast and easy. Again it surprised us that the border between two more civilized countries is so difficult. We have crossed about 14 borders so far and each one has the same routine: immigration – stamp in the passport, then Aduana, temporary import permit for the bikes. When we leave the country: immigration – exit stamp in the passport and then cancellation of the import permit for the bikes. Here the immigration was not a problem, it went fast. Then we went to Aduana. I went to one officer, while Vasile went to another. I presented my import permit for the bike to have it cancelled, they kept one copy and gave me two copies back, telling me I would need them when entering Argentina. When Vasile was done, he had no copies. “Where are your copies?” “Well, he told me I didn’t need any, and he kept them all” “No, you need two of them, let’s go ask”. Border officer “No, you don’t need them, I keep them” “Then why did they give me two copies?” After a little chat between them, Vasile gets his copies too. From there we had to ride about 1 km on gravel to the Argentinian border. We got there, of course they asked for those copies. We presented them, but guess what: Vasile was missing a stamp on them (one of the FIVE stamps they put on them). I had the stamp on my copies, but Vasile did not have it. “Well, I cannot let you enter Argentina without that exit stamp on the import permit. According to this paper, your bike is still in Chile”. So Vasile jumped on the bike and rode back to the Argentinian border. He got there just to be told that he didn’t not need any more stamps, so they refused to put the stamp. Those who know Vasile, you probably know that tact is not his forte, and when he gets pissed off he becomes quite direct. I do not know in what language he talked to them, but he pretty much told them “I don’t care if I need the stamp or not, but the Argentinian border requires it, so you put the damn stamp on my paper now so I can leave”. So he got the stamp and came back to the Argentinian border. This whole time, I was arguing with the Argentinian officer at the Aduana, as she took my Chilean import permit, cancelled it (as she should have) but didn’t give me a new one for Argentina. When I asked her, she told me I didn’t need one. I started explaining to her that in each and every one of the countries we have been through we always needed one, and we need to present it when we leave the country, so we don’t have problems. She kept insisting that in Argentina we didn’t need one. I told her that this was the second time we entered Argentina, and the first time they did give us one. “So where is it then if they gave you one?” “Well, I had to cancel it, so I left it with them when I left Argentina” “Then we can’t give you a new one, you don’t need one” I was getting really frustrated, as I knew for sure I needed one and I could not enter Argentina without it, but I was having a really hard time convincing her. Actually she should have been the one convincing me that I needed one, since she should have known better than me what I needed when I entered their country. After 15 minutes of arguing, one of her colleagues overheard our conversation and he intervened, telling her that she did need to fill out a temporary import permit, as we were foreigners, and it was mandatory. Finally! So here I was when Vasile came back. I was so happy that I could speak Spanish! Imagine a tourist who does not speak the language, and does not know all the ins and outs of the border crossings, they would have just taken her word and left without the paper. And chances are they wouldn’t have been able to leave the country with the vehicle anymore, or they would have had problems for sure.

Funny enough, once outside, the guy who usually does a final check of all the papers before you enter the country, did ask for the import permit. So how the heck that lady knew nothing about it?

So here we were once again in Argentina.

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We continued for a while on gravel road, very dusty from the busy traffic, leaving behind the beautiful volcanoes.

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And we entered the famous Ruta 40. We stopped to rest our bones in a campsite by the highway again, by a beautiful lake.

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And one more time we witnessed the cheerful Latino party spirit all night long:(

Ruta 40 is an epic road. There are long stretches not paved yet here and there, but I am sure in one year it will be all paved, as they are working on that now. We rode by 7 Lakes, which is a wonderful region in the mountains that has, as the name says, 7 incredible lakes, one more amazing than the other.

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For lunch we stopped and had the best lamb goulash ever in a very chic rustic place and got some road advice from the owner.

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And we made it to Bariloche, the famous ski resort with beautiful Swiss architecture in the foothills of the Andes. For kilometers all we saw was hotels, cabanas, bungalows and restaurants, which told us how touristic it is. We inquired at a “hosteria familial” which was supposed to be cheaper, how much they would charge per night. Answer: only $100 USD. So we camped again. It looks like here in the south is more rainy and a lot colder, so camping is not just as much fun as it is on the beach, but for now it is ok. I have a feeling I will miss the sun and heat for a while.

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Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

Boys gone wild


Post edited by Vasile.

We got to Santiago late in the day and we were looking for a place to stay, when the adventure pulled right next to us on the KTM 950 Adventure. It was Cristobal, a Chilean dude who after a few minutes of chatting with us invited us to his place.

The next day me and him went on a ride to the “cordillera” (Andes).

Just outside Santiago we started climbing a nice twisty gravel road going up to almost 4000 m altitude through some of the most beautiful landscapes the area has to offer.

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Once we got on the ridge we could see glaciers and deserty valleys all around us. Like always, I was extremely excited and always looking for and taking all the single tracks around me.

When we got to the top Cristobal asked me which way we wanted to go back. He gave me two options: one full enduro (for 450 KTM) and the other one a two hours’ fast gravel road. Any day I would  have picked the enduro version but because he said the gravel was more scenic and I didn’t want to damage my bike in this trip, I chose the easy way out.

For the next half hour everything was fast, until we got to a bulldozer that was stuck, trying to clear out a washout. We looked around for options and I decided to go straight through it to the other side, which turned out to be pretty easy and we were both very excited that we made it to the other side. Before we attempted it, the guys who were trying to get the bulldozer out were looking at us skeptical and they were pretty shocked that we actually made it.IMG_5984 IMG_5991

Thinking that was it we jumped on the bikes again and after only five minutes of riding we got to a way bigger washout.We were still very excited about it so we carefully planned a route to cross it and we successfully made it to the other side. And so it happened with the next 10-15 washouts, until I decided to walk ahead a bit to check how the road was. We walked for about 1 km through some washouts way bigger and more dangerous than the ones we’d been through. Also, in one of them, we saw a 10 km mark. That’s when I decided that, knowing what’s on the side we came from, it would be better to turn around. We calculated that we had about 4 hours of daylight and it would be enough to cross all the washouts we’d been through already. After only 10 minutes and two washouts crossed we met two local Chileans riding on horses and Cris asked them how the road was down the valley to the main highway. They talked for about 10 minutes and I probably understood 50% of it, but I could see on Cristobal’s face that he was getting pretty confident to turn back around and continue on the road we didn’t know. Pretty much the locals told us that all the washouts should be the same like the ones we just crossed, with a good section of 6 km without washouts. Then we would get to a collapsed bridge where we would have to get our bikes down in the river and back on the other side. But they offered to help us with that. After that, within 500 m we were supposed to be on the highway.IMG_5995 IMG_6006

So we decided to turn around again. At this point we were at least one hour in without water. As far as food goes, I only had two hot-dogs in the morning.

We crossed about four washouts again and at this point both of us started to feel very tired. Cris is a small guy who weighs just over 60 kg. He is one of the best riders I’ve ridden with. For a guy that small he was riding like a Tasmanian devil. The drops between the rock were so big that the bikes didn’t have enough clearance so I was always looking for the best path through. He was just flying over-top of them. At one point I realized that it was way longer to get out than we had thought and we needed to hydrate. I told Cris that I was going to the river to fill out my camel-bag. He told me not to do it since the water in these mountains if full of minerals. So I didn’t. We continued on over washouts and rock avalanches. Some of them were so dangerous that a small mistake could cost you not only losing your bike, but your own life. We pushed ourselves through levels of dehydration that I had never experienced before. I could feel my throat dry all the way down to my lungs. At this point I realized that if I didn’t hydrate I was going to injure myself pretty soon. So I told Cris “That’s it, I have to go to the river and get some water”. The water wasn’t too muddy but it wasn’t crystal clear either. I jumped in the river, washed my face over and over, and started drinking water like a race horse. I immediately felt like somebody blew life over me. I filled up my backpack just in case Cris wanted to drink some, and started climbing back up to the road. Back on the road I asked Cris if he wanted to drink some water and he immediately reached to my camel-bag. Right away we both had a positive attitude. I was even singing while pulling and pushing the bike.IMG_6008

We went over two or three rock avalanches where there was no room for mistake and then it got completely dark. In the dark we had to pass a few difficult steps, then we got to the 6 km stretch of good road. At this point even after drinking lots of water from the river and riding a fairly easy road compared to what we’d been through, we still had to stop to take a break and encourage ourselves to keep going. In my mind I was re-winding all the events from the day and started to feel safer like it was all over. Everything changed dramatically at the scene of a collapsed bridge, a bit passed 10 pm. There were few moments in the day when I was thinking to push the Help button on my SPOT device. But then I thought I was going to panic all my family and friends back in Canada. At this point I just wanted to let Camelia know that I was not injured but I needed help. So I decided to press the check in OK button, thinking that everybody else but her would think that we were camping and having a lot of fun.DCIM100GOPRO

We left the bikes on the road and Cris had a flashlight, the weakest on the face of the planet. Knowing that the locals are riding their horses through here, I knew there had to be a way down to the river and up on the other side, so we started looking for it. After a little bit of walking through the night, through boulders 4-5 m high, we found the way through. We came back to the bikes and took my bike across first. We manged to get the bike down to the river, over the river and some of the big boulders, but the fatigue took its toll. We were facing a 3 m steep slope that usually, with a lot of momentum, it would be easy to clear, but at that time I could only hear Cristobal’s voice “With speed, with speed”. Unfortunately I didn’t even have enough energy to twist the throttle. I stepped off my bike and it was the first time I told Cris “We need help”. Thinking about the two guys on horses that made us come this way we decided to start walking towards civilization to find help. Five minutes into the walk, our jaws dropped. Another collapsed bridge that looked way more difficult than the other one. We got down to the river and Cris said “Maybe we can take the bikes into the river and ride the river”. I pointed the flashlight to the right and showed him the 4-5 m waterfall. At this point both of us were very confused about what was going to happen. We decided to go back to the bikes, pick up our helmets and keys and walk to the next village. When we got back to the bikes we could barely stand on our own two feet. So we decided to sleep for a little bit. We were super warmed up from all the effort and immediately it felt very cosy and relieving. After about half hour Cris woke up and said “Vasile, if we sleep here we should make a fire or we should walk to the highway”. I said “Let’s walk to the highway” so he walked to the other side of the river to pick up the helmets and his motorcycle keys. I was getting extremely cold so until he came back I tucked underneath the bike and wrapped my hands around the exhaust pipes which were still warm.

When he got back we started walking down the river and I was getting more and more concerned about getting the bikes out, looking around the places we had to go through. About a km later, at the bottom of the valley, we would see some light pollution. We knew it had to be the village or the highway. I think I was asking Cris over and over again the same question: “How are we going to get the bikes out?”

Finally we got to the rail crossing where there was a guy working the night shift. He was very kind and gave us water and Cris and I were trying to switch sim cards so we can call and let people know that we were ok, as his phone battery had died. Apparently sim card from an I-phone doesn’t work on an Android so we started walking to the highway to take a bus or hitch-hike to Santiago.

Walking down on the gravel road I heard Cris saying “Mi papa” (my dad), looking at some guys around a car in the middle of the road. I thought he was just trying to be funny after all that happened. Getting closer to the group he started shaking their hands. Being so tired, even at this point, I couldn’t realize what was going on. But then I saw Camelia next to me talking to me.

Turned out she got the message exactly as I intended it. She was relived that I was ok, but seeing that we have not moved for a few hours (she checked the SPOT) she realized there must have been something wrong with the bikes. At the same time, Cris’ dad was trying to reach him on the phone and as he was not answering, he got worried and he went to the house to check what was going on. There he found Camelia. Together they looked at the SPOT, put the pieces of the puzzle together and they decided they needed to come for us. Cris’ dad knew the road we were on very well, as he was a biker himself, so he knew where to come find us. His dad and his partner were just coming back from a fishing trip 1000 km away from Santiago, and now they were driving with Camelia in the middle of the night to find us.

We were so happy to see them! We jumped in the car and headed to Santiago. As we were starving, we stopped at a gas station on the way to grab a bite to eat. Camelia asked Cris “Are you sure you are going to find your bikes tomorrow and no one is going to steal them?” And Cris’ answer was “If anyone gets it out of there, I’m gonna pay him” 🙂

We got back to Santiago around 3 am and went straight to bed.

The next day we woke up and proceeded the rescue mission. Cris called his cousin Francisco to drive us there and once there we started asking people for help, and especially looking for somebody with a horse. After a bit of walking around we came across some people willing to help. We started heading towards the bikes and the scene was just as I expected: very difficult to go through. It’s amazing how positive you look at things when you are hydrated and have enough food in your belly. Compared to the other night this time I had no doubt in my mind, I was going to make it through to the other side.

Once at the bikes I tried starting my bike but after the cold over night and all the first gear stop and go from previous day it didn’t start, so I showed Cris the secret back to back bump start 🙂DCIM100GOPRO

We started going over stuff, carving roads, shifting rocks and towing the bikes with the horse. But soon enough the horse got spooked from the sound of the engines and starting jumping and kicking, throwing off the boy who was riding him. Nothing happened with the boy, except a few scratches, but unfortunately I cannot say the same thing about the horse. The boy’s father made sure he gave the horse a lesson, totally unnecessary if you ask me.DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO

After this, the only power we used was human power, making it through all the difficult steps with a lot of caution and teamwork. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon we had the bikes out of the valley.

The next day in Santiago I washed both bikes and did some work on my bike, had an amazing dinner with Cris’ family and overall I think it was an experience I will never forget and I also made a friendship that I hope it will last a lifetime.

Here is a video to sum up some of the stuff we’ve been through.

Thank you very much Cristobal for everything and I have no regrets for what happened. If I had to do it again I probably would:) Remember, you always have a friend in Canada.

Categories: Chile | 2 Comments

New friends and new adventures in Chile


Once in Chile we found ourselves stuck in a humongous line of cars and commercial trucks, as there was only a one lane road. They are building a highway, so for now only one lane is open, and apparently during the day it is open for the traffic that comes from Argentina, and during the night for the traffic that comes from Chile. The road descends very fast, it is very steep and incredibly twisty, so the big commercial trucks go very slow. As it was only one lane it was very hard to pass them. We would manage to pass one at each turn, while the front of the truck would go wide, before the rest of the truck would go diagonally on the turn. Not extremely safe but the only option. Sometimes we would try and pass on the tiny gravel shoulder (wherever there was one) and then we would have the surprise to realize it was very loose gravel, and much lower than the road further down, so it would make it a bit challenging to get back on the road in between two big trucks. But we finally managed to pass them all (I am sure there were at least a hundred) and pick up some speed.

Not a very clear picture, but you can see the winding road full of commercial trucks

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And here we were cruising at over 100 km an hour on the highway, when we saw a road toll. In almost all countries we traveled through so far bikes were not paying any road tolls. Well, it looks like here we had to pay. The problem was, as we just entered Chile, and there were no banks on the side of the highway, obviously, we did not have any cash. And they did not take credit cards. The lady tells us we can go back to some casino, where they have an ATM, and we can get cash. That was many km back. So we were like “Are you telling us that we have to go this many km back to get cash so we can pay $2 for this toll?” As there were many cars waiting behind us, she called her supervisor for a solution. Here she came, a very nice lady, and she told us she couldn’t let us go through the gate without paying (which we totally understood, they must have their systems) but she could let us go by on the side, on a tiny trail. As there were no banks in between this paying station and the next one, she offered to call the next station and let them know, so they let us go through.

Got to the next toll, at least this time we stopped on the side of the road so we didn’t block the traffic again. The girl there told us the same thing, she couldn’t let us go through the gate if we didn’t pay. We asked her if anyone called, she had no idea, she sent me to talk to the boss in the office. Went to find the boss, yes, he got the phone call, so he came with us and he opened the gate for us. Very nice people.

Someone asked me once if I had to move from Vancouver to any of the places I have traveled through, which one I would pick. So far I would have said Columbia, Medellin. But now I would say Chile. We love Chile! Same mellow traffic as in Argentina, or maybe even better, friendly and open people with open minds, beautiful landscapes.

We got to Santiago late, in the dark, after riding between thousands of vineyards (Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world) and we were expecting to see at least here some craziness, as it is the capital. No, it was the most mellow and civilized traffic I have seen in any capital of the world so far. Driving around to find a hotel, we got stopped by police. Apparently we didn’t stop at a stop sign. No one ever stopped at a stop sign in the whole Central and South America so far. We did slow down, check and kept going. No, here you have to come to a complete stop. Which is how it is supposed to be. This reminds me of the rules in my own country, as I almost forgot them:) We explained the officer that we have been traveling a lot, and where we’ve been it was normal not to stop at a stop sign, but just to be careful. He understood, just reminded us that in this country rules are really enforced, so we should abide. With the promise to be more careful, he let us go.

Right when we were leaving, a guy in a car on the side of the road asked me if we had any tools to fix a flat tire. We stopped and tried to help him, but his tire was pinched badly, so he had to go and have it replaced.

It was about 10:30 pm by now. So we rode round and round to find a hotel. Along with civilizations come high prices. A hostel private room was $85 USD, and they had no parking for the bikes either. But the lady there kindly gave us a map with all the hotels and hostels in town. The problem was, none of them had parking. We found a hotel with decent prices, but now we had to find a safe parking for the bikes. While Vasile was walking around to look for a parking, I was sitting by the bikes. And I see this guy shows up on a KTM  950 Adventure and parks his bike right next to ours. He comes and he starts chatting with me: where are we from, did we have any problems with the bikes etc. In the meantime Vasile shows up and they start talking about KTM mechanics and stuff. Vasile asks him if he knows of a safe parking in the area, as he could not find one, and the guy goes “Well, no, I don’t. But I just have a job here, for about an hour, and if you want to wait for me you can come to my house, I have another KTM there but I still have enough room for the bikes, and you can sleep there too”. Wow, we were blown away by his generosity and friendliness. After all he just met us. We gladly took his offer and around 12:30 am we were riding to his place. He made us feel so welcome and we met his little friend, Rocky, the cutest and most playful dog, five months’ old.

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And just so you know, Rocky rides the bike too, just like all other members of the family

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He even knows mechanics, he was helping Vasile to fix the bike

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And he was obsessed with cleanliness – he kept licking us, I guess that was a hint we needed a shower:)

SAMSUNGAfter having some good Chinese dinner, Cris kindly offered to take us on a nice ride the next day.

As we went to bed probably around 2 am, the next day I was feeling too tired, so I let them go by themselves riding. They were supposed to come back in half day or so. Well it was almost 10 pm and they were not home. I checked the SPOT to see where they were and I saw they were in the mountains, still on the gravel road, a few hours away from home. Five minutes later I got an OK spot message from Vasile. Ok, that means they are ok, but since the SPOT shows me they haven’t moved for a few hours, and they are in the mountains, they must have some mechanical problems. Unfortunately I had no phone number to call them and I didn’t know anyone else here to ask for help. Luckily Cristobal’s dad (Cristobal is our new friend’s name) came by, as he called him all day with no answer, and he got worried. Together we looked at the info we had and we decided to go and look for them. Cristobal’s dad is a biker himself, so he knew the road the guys were on, and he recognized the place right away. He knew exactly where to go look for them. He called a friend of Cristobal who had a pick up truck to join us, just in case we needed to put the bikes in the truck. We drove there in the middle of the night and right when we were turning onto the gravel road we saw the guys walking towards us, all muddy and tired. Turned out they got stuck with their bikes in some really bad places so they had to leave the bikes there and walk to the road, hoping they could hitch-hike back to Santiago and the next day get some help and go get the bikes. You can imagine how happy they were to see us.

The next day they went with some help and managed to bring the bikes home. They were both sore from all the effort and moving like robots. But despite this, Vasile was all excited about the ride and impressed with Cris’ skills on such a big bike. I am sure  they will both remember this adventure for the rest of their lives.

The day after Vasile spent it cleaning and fixing the bike while I went to the mall with Cris’ step-mother. Fortunately no major problems caused, so by the evening the bikes were ready. We had some nice Romanian dinner (I finally adventured to cook a Romanian chicken paprikas), some delicious pisco sour, the traditional Chilean drink, along with some good quality conversation with the Rivera family. What an awesome family! Thanks again for your hospitality and a few incredible days.

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A separate post will follow with the details of the guys’ ride. Some crazy stuff, believe me, I’ve seen the pictures! Stay tuned.

Categories: Chile | 2 Comments

Short overview of Argentina


The border crossing from Bolivia to Argentina was pretty fast and easy. Both immigration offices were in the same place, so we did not have to walk or drive from one to the other. And once in Argentina, this is the first thing we saw:

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So I guess we still have a long way to go:)

Argentina is a totally different world. It is a pretty developed country, the people have a different way of thinking and behaving and one thing that shocked us (in a good way) was the very civilized traffic. We could not believe we didn’t have to worry about getting killed every 5 minutes! Everyone really follows the rules, obeys the speed limits and the continuous double lane. As on the bikes it’s really hard to go very slow, at some point we were stuck in some traffic going down a winding road with (obviously) continuous double line. Vasile started passing the cars and trucks and for a while I couldn’t do it. I was just so embarrassed, as we were the only ones braking the rules. After a few minutes I had to give up on my embarrassment, as I could not continue with 20-30 km an hour. But I have to admit it is such a peace of mind to drive here; we needed this break.

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And we got to the Tropic of Capricorn, in Salta!

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We found some good, inexpensive wine to buy on the side of the road (there are wineries everywhere).

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And we started loving Argentina more and more (even though we haven’t open the wine yet:) )

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The only downside was the 45 degrees Celsius – nice and toasty. We had to stop every hour to drink water and we still felt dehydrated all the time.

We got to Mendoza where we were expecting a bit more crazy traffic, as it is a big city, but same thing. It was busier, indeed, but same civilized traffic; we could actually see two different lines of cars not just cars all over the place, people politely letting us cut in front of them if we needed, no honking and yelling. Except a cab driver on my left hand side who was standing out with his lack of patience, honking all the time for whatever reason.

We managed to find a hotel right in the center of the city, but we had to find parking somewhere else. Luckily we got a good deal at the parking lot right across, so all set. We were planning to stay in Mendoza for a couple of days, so Vasile could go to the KTM dealership and take care of his clutch, as it started to cause him problems again.

As it was Valentine’s day, we decided to go for a nice dinner. Argentina reminded me of Romania in many ways. One of them was the way people enjoy their evening. We found a street in the center that was for pedestrian use only, and on both sides, as far as we could see, patios full of people dressed up enjoying a meal, a coffee or a drink. I kind of missed that. One of the things I didn’t miss though was people smoking everywhere. We were sitting at a table trying to enjoy our dinner and a lady sitting at the table next to us was smoking like a chimney, cigarette after cigarette, and we were inhaling all her smoke. Vasile was about to tell her a few words but I stopped him, as we were not in our country, and apparently here they are allowed to smoke wherever they please (even though it is not nice), so we have to adapt; I am not here to teach them how to behave.

When we got back to the hotel the receptionist told us that he had made a mistake, the room that we booked for two days was actually booked already for the next day. He offered to find us another hotel, but we didn’t feel like moving all our stuff again, find a parking for the bikes again etc. This would have taken a few hours of our day, so we decided to move on, and go to Santiago, Chile, as they have KTM dealerships there too, and from what we heard the best ones too.

So the next day we packed up and off we went. The ride from Mendoza was nice, scenic, but sort of boring for us, as there was barely any traffic. As I was a bit tired too, I was almost falling asleep (literally). I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I was longing for some crazy traffic to keep me awake, and entertained:)

We didn’t find any traffic, but we found this instead.

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The Provincial Park Aconcagua. It is incredibly beautiful. And we were lucky and we had almost clear sky and we could see the summit in his entire splendor.

IMG_5895The idea of trying to climb it was quite tempting, as we were very well acclimatized now after so many days at altitude in Peru and Bolivia, but it was $1000 USD per person just the entry fee, plus all the equipment we would have needed, so we gave up.

From there the road was going higher up in the mountains. We were wondering where the border was or if we passed it already, as we knew we had to be very close. We entered a long tunnel, about 3 km, and in the middle of the tunnel we saw Chile’s flag, and the usual “Bienvenido a Chile” (Welcome to Chile). We got out of the tunnel, but still no border anywhere. A few km later we finally got to the border. The border has a very epic location, in the middle of the mountains (Paso Los Libertadores).

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As it was a border crossing between two developed countries, we were expecting to have the best experience in border crossing so far. Well, it turned out to be the worst. As it is a joint border, both immigration offices, Argentinian and Chilean are in the same place. But “the office” was actually formed by lots of little kiosks where the border officials had their desks, but people were actually lining up and filling out the forms outside. There were no tables or anything where you could fill out the forms, so everyone was writing on their car’s hood or wherever they could. Unfortunately our bikes don’t have a hood. And to top it off, it started raining, and at some point hailing. It was impossible to fill out any forms in that rain. We got through a couple of those kiosks, and then we got to an old lady, who apparently didn’t know very well what she was doing. She kept sending us from an office to the other to get some stamps. When we would go to those offices, they would tell us we didn’t need those stamps, and they would send us back. This happened a few times until one of the officers from that office came with us, and explained the lady we did not need that stamp. She made us fill all kinds of forms, even though we told her we had filled those forms already and once we finally had it all ready she goes “Oh, you are entering Chile now, not exiting?” Duh! Yes, we are entering Chile. It says on the forms that you made us fill out and we mentioned a few times, in Spanish! So it turned out we did not really need all those stamps. Now it was time for her to enter all the info from the forms into her computer. She was asking me again everything I had filled out on the form “So what’s the document you are using? And what’s the passport number? What vehicle you are on? What’s the VIN?” “I am sorry, I do not know it by heart, it’s on the form you have there” “Where?” So I had to show her what line I put the VIN and all the other info on. It looked like she was not very familiar with those forms. And that would not have been a problem, maybe she was new, which I would totally understand, but she was loosing patience and raising the voice on us too, which I did not appreciate at all, since it was her job to know what stamps we really did need and where to find the info on the forms. And then she started typing with one finger, one key every two seconds. It took forever to enter my info in the computer. Then it was Vasile’s turns, all over again:)

When we finally thought we had all the stamps and all the papers, we had our panniers checked for food (you are not allowed to have any meat, fruit or veggies). At least these two ladies were more than nice, so in five minutes we were ready to go. Or at least that’s what we thought. Before we exited, we had all our papers checked one more time. “You need a stamp from the Argentinian immigration on the SAG form” (the declaration that we were not bringing any food items into Chile). I can’t believe this! We ride back to the Argentinian immigration office and ask for the stamp. “Sorry, that’s a Chilean form, it has nothing to do with us, we cannot put a stamp on something that doesn’t pertain to us”. Back to the Chilean officer, repeat the Argentinian officer’s words, finally he lets us enter Chile!!! Soaking wet after more than three hours in the rain and hail (or should I say hell) we were looking forward for the sun and clear sky we saw in the distance. Chile, here we come!

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Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

Amazing rides in Bolivia


In the morning we jumped on the bikes, happy to leave the crazy traffic in La Paz. The ride to Oruros was pretty fast, despite the thick traffic heading that way for the carnival. Bikes can always squeeze by faster, so we got there in 2 hours or so.

From Oruros we took the shortest way to Uyuni, which was about 100 km paved and about 220 km dirt road.

Here we made a short stop for lunch in a small town, where we eat again some delicious cheese with bread and tomatoes.

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And off we went again.

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Right past that town, the road was washed out and covered by a river now, as it was the rainy season.

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There were only the train tracks going over, so Vasile went to see if he could pass the bikes over on the rail tracks.

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But that was mission impossible, so we had to find another solution. A local kid told us there was a bridge a little bit further down, so we headed that way. We found the bridge, which turned out to be covered in water too, but at least it was paved and here we are on the other side, continuing our journey.

Overall the road was not too bad, it was packed dirt in some places but very washboardy, with lots of mud sections (the rain left its tracks) and towards the end lots of sand. But the view was magnificent.

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We saw some llamas again on our way.

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And the beautiful pink flamingos.

IMG_5693A few river crossings.

IMG_5725 IMG_5731It was starting to get dark but we decided to continue until we got to Uyuni. Initially we were planning to camp, but there were not too many safe spots to camp, as there were washouts everywhere, so you could never tell when the water was going to flood again, especially that it was still rainy season. And to top it off, the storm was coming, we could see the lightnings in the distance.

IMG_5734Towards the end of the day we were starting to feel tired. It was peach dark, the road was all deep washboards and with a lot of sand on top, my arms were hurting from the shaking. When the road got to Uyuni, it was a challenge to find the main road towards the center of the city. It was just mud and dirt everywhere. We finally made it. The whole city was celebrating the same carnival, so everyone was in the streets singing, dancing, spraying people with water and foam. We hardly made our way through the crowds, just to realize that all the hotels were full, not one room left. We were about to head out (this was around 10:30 pm) and find a place to camp outside the city when Vasile finally managed to find a room in a hotel. They did not have water (apparently in the whole town), but at that point it did not matter anymore, I could go to sleep, and that was all I cared about.

The next day we went to see the famous salt flats. We were told they were covered in water this time of the year and we were not allowed to ride across them. Apparently some riders got stuck and lost on the salt flats some time ago and due to the fact that in the water you cannot see the tracks, they were found 5 days later. Since then it’s prohibited to ride on the flats when they are flooded, for safety reasons. We rode a bit on the side of the flats but we almost got stuck so we had to turn around. But we did ride around the train cemetery.

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Even the unpaved roads in town were very muddy, with huge puddles.

IMG_5758 IMG_5759 IMG_5762 IMG_5764We decided to leave Uyuni and head South again, towards Tupiza. But we needed gas. And the lineup at the gas station looked like this.

IMG_5766While I was waiting on the line Vasile went and washed the bikes, so we did not waste time. Almost ready to leave, just one more thing. My front brake was gone almost completely, so Vasile had to replace it.

Before

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and after

IMG_5770All set we hit the dirt roads again, another 212 km from Uyuni to Tupiza. Same type of roads for a while, washboards, dirt and mud with washouts and water crossings. According to Vasile, very similar to the Dampster in Alaska, just a lot worse.

IMG_5778 IMG_5787 IMG_5790 IMG_5791The road goes up to 4000 m altitude and surprisingly there are still villages up there.

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The landscape is getting better and better as the road goes up in the mountains, all the way up to 4500 m altitude.

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And here is our lunch stop. We made some noodle soup, had some cheese and apples as appetizers and chocolate was the desert.

IMG_5819 IMG_5820 IMG_5822 IMG_5825With our stomachs happy, we could jump on the bikes again.

IMG_5826 IMG_5829 IMG_5835 IMG_5838And it got dark again, and just for diversity it started raining. But we finally made it to Tupiza, and finding a hotel turned out to be quite a challenge. As I am pretty blind at night, I was just following the light of Vasile’s bike. So if the bike danced, I would be like “so that was mud”, if I felt a hoop I’d realize that was a deep pothole and if I felt water splashing I would know that was a puddle. Otherwise I couldn’t see anything in advance. So when we found a hotel, we just stopped there, we did not drive around more to find a better deal. There weren’t many options anyway. The hotel we found was pretty expensive for our budget, but it was really nice. It even had a pool, too bad we did not have the time to use it.

The next day, all fresh and rested, we were on the road again, this time heading for the border. The road from Tupiza to the border was paved, so we could go faster. But we needed gas first. In Bolivia there is a little bit of a problem with the gas for tourists. What happens is, for locals the gas is extremely cheap, as the government subsidizes it. Which made a lot of people from the neighboring countries to come and by gas in Bolivia and sell it in their country. So in order to discourage this, the government imposed a higher price for tourists, which is 2.5 times higher than the price for locals. And for the government to track that and to recover that difference, gas stations must issue an invoice to tourists each time they sell the gas. They are not allowed to sell it without issuing invoice. There are cameras in each gas station to make sure that happens. And gas station employees are sometimes too lazy and don’t want to fill out the invoice or some of them can’t read or write so they cannot fill out the invoice, therefore they refuse to sell you gas under the excuse “we don’t have invoices now”. This is the problem we encountered a few times throughout Bolivia and once again in Tupiza. At this gas station the girl told us she doesn’t know how to fill out the invoice, therefore she cannot sell us gas. We told her we don’t care about the invoice, we don’t need it. She said “ok, I can sell you without invoice, but the price for you is 9.5 b” (which is 2.5 time the local price). So here she got me confused. “Well, since you don’t give me invoice, than why do you charge me the full tourist price? That’s the price for when you cut invoice. Where does that money go?” So basically what she wanted was to sell us at the tourist price, without invoice, and put the difference in her pocket. As we were already quite frustrated, as she ignored us for a good while and kept serving other customers (locals) we did not want to support this kind of dishonest ways of doing business, so we told her that we were willing to pay that price as long as she gave us invoice, but without invoice we were only going to pay the regular price. So then she said she wouldn’t sell to us, since the owner told her not to sell to foreigners anyway – which is totally illegal; they cannot refuse to sell gas to tourists, as the government is losing money this way. A long line up formed behind us, as we refused to move the bikes until she would sell us gas. I could not believe that most people were actually mad and did not understand why we didn’t just want to pay the tourist price without invoice, knowing very well that this way the money was going straight into the girl’s pocket. No one saw anything wrong with that. There was only one lady there, that seemed to be way more educated and well spoken, and she was on our side trying to explain to people our reasoning, but without much success. Now our options were: to call police (as Foreign Affairs Canada recommends to do if they refuse to sell you gas) or to go find another gas station and hope we won’t have the same problem over there. We considered the first option for a while, out of principle, but then we realized that we would waste way too much time and we needed to get to the border, plus Bolivia is a more than corrupt country, so we had no guarantee that that policeman was going to actually do his job right. Therefore we decided to go find another gas station. And we did, they had invoice, they sold us the gas, but there was only a very old man who knew how to fill out the invoice, and he was blind. So between him and the girl at the pump, after a sustained effort and team work, they managed to fill out our invoice, that went straight in the garbage. This tells me how many invoices they actually fill out, and I am sure there are lots of tourists passing by.

Glad to finally have the tank full, the last one we needed in Bolivia, we headed to the border. Despite the beautiful landscapes and rides, at this point I was so ready to leave Bolivia.

Categories: Bolivia | Leave a comment

El Camino de la Muerte – The Death Road


In Bolivia I kind of entered with my left foot. At some point on the left lane there were some big commercial trucks stopped, so all the traffic was deviated onto our lane. And even though they saw us coming, they wouldn’t wait for us to go first, they would keep coming onto our lane, to the point where we were stuck. No one could go any further. And guess what: they started honking at us, to get out of their way. On our lane! There was no shoulder, so we could not go by them, so then Vasile started going in zig-zag, squeezing through the cars. I tried to do the same, but unfortunately my panniers are much wider than his, so I touched with one of them the wheel of the truck on the left, which made me lose the balance and drop the bike on the other side. The right mirror, which had been broken when I had my crash a few months ago and that Vasile had jb-welded came off. I was so pissed off and so frustrated with these drivers, when the truck that was coming on MY LANE blew the horn at me. The guy had lost the patience as Vasile came to help me pick up the bike and we were checking to see if everything else was ok. I guess that was his was off saying “Oh I am sorry you fell because of me, since I am driving on YOUR lane and did not leave any room or options for you; are you ok?” I could not believe the cheek of him! Both Vasile and I started yelling at him at the same time “What, you don’t have patience? Continue on your lane then!” It was for the first time in the whole trip when we yelled at someone in traffic. But as we could see later, it became something absolutely common for Bolivia.

As the mirror was not a fix that could be done on the side of the road, I had to continue riding without it. On the highway it’s not too bad, but as we got to La Paz, it became very sketchy. Remember this is a country where passing is done on whatever side you feel like, there is no personal space, green light doesn’t mean anything (everyone is running red lights), rules are bent in whatever direction you may please and riding without a mirror felt quite unsafe. We passed through La Paz and went straight to Achumani to find the KTM dealership, as Vasile wanted to do some major maintenance on his bike here, hoping to find a hotel in the area as well. We found the dealership pretty fast. Achumani is a beautiful little town by La Paz where I am assuming only rich people leave. Some sort of West Vancouver of the Lower Mainland. Unfortunately no hotels at all in the area. So after Vasile talked to the guys at KTM, we had to turn around to La Paz and try to find a hotel.

Our friends Chris and Stephanie (which we split from in Cuzco, as they had to take care of some more stuff) had arrived in La Paz the same they. Apparently we passed right by them on the way to Achumani. Chris jumped on the road to wave at us almost being hit by a car. But I guess he wasn’t flashy enough, or we were too frustrated with the traffic (we both almost got squished by cars every five minutes, so we had to have all the attention on the road) and we didn’t see him. In the meantime he had sent us a message where they were, so we were heading back to find them. The ride back was even more horrific. Thick heavy traffic barely moving at all on steep, narrow streets, cars moving onto our lane as if we were not even there, honking, yelling. Again, for the first time in this trip we started using our middle finger for other purposes than just throttle and clutch. At some point I told Vasile to just stop at the first hotel on the way, and we could find our friends later. “Look, there is one right here, why don’t we just stop here” “Oh, actually this is the hostel Chris was telling us about” Perfect timing. So we stopped and we met there Alison, another fellow rider that we had heard about but haven’t met before and soon after Debbie showed up, the girl on a BMW 650 that we met in Medellin. We chatted for a few minutes and then we decided to go and check in a hostel one block up. I was feeling so tired and exhausted  as I could not eat anything for almost three days and I was completely dehydrated too plus the crazy traffic and all I wanted was to eat (NOW!), have a shower and have a good sleep. I could not even get back on the bike and  ride one more block, so Chris took my bike to the hostel and he showed me where the restaurant was, so I can go straight there and eat, hoping that this time my body would actually keep the food in.

The next day Vasile and Chris went shopping for bike parts as Chris needed to fix a few things on his bike.

In the evening we met another fellow rider, Dwight, riding on a KLR. A really nice guy from New Brunswick, Canada, with a lot of interesting and funny stories to tell. Dwight has met Chris earlier in this trip and they met again here in La Paz. What a small world! Turned out it was his birthday, so we ended up having a great party with beer, wine and tequila shots.

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The next day Vasile went and did the maintenance on his bike. He went to the KTM dealership and they let him do all the work there and made available to him all the tools that he needed. Fernando, the KTM owner/ distributor for Bolivia was super helpful. He brought all the parts that Vasile needed and he drove around town for hours to look for oil and coolant for Vasile’s bike, while Vasile was working on the bike.

Turns out that Fernando also has a Tour Agency that organizes mountain bike tours. He offered us a great deal on a tour on the famous most dangerous road in the world, the Death Road (El Camino de la Muerte). This was something that I wanted to do from the first day we got to La Paz. So when Vasile got to the hostel and asked me if I wanted to do the tour I was jumping up and down with excitement.

We had to wake up at 6 am in the morning and get ready as they were supposed to pick us up at 6:30. Even though I am not a big morning person, I was up before the alarm rang. It was raining, but that didn’t cool down my excitement at all.

This ride was one of the most fun things I’ve done in this trip. I loved it! Even though throughout the ride we had fog, hale, rain and wind it was still a lot of fun on one of the most spectacular and scary roads in the world. Here are some snapshots.

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The guide and the driver were a lot of fun too (the name of the agency is Madness). At the end we stopped for a refreshment and guess what: we meet again Nela and Minerva, two Romanian girls living in Chicago that we had met on Machu Picchu. We were climbing the Waynapicchu and we heard “Wow, Romanians”. I was wondering who was able to recognize the Romanian language there and then they told us they were Romanian too. They are great, fun girls, we had a good chat as if we’ve known each other forever. And here we are bumping into each other again! They have done the same tour, just with another agency. This time we managed to exchange email addresses so we can keep in touch.

We got back to our hotel all soaked and cold but so happy to have done this.

Now the next plan was to go to Oruro, the folklore capital of Bolivia, about 2-3 hours south of La Paz, for the famous carnival that dates back more than 2000 years. Looking online for lodging we realized it was all booked and the prices were about 5 times higher than regular. Now plan B was to ride there, find a place to leave the bikes, go see the carnival, and then go out of Oruro somewhere and camp. But everyone advised us against it, as it would be crazy busy and it would not be a good idea to take the bikes there. So we decided for plan C, to take a bus from La Paz, go see the carnival and come back to La Paz. Unfortunately this morning when we went to the bus station, there was a humongous line-up, we waited in line for a couple of hours and when we got close to the kiosk we were told that we needed IDs in order to buy tickets and we didn’t have them with us. But it was quite late anyway, they were selling tickets for the 11 o’clock bus now, and with 3 hours drive there we would’ve gotten there pretty late, so we were not too upset.

Tomorrow we will be heading south towards the salt flats and then soon towards the warm Argentina. The cold got too deep into my bones, my lizard body needs a sun break:)

Categories: Bolivia | 2 Comments

Last days in Peru


Once back to Cuzco Vasile realized his clutch had problems. He saw some symptoms while riding to Machu Picchu, some hard shifting in the gear box, but he was concerned that there might have been something wrong with the gear box. In Cuzco, while stopped at a red light, he saw his clutch master cylinder leaking.  So he did some adjustments and it worked a bit better. When we got to the hostel and he opened the clutch, there was no fluid left.  So we stayed in Cuzco until the next day so he could  fix the problem.

He started looking online for solutions. The solution found online was olive oil. But a mechanic at a local motorcycle dealership told him that baby oil actually works better. So as you can see, Pharmacies are not just for humans, you can buy treatment for the bikes too:) And it seems like Vasile’s baby likes baby oil, since it works perfectly now.

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Once all fixed we jumped on the bikes and headed to Puno. We left our friends Chris and Stephanie behind, as they still had some things to take care of in Cusco. We left around 1:30 pm and we were told there are around 7 hours drive. On bikes it always takes us less. Leaving Cuzco there was a festival on the road, so we managed to have a glance of some beautiful local costumes and dances.

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The pass over the mountain was cold, wet at times, but beautiful. We reached 4300 m altitude at some point. We saw all sorts of ruins on the way, some looked like abandoned churches.

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As the weather was quite capricious and kept changing from sun to rain and rain to sun, we had the chance to see some beautiful rainbows embrace the mountains and the plateau.

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When we got hungry we had to go a bit out-of-the-way and into a city to grab some lunch, as we couldn’t find anything on the side of the road.

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It appears in the mountains the day is shorter, as the sun hides behind the mountains earlier. It started getting dark, but we were close, so we decided to keep going. We got to Puno around 7 pm and it was dark already. The challenge was now to find a hotel, since there was a big festival going on, and most of them were full. At least the ones with decent prices.

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While I was watching the bikes waiting for Vasile, a policeman approached me and told me to be very careful, as there were  lots of delinquents around, especially due to the celebrations going on in town. Yes sir!

We managed to find a hotel and pampered ourselves with the warm alpaca wool blankets until we fell asleep.

The next day we wanted to go see the floating islands. The owner  of the hotel recommended us not to take a tour, as it was more expensive, but to go directly to the dock and take  a boat from there. And here we are in this “lancha” floating towards the floating islands:)

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It is unbelievable what these Uru people have made there. These people used to live in boats, and now they have built all these islands using bundles of  dried totora reeds and they have to maintain them every 15 days adding new reeds, as the ones at the bottom of the island rot very quickly. Everything on the islands is made of totora reeds: the houses, tools, boats. The mothers have to keep their babies attached at all times, otherwise they could fall in the water anytime. Some really interesting life they have there!

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The boat they call “Mercedes Ben(z)” as it is their luxury boat:)IMG_5555 IMG_5562

I don’t think Vasile could live in one of their houses, he wouldn’t be able to stretch:)

IMG_5565Peruvianized:)
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And this is how a hostel looks like on the island.

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Cute little playful cat
IMG_5600Back to the mainland in Puno we were fortunate to see bits of the Festival de la Virgen de la Candelaria. Hundreds of groups from different villages gathered here to compete in costumes and dances.

IMG_5531 IMG_5535And guess whom I met here too? My best friends from Ice Age:)

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That day on the floating islands we kept seeing the locals applying sunscreen. And we were thinking “what the heck, it’s not even sunny, plus they are dark enough, they won’t burn”. But then we noticed they all had their faces sun-burnt, which we found quite weird. At the end of the day both Vasile and I were feeling really weird, nauseous, low energy and we were having chills. When we got to the hotel and in the shade of the room we realized that I had raccoon face and Vasile’s face was all red too. We got a serious sun burn! Vasile was feeling even worse, since he had had an upset stomach for the past few days, so his body was weakened. We went to bed early planning to leave the next day and head to the border, and then to La Paz, Bolivia.

The next day when we woke up Vasile was like brand new, like nothing happened (I wish I was an iron man too), but I was even worse. If I’ll ever really hate anyone, I will wish them to have the Montezuma’s Revenge. I could not leave the room at all, I was having fever and chills too (probably from the sunburn the day before), my whole body was aching as if I had the flu, so we could not head to the border. I spent the whole day in the hotel room, hoping to get better. The next day I was feeling a little bit better, at least well enough to leave the room, and we headed to the border. It was the easiest border crossing in the whole trip. In half hour we exited Peru and entered Bolivia, at no cost other than 5 soles for some municipal fee.

Bolivia, here we come!

Categories: Peru | Leave a comment

One of the Seven Wonders of the World


This post is dedicated to my wonderful former manager, Marian Wong – it would have been awesome to do this together.

We got to beautiful historical Cuzco, with its narrow one way cobblestone streets. The riding through this city was a nightmare though.

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We stayed there for two days, just enough to walk around, see the city and take some pictures and for Chris to do some minor maintenance on his bike.

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We decided not to take the tour to Machu Picchu, since it was $250 USD per person, but to ride the bikes there instead. We decided to leave my bike in Cusco and ride two up, so we wouldn’t have to worry about putting two bikes in a safe place while going up to Machu Picchu. So the plan was to ride to Santa Teresa, leave the bikes there (the only place where we could leave the bikes in a safe place), then take a bus from there to the Hydroelectric Plant, and then take the train or walk for 12 km to Aguas Calientes.

The ride to Santa Teresa was amazing, twisty road going trough the mountains up to 4316 m altitude and then down to the jungle on the other side.

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At some point it  turned into gravel road, pretty narrow and far up from the river:)

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Some landslides on the way, thank god on the other side of the river.

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In Santa Teresa we left our bikes at a hostel and we took a minivan to Hidroelectrica. From there our friends Chris and Stephanie took the train up, and Vasile and I decided to walk the 12 km through the jungle to Aguas Calientes. Despite the many blisters I got on  my feet, I was very happy we did it, since the walk was very nice through the jungle, fresh drizzle and rain.

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Got to Aguas Calientes and we were impressed: this little village was way more than we were expecting.

IMG_5239 IMG_5241 IMG_5235 IMG_5398 IMG_5400 IMG_5409 IMG_5413This is a cute little girl who started playing with Vasile. She went in 30 seconds from smiling at him to jumping on his lap and playing with him:) I love Peruvian kids, they’re so cute!

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Once in Aguas Calientes we went right away to buy the tickets for Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (also known as Wayna Picchu), and the guy tells us that there are no more tickets for the next day for Huayna Picchu (they only allow 400 people a day, in two groups). The only ones available were three days later. Than he starts talking in circles about how he can try to book us for the next day, but he cannot guarantee etc. I kept asking him if he can give me a direct answer, is it possible for the next day or not, and he was going on and on again about how his system works, that he can try, but he cannot guarantee, to the point he made me believe that I didn’t understand Spanish anymore, since he wasn’t making any sense. I guess he just wanted a little tip and as we didn’t catch on, he got frustrated and eventually said “ok, here are your tickets for tomorrow”. So I guess it wasn’t really full for the next day after all. We were so happy we got the tickets for both mountains, as we heard amazing things about Huayna Picchu.

The tickets for Huayna Picchu were for 7 am. So as we had to hike to Machu Picchu first and we had to be there at 6 am, we decided to wake up at 4:30 am, so we have enough time to get ready and to do the 15-20 minutes walk to the gates, before they open at 5.

As I was so excited about it, in the middle of the night I woke up and I figured it should be late enough and was afraid that Vasile’s alarm wouldn’t ring, so I woke Vasile up and asked him what time it was. “5 to 4”. Oh, good, we have another half hour. Fell asleep again and woke up again a little bit later. “What time is it?” “Oh, shoot, it’s 5!!! Let’s go, let’s go!” You can imagine how we jumped out of beds and into our clothes, didn’t even use the washroom:) Outside we started to feel kind of weird: it was dead, just us on the streets. “Maybe no one is as crazy as us to wake up at 4:30 to do Macchu Picchu” “Impossible, out of the 2000 people who go up there daily, there must be at least some”. Power walk to the gate in the peach dark, absolute silence and drizzle. Weird, no one on the road either. Did the time change maybe? Since we are on vacation, we never know what day of the week or what date it is, or when the time changes, since we don’t watch the news:) We got to the gate – closed. Vasile : “Hold on a second” and he starts pressing the buttons of his fancy wrist watch. “Oh shoot, I looked at the wrong screen, I got the wrong time. It’s only 2:25 am!” Beautiful! So we decided that we didn’t want to stay in the rain for 2 hours, and we walked back to the hotel. My feet and blisters loved me for that.

So back to the hotel, try to sleep for another hour. Wake up again, “what time is it?”, get ready, walk out….oh wait, I just had a deja-vu. I feel like I’ve done this before. Except when we got to the gate, is was open this time. So here we start hiking to Machu Picchu. Well, it’s no easy hike, that’s for sure. Very challenging, steep steps through the jungle (for my Vancouverite friends, more challenging than the Grouse Grind), and to top it off, it started pouring. The whole way we were thinking about Alin, Vasile’s brother, who would have probably run up those stairs “Dude, I did it in 27 minutes!” 🙂

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When we got up there, it was quite foggy, so I was about to give up on the Huayna Picchu hike, since I figured I wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway and the idea of resting my feet a bit was very enticing, but Vasile was determined to hike it anyway, so I let myself convinced:) And was I ever happy I did! Machu Picchu was spectacular, but Huayna Picchu is out of this world! The hike was even steeper, there were sections where I had to hold onto the rope on the side, and the trail was so narrow that it did not allow for wrong steps. I think I just discovered in this trip that I have fear of heights, since I was getting dizzy if I was looking down. Here’s some pictures to back up my words (in the meantime the fog cleared up).

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View of Machu Picchu from Huayna PicchuIMG_5321 IMG_5325 IMG_5331 IMG_5340

As the fog cleared up, we went back to Ciudad Inca Machu Picchu; we spent a lot of time there just admiring the ingenious ruins and taking pictures. Even though it is so incredibly touristy and so busy, Machu Picchu will never be overrated. It just blew us away. The whole walk for 12 km and the one hour hike to Macchu Picchu and another hour to Huayna Picchu were so well worth it.

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Macchu Pichu (Ciudad Inca) with Huayna Picchu in the backIMG_5370 IMG_5374

The next day we walked back the 12 km to the Hidroelectrica, and then took a minivan back to Santa Teresa to pick up our bike.

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As there were some hot springs nearby, we decided to go and camp there instead of going to a hotel. When we got there, all the locals advised us not to camp there, as it is the rainy season, and there are regular mudslides that cover the road, so we can get stuck there until the machine comes to fix it, which sometimes can take a whole day. As Chris and Stephanie had quite a bit of food with them and we had some snacks, we decided that we wouldn’t mind if we got stuck there and we had those beautiful hot springs just for ourselves:) After the wild ones in Guatemala, these were the best hot springs we have ever been to. Very clean and nice. And the next day in the morning we realized that they actually replace the water and clean the pools every day.

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So after a couple of lazy hours in the hot springs we went to set up our tent and we noticed we had company. There was one local family camping right next to us. Very nice people: the next day they offered us cheese and coca mate, while the dad played their traditional flute and the little daughter offered us a tentative of a dance show. That was so cute. Then shake of hands and off we go back to Cuzco to pick up my bike.

Categories: Peru | 1 Comment

From the sand dunes to the high mountains


Peru turns out to be an amazing country. It’s got it all: from the sandy desert to the beautiful green mountains. And I love the traditional Peruvian outfits that everyone is wearing.

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The pass we went over on the mountain on the way to Lima was at 4082 m altitude, so we were starting to acclimatize pretty well after so many days riding at over 3000m in Ecuador and Peru.

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There was actually a village up there, at over 4000 m, by a nice lake.
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And of course we saw more accidents on the road.

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And this is how you fix it here.

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On the other side of the mountains we hit desert again and with it the heat. Lima impressed us in several different ways. As many other cities in Central and South America, there is an awful side of Lima, and a really nice, fancy side of it. We went through both, and we stopped in the nice side of it. The traffic was horrendous, but we survived. It was the first city in our trip where I saw Mercedes Benz and Audi SUV.

The next day we woke up early and rode around Lima to find a motorcycle dealerships as Chris was needing badly a rear tire. And since we were there, Vasile decided to change his front tire too if he found a KTM dealership. After riding around for hours we managed to find a KTM dealership (I guess unauthorized yet, since it was well hidden, no big signs outside, just the orange colour of the building with some white tire marks on it. We found it right when we were about to give up and leave. The guys there were more than nice and they let us do all the work in front of their shop, so Vasile bought some oil from them and did an oil change on my bike and also got a front tire for his bike.

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We managed to leave Lima around 1 pm. And on our way we found this winery.

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We tried all the different kinds of wine. They were pretty good, but all very sweet. Peruvians like the sugar. They had only one kind of dry wine, so we bought some at an incredible price (10 soles per gallon – this is about $4 USD) and off we go.

We finally got to our destination for the day, the Oasis in Ica, at about 6:30 pm, starving and tired (we only had breakfast at 8 am that day). And this is how a real oasis looks like.

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The next day we had some fun activities. First we climbed up some tall, steep sand dunes. It is so funny, it feels like walking up on an escalator that goes down. You take one step and it slides down half way, so you climb for five minutes and when you look back you realize that you only advanced 10 m. But it’s fun. Except the fact that if you don’t have proper shoes, you pretty much grill your feet. It’s so amazing to look around and see just sand dunes, nothing else.

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And except the wind at the top of the dunes. If you don’t keep your mouth closed, you will be chewing sand for many days after.

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Here is what the combination of sand and wind can do.

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Later that day we took a tour in a buggy on the sand dunes. It was incredibly fun; that driver really new what he was doing. We stopped to do sand boarding, which was a totally interesting experience.

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We drove up and down on some really steep sand dunes and we screamed of the top of our lungs …and then laughed when we heard others screaming:)

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We watched the sunset.
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And then back to the oasis and party. We deserved it, we had a tough day:)

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And then on the road again, on the way to Cuzco. We left the desert behind, and we headed to the mountains again.

Here we are watching the famous Nazca lines from a tower. I remember I made a presentation about it in university, and I thought back then it would be pretty cool to see it one day.

The tree

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The hands

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Once up in the mountains the whole landscape changes. We will be missing the heat for a while.

Lots of llamas, vicunas and alpacas everywhere. I’m wondering how long it took them to acclimatize to this altitude:)

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And the first night’s campsite at about 3200 m altitude.

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Morning coffee after a cold night with little sleep.

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I always thought flamingos are living in hot exotic places, but it looks like they live in cold places at over 4000 m altitude.

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The highest altitude for the day was 4466 m.

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Many washouts on the way.

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And now looking for a campsite.

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And here’s the second night’s campsite, at about 3700 m altitude, with the beautiful view of the glaciers.

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Awesome place, but with freezing cold and even less sleep at that altitude.

Lunch the next day, on the side of the road: cheese, onions, tomatoes and avocado with some delicious pita breads.

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Life is good.

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