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Gerard Biking

Cycling through South-America - Journal

 

For a long time I've been doubting: bicycle, motorbike, bicycle, motorbike... After a test-trip of 3 weeks and 2000 km on bicycle through Belgium, France and Germany, I knew: this trip I'm going to try to do on bicycle...

 

Venezuela

 

And so, late in the afternoon of July 15 1998, I was standing in the Caracas airport. Before me were laying 5 cycling-bags and a big carton box, containing the partly disassembled bike. Before a big, live audience I've reassembled the bike, put on the bags, and enjoying the applause when I was finished, I drove out of the reception hall. Only outside I noticed that I really had arrived in the tropics: a burning sun and about 35 degrees Celsius... Carefully I drove the few kilometers to the coast to find a hotel for the coming night. Carefully, because the 35 kg luggage were perfectly out of balance AND because the traffic proved to be a bit different then in The Netherlands: - if the cars did have flashing lights, they were only sparsely used, - busses will pull in front of you and stop without warning whatsoever to let passengers get in/out.

After a good night rest and with better-divided luggage, I went out for the first day. Following the coast to the east, the traffic became thinner and cycling more comfortable. Pretty quick the first surprise: a VW-beetle stopped in front of me, three persons got out making agitated motions for me to stop. My first thought: "Shit, hardly driven 10 km and already the first robbery...". It was not as bad as it seemed, they appeared to be journalists for a local newspaper who wanted to have an interview... And so I already had my picture in a newspaper before my travel had really started... About 10 km further on, the second surprise: a flat rear-tire, the tire-valve appeared to be almost ripped off. Changing the tube at the side off a silent coastal road, a passing man told me to better hurry up and drive on, there would be some dangerous people around in the neighborhood. Later that afternoon I had a third surprise when on a parking-area I started a conversation with a man who was driving around in a car with his little son. He appeared to have a trunk full of cooled beer, and insisted I helped him drinking them. That tasted just great after all the sweating of the past hours! And that proved only to be a start of the many drinks I would get through the whole country...

On the second day, the pavement stopped pretty abrupt and the landscape started to get hillier. That was not easy, due to no time at home for cycling, I left without condition and that I could really notice now... A bit later something started to make a terrifying sound. I left home also without much knowledge of bicycles and was already afraid I would have to change a broken spoke now, but it appeared only to be a lose bolt of the baggage carrier that caused the noise. I tightened it and drove on again...

After two more days on dirt roads the pavement reappeared. That felt great! But soon after the next "problem" arrived, a tropical rain-shower. It was impossible to drive on, so I quickly tried to get some cover under a tree, and just as I got under it I saw a local guy do the same. The tree was leaking like hell, it became quite chilly and so my state of mind also went into the cellar, asking myself what the hell I was doing here anyway... But after about three quarters of an hour the sun broke through the clouds again, the Venezuelan and I came from under our trees, wrung out our shirts, introduced ourselves, wished each other a good trip, and headed off again... In no time the temperature was getting better again and before 10 minutes had passed all my clothes were dry again and my temper a lot better! Just before dark I arrived in the village Areguita, where there was no hotel, but people tried to make me clear I just had to wait for a moment. That waiting was for a couple of persons dressed in white. Medical personnel? No, brothers of a religious community who told me directly it would be no problem for me to spend the night in a small dwelling next to the church. There I found out that I would not be the only one sleeping there, it was the home for a couple of youngsters, by whom I was received with open arms. The communication was a bit of a problem, because I hardly knew any Spanish and the people here speak incredibly quickly. But, using hands and feet there's always a way to make oneself understood somehow... In the end I stayed with them for 3 days, joining them to the Sunday-mass, which was very vivid with a lot of singing and music. The way the young ladies attended that mass, in Europe they would have been thrown out: dressed very light :-)
Besides there was a kind of "children's-day", with games being played, plays being performed and a lot of music. All in all very interesting! Just before saying goodbye I asked for an address to send the pictures to that I'd made: appeared that there was no post coming to this village... On that I hadn't counted, in this for Latin America pretty modern country...

Via a national park, where I camped wild for the first time this trip (next to a waterfall and accompanied by hundreds of fireflies who made a spectacular light show!), I landed in the flat inlands. Now it was time to make a lot of miles and get myself in a better physical shape, to prepare myself for the cycling into the Andes that was laying ahead...

As said, so done. By now I had the impression that the mountains here would be almost impossible to drive in on bicycle: everybody told me it would be "bastante subiendo", going up very steep, and that it would be better to take a bus or else just be prepared to have to push a lot... Well, that also proved to be exaggerated. Although I did have to sweat a lot, working my way up, that was more because of the temperature and the fact that I wasn't used to driving in the mountains, then because of the steepness.

In the nice village of Niquitao I met Dave, an US-American who's married to a local woman. Because of the bad weather I stayed with him for two days, helping him with painting the inside of his house. In return he, as an English and Spanish teacher, taught me some basics of the Spanish language.

Leaving Niquitao was not without problems. The first three kilometers the road already was pretty bad, after that there was no road at all. The night before the rain had caused a landslide, taking part of the road into the depth. With heavy machines they were busy making a new path and after waiting for two hours I could slip through and drive on.

In the direction of Merida I passed the highest (paved) pass in the country, the "pico del Aguila", being 4007 meters high! But if it's raining, you've got nothing of a view and do have a lot of cold! The first part of the long descent was really freezing. Only when the nice warm sun showed itself again, and because of the lesser height it was getting warmer anyway, my teeth stopped clattering and a bit of feeling was restored to my fingers (which is very helpful for using the brakes when you are racing down with 70 km/h and 40 kilos of baggage!).

After sightseeing in Merida, a well-known small city in the mountains, I drove to the Colombian border in a couple of days. In one of these days I passed the small city of Michalena and was pretty surprised seeing all the people out in the streets, cheering when I passed them... Only when I was passed by a group of racing cyclists with police escort I understood that all this attention was not really especially for me. In the next village it was hard again to find a place for the night: one hotel was filled up, the other was too expensive. But then I started a conversation with some men on the main square who celebrated the end of another workday there, and in no time I was offered a place for the night with one of them.

He, Dario, appeared to be a bus driver and his family had just went to Caracas on a family visit, so he had enough place in his house. In the end I stayed there for 4 days, met a lot of people, a lot of partying, a lot of drinking ("bamboo", the local booze, which has nothing to do with the plant).

Venezuela was the first country where I had to pay to get OUT of the country. In San Antonio you have to go to a small shop, buying some stamps for about 10 US$ and hand them over at the DIEX (immigration) office, before getting the necessary exit-stamp. Then I had to look a bit around to find the border crossing itself, and crossed it with a slowly leaking rear-tire...

Colombia

The custom formalities were without problem and so I could start on repairing the tube. Once ready, I got on the bike again and drove into the country. From the start it looked a lot poorer and dirtier than Venezuela. Up to the big city of Cucuta there was a lot of traffic, once passed that city it became less and less.

When I came to El Zulia I was confronted with a, by now, familiar problem: no hotel... But, also this time that was no problem, a couple of drivers of a local transport company (a kind of pickups with the backside covered up and with which people and goods are transported between the nearby villages) offered me their parking area where I could put down my tent. One moment you're being warned that Colombia is a very dangerous country, guerrillas, Mafia, drugs, bandits and all that, the next moment you just put your tent in the middle of a city. On doing that I was being watched by all the people who lived close by. The parking area, a walled in place that was locked up at night, also had a small bathroom with a water-pipe going up to the ceiling and stopping there with a tap: the shower... With one eye on all the people around my things I thankfully made use of that shower, because again it had been a good day to sweat...
The people were very friendly, very hospitable. They supplied me with things to drink and to eat and arranged an extension cable to the house which was nearest to get some light in the darkness as well!

The only "disadvantage" of this story was that the drivers had to pick up their overnight-parked cars at 4 o'clock in the morning. So I didn't sleep very long there and at 6 o'clock I was driving again... Three hours later I already had covered the 60 km. to Sardinata. I wanted to drive a lot further that day, but in a small restaurant on the plaza I was welcomed like a lost son by a negro family, and I just couldn't get it over my heart to drive on after that. It appeared that some months ago another cyclist stayed a couple of days with them and they had really enjoyed his company and friendship, and were hoping I would be the same. The mother was a real "big mamma"! And so I also stayed there for three wonderful days, getting to know also a lot of road-workers who are working on the road to Ocaņa and taking their lunches and/or diners in that restaurant.

When I finally left for Ocaņa, in the first 70 km. I was waving and greeting all the time to those road-workers... Via a long, long climb and a much to short descent I arrived in the village of Abrego, where acutely I was not well... Was it the chicken in a roadside restaurant or the water that I got in a small shop and drank without purification? I will never know, but the result was that I hardly left my bed for the next three days.

When at last I was fit enough to go on, I just did so. At the next stop I was shown that Colombia really could be a dangerous place... a few minutes before I came to a restaurant a man was shot to dead there. If it was my poor Spanish, or that the people around didn't want to tell me anything I don't know, but I didn't learn anything more than that the man was really dead...

Days later I arrived in the big coastal city of Santa Marta. From here I wanted to do a trekking to the "Ciudad Perdida", an old lost city in the middle of the jungle-covered mountains. It appeared that going there was only allowed as an organized tour and so I joined one. The group of 10 was really international (German, Austrian, Israeli (2), English (2), Canadian, Italian, Dutch (2)) and fitted very well together!

 

As a pre-warning the guide, who spoke only Spanish, told us NOT in any case to take any pictures of any military looking people... After a spectacular drive by jeep we came to a small mountain village from where we would start the hike. So the rest of the day we were walking, partly through a heavy thunderstorm, up to the first camp, a small farm where we would sleep in hammocks hung out in front of the house. At first light, breakfast was ready and after that we left for the second stage. Crossing mountains and valleys and through the jungle. In the beginning everybody did his/hers utmost to keep shoes and socks dry when crossing streams and small rivers, but after a lot of those we all just dove right in... At the end of the third day, after climbing a steep, rocky stairway for over an hour, we arrived in this lost city. These are ruins of an indian village that was deserted in the time the Spaniards set foot in South-America, and then was reclaimed by the jungle. Only about 10 years ago it was found again. There are no more houses now (except for the two reconstructed models), but the about 150 stone terraces which served as foundations for those huts are still there. After spending a day at the site we walked back in 2 days to the village where the jeep was already waiting to take us back to Santa Marta. Relieved that I could finally put down my bicycle bag (NOT an ideal backpack) and tired of the trip I almost managed to sleep on that way back, despite the very rough ride.

Because I was going to meet a friend in Bogota who would be there for his job for a couple of days and who would carry some stuff for me from Holland, I lacked the time to do all distances on bike, and so I took a bus up and down to Cartagena to have a look at it's beautiful center with the many balconies.

Then took a night-bus up to Tunja, to continue from there on bicycle. On the way to Bogota I visited the beautiful, old, colonial village of Villa de Leyva.

In heavy rain I entered Bogota. Already a long time before the actual city the traffic of this city with 7 million people was noticeably getting denser, and once inside the city you really had to concentrate and watch out. Not only the traffic itself was dangerous with all those busses just pulling over for passengers to (dis)embark, but also because that right side of the road was where the potholes of the inadequate sewer system were. Because it just turned into small lakes in places you couldn't see anymore which potholes still had their lids and which didn't...

Fortunately I got to the 4 or 5 star hotel where Joop was staying, without problems. The reception was already informed of my coming and Joop also already had arranged an extra bed in his modest room (a complete decorated apartment!), sparing me a drive to the center to find a much cheaper hotel (this apartment would cost for one night the same I would pay to in a whole month...).

After five days in the pleasant company of Joop and Henk, a not-really colleague, having done some maintenance on the bike and being informed off all the news and gossips in Holland, it was time to get on with the trip again. And that's when I had my first accident. Just south of Bogota I decided to take a side-road, which proved to be a bad dirt road. With the extra weight in my bags of the stuff I received and other stuff I bought in Bogota, on a bad road, the low-rider proved not to be that strong after all... some connections broke, the whole construction went down and the stabilizer that runs over the front-wheel just hit that wheel, which blocked immediately. Result of this all was that after a nice somersault which would have gotten great notes from a gymnastics jury, I landed flat on my face and then got the bike on top of me... Relieved I noticed I hadn't broken anything and so I could stand up and accept the help of some road-workers who saw the whole thing and supplied me with water to wash out the cuts I had on hands, arms and chin. Driving on was out of the question, not only the baggage-carrier was a ruin, but also the front-fork and handlebars were bent and wouldn't turn anymore. Luckily a passing young couple in a small truck offered to take me to the next city where there would be a cycle-shop. And yes, in the village where the legendary Colombian cyclist Lucho Herrera lives now, we found a small shop where they helped me to straighten the fork and to repair and improve the low-rider. Only later that night in a hotel-bed I felt that apparently my ribs did receive quite a blow as well, they would hurt for some weeks...

The next day I met the first fellow cyclist traveler, a Slovenian who drove from "Tierra del Fuego", or Patagonia to here in just 10 months, covering on his way an impressive 22.000 km. After exchanging a lot of information and stories we both continued our ways.

Via the archeological places San Agustin and Tierradentro I went over a long and bad road to Silvia. That's one of the few Colombian villages where the original inhabitants of the country still live a quite traditional life, including traditional clothing.

After having visited the cities Popayan and Pasto as well, and having "enjoyed" national strikes against the bad economy and corruption in the latter, I covered the last kilometers to the border with Ecuador.

 

 

 

Ecuador

The first night in Ecuador was a cold one. I hadn't changed money yet so I had no choice but to camp out (there wouldn't be a hotel around anyway). The next morning I was woken up by a passing flock of cows, and saw then that the tent was stiffly frozen...

Soon after, in a small village, I was able to change some dollars into Sucres so that I would be able to buy at least some food. Heading for Otavalo, which should have an indian market which is quite popular with tourists. And so it was, a real tourist market, especially in the weekend when they come by the busloads...

Fortunately there was also a normal market, where the locals buy the groceries and everything, and which for me was much more interesting. But the advantage of such a tourist place is that it is easy there to get to know some tourists. I've spent a couple of days with 2 Israeli girls whom I've met there.

Ecuador wasn't named Ecuador for nothing; it's draped around the equator. Just above Quito, the capital, you can find the village "Mitad del Mundo" which is positioned exactly on the equator, and contains an interesting museum about the different Ecuadorian cultures.

After a relative short drive, but with to many traffic and regularly having trucks blowing big clouds of exhaust-gasses into my face, making breathing hard, I arrived in the capital. There I really learned the conveniences of E-mail. It's quick, it's cheap, and it's more or less reliable. So much can not be told from the normal post, because a package that my parents sent me a couple of weeks earlier with among things parts for the bike, still hadn't arrived. What to do? Make a roundtrip and hope the package did arrive when you get back... So, 2 weeks and 1000 km. further I was disappointed again, the package wasn't there... That meant I would have to hope the old parts would hold long enough until I would be able to buy some for myself.

That roundtrip of 2 weeks led me for the bigger part through the starters of the "selva", the immense amazon-area. In that region with relative flat, low grounds and a lot of green around you, heat, many insects and a hell of a lot of rain (that's why they call it RAINforest, you stupid), I reached a quick conclusion that I like mountains more. Although the 2 weeks were very interesting, with river-crossings in small canoes, I just missed the panoramas that you have (with some luck) in the mountains.

In this jungle you're surrounded by a wall of green all day and are unable to see the forest because all those trees are in the way (an old Dutch saying...). And so I came to the first big change of plans, I wouldn't drive up to Argentina to return to Venezuela crossing the Amazon of Brazil, but instead to drive on south, following the Andes up to Santiago de Chile, and fly back to Caracas from there...

Close to Quito lies the volcano Cotopaxi, the second highest mountain in Ecuador. A path leads up to a kind of parking-area at an altitude of 4500 meters. From there it is possible to continue (by foot) to a base-camp. However, getting to the parking area proved to be a lot of work in itself, partly because above 4000 meter you suddenly start noticing very much that the air IS getting thinner, partly because exactly in that part the path became worse and partly because the last part I had to struggle through a hail-storm. Then the path leading to the base-camp proved to be to steep and loose to allow the bicycle being pushed up, so I was left little choice but to put up my tent on the deserted parking place and spend the night there.  At night the weather cleared up and it froze about 8 degrees Celsius. Getting up at first light I had a breathtaking view! Not only the snowy peak of the Cotopaxi just in front of me, but the whole environment was white and I could see all the mountains around... Added to that there was an absolute silence! No buzzing of insects, no "RUSTLING" of leaves, no honking of cars, not a bit of wind in my ears... ABSOLUTE SILENCE!!! Really impressive. After shooting half a film I packed my stuff on the bike and by the time the sky was cloud-covered again and the first touring busses came up, I started the decent...

After visiting a couple of indian markets, a chicken-farm where I stayed twice and where I was welcomed as a lost son the second time I came around, the nice city Cuenca, the easy going village Vilcabamba and a long bad road, I reached Macara, the border-village to the Peruvian border.

Peru

 

The only problem I had at the border, was that it took me half an hour to make it clear to a moneychanger how to make a picture of me with my camera... That first night I camped again, a bit away from the road in a rocky area. And this time it wasn't without problems. That night I was attacked... by ants. To get to my food supply, they made over 120 holes in the bottom of the tent. In the next city it took me over 5 hours to repair at least most of them.

Riding through dry, hot, desert-like land, the road went into the mountains again after the village of Olmos. The road seemed to climb forever, until at last I reached the summit and could enjoy a just as long decent! In the village Bagua Grande I got to know a young couple of whom I first thought that he was a truck-driver. Appeared he owned a lot of land (rice) and had worked himself up from nothing. For three days I enjoyed their hospitality before I drove on.

The road continued to Chachapoyas. At an intersection about 40 km. before Chachapoyas were a restaurant, a store and a police control-post. I was offered to spend the night in the police post, and I hardly had put my bike inside or one of the police officers offered me coca. Many times before I had seen the locals using coca, and this seemed to be a nice opportunity to try it myself. And so I found myself in the company with 3 policemen, chewing coca-leaves and adding the catalytic chalk with a small iron needle, dipping it all the time in a small wooden bottle which contained the chalk. Farmers use this to suppress feelings of hunger, thirst and being tired while they are working on their fields. It does have a tranquilizing function, and I noticed my cheek going numb, like when you've had an injection at the dentist...

The region of Chachapoyas is very rich on archeological sites; there should be around 700 of them, and new ones are still discovered regularly. In Chachapoyas itself I got to know a guide, who forgot part of his camera at one of the sites on one of his previous tours. He proposed me a good deal: if I would pay for transport, he would show me that site and some others in that area for free. So said, so done. They were sites where you'll never get to without guide. After hours of walking through mountains and fields, a small path lead along a mountain-wall to a couple of grave tombs build into the wall... Very interesting.

The guide also gave me the address of friends of his in a nearby village where I would be able to spend the night, and of whom someone could lead me to some other sites. And so I slept that night in a small mountain village with a very friendly family. Next morning Leonardo, the 9-year-old son, guided me to some other sites in the area.

After another night in the same police post I continued my way to "Kuelap", a huge, old, impressive fortress of about 1500 years old. Everybody had told me that the road leading there would be to steep for the bicycle. Well, it wasn't! The problem only started after I reached the parking area just below the fortress and I had to carry the bike up some stairs. Then you notice that bike and luggage weigh about 60 kg together...

A few days later I stood on a 3800-meter high pass, enjoying a beautiful view! Between clouds that raced by, I could see the imposing river Maraņon, one of the main starters of the Amazon, snake its way through the valley almost 3000 meter below me! At the other side of the valley I could see the road snake up to the pass where I would be driving to tomorrow.

Over a bad, unpaved road, often only just wide enough for a car, I descended 2800 meter, crossed the river (bridge!) and then climbed 2500 meter in about 50 km... It was already dark when I finally reached Celendin. The day after I first had to climb up to another pass, then descended to Cajamarca. That descend was a bit uncomfortable due to rain and hail. Pretty cold... And because the roads changed to mud-pools it was more gliding then riding. And every now and then I had to clear my bike of kilos of clay, which blocked everything. It was already long after sunset before I reached Cajamarca and could take a rest in a hotel.

Cajamarca is the place where in the 16th century the Spaniards captured the Inca. They wanted a ransom for him: a room filled with gold and silver. The Incas did pay the ransom but afterwards the Spaniards tried and executed the Inca headman anyway, and so started the end of the Inca Empire. Cajamarca nowadays is a nice city. And also a good place to meet other people. Peter, a Dutch motorbike traveler who drove via Africa to South-America, has been travelling for two years now and likes to go on travelling for another two years. Carmen, a German student, studying medicine, who made a practical training in a rural hospital in Peru and could tell nice stories about that (superstition and witchcraft are still strongly present in Peru!). She finished her practical, and added a few months travelling through the continent.

From Cajamarca I made the longest day-trip up to now, 185-km, right to the coast. Celebrated Christmas and New-Year with a family in Chiclayo, of whom I've met James, a son who studies law, in Bagua Grande.

Although I had a great time, my stay there wasn't complete voluntarily: my parents had tried again to send me a package with spare parts, this time using FedEx and sending it via the company which I work for, Esperanto EDI Tools. Unfortunately it didn't help, customs in Lima intercepted the package because duties had to be paid... I had no other choice than to go to Lima myself and fix everything. After taking a bus to Lima (9 hours) it took me 3 full days and altogether about 100 US$ to get the package into my hands. Would it have lasted any longer people might have been hurt, so irritated I was... So, with the package under my arm I stepped on a bus back to Chiclayo (14 hours). Prepared the bike and put on new good rear tire. Ever since Ecuador I had bad luck with those rear tires. They wore out to fast and had a lot of flats. I hope this "Schwalbe" proves to behave better...

It took two days to get to Trujillo. Because in those two days the bike started to make a terrible noise, I started looking for a bike-shop. When I saw a young man with a very good racing bike standing in front of a restaurant I walked over to him to ask if he would know a good bike-shop. Well, he appeared to be a bicycle mechanic himself and he told me that since about 10 years he takes travelling cyclists into his house. So, the next day I moved out of the hotel and into the house of Lucho and his family. Lucho showed me some guest-books, and I was really surprised to see how many cyclists stayed in this place and how many there are. The house (Casa de refugio de ciclistas) and the city have a certain attraction, so that many people stay here much longer then they initially intended to. With me it was not different, and I stayed with them for almost a month... In that time I saw almost all the sites in the area, like ChanChan, the ruins of a 1000 years old adobe city where in those times lived about 60.000 people, religious "pyramids", museums, en finally also the "Marinera" dance-festival.

In that house I also got to know Uwe, a German cyclist who was heading north, and Lorenzo, a bask cyclist, who was heading in the same direction as I was.

And so I left Trujillo together with Lorenzo, heading for Huaraz. That road leading to Huaraz should be very beautiful, and that what we saw of it was indeed very nice, but unfortunately we hit the rainy season, and although we didn't have that much rain, most of the time it was so cloudy that we couldn't see anything from the mountains around us. Via the "Caņon del Pato", a narrow canyon where the river Rio Santa crashes through and where the roads snakes through with 35 tunnels, and the new village of Yungay, (old Yungay was completely buried together with its 18.000 inhabitants in a 1970 landslide, and the side is now one huge memorial), we reached Huaraz, clearly a place which is crowded with mountain-climbers / trackers in the dry season, but which was nice quiet now. After crossing a 4100-meter paved pass, we reached the sea after one huge decent (sinking 4100 meter over 120 km.). The first 40 km. were very, very cold because of rain and mist. Only after that the weather cleared up and we started to get warm again.

Before getting to Lima we spent nights in the kitchen of a toll-post and in the dormitory of a voluntary fire department. The traffic in Lima was horrible and we were really relieved when at last we reached the apartment of an acquaintance of Lorenzo that we could use.

In the meantime I had decided to change my plans a bit again. With this rain it would be no fun to drive into the mountains. And when I would get to Santiago the Chile as planned in July, it would be winter there and cold and I might run into problems with snow in the mountains over there. So I bought a bus-ticket which would take me in 2 days from Lima to Santiago where it is summer now. Then I would drive back again to Peru, via Argentina and Bolivia, where I should be in the dry season all the time...
So said, so done. Drove the bike to the bus-terminal, took out the wheels so that everything fitted into the luggage compartment of the bus, and took my seat. It was a ride of in total 50 hours, 3500 km., about 8 videos, 1 stop in a restaurant and for the rest that kind of airplane meals...

Chili

We reached the border early in the morning. Normally I can sleep just about anywhere, just as long as I can stretch my legs, and although it was a luxury bus stretching legs my size still proved to be impossible. With other words, I had a sleepless night. Customs were no problem but still it took a long time before all passengers had passed. The great thing about busses is that it’s easy to get into contact with people, and so making the drive through endless desert-like areas less boring.

In the afternoon of the second day we reached Santiago de Chile, a big city with few interesting spots. So after having taken care of some necessary things like buying a new saddle, I left as soon as possible, driving into the Andes again, heading for Argentina.

Argentina

That border lays at about 3400-meter height, in the middle of a long tunnel. It is not allowed to cross that tunnel with a bicycle, but some people working there loaded the bike on a pickup and brought me to the other side.

From the Argentinean side of the mountain a nice paved road went "all the way down" to Mendoza, and because there was a firm tailwind as well, I wanted to see how high I could get the speedometer… Making myself as small as possible I managed to get it up to 86 km/h! Pretty fast…

I knew about a family in Mendoza who should take traveling cyclist into their house. It was Sunday evening when I found the house, and the family was just getting ready to go to church. But no problem, the guy, Serge, gave me the keys of the house, quickly showed me the kitchen and the filled fridge, the bathroom with shower and the guestroom, said "Mi casa es tu casa", and off they were… Speaking about trust…!

When they returned later that night we exchanged our experiences. He is a Frenchman who toured South-America himself on a bicycle, about 10 years ago. Back then he met his present Argentinean wife, Irvana…

Mendoza is quite a nice city with a lot of green and a lot of plazas. The road north followed the edge of the Andes. Mostly unpaved, bad roads leading through deserted, remote, desert-like dry and barren land. The few villages in the area really were oases in areas where the vegetation mainly consisted of small, spread-out thorny bushes and huge stands of cactus, some over 8 meters tall.

There were plenty of animals though: some snakes, a lot of lizards, an armadillo, birds (mainly those big black ones with bald necks) and especially many, many ants. Ants could be seen in all variations, from very small to huge, from black to red. Fortunately I didn’t experience a new ant-attack on my tent. I did take some more care with the foodstuff that I kept in my tent.

In between I made a small side-trip to the highest pass that really crosses the Andes from west to east. Over another unpaved road and with a lot of headwind I climbed up to this Paso del Agua Negra in 2 days, improving my altitude record to 4778 meters. Besides I crossed the 10.000-km just before the pass. On the way to the top there were a couple of snowfields with beautiful snow formations, up to 4 meters high. At night it froze about 15 degrees Celsius and I was glad I did put up my tent behind the only big boulder available, because a strong wind made it feel even a lot colder. The next morning the strong sun made it possible to sit outside for breakfast. That is to say, although the part of me that was in the sun felt nice warm, the parts in the shadow still felt like minus 10… a strange experience. The ride down along the same road wasn’t as easy as I hoped: the wind had turned during the night and so again most of the day it was a strong headwind.

At another breakfast, once again in lower, warmer and this time also greener regions, the wind blew the ‘door’ of the tent against my back all the time. At one time I had enough of that and so I reached behind me to grab that piece of cloth so that I could fasten it. You can imagine my surprise when I found out it wasn’t a piece of mosquito-netting that I was holding but a bird-spider… It imitated a bird directly after that and flew a few meters, after which it walked away very arrogantly and insulted because of the rough treatment.

On the way to Salta, I visited two nature parks (Talampaya and Ischigualasto), where impressive rock-formations and moon landscapes could be seen, as well as fossils of plants, animals and some dinosaurs. Salta is one of the oldest cities in Argentina, but nowadays there is not much left of the old times.

Decided to cross over to Chile to visit some interesting national parks. Soon the pavement disappeared and I was cycling on gravel again. For a long time the road followed a river and the rails of the "Tren a las nubes", the train to the clouds, one of the three highest railroads in the world (so I was told). Besides following, the road also crossed the river a couple of times. The last time was also the deepest. The panniers dipped deep into the water, and because of the trapped air they almost made the bike float. That, combined with the very strong current made me struggle real hard to get to the other side of the river with the bike….

The next day I met a group of Argentinean cyclists. They were from Buenos Aires and on a holiday in this area. They took it easier, travelling with a follow car carrying most of the luggage. I joined them for two days and realized that I really was in quite a good shape: although I was carrying my 40 kilos of baggage, there was only one of them who could keep up with me uphill and with headwind, and he was a gymnastics teacher who drives his bike a lot normally. With the group we drove to San Antonio de los Cobres, a mountain city that has grown to its current size mostly because of the copper-mines in the neighborhood.

And again I wanted to make a side trip: the Abra de Acay. I needed 6.5 hours to cycle the 46 km., climbing from an altitude of 3775 meter to 4895, another new record. Cycling at that altitude is an art by itself. You really have to use your respiration as an indication for your speed: if you breath to rapidly you’re going to fast and will be out of breath after cycling a couple of hundred meters… So it’s better to slow down so much that you can breath pretty relaxed. In that way it’s possible to keep on going without having to stop all the time. Halfway to the top I found myself another excuse to rest a bit: had a talk with a team of geologists who were researching the origin of the Andes.

The final crossover to Chile went straight across the Andes, through very deserted regions. After San Antonio the next village of about 20 houses was 70-km. further on. After another 70 km. there was the Argentinean border post, then a police-post after 40 km. more.

By the time I reached the first Chilean village I was already over 90 km. inside Chile. In between there were only bad, unpaved, sandy roads and a lot of headwind, so that in some parts I was completely sandblasted, and progress was very, very slow. The fact that the major part was between 4000 and 4500 meters high didn’t make it any easier either. But it wasn’t only hard. The environment was incredibly beautiful with snowed mountaintops, salt-plains, salt-lakes and every now and then llamas, vicuņas and flamingos. The sunsets were incredible as well, looking like the whole earth was on fire!!! At night the sky was amazingly clear and covered with millions of stars, showing the Milky Way very clear…

Chili 2

Having cycled down the rough mountains I thought it would be an easy task to get to San Pedro de Atacama. Wrong! Suddenly I hit the worst washboard road yet, driving too fast. Bouncing up and down I lost one of the front panniers. When I came to a halt at last and wanted to hang the pannier on the carrier again, I saw that the carrier was broken. It took me some time to repair it, tied it all down with wire. Very carefully I continued my way, looking very distrustfully at the swaying of the bags in front of me. Unfortunately, San Pedro appeared to be only a small town (about 1000 inhabitants) and a real tourist town, where all the artisans had switched to making souvenirs or running tourist offices. So it wasn't possible to have a new carrier welded (the old one was aluminum, and I had no hope whatsoever that someone could repair that…). That left me with no other choice than to drive to the next bigger city, Calama. The 100 km. to Calama where nicely paved, but I got a flat tire anyway. And at a perfect time, just before dark when I was looking for a place to pitch my tent in a rough environment. There was no place at hand, so I really had to fix the tire first to look for a spot further on. Only well after dark I finally found one.

Calama has about 100.000 inhabitants and indeed, after some asking and searching I found a welding shop. They made me a nice new carrier! Besides that is solid iron now instead of aluminum, it is also positioned higher to have less problems with low obstacles and crossing rivers. And last but not least it now has a small platform above the front-wheel, where I can strap down an extra bag with stuff… That extra bag I'm going to need because I'm heading for the southwestern part of Bolivia, where in about 800 km of unpaved roads, there are only two small settlements. So I'll have to carry a lot more food and water than I did until now. For that reason I also had the men in the welding shop replace one of my water bottle holders for a solid iron one to carry a 2.25-litre bottle. Combined with my other two 0.75-litre bottles and two 4-litre water bags I can carry almost 12 liters.

The breaking of things didn't stop with my carrier. While eating a salami sandwich in Calama, I lost a piece of a filling of a tooth. So I went looking for a dentist… For a complete new filling I should make an appointment for a few days later, but I was not in the mood for staying around, so he just made a temporary filling and gave me some extra cold-cement to put in the tooth myself when the filling would come out again.

So now all I had to do was to buy enough food, do some maintenance on the bike, and hit the road heading for Bolivia!

At least… I thought that would be all. It turned out differently. Leaving Calama I went inland over very bad roads, passing villages like ChiuChiu, Salana, Turi and Toconce. The third day was also the toughest. In about 9 hours time I only managed to cycle/push/pull 21 kilometers. After three days I reached the 4300-meter high geyser field "El Tatio". I was pretty impressed, hearing the whole valley around me whistling, bubbling and hissing. Some fountains shot the water quite high in the air. And apparently I arrived at the wrong time of day. Early in the morning there should be much more activity. That the kind of roads I was cycling on are not to good for a bike I found out just after El Tatio, the rear rim was broken… With a disengaged rear brake and a piece of cardboard between the tube and the fracture to prevent punctures, I managed to wobble to San Pedro. I left the bike in a hostel and took a bus back to Calama, where I was happy when I did find another rim. Because I was back in town anyway, I gave the dentist another visit. He had more time now and replace the temporal filling (which was wearing out already again) with a permanent filling (a nice white ceramic one). Besides that I also found a shoemaker who said he could repair my shoes. And that was badly necessary, a couple of days more and the soles would have come off completely.

Having arranged all this, it should be possible to drive on to Bolivia now…

Bolivia

Yes, I finally managed to get there! After a steep climb over a paved road, the pavement stopped close to the border. No customs, just a sign that told me that I really was in Bolivia. After a while I reached the Laguna Verde, a lake with a white-greenish color. Only later I heard that the REAL green color is only to be seen early in the morning.

In that area there wasn't a real road: it was just a collection of parallel tracks made by the 4-wheel-drive jeeps that pass there every now and then. In places that 'collection' was like 500 meters wide, and consisted most of the time of gravel and washboard… After two days I reached 'Laguna Colorado', a nice lake with a beautiful red color. I camped right next to the lake, and when I looked out of the tent the next morning I saw myself surrounded by a herd of lamas. After an extensive photo session of those lamas and the hundreds of flamingos in the lake, I continued my way. Although it is a pretty deserted area (three settlements with about 5 houses each, spread over 500 km.) it wasn't really deserted: per day you can see about a dozen tourist-jeeps speeding around on an organized tour out of Uyuni, mostly for 3 to 5 days… I really enjoyed the reactions of those tourist who think to be in a complete remote and desolate area with no life at all in the wide surroundings, enjoying the uncomfortable rough bouncy ride in a cramped, hot and dusty jeep and then suddenly are confronted with a crazy cyclist driving around there on his own…

After crossing a small salt plane and a few small villages and military camps, I reached the "Salar de Uyuni", a salt plane with the size of a third of Holland. Okay, Holland is only a very small country, but even so, 10.000 square kilometers of salt is pretty much! I had heard that normally it's well possible to cycle on it, the salt being hard as ice. About a month ago, rain had turned the salt PLANE into a salt LAKE though. When I got there most of it was dry again, but still some parts where flooded. After some driving along the 'coast' I found a spot where I could enter the salar without getting wet, and then headed for the most famous of the islands, the Isla de Pescado, using my compass and the instruction from some local guides to navigate. Riding there was really out of this world. The blinding white surface felt like snow (crispy and white, and don't try riding there without good sunglasses…), and it seemed to go on forever, only broken by the shimmering images of islands, that seemed to be suspended there in the sky… Unfortunately I hit a huge waterfront again, and because my water and food supplies where too limited to wander around for a couple of days I decided to retrace my steps and drive around the salar instead of over it. And so my adventure on the salt lasted only one day and a half.

Driving around the lake was also easier said then done. Very soon I 'lost' the road but found a railway and so I followed that railway for almost two days, all the way to Uyuni. Uyuni is another of those small villages where tourism has taken a big jump the last few years. Biggest attraction is making jeep-tours through the area where I just came through, and onto the Salar. I joined a tour to the Salar as well, because I still wanted to see that 'Fish Island' (Isla de Pescado), and other attractions. One of those other attractions was a hotel on the Salar, which is build completely with blocks of salt. Not only the walls, also the beds, the beds and the furniture… We also saw a place where they get salt for commercial use. It's being removed by the truckload, by people covered in rags to keep the sun away… The Isla de Pescado is a real nice place with a lot of huge cactuses and some kind of long-tailed rabbits. To bad that the day didn't end as well as it started. When we returned to Uyuni I found out my camera was missing… I mobilized half the village to search for it, promised a reward and went back to the island to look there for myself, but all in vain… The good part from this all was that I spend a nice night with the very friendly elderly couple that lives on the island…

So I continued my way without camera to Potosi. Apart from being the highest CITY in the world (altitude is about 4000 meter), it also is one of the oldest cities in Bolivia with a lot of nice old colonial buildings. Also famous (or notorious) are the mines around Potosi, where the miners work under medieval conditions. Feeling completely 'naked' without my camera I decided to pay them a visit another time… In this city I also met Gert again, a Dutch guy who works for the UN and whom I met before in Uyuni.

I really should have known better by now, but still I made the mistake to believe the story that everybody told me, that the 160 kilometer from Potosi to Sucre were all perfectly paved and all the way descending… Well, the part about the being paved was correct (which was really nice after 900 km over rough and unpaved roads). In South-America they have another meaning for the term 'all the way down' then in Europe though. Here it only means that the destination is at a lower altitude then the point of departure; everything in between is irrelevant… So I should not have been surprised when after all I had to climb well over 1000 meters, spread over a couple of climbs. And although it was completely paved, this was the stretch where I broke the first spoke on this trip…

Most people think that La Paz is the capital of the country. Although La Paz has absorbed most of the political power, and the only official thing remaining in Sucre is the Supreme Court, it still is the official capital. Apart from that it is a real nice colonial city and a nice relaxed university city. In Sucre the same feeling came over me as in Potosi, the feeling of being 'naked' without camera… So I changed my mind again, not going to spend much time in Bolivia, but hurry on to La Paz instead, buy a camera there and spend the rest of the 1.5-month in Peru…

"HURRY" on to La Paz??? Yeah, right… that might be possible, but not if you take the route that I took. There are three options namely, to go from Sucre to La Paz. The first is via Potosi, the seconds via Cochabamba and the third straight through the middle. Well, the first two should be at least partially paved, but I didn't want to go back the same way to Potosi, and I didn't want to go "down" to Cochabamba. So I took the roughest of the three. It appeared to be a really fabulous ride, up and down, up and down, through some rivers, up and down. For a big part the roads where covered in sand-dust, sometimes really several centimeters thick. You can imagine what happens when a truck or bus drives past… The pavement reappeared just before Oruro, some 240 km from La Paz. Oruro is a somewhat bigger city with a huge street-market, which covers several blocks.

The road from Oruro to La Paz was easy, nicely paved and almost flat. I covered the 240-km in 2 days of relaxed driving. The first view of La Paz is unforgettable… After crossing El Alto, the suburb of La Paz at an altitude of 4000 meters, you suddenly arrive at a cliff where you see the biggest city in the country about 400 meters below you, spread out over the valley… With the skyscrapers far below you and snowy mountains in the background it really is a nice view. Using the 'highway' I sped down to the center. I wanted to spoil myself with a nice and luxurious hotel-room. I wanted to, but I didn't manage. The Hotel 'Happy Days' did have very nice rooms, with private bath, TV, carpet, telephone and more of that kind of nonsense, still for a normal price (ca. 7 US$ … to many people this will seem dirt-cheap, for me it would be the most expensive room since Venezuela…). I had already cleared everything with the receptionist and was just carrying my things into the room when the manageress walked passed. She almost had a heard-attack when she saw dirty, dusty, oily possessions. Friendly but very urgently she threw me out of her hotel… So I just settle for a the cheaper and friendlier hotel 'Alem' instead…

La Paz is another one of those cities, which is great for meeting and getting to know people. In the first week there I met several people I'd met before in Uyuni. This is rare for me, because normally everybody travels much faster then I am. In 'El Lobo', a very popular (halve Israeli) restaurant, I suddenly found myself sitting in front of my two Israeli girlfriends from Ecuador! That was a very nice reunion. Besides I got to know two Dutch couples, Anouk & Stefen, and Anita & Peter. They had heard about an interesting and experimental jungle tour, and asked if I wanted to join them as well. After checking out what the guide could tell about it all, we decided to do it!

First of all though I had to buy myself a new camera. Fortunately there is a 'black market' in La Paz where I could buy one for about half the price that I would have paid in Holland.

Blackouts are not unusual in La Paz. One of those nights the lights went out in the block around the hotel. I was just getting something out of my room and left the door open to have some light from outside. And then suddenly Claire walked in her candle. She had the room next to mine and mixed up the two doors. Imagine her surprise when first she finds 'her' door open and then finds a strange guy in 'her' room. To 'make up' for scaring her, I dragged her around the city looking for a backpack for me, before we finally got to a restaurant for the promised diner…

We would depart on that jungle tour later in the morning so that we had some time to see the "El Gran Poder", a carnival-like parade. Apart from the beautiful costumes I noticed that only very few of the participants really seemed to enjoy themselves… After shooting about a whole film on the parade, we had to leave for the tour.

We left in two jeeps. Ours 'crew' consisted of us five Dutch, Paul the Australian who started on a world-tour and got stuck here now working as translator/guide, and the driver. In the other one was internationally mixed with the Peruvian guide Carlos, the English couple Nik & Mike, the ozzies Rebecca and Anita, the South-African Simon and Tony the Irishman. A well-composed group! The first day we drove to Coroico, that sits between the Andes and the Amazon. The narrow, dark and winding road that led down from La Paz to there is known as 'the death-road': accidents happened very frequently, sending busses or cars into the deep... Fortunately they changed it recently into a one-way road, where half the day traffic can go up, the other half of the day traffic can go down. Coroico has a small French/Bolivian owned restaurant that serves the best pepper-steak in South-America! Those were really, really great! The next day we drove further into the jungle and spend the night in a small village close to the river that we would be travelling on for the next couple of days. By longboat we went a long way up that river to a remote area in the middle of the jungle. Made some tracking in that jungle, done some fishing, building a bridge, learned a lot about the nature, seen many birds, a brightly colored imitation coral-snake, loads of mosquitoes and sand flies and some bats. And at night we solved riddles around the campfire…After three days we stepped into the boat again, back to the point where we first got on the river. The jeeps were waiting already to take us into the savanna. Not only was the savanna more populated than the jungle, there was also a lot more wildlife to be seen: birds in all colors, brands and sizes, crocodiles, turtles, mosquitoes, sand flies. Above all however, we were peddling up a small river and suddenly got a sight of sweat-water-dolphins!! Some of us dived in the water to swim with them (they appeared to be pretty shy though…), which was followed by a head-shaking local guide who could not understand that somebody voluntarily dives into water where you can expect crocodiles, piranhas and electric eels.

In another village we found a plaza that also served as a soccer-field. After a game between gringos we started a game with Bolivians versus Gringos. Not only were they better then us, we also lost some persons due to injuries, mine being the most serious: I stopped a broken-through Bolivian with a superb sliding, but then heard a loud =SNAP= in my left ankle. A mildly sprained ankle, but bad enough not to play on! Next day the ankle was pretty swollen and it would stay like that for another week but after some days I was able to walk quite normal already. Still, I was glad that some of us had an alternative for a tracking through the savanna: there were three horses available for a ride! That proved to be a very nice experience, although not everything went like it should. First of all, the gears from the horse broke down, so we could only go in first gear. In a mud-pool the four-leg-drive broke down as well, so that we had to be pulled out by our local guide (laughing his head of about that stupid gringo…). The rest of the ride he took us in tow, which was fine with me because it was no fun trying to get the horse to speed up with that ankle. The Dutch guys went fishing one morning. Peter and Stefen caught among others some small, but very mean looking piranhas, I was to busy exploring the area to catch anything. Via San Borja (where I went to a hairdresser to get my hair and beard trimmed: the other ones almost didn't recognize me…) and Coroico we went back to La Paz.

Some days later my ankle was so much better that at least I would be able to cycle again. After over 3 weeks without cycling, the climb from La Paz to El Alto wasn't that easy. Some hours later I was standing on the shore of the lake Titikaka, the highest navigable lake in the world. Beautiful environment, the dark-blue water and in the background still the snow-covered double peak of Illimani, the mountain just behind La Paz. I spend the night in the village of Huatajata. Opposite the hostel two boats where being build. But no normal boats, these ones where made completely out of the Totora reed and according to century-old designs… I found out that they were going to be used in two big expeditions: the 'Wiracocha' project and the second phase of the 'Kota Mama' project. Both are follow-ups for the famous 'KonTiki' expedition in 1946 lead by Thor Heyerdahl: with a traditional bark they sailed from Egypt to South-America. The Kota Mama project consists of three phases. The first phase was finished in 1998, sailing around the Titikaka lake with a traditional totara ship. In the second phase one of the ships that I saw being build there, will go from the lake all the way down to Buenos Aires in Argentina. This will happen around July 1999. The third phase must take place somewhere in the year 2000, taking such a ship from Buenos Aires to Egypt. With these expeditions they try to prove that there had been connections between the Old and the New World previous to the ones we know of… The 'Wiracocha' project is likewise, sailing a boot from Arica (Chile) to the Easter Islands.

Copacabana is a small touristic village close to the Peruvian border. It serves mainly as a starting point for tours to the nearby two islands, where according to the legends the Inca Empire started. After a boat-trip of 1.5 hour we landed in the southern harbor of the bigger one of the two islands, the sun-island "Isla del Sol". Maybe it was because of the coming "Inti Raymi" festival in Cusco, but I didn't see the hoards of tourists that I feared to see here: I practically had the island to myself. I walked to the village Cha’lla, where I found a place to spend the night in a small and primitive hostel, together with a very nice Malaysian family. The next day I visited the ruins in the northern part of the island. It really is a beautiful island with beautiful views over the lake to the impressive mountain range behind it…

The whole road from La Paz to Cusco would be paved, so I was not surprised when the 10 kilometers from Copacabana to the boarder appeared to be gravel… More then once I experienced that it's not always the custom formalities that take your time at a border crossing. When I truly answered a custom officer who asked what my profession was, he immediately took me under the arm and dragged me into the office and put behind a computer. They couldn't find one of their programs anymore and had no clue how to fix that… So I gave them a few minutes of my time, and then couldn't leave because they wouldn't stop thanking me… When finally I was outside again I saw two other packed bicycles standing next to mine: Sandra and Philippe, a Swiss couple who drove down from Alaska to here in one year and now where heading for La Paz. We talked for a while, sharing information, experiences, ideas… exchanged addresses and said goodbye again…

Peru 2

The Peruvian border was quickly passed after that. I had planned to reach Puno that day, but the (very welcome!) delay made that impossible. That is to say, I tried it anyway but gave up after driving in the dark for over an hour when I still had to cover like 30 kilometers. Since there was no hostel in the village that I passed at that moment, I decided to take the mini-bus that passed there as well. Although I was terrified that one of the panniers would fall of (the bike lay on top of the mini-bus), all went well.

Early next morning the ferry left for the "floating islands". These islands consist of an about 5-meter thick layer of stacked Totora-reed, and the one that we visited must have been about half the size of a soccer-field. It was complete with reed-houses, a reed school and a reed museum. Nowadays the inhabitants, Uros, make a living selling souvenirs. In the past, when the Incas started making their lives miserable, they fled from the coastal areas onto the water, living from fishing and hunting and learning how to use reed for everything they needed… The next stop of the tour was the island "Tequila", a 'solid' island where the inhabitants have lived very isolated as well for centuries and developed an own unique kind of social society.

In the meantime the days were passing in an ever-increasing pace. Suddenly I had only three days left to get to Cusco in time for the "Inti Raymi" festival, a 430-km. distance… So I had to start moving… Between Puno and Juliaca I paid a quick visit to the interesting ruins of Sillustani; especially the grave-towers where fabulous! I spend the night in Juliaca and on the second day I had another one of those welcome delays when I met Randy, an American cyclist, on the road. Because of that I just didn't make it to the 'Abra la Raya', a 4312-meter high pass, after which it would be only "going down all the way to Cusco". Normally I would have put up my tent somewhere, but this time I couldn't. Partly because the ground was very humid and even flooded in a lot of places, partly because almost everywhere were houses and huts and I never like to camp to close to them… At last I came into a village where I could stay for the night in the small school. I only had to wait with going to sleep until they finished their practice for a folklore music concourse. The third day I left at around 6 o'clock in the morning while my thermometer still pointed at minus 9 degrees Celsius. Wearing almost all the clothes I had with me I discovered that one piece of clothing was missing: gloves… Putting on some woolen socks over my hands only solved that problem a little bit… It goes without saying that the 'all-descending-road' to Cusco had a lot of ups and downs after all, but I still managed to make good time and arrived in Cusco just before dark, half-dead but proud on my new record: 198.9 kilometers in one day!!!

The Inti Raymi festival was impressive, a colorful open-air theater play of an old Inca festivity. Unfortunately I couldn't see all of it. The long ride from yesterday had left its marks in the form of a case of the flu… I had a nice time anyway, and even more so when I ran into almost all 'foreigners' of the jungle tour in La Paz. The flu happened to be very active in all parts of Cusco, and we charged it with healthy portions of alcohol… In between I made an organized tour to the 'Sacred Valley'. The Inca ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo are really impressive! After that I joined a day-tour to the famous Machu Pichu. Actually I really wanted to do the evenly famous Inca-trail, a 3 or 4 day hike through the mountains where you reach Machu Pichu on the final day. Lack of time and trouble with my ankle made me decide otherwise. I thought it incredible that a place like Machu Pichu was only discovered so recently (in 1911 by the American Hiram Bingham), but if you stand up there and see the rough environment, you understand why… In those times you really needed to organize an expedition to even get into that area, and then you could pass the ruins on a short distance and never even see them…

Time was running out. I had 11 days left to drive from Cusco to Lima. Taking the fastest road that wouldn't have been a problem, but if you really do want climb the highest road pass in the Americas and if you don't want to drive on that horrible Pan-American Highway, you'll have to make a large detour. Besides, doing that you'll have to cross quite some high peaks and a lot of unpaved roads. Very soon I found out that I would need about 2 days more to do it that way, and so I had to choose for doing a big stretch by bus: Andahuaylas - Ayacucho. When by bus you cover about 260 kilometers in more then 10 hours, you can imagine a bit how the condition of that 'road' must have been… Ayacucho is the city where in the 60's the "Sendero Luminoso" or the shining path had its birth ground, the terrorist organization which would hold Peru in its grip until 1992 and in which time many thousands of persons have been killed. Luckily it's a lot safer now! I cycled up to Santa Ines and spent the night in a hostel in the village that lies at an altitude of 4500 meter already. The next day the roads kept climbing up to an unnamed pass reachable only by a side-road from the main-road. A small Penzoil sign proudly presents the local altitude: 5059 meter!!!

Halfway between Huancavelica and Huancayo the road became paved once more, and it would stay that way all the way to Lima. For the last time this trip I camped just above 4000 meters high, and crossed a 4800-meter pass where a signpost told me that the railroad that passed there would be the highest in the world. Then started a 130-kilometer long decent, straight to Lima. I was looking forward to the higher temperature at the coast, but that became a big disappointment: bad weather, fog, rain, cold…

The only thing I had to do in Lima was to arrange a carton box to transport the bike in. So I visited my friends from the cycle shop "Peru Bike", where it was no problem to get a fitting box. Took the bike apart, packed it into the box, said goodbye to Cesar and his friends, took a taxi late a night to the airport and spent the rest of the night there in front of the check-in counter, reading a book and waiting for the checking in to begin for this 6 o'clock in the morning flight.

Venezuela 2

We flew over Ecuador and had a marvelous view on Mount Cotopaxi and other volcanoes. The last 2.5 days of this trip I spend in Venezuela, at the coast. I was unusually hot and humid there after having been high up in the mountains for so long. And after having been in all those cheap countries it was hard to get used to the high prices again.

There was no way to escape it, time just raced on and so it became time to go home again. A stopover in London, landing in Amsterdam and then hugging my family and friends who where there to welcome me!

For the time being I'll have to work again, dreaming about the next trip which undoubtedly will be performed in the near future…


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