Colombia

My first contact with Colombian hospitality was through Oskar. I crossed the border at a bad moment. Just a few hundred meters into the new country it started raining as hell. My clothes were completely soaked and due to the over 3000 meters elevation it felt pretty cold immediately. Although it was not yet noon I called it a day when I reached Ipiales and instead of continuing I contacted Oskar through Warmshowers to have a warm place to stay and a chance to dry all my gear. Oskar lives in an old gas station, which works now as a car park. His job is to watch the cars and trucks 24 hours. As there’s enough space he’s hosting passing cycling tourists and according to his guest book a lot of them. The rain didn’t stop for two days, so instead of just passing through Ipiales, I ended up staying there two nights.

Finally the clouds disappeared and the sun came out, so that my trip in Colombia could eventually start. 

From Pasto I turned east onto an infamous road, el trampolin de la muerte or in English the trampoline of the death. It’s windy dirt road going down into the rain forest. There are more than 100 turns and many opportunities to fall down into the steep valley. According to some statistics hundreds of people have already lost their lives in accident there. However, on a bike it’s not really dangerous and despite some tough climbs I enjoyed the scenery a lot.

Past plenty of water falls it went down to Mocoa. There it started raining heavily again, but this time it wasn’t cold but steaming hot, what made it little bit less nasty. Still I prefer dry climate.

Clouds were coming in and covering the road in fog frequently and created a certain atmosphere.

In Mocoa I bumped into some other touring cyclists from Argentina and we camped together sheltered under this pavilion, shared stories from the road and shared lots of mate. The next day I rode on, while they try to hitch hike to the coast. They had enough of mountains and heavy rain.

And because constant rain isn’t annoying enough, my tire burst a few kilometers out of Mocoa. A loud bang woke me up from day dreaming until I realized what had happened. Luckily I carried a spare one. The tire didn’t run for that many kilometers, so Schwalbe was so kind to sent me a replacement.

I was already looking for places to camp, when David overtook me on his mountain bike and offered to host me at his house in the next village, which was 15 kilometers away. I didn’t really want to cycle that far, but the prospect of staying with some great people and having a shower was tempting, so I kept up with David’s pace and we got to his house, where his family welcomed me with excellent hospitality.

After all the rain in the days before I was glad to reach a desert. Because of it’s geographic location the Tatacoa hardly ever gets rain, so that some crazy rock structures could form over the years. But deserts are anyway some of my favorite environments. I pushed my bike a few hundred meters off the road and had the probably best camp spot for a long time.
No rain, a great wild camping spot, a simple meal after a long day of riding, what do cyclists need more?

Quickly after leaving the Tatacoa behind it got green again.This lizard wasn’t bothered at all by me at all and just stayed there long enough for me to get my camera out and shoot this phot.

After Ibague I went back into the mountains and chose a small dirt road which should lead me to Salento. Those palm trees (Ceroxylon quindiuense) just grow above 2000 meters altitude and get up to 60 meter tall. It’s Colombia’s national tree.

Arepas, a kind of thick corn tortilla and typical food in Colombia. I couldn’t get enough Arepas con Queso. 

That’s Jose. I met him on the road, while he was cycling to his finca to work. He’s growing mainly bananas and coffee. Before he turned off he invited me for a drink and we had a chat about his country and his work.

On my way to Medellin I cycled through the Eje Cafetero, it’s Colombia’s coffee region and produces some of the finest coffee in the world. Almost every hill was covered by these precious plants.

I was already wondering why the road got worse and worse, it looked like no car used it for years. When I came to that massive landslide I got the answer. Luckily I could carry my bike over it.

The Casa de Ciclistas in San Antonio de Prado near Medellin is a beautiful place to hang out and rest. Manuel and Marta have a second little house just for passing cyclists. I stayed a couple of days with a bunch of other travellers to recover from the steep roads in the previous days. It’s definitely the most beautiful Casa de Ciclista I’ve visited yet, so if you are near Medellin on a bike it’s definitely worth going there, even though it’s not near the center of the city.

I was already the 746th person staying there.

The best blender I’ve seen in a while.

Pablo, Manuel, who runs the Casa de Ciclista, Jesse and I. 

I caught up to Jesse, with whom I already cycled in Ecuador. Together with Pablo from Argentina we headed on. Thanks to Manuel, who gave us plenty of route advice, we went along some nice dirt roads.

One of the last views of the mountains before it got down towards the Caribbean. 

Having breakfast on a football pitch. 

And finally the Caribbean. Since I left Ushuaia I was thinking a lot about the moment I arrive at there at the beach. It was hard to believe, that my time in South America finally came to end. So many impressions and experiences I earned over the fifteen months on this amazing continent, it’ll take a while to realize all of it.

Adios Sur America! There’s no road connection between Colombia and Panama, why it’s also the cold the Darien Gap. Thick jungle and guerrilla activity makes not that easy to cross it, instead we are going to take some small boats over to a new continent.

Ecuador

After spending almost five months in Peru, I anticipated Ecuador with great excitement. It welcomed straight away with a great sunset from my camp spot near a football and volleyball court in a tiny village a few kilometers from the border.

It wasn’t easy riding though. Other cyclists I met, who were coming down from Ecuador, always told me, that the roads are super steep compared to the rather long and steady climbs in Peru. Exactly that was directly the case after I crossed the border. The gradients went up and I saw myself pushing a couple of times up the dirt road.

The first 50 km were quite low before it went back up to over 1500 meters altitude. Thus it was still damn hot and humid and at plenty shady spots I needed to stop to cool down before tackling the next hill.

Rivers were even better than shade to cool down. Eventually swimming in a river was enjoyable again compared to the freezing mountain river in the Cordillera Blanca.

Like almost everywhere the people and hospitality has been great as well. On my second night I asked Andres if I could camp next to his house. No problema. The next morning he got ready to hunt an showed me proudly his rifle, while his dog Luis was jumping around. Before he left he gave a whole pineapple for lunch. Of course I accepted it, but a heavy bulky pineapple isn’t the most practical fruit to carry on a bicycle.

One night I couldn’t really find place to camp and I haven’t seen people I could ask too. Just before sunset I passed this house. No one was there, but a few hundred meters away on the same property was a family living in a much more simple house. I asked them if there was somewhere space for my tent. The father of the family just pointed to that house on the photo and meant it wouldn’t be a problem to sleep inside, it was empty for the moment. More than happy about this situation I didn’t asked more questions and pushed my bike there. Indeed the house was completely empty, but the shower and electricity worked, everything a cyclists needs.

As I got further north and higher again the landscape changed from green to brown again. At least it was much cooler than in my first days in Ecuador.

The fire brigade or in Spanish bomberos have a reputation for being very friendly to cyclists. One night I tried it out. I even haven’t had to ask some on. As soon as I pushed my bike on the yard of the station one guy walked straight to me and told me I could sleep inside in a bed. Awesome hospitality.

This is Jesse from Australia. He’s started as well riding his bike in Ushuaia and the first time we met in a hostel in Huaraz. I knew that he was just a little bit ahead of me and it was great to run into him in a village. As we both had the same plans and haven’t been riding with someone else for a while we decided to cycle together for some time.

Camping in the middle of plazas in villages is usually no problem at all, if you can deal with a curious crowd of kids the next morning. While packing up our tents the kids fired thousands of questions to us. Questions we both have already answered a million times, although it’s not always easy to stay patient, generally it’s fun and interesting to joke with the kids.

Somewhere in the middle of Ecuador I finally had to retire my front tire. It is still the first one I got with the bike in Bangkok. Incredible that it lasted that long, over 30,000km and lots of countries on three continents. I hope the new one will do the same job.

Banos is a quite touristic little town and we wanted to stay a little bit to climb the nearby volcano Tungurahua. As we just want to pay for accommodation if it’s really necessary, we were really happy about the ground keeper of the local stadium letting us sleep four nights on the grass. On the Sunday though we had to make room for a football match.

From Banos we hiked up to a refugio on the slopes of Tungurahua. It was raining and foggy, we didn’t have any views and I was skeptical if it would make sense at all to attempt to hike up the 5000m peak the next morning.

Of course I had to it, regardless of the weather and so I got up at 3am to start walking up alone the steep slope. Surprisingly it was not that cloudy and I could see the lights of Ambato down in the valley and when finally the sun got up I was surrounded by an incredible panorama.

The Volcano Chimborazo is with 6,268 meters the highest one in Ecuador and also the farthest point away from earth’s center, even farther than the summit of Mount Everest, as it is closer to the equator.


Tungurahua is an active Volcano and erupts still frequently. Near the summit the rocks were warm and the fresh snow was steaming away. Before it got more active again in the recent years, the peak was covered completely in ice, but now it’s melting away, some rests of the glacier is still there though.

Cotopaxi, probably Ecuador’s most famous volcano.

Darren, another cycle tourist, Jesse and myself. Darren met us the day before in Banos and joined us spontaneously for the hike up to the refugio. He put a video of the hike on his Youtube channel.

One last view back on Tungurahua before we were heading further north.

Secondary roads in Ecuador are often neither properly paved or simply dirt, we encountered quite a few old cobblestone roads. This kind of road surface turned out to be the most annoying surface I’ve ever ridden on. We’ve always been more than glad, when the road turned into dirt or tarmac.

The majestic Cotopaxi in beautiful weather conditions. The only time we should see this mountain so perfectly.

At Laguna Quilotoa we pitched our tents straight at the rim of the caldera. It was so great, that we spontaneously decided to stay for two nights at this spot.

Unfortunately the good weather didn’t last long and when we got to the Cotopaxi National Park, it was already raining and foggy. We ended up camping three nights under a shelter at a free camp spot inside the park in the hope for a good view on the volcano. But only for a few hours the thick layer of clouds were opening a tiny bit, so that we could the see summit. The rest of the time we were hanging out with some other travelers next to the fireplace at the shelter.

That’s how good it got. Despite the clouds it was still an amazing place. At the moment it’s not allowed to climb up to the summit, as the volcanic activity increased during the last year and eruptions seem to be too unpredictable. Everywhere in the park as well as further down in the villages were emergency and evacuation signs.

The orange dot is Jesse, riding back to our camp.

Into the fog.

After a long rest over Christmas in the Casa de Ciclistas in Tumbaco near Quito, it was time to leave the southern hemisphere behind. From Ushuaia  till the equator I made it up 57 degrees. The same amount again and I will be already somewhere in Canada. Over two years on the southern side of the planet were enough anyways.

Altogether we stayed nine times at fire stations in Ecuador. A big thanks to all of them!

Espeletia, an endemic high altitude plant in Ecuador and Colombia.

The view down into the green valley.

The last kilometers in Ecuador towards the border town of Tulcan had some surprises for us. The day before heavy rain forced us to stay in a mountain refuge. It wasn’t raining anymore the next morning, but the road was partly flooded and we had to cross several large puddles. A great last riding day in Ecuador.

While Jesse crossed into Colombia the same day, I still had to wait for parcel, what should have arrived already weeks before, but the post service in South America is everything than reliable. I ended up taking a bus back to the Casa de Ciclistas in Tumbaco, where I stayed another two weeks before my parcel arrived.

Peru – The North

After five weeks in the Cordillera Blanca it was finally time to make up some distance again. It started with a long downhill through the Callejón de Huayla and soon after Caraz I entered the Canon del Pato. The Rio Santa cut over centuries this narrow canyon into the mountains, so that the road had to be build through a series of over 30 tunnels.

Mangos were in season and incredibly cheap, especially if you bought them straight from the plantation. At one occasion I got the offer to pitch my tent for a night in the orchard underneath some Mango trees.

I’m always fascinated how fast landscapes can change. Just a day after I left the rainy Cordillera Blanca I got into an very arid area. There was almost no vegetation and according to locals they have just very little rain in January, that’s it. The whole landscape reminded me at north of Argentina and Chile.

That’s cycling reality in Peru: After a steep downhill it’s going steeply up immediately. Long flat part hardly exist at all.

After a long climbed I had planned to relax a bit on this plaza, but just minutes after I arrived I was surrounded by curious kids, who asked me lots of questions. ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Where do you go’, ‘How many km can you ride a day’, ‘When do you finish your trip?’, ‘Are you alone?’, ‘Where’s your family?’, ‘Don’t you have friends?’, ‘Are you married?’, ‘Aren’t you scared alone?’ and so on. Including my least favorite Questions: ‘How much is your bike/phone/…?’. Finally they wanted to ride my bike, what was funny to watch, as it was a way to large for them. They still had their fun though.

On my route to Cajamarca I passed plenty of mines, which were usually very obvious due to the massive environmental destruction around them. Whole mountain slopes looked like huge construction sites. At least the mines are an opportunity for work for the locals, although it’s still a question how good the working conditions are and how much of the money stays in Peru at all. How many people dependent on the work in the coal mines minded was shown me by all the men with totally black hands and faces in some villages.

The encounter with Jerson, who I got to know while camping next to his families house, I probably won’t forget that soon. All the male members of his family a working in the nearby coal mines. So is Jerson, even though he’s just 16 and still going to school. But every afternoon after school he’s working in the nearby mine to support his family and it’s not unlikely that he will do it for the rest of his live, like so many other people in that area.

Wild camping is not always that easy in Peru, but luckily most Peruvians don’t have problem to let me pitch my tent near their houses.

Street and market scenes in Cajamarca

‘The humans are the only keepers of the nature. Let’s take care of our world.’ – Such a sign next to a massive mine I found a bit bizarre.

The hats of the woman were bigger in the north of Peru

Thanks Armando for the hospitality!

One of my last 5 Soles menus. ($1,50). Soup and Broccoli Saltado as segundo.

And suddenly it got green. After cycling for months trough the brown and barren Andes it was great for my eyes to see some green.

It got warm and rainy again.

In Jaen Miguel, who owns a bycyle shop, helps out passing touring cyclists with a place to sleep and bike repairs. When I left on a Sunday local cyclists met up in front of the shop for day trip. Before saying good bye we rode out of town together.

More than 30 degrees, super humid air and large rice paddies made me remembering my time in South East Asia.

Peru finished like it had begun: With great hospitality. Thanks to Marta and her family, who let me sleep in their house. The next day I rolled to the border to leave after five months this fascinating and diverse country.

Cordillera Blanca y Huayhuash

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The Cordillera Blanca is a massive mountain range with many peaks above 6.000m, including Peru’s highest mountain the Huascaran. As the name ‘white range’ already indicates, most of the mountains are covered in ice and snow. Most tropical glaciers on this planet are located here, although due to global warm the ice has already retreated rapidly, apparently over 15 percent during the last 40 years. The water flowing down on the eastern side is feeding the Maranon River, which is one of source rivers of the Amazon.

It’s a famous trekking area and of course I planned as well to leave my bike in Huaraz and explore the Cordillera by foot. After a few days rest I started the Santa Cruz Trek, what is the most popular trek around there and with just three days quite easy as well. A good start to get used to walking and carrying a heavy backpack. Unfortunately I forgot one SD card in my laptop before leaving for the trek and the other one didn’t work for some reasons. I was pretty upset about walking past beautiful mountains like Alpamayo and Artesonraju without the opportunity to take photos. On the other hand I could focus just on enjoying the amazing landscapes.

Getting back to Huaraz I was psyched to do another trek. So I teamed up with Melina to tackle a circuit around the Cordillera Huayhuash, which is located a little further south to the Cordillera Blanca. It’s supposed to be one of the nicest treks at all, but everything than easy. Most people just do it with a group, what we definitely didn’t want to do. Usually you need around 10 days to circumnavigate the range. But what makes it difficult is the lack of infrastructure. During those ten days, there’s ist just one tiny village, where you can stock up with supplies. With heavy backpacks filled with food for a week, we left Huaraz a little bit nervous.
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Almost every day we had to cross passes between 4800m and 5000m. This was the first and an easier one.

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Laguna Mitucocha, our second camp was just next to the shore.

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The first glimpse of one of the many snow capped peaks

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From that lagoon it went up a super steep slope. There wasn’t a trail at all and to make it even harder rain and hail let us freeze a lot.

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Enjoying the view.

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Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico and Jirishanca. The Yerupaja is with 6.635m the highest peak of the whole Cordillera Huayhuash

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You could literally listen to the melting of the glaciers. Every few minutes a thunder roared through the entire valley caused by ice breaking off.

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What a fun to jump for a few kilometers over those grassy things.

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Snow in the morning.

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The way up to Punta Trapecio. It’s an alternative to the standard route and absolutely worth it. According to all maps there was still a glacier, but it must have melted during the recent decade.

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Detoured along a glacier.

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The way up to the super steep Paso San Antonio. The snow melted and transformed the path into a slippery muddy slope.

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The views though were amazing and rewarding. My favorite place on the trek.

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Melina having fun descending through that crazy mud.

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A last fantastic view on the almost entire Cordillera.

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https://vimeo.com/189741744

After coming back to Huaraz we still haven’t had enough of trekking and decided to do another short three day hike in the Cordillera Blanca. We started walking through the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca to cross a 5000m pass into another Quebrada through which we hiked back to Huaraz. This trek is still quite unknown compared to the popular Santa Cruz trek, but the views are equally great. Though I guess it’s little bit harder.

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Not a bad view to start into the day. It was bitterly cold though and the tent was covered in ice. That’s probably the disadvantage of a clear morning.

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Great view from almost 5000m.

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I never planned to stay a month in Huaraz and do that many treks. I don’t regret it all. On foot you get just deeper into the mountains as on a bike and gives you another perspective. Still I wanted to do the Huascaran loop on my bicycle and after a month it was time to get back onto the road anyway. After saying my farewell to Melina and the so familiar Huaraz I left on the main road to Carhuaz. From there a even paved road crosses the Cordillera Blanca to the eastern side.

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In October the rainy season starts slowly and indeed most days it started raining in the afternoon. On my first riding day I got completely soaked during the last two hours. Luckily the ranger from the National Park entrance station let me sleep inside.

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The next morning was still cloudy and most peaks were unfortunately hidden.

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Just a few times I got a glimpse.

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Since 2013 there is a tunnel on the top of the pass. It’s the highest road tunnel in the world. The old unpaved pass road still exists, but because of the clouds I wouldn’t have had a better view anyways and I decided for the easy way through the tunnel.

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A long ascend is followed by a long descend. On the smooth paved road I was kind flying down the valley.

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After day riding along the east side of the Cordillera I began to climb up again to cross back to the western side. This time the road was just gravel, what made it much slower.

blog-50-von-54On the top of Portachuelo de Llangamuco on 4700m. Probably my last high pass in South America.

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And again a crazy descend on a damn bumpy road.

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The Lagunas de Llanganuco and a last view on the summits of the Cordillera Blanca. I left this impressive mountain range behind with a sad feeling. Spending over a month hiking and cycling there was definitely worth it. But now I’m keen to cover some distance to get further north.

If you enjoy my blog and want to support my journey, for a little donation I will send you a photo calendar with photos of the last year in South America. Here are some more information.

 

The Great Divide

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Paved road or gravel road?? Traffic or loneliness? I’m glad now I decided for the latter. From Huancavelica to Huaraz I rode over Peru’s Great Divide, a series of gravel roads high up in the Andes. (A detailed description you can find on www.andesbybike.com).

More than 800 kilometer and over 20,000 meters elevation gain, heaps of passes up to 5000m and deep valleys with steeps climbs afterwards. In short: a lot of climbing. Other cyclists always made clear, that it is essential to go lightweight. Something what you definitely can’t say about my bike. So I was a bit nervous and had doubts if my choice was so smart. Going over the main paved route would have been much easier, but I guess also less exciting. I was keen to experience the loneliness and remoteness, having great camp spots every night, breathtaking views and of course I was also looking forward to the challenge of climbing that much.

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Those stone circles are everywhere. Original built as a fences for Lamas and Alpacas I used them quite often as camp spot.

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The first pass wasn’t that bad, even though I had to climb a 1000 meters up the highpoint at 4700. With this motivation push I rolled down to a village at 3600, but just to start climbing the next pass immediately again. And that is, what I did in those three weeks on the Great Divide: Climb, descend, climb, descend, eat, sleep…

Surprisingly I got used to this kind of riding quickly. The gravel wasn’t that bad as expected, as well as the gradients. The climbing was mainly a mental game. My head just had to keep telling my legs to pedal on, so I would eventually reach the top of a pass, where I usually got rewarded with a great view.

After the second pass I got to the village of Acombabilla, where I had to get food for three days and to top up my petrol bottle for my stove. Sounds easy, but turned out to be a little bit complicated. The village seemed to be kind of abandoned. No open shops, no people, it was more like a ghost town. Finally I bumped into a boy, who was playing football on the street. I asked for shop and he showed me a random house door, where I had to knock. Indeed, an old lady opened a door to typical little village shop. Those kinds of shops usually don’t have a wide range, but enough to survive. Lots of biscuits, pasta, rice, some canned stuff and if I was luckily some fresh fruits, vegetables and bread. The food problem was solved, but to get petrol was more complicated. The woman told me, that almost all people went to another village for a festival and probably there wouldn’t be anybody, who could sell me petrol. Damn, it was Sunday and I had already figured out, that there are festivals on every weekend in Peru. I decided the rest of the petrol I had would last me, I had to be careful not using too much for hot drinks though. Even though water starts boiling at a lower temperature in high altitude, you still need much more petrol for cooking, as everything needs longer to get done. blog-7-von-87 blog-8-von-87 blog-9-von-87

Of course it followed another pass after Acombabilla and this time I struggled more at the steeps parts. Probably because of the extra weight of water and food. I made it still almost until the high point, where a stone circle offered a perfect campground with a great view on a lagoon. It was direct next to the road, but as I haven’t seen any car at all the whole car, it didn’t bother me. Shortly after I pitched my tent though, a truck stopped a few meters from me, which dropped a man including a bunch of rice bags and drove on. I was a bit confused. There wasn’t literally anything around me, not a hint of a village or some houses. What’s the guy doing here with all those bag, which he would never be able to carry alone. He walked towards me and was most likely equally wondering about this gringo and his bike. After a short conversation it turned out that he’s living behind the next hill. Crazy that there are living people in such remote and high places.

The next morning I woke up and got surprised by an almost totally white landscape. Even my ten was covered in snow for the first time on this trip. Like the man on the day before a woman appeared out of the nothing. She could hardly believe that I survived the cold night and was just amused about my tent. A few minutes later a truck picked her up. Again it was the only car I saw that day.

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First time snow on my tent

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After a series of passes I had to climb over the Punta Pumacocha. With 4930 meters it’s one of the highest of the Divide. Past beautiful lagoons I slowly climbed up, but two kilometers before the top the bad road forced me to push quite a bit. Large rocks on the loose gravel made impossible to ride. When I reached super exhausted the top I got an impressive and rewarding view over the surrounding mountains. Especially the view down the other side was crazy. The road went down the extremely steep slope in plenty of switchback, unbelievable that there exists a road at all. Probably just because of the mine I passed the day before. Punta Pumacocha was definitely my favorite pass on the Divide.

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Last stop before the pass

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What a road! Wasn’t an easy downhill though.

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Just before Punta Pumacocha

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Afterwards a long downhill waited for me and at night I camped below 3000 meters in a deep valley, before it went uphill straightaway again. It was a really pretty road along a series of lagoons, which were all connected through waterfalls.

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It followed the stretch I was worrying about most. In the village of Vilca the road ends, but there’s a hiking trail for 7 kilometers until the roads starts again. As my bike isn’t built and loaded for this kind of riding I expected lots of pushing and carrying of my bike and gear. Despite a couple of hours of hard work it wasn’t that bad in the end. I probably had to push 60 percent of the 7 kilometers and only at two points I had to take off all my gear, as it was too rocky and narrow. At the beginning of the road I got welcomed by construction workers, who were extending the road. Apparently in a couple of months there are going to finish closing the gap, so it will be much easier for cyclists.

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7km single trail and twice I had to carry my bike over rocks like here.

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With all the pushing it was easier to carry the backpack on my back..

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At night I pitched my tent just in time. Once I crawled into my tent a massive hail and thunderstorm past my camp spot. My tent was shaking as hell despite my half sheltered spot behind a house sized boulder and within a few minutes everything was covered with 15 centimeters of ice. I had to get out again to free my tent from that heavy load and save it from collapsing.

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Two passes later I descended to the Carretera Central. That’s the main road leading from Lima through the Andes to the eastern part of the country. It’s one of the most important roads in Peru and so was traffic. Just terrifying, it was basically one line of vehicles, mostly big trucks, which were creeping up the windy narrow road. After being on virtually traffic free road for weeks I was kind of shocked of it. 20 kilometers I finally could turn off from this damn road and had my beloved gravel under my tires again.

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Last pass before getting to Carretera Central

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Switchbacks! I would love to know how many there were on the Great Divide.

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A storm is coming. Not that nice, if you can’t find a good place to camp.

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And the morning after the storm.

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Impressive sunset on 4700m.

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Not a bad place for a breakfast.

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It went on with lots of passes and because the climbing felt easier with each pass I got more and more mesmerized by this route. But not just the amazing landscape will stay in my memory. In Rapaz, a tiny village, was a festival going on when I rode through. On the plaza a crowd of villagers and a music band welcomed me. Straightaway I got invited to drink Chicha de Jora with them. It’s a traditional drink in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia and made out of fermented corn and fruits with a very low alcoholic amount. While the first sip was close to be disgusting over the day I got used to it and even liked it at the end.

On the search for bread I bumped into a group of some young guys. They said they had bread in their house. Expecting to get leaded to a shop I followed them. It wasn’t a shop though, instead I was welcomed by the whole family in their house and just few minutes later I was handed a big plate with lunch – rice and chicken. They were all really excited to have a gringo there, while the festival was going on and tried to convince me to stay longer to see some of the dancing later that day. At the end I could even stay overnight. A perfect opportunity to learn a bit about Peruvian village life and culture. Besides of drinking lots of Chicha and beer, a few music band were wandering from house to house playing the traditional music of Huayno , while people would wear their traditional festival clothes and dancing all day long. Of course a long ceremony in the church can’t miss, too. What a great day it was, I’m so thankful for the Ninez Flores family to have taken me in that day. Thanks again! I think that are the experiences I’m traveling for.

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My amazing host family in Rapaz. Muchas Gracias otra vez!

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Drinking Chicha de Jora above the village.

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Rapaz

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Villagers from Rapaz in their traditional festival clothes.

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Mine destruction.

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With a day delay I continued climbing Abra Rapaz, another almost 5000m Pass. The whole area is full of mines, what’s the reason for the quite good roads, but impact of the mining on the environment is obvious. Some place looks like a massive construction site and whole lagoon are dried out.

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Peruvian hospitality. I just wanted to camp in a stone circle near the house. Instead I got offered a bed in their house.

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The way to cook in the Peruvian Andes.

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Two days later I eventually reached the last high pass, even though the longest climb was still ahead of me. After Paso Pacomayo it went down from 4500m to 1300m, a 80km long downhill. It would have been even more fun if I hadn’t known about following climb up to 4200m again. Still it was great to make this big altitude difference in half a day. In the canyon at the valley floor it was super-hot compared to the temperatures in the higher altitudes. Also the landscape was completely different. Dry and very little vegetation, mostly cactus.

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A long downhill. But the uphill looked the same.

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In the canyon.

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I camped at the river and the next morning I started climbing. I found it mentally pretty tough if you know there are more than 2500m climbing on the next 50km ahead of you, but there was no way around and during the last days I got very keen to get eventually to Huaraz, as my head and legs were craving for a break from cycling. So I managed to make 2000m up in one day over countless switchbacks until I ended in a small village. I was so tired and it was already dark, that I just pitched my tent in the middle of the plaza. Of course it didn’t long for whole crowd of local watching me curiously cooking. The next morning I even got invited for breakfast.

From there it took me just 1.5 days to get to Conococha, where I hit the main road to Huaraz and finally the paved road started. I was so relieved to have finished the Great Divide. It was such a challenging road, but like always, as more challenging it gets as more rewarding it is.

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The last long uphill before finishing the Great Divide. Such a different scenery down in the valley.

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Those guys were cleaning the road. A month earlier a Minivan got from the road and crashed a few hundred meter down into the river. It seemed because of that accident they started improving the road.

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Camping on a Plaza. Not a problem in the villages.

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La Cordillera Huayhuash, where just I hiked around, but that’s the topic of the blog.

Peru!

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It wasn’t hard to get stuck in the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz. A cosy place packed with many other great and crazy cyclists from all over the world. After ten days though, it was time to hit the road again and getting over to Peru. I teamed up with Paul, who just bought a bicycle in La Paz. To get out of the city we had first to climb from La Paz to El Alto, from 3600m to over 4000m along a busy road. That are not the best conditions to start cycle touring, but Paul did well and after about two hours we left the city behind us. Cycling didn’t get nicer though, as there were heaps of constructions going on for the rest of the day and the road was incredibly dusty with as way too much traffic.

The next day the views were finally getting better and we ended up sleeping in a classroom of a school. Luxury, compare to camping in freezing temperatures.

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Eventually the Lake Titicaca got in sight. Even though there are higher lakes, they are not that huge and deep. It is really incredible that there’s is water body with a surface of 8,372 km2 on an altitude of 3800m. It looks like an ocean, as you can’t see the other side of the lake. We decided to take the more adventurous, lonelier route along the north east shore of the lake. (In case you plan to cycle along Lago Titicaca, according to Paul, who knows both sides, the north eastern side is much nicer, though it’s an unpaved road.)

 

 

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Could be the Mediterranean

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On small gravel roads with virtually no traffic we were heading on and crossed finally the border into Peru. There wasn’t even a proper sign as usual at borders. While we got an exit stamp in our passports from a tiny police station in the last Bolivian village, at the first Peruvian village the police couldn’t help us with an entry stamp. Instead they send us to the immigration office to Puno, what is about 200km away and where we had never planned to go to. We told them that we need a couple of days to get there, but it wasn’t a problem for them, although we were technically illegal in Peru for that time.

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On the top of a pass.

 

 

As there were no good places to camp, we ended up asking a farmer’s family if they have space for our tents. After discussing that for quite a while in Quechua, so we couldn’t understand a word, they showed us a shed behind their house. As usually we tried to deny, we don’t mind sleeping in our tents, but the family insisted that we sleep in the shed. It would be a way too cold to sleep in tents. Well, thankfully we accepted. And as that wasn’t already enough hospitality, we were invited to eat with the family as well. The hot, tasty soup was great in the freezing temperatures. At least could pay some generosity back and helped one of the kids with her English homework.

 

 

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The next morning Victor gave us a big bowl of Chuños and roasted beans for the day. Chuños are freeze-dried potatoes and typical in the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia. After a couple of nights in the freezing temperatures of the Altiplano and days in the intense sunlight, they’re are going to last for a long time.
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The next day we tried to camp next to a church, after asking the priest for permission. But the hospitality of the Peruvians stopped us from that. We just finished pitching our tents, when we were surrounded by a concerned group of locals. Concerned, because they couldn’t imagine, that we wouldn’t freeze at night, although we explained that we have good sleeping bags. One family finally offered us to sleep in their house. First I wanted to reject the offer, but I was also curious and was looking forward to get another local family to know. At the end it was great to stay with this amazing family. In the morning we were surprised with a huge breakfast. Besides of the usual rice and potatoes they must have slaughtered a Guinea pig and cooked it for breakfast.

Somewhere before reaching Cusco we asked in a little town at the firefighter station if they have some place for our tents. At the end we could sleep in an old ambulance, which they didn’t use anymore. They even had guestbook with a few other entries from cyclists. Fire brigades or in Spanish Bomberos are a popular place to sleep for cyclists in South America.

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Eventually we reached Cusco. For me it was time for another break. My mum had just decided to come and visit me a few weeks earlier. We haven’t seen each other sind I left Germany in October 2013, so two years and nine months. I was really excited for this reunion and it was a good opportunity to have a break of cycling and instead around as a normal tourist.

 

 

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If you visit Peru, you have to see Machu Picchu, at least that’s what most people say. Usually I’m not interested in those big tourist attraction and before I was always unsure if I should go there, as it’s also quite expensive. But together with my mum I had to go. And at the end I think it was worth it. Even though there are thousands of people, what I haven’t been used too. As a touring cyclists I see sometime no other tourists for months. Still Machu Picchu is an magnificent and impressive place. This time as a normal tourist, taking buses, doing lots of sightseeing and staying in a hostel showed me once again, why I prefer cycle touring.

 

 

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There’s lots of trekking around Cusco and I decided for the Ausangate circuit. It’s a four to five day hike around the snow capped peak of Ausangate, with 6384m the highest mountain in that region. It was beautiful and a different experience to cycling.

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The rainbow mountain.

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Ben and Renaud, who I’ve met in a hostel in Cusco.

 

 

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On the trail.

 

 

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After five days hiking, the reward: Hot Springs

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After more than three weeks in Cusco and surrounding, it was time to ride on. I decided to stick to the paved roads for a while to get used to cycling again. Still it was challenging. One pass after the next one, one 4000m pass after the next one with valleys in between under 2000m. The first days were tough, but eventually I got used to all the climbing. In the first valley I got bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes. It was crazy, I had at least 50 bites at each leg and arm. I was so happy when I was high enough again, where no mosquitoes are and the first thing I did in the next town, was to buy repellent.  blog (47 von 57) blog (48 von 57)

Some local kids waking me up in the morning

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Another great experience of Peruvian hospitality

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Near the top of a pass.

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And just a short while later down in the valley. The landscape and vegetation was changing all the time due to the altitude differences, what made it quite interesting. But it was also constant change of temperatures. One night I camped close to 4000m, where it was quite cold and the next night I was lying sweating in my tent the whole night.

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Even though I just cycled over paved roads, there wasn’t much traffic at all. Sometimes the road was just a single lane and narrow. Now I’m in Huancavelica, where I’ll rest a bit, before heading on. This time on small gravel roads over Perus Gread Divide.

 

 

 

 

 

Bolivia – from the Altiplano into the Yungas

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A last view on the Salar de Uyuni. It had been one of the most amazing rides ever and I was unsure what would follow now in Bolivia, as I just had focused on the lagoon route and this massive salt pan. As well those two weeks were pretty tiring, physically as mentally. So I was glad when I had hit surprisingly a tarmac road soon after leaving the salt. I was actually prepared for another few days of gravel, as my maps indicated that, but Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has invested a lot into the infrastructure over the recent years, so that there are plenty road constructions going on in the whole country.

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Camping on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni.

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Jayu Quta. A volcanic crater just next to the road.

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Bolivian cyclist.

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One of plenty Lamas in that region

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I enjoyed cycling on the paved road, even though there was some traffic once I reached the main highway, but it was so much easier compared to the bad roads I was riding on during the weeks before. Also I finally got to encounter Bolivian culture, as I passed many villages and small towns. I talked to Quinoa farmers, who benefit from the rising popularity of this crop in Europe and North America. It’s one of the few crops which are able to grow at all in the harsh climate of the Altiplano. So the local farmers seemed to be happy to finally have something to export.

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Unfortunately I’ve seen too many crosses on Bolivia’s mountain roads

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The pass to Yungas.

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Somehow I had the feeling my time in Bolivia would fly away to quickly. What made me turn east towards the Yungas, a day day before I could have reached La Paz. This transitional zone between the Altiplano and the rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes promised a change. Once I climbed another 4700m pass, it was going down and the landscape changed immediately. While the dominant color of the Altiplano is brown, it turned now into green. For a long time I cycled past real vegetation and not just dry grass.

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Old stone walls form interesting patterns on the slopes.

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The Yungas consist out of many narrow steep valleys and I was either riding uphill or downhill on not the best kind of gravel roads, what made the progress pretty slow. But the landscape and the encounters with the local people were rewarding enough for the effort. As well I enjoyed the temperature. Different than the weeks before I could cycle in short and shirt and I had not to freeze once the sun disappeared. On the long uphills in the lower parts of the valleys I was even swearing about the quite humid heat. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect weather condition for cycling.

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I met Leo on his walk back home from school. He has to walk every day one hour there and one hour back. Due to a uphill I couldn’t cycle faster than he was walking, so we talked a lot and were listening to the Latin music out of his radio.

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I just asked for water in a village and got showed a water tap behind a house, where a group of villagers were baking bread. Of course I was invited to taste the warm bread rolls.

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The main income of most of the farmers comes from Coca. Chewing the leaves or drinking it as tea is big part of the culture in whole Bolivia and you can buy the leaves and other products everywhere. The Bolivian government backed from the USA tried once to prohibit Coca, without success though. And the current Bolivian president Evo Morales was once the leader of the Coca farmer’s union.  To dry the leaves every morning the farmers spread them out on every possible flat place in the villages.

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A beautiful mango orchard

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Coca fields on the slopes.

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Dust + Sunset

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Before reaching La Paz I had to climb again over 4600m pass.

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The icicles as well as the Lama road sign indicate I’m back on the Altiplano.

blog (39 von 40)And finally I reached La Paz, known as the highest capital of the world, although Sucre is officially Bolivia’s capital, it is still the seat of government. I was more than glad to made the detour through the Yungas, even though it took me more than 9 days  with 12,000 meters elevation gain over just 400km.

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Bolivia – not an easy ride

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After a leg killing climb from San Pedro up to a 4600m pass, it went down to Bolivia. The border control wasn’t quite that what you would expect. There was just little shed – Welcome to Bolivia. After getting two stamps for a 60 day visa I could start the infamous lagoon route.

I heard all those stories about the worst roads on the world and kilometers of pushing through sand. So of course I was excited, how it would really be. From the border a tailwind pushed me to the first of the many lagoons Laguna Blanca. The road was still alright, but soon after the turnoff to Laguna Verde the road didn’t deserve to be called road anymore. Instead there was a choice of jeep tracks, some better than the others.

Some ruins near the lagoons and the volcano Licancábur gave me shelter for the first night in Bolivia. The next day started as the previous one ended and thanks to tailwind and I cycled quickly over a 4700m pass before rolling down to the hot springs at Laguna Chalviri. After a long relaxing dip in the perfectly warm water I decided to call it a day. The friendly owners of the restaurant let me sleep on the floor, what saved me another cold night in the tent.

Watching the sunrise while lying again in the hot water can’t be a better start in the day, although the rest of the day was probably the toughest on that route. I was battling an ice cold headwind on the climb up the high point of the lagoon route at 4930m. At the top the steaming geyser of Sol de Manana rewarded the effort though.

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Laguna Blanca

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no road, just jeep tracks

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The great hot springs

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 I didn’t want to camp that high and hoped to get down a few hundred meters before it was getting dark, but it didn’t work out. The road now was as bad as I heard it from stories before. But the worst was that there were no sheltered place to camp and the wind made it quite impossible to pitch my tent just anywhere. Finally just before sunset I found a suitable place and after pitching my tent I fell just super exhausted asleep.

The mornings on the Altiplano aren’t very enjoyable. If you wake up and all your water bottles – even inside the tent – are solid ice blocks, you know it was a cold night. Though once the sun came out it was fortunately warming up quickly.

On the way to Laguna Colorada the road got finally pretty sandy. Quite often my front wheel got stuck in a sandy patch and I had to push it out again until the road got more solid again. But unlike other cyclists I’ve never had to push my bike for a long distance.

And so it went on and on for the next days. Due to the sandy roads I just made around 30km in a day again, but I loved to be alone in this incredible landscape. Some people might find it boring to be alone for that long time in a desert, but for me it was a very special feeling. Just a few jeeps loaded with tourist were passing me, usually all at the same time and after that I was alone again. It was like being on another planet.

In one day I passed a couple of lagoons until I ended up camping at Laguna Cañapa. The lagoon was crowded with flamincos. It was great to watch some life after being surrounded just by dead rock for a few days. Amazing that they can survive in this extreme environment.

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Fumaroles
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Laguna Colorada

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Arbol de Piedra – Stone tree

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another ruin, which served as camp spot for a night

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One of the few trucks passing me

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pushing was necessary sometimes

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In Chiguana the friendly guys at military camp let me sleep inside for a night. I actually just asked for water and if it’s alright to camp inside the ruins next to the camp. But the latter wasn’t alright, instead I got a bed in one of their weird camouflaged concrete domes. Interestingly I’ve never met a real soldier. The only people I saw were 18 year olds doing their military service there.

The next day I reached San Juan, the first village in ten days and the first time that I could buy food again. The lagoon route was finished.

The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s biggest salt flat. Around 10,000 years ago the lake dried out and left about 10 Billion tons of salt on an area of 10,500 km2 behind. I could hardly believe it that I’m there, it had always been a dream of me to get to this place. After a few kilometers of cycling I stopped and looked around. 360 degrees just white salt, countless polygons and the blue sky at the horizon. It was just awesome to ride over the endless flat and crushing the edges of the polygons, so easy compare to the weeks before. Definitely the craziest place, where I’ve ever cycled. Just incredible.

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Isla Incahuasi, the island in the middle of the Salar

The last days in Argentina and Chile

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After a rest day in Fiambala I headed on. To be honest my motivation to cycle was quite low. Over the last two weeks I was always focused on getting over the Paso de San Francisco and that was done now. I needed a new goal.

Luckily I bumped in to Luis, who was on the way back south to his home city San Juan. I joined him and we had two great cycling days. After more than two months of cycling along I enjoyed having some company, it’s so different to have conversation. When we reached a junction with the Ruta 40, we had to split up. I turned north towards the city of Salta, while Luis cycled south. Though I wasn’t alone for a long time. Just 30 km later I met another cyclist. Adrien from France was riding north as well, so we teamed up.

Most of the time we were surrounded again by the typical dry environment I had experienced already further south so often. But then there were surprisingly lots of green areas, especially around the few villages, what was new for me and didn’t feel like Argentina to me. It was a nice change for my eyes.

A few days later we rolled into Cafayate. It’s surrounded by vineyards and so it wasn’t a surprise to be a quite touristic town. It turned out we got there just for the right time, as at there was happening a wine festival with free tastings at night. Of course we didn’t miss that and I could improve my knowledge about wine quite a bit.

Salta is the capital of the same named province and the biggest city in the north of Argentina. I wasn’t really keen to go there, but I had to pick up my new passport, I had applied for in Bariloche, from the German consulate there. The plan was to stay two nights and then head back straight into the Andes.

It came differently. Although I had received a mail from the German embassy in Buenos Aires that my passport is already in Salta, it wasn’t there. For a week I got every time I went to the consulate the answer that it will arrive tomorrow. Of course it didn’t. I thought it would be the Argentinian Post, who messed it up. But then it turned out the embassy in Buenos Aires has never sent it to Salta but had marked it in the computer system as sent. Anyway, at least I knew then, that the passport will arrive a few days later. In the meanwhile I organized my yellow fever vaccination, what was surprisingly easy and even for free. After almost two weeks I got eventually my passport and was free to leave the rather boring city of Salta.

blog_pasosico (1 von 38)camping and cooking with Luis

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Ruta 40 – very often it’s just a straight road like this

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What a place

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The camping in Salta. There I spent two weeks waiting for my passport. Not really exciting.

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Together with Adrien, who waited with me in Salta. It felt so good being on the bike again and not being trapped in an ugly city. Through a long valley, past lots of cactuses and a few villages we got over 4000m pass to San Antonio de los Cobres, a small town in the middle of nowhere, just surrounded by rocks and dust. It felt different to other Argentinian towns. Like already in the villages before, most of the population is indigenous.

We rested a day to get more acclimatized before we started our last cycling leg of Argentina. Our bikes were heavy, as we were carrying supplies for about a week and already after a few kilometers I figured out, that it’s not going to be an easy ride. The road condition wasn’t the best and especially the headwind made it very slow. Still we got over the first highpoint of 4500m.

Another problem is finding a suitable place to camp in this wind. Some dunes gave our tents just little protection, but it worked out somehow. The nights are freezing cold over 4000m. The water bottles were completely frozen the next morning, but once the sun was out, it became quite warm quickly.

One night we spent at the border control. The guys there were great and gave us a luxury room with bunk beds, a kitchen and a hot shower. But the best were the bowl of Empenadas they gave us for dinner. Not a bad last night at all in Argentina.

Before we could leave the next morning we had to go through the customs again. After crossing the border between Argentina and Chile nine times, I was used to the process, but this time they made it bit more complicated than usually. For a reason one guy was determined to find an ID number on my bike, although I told him more than once, that he won’t find one. He figured it out himself after searching on the complete frame for a while, but he still needed that number for document. All the border crossings before no one needed it. Anyways, at the end he took just any number and gave me the papers. Border bureaucracy can be weird sometimes.

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From the high point on 4080m before Sant Antonio

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And the first high point of Paso de Sico

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The mornings were freezing in high altitude

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Olacapato – tough life there I guess

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Ten kilometers later we crossed the actual border to Chile. Time to say finally good bye to this huge but impressing country. I had definitely a great time there and hope to come back one day. There’s still heaps to see. Thanks to all those kind people, who helped in a way. Muchas Gracias!

The landscape changed a bit, it got more volcanic around us and it looked even more other worldly. We descended after another high point into a flat area and suddenly the wind started to go nuts.

Soon the crosswind made it impossible to ride and forced us pushing our bicycles. We could already see a police station 4km away, where we hoped to stay overnight. Initially I thought it wouldn’t take us too long, but we were slow, super slow. After two hours of pushing we only made 3 km. The wind got stronger and stronger and it went uphill for the last part. After every hundred meters I had to stop, but that wasn’t easy too. Without leaning my body against my bike the wind would have just knocked it to the ground. At one stage I realized the wind or rather storm was too strong. Too strong to push on. It was frustrating, as under normal circumstances it would have taken just a couple of minutes, but now it even seemed to be impossible to make the last 800m – at least with my bike. I laid my bike on the ground and sat down to think what to do.

Suddenly a car stopped, only the second vehicle, what passed us that day. Some French tourists offered to drive me and my gear to the Police Station. Usually I would have refused their kind offer. I actually never accepted any ride or have taken a bus to skip a part. I always had the idea to cycle every single kilometer, where it’s possible. But that day it wasn’t possible to get on with my own power. Relieved I accepted and packed my stuff  in the car. Though it was clear that I’ll cycle back for this 800m the next morning. After they dropped me they helped Adrien, who struggled same as I did, but  he was as usually a few hundred meter ahead of me, as his bike is much lighter. We entered the police station and asked if we can sleep somewhere on the floor or if we can pitch a tent in the windbreak of a house. Usually the Carabineros in Chile don’t have a problem with that, especially in such a location and situation. But they didn’t want to let us sleep there, instead they insisted to drive us to a mine just 6km away. There we would get a room, beds and a shower.  Sounded tempting and I should have been very thankful to that offer, but it meant I would skip 6km of cycling. I explained it to them, but they still insisted to drive us there. There was no other possibility. With that crazy wind I would have never reached mine by myself and around the police station there was no wind protected place to pitch a tent. Even heading back was no alternative, as the crosswind would have made it hard as well.

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Good bye Argentina – Hola Chile – for the last time

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So I found myself packing my gear a second time disappointed into car and a few minutes later we were at the mine. Indeed, thanks to the nice guys there we got a room with bunk beds again. The next morning I woke up early, I still had the plan to ride back, but the wind was still hauling. Luckily a bit weaker than the day before, but the in total 14km I had to ride, would have taken the whole morning and usually the wind got stronger after noon. I was still kind of scared of the wind and definitely didn’t want to get trapped at the same place again. It was a hard decision, but finally I decided not to go back and continue riding towards San Pedro. Later I regretted that and it took me few days to forget about it. It’s my only gap I had to leave so far. Hopefully it stays the only one.

After 30km we reached a great wind protected place behind some rocks with an awesome view on a salt lake. Even though it was early, we decided to stay, as the wind was picking up again and who knows if we could find such another good place.

From there it was just another day ride to the village of Socaire. We were finally back in civilization. We left behind the freezing nights, the strong icy wind and even the sandy gravel roads. With tarmac beneath our wheels we reached easily San Pedro de Atacama the next day. It’s the last stop in Chile before I cross into Bolivia.

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awesome campspot

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And back in the tropics…

Chile: Cactuses, desert and a long way up

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When I arrived in Los Andes I had no idea where to stay. After having some tough days I was mentally ready for a break of few days, but as usually things worked out perfectly for me.

While I was searching for a free open WiFi connection, to check if I got an answer from a Warmshowers hosts I had contacted a few days earlier, I bumped into a bicycle shop. I had to buy a new helmet, as my one disappeared on a campground a few weeks ago. One of the guys in the shops, Jaime, was really interested in my trip and because it was close to siesta time he immediately invited me for lunch in a cheap nearby restaurant. In the meanwhile I found out that I could stay with the Warmshowers host in San Felipe, which was just 15km away. Unfortunately the host had to work till eight. Jaime though offered me to stay at his place for couple of hours and even offer me to use his shower ­– the first one in ten days. Just amazing this uncomplicated hospitality.

Christian was another great host and even organized a big birthday cake for me. My first present though I got from the nature – just after midnight, I was lying in my bed and almost asleep when my bed started shook for a few seconds. It took me a while to realize what it was. After a look in the internet I found out it was a 5.3 Magnitude earthquake, too weak to cause any damage. I’m in one of the most seismic active regions of the world, as the Nazca Plate moves under the South American Plate and over the next weeks I experienced a few more little ones. One time I was talking to some locals about a potential place to camp when suddenly the earth shook. While I of course showed a surprised reaction the locals just ignored it. It’s just normal here and those small tremors don’t do any damage. According to an earthquake recording page in the internet, there were more than 1500 within the last year.blogchile (1 von 62)blogchile (3 von 62) blogchile (4 von 62) blogchile (5 von 62)

After leaving San Felipe I had the choice of either taking the Ruta 5 also known as Panamerican Highway, which is Chile’s longest Highway and connects the north with the south or taking small back country roads. I chose the last option, although it would be harder and much slower. The Landscape was different again from what I had in Argentina. It was even dryer, but the main difference was the vegetation. Suddenly and the first time in my life I was surrounded by cactuses. It felt like being in the Wild West.  Although I loved it I wasn’t motivated to ride for some reasons and on some days I was more sitting in the nature reading a book than sitting on the saddle of my bike. But why not, I have no reason to rush.

It was pretty hilly and I came along a series of tunnels. Some of them were even quite long – up to 1,5km. But scary thing was they had no lights and just one lane. Even with all my lights on it was still black and while rushing through I hoped that no car would come from the other direction. Luckily those roads weren’t busy at all.

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After a couple of days I made it to Coquimbo, the biggest city I’ve been to for a while and it was quite shock to ride through the heavy traffic. The city itself was rather boring and not beautiful at all, but again I had a great Warmshowers experience. This time my hosts were a shared house of students, which reminded me of home. I could have stayed there probably for much longer, but I was also keen for the next challenge.

Somehow I had to get back to Argentina, which sounds easy, as the border is never far away in Chile, but then there are the Andes in between, which makes it difficult. I chose to take the Paso de San Francisco. First though I had to get further up north to the city Copiapo from where the pass starts. Unfortunately this time there was no real alternative as to take the Ruta 5. It’s a two lane motorway and bicycles aren’t actually allowed, but nobody seems to be interested in it. In fact it was one of the safest roads I cycled on in South America, due to a wide shoulder. For about 30 or even more kilometers I even had two complete lanes for me. As this part wasn’t open yet for cars and all the traffic had to go over two lanes. For me on a bicycle it was perfect, I could bypass the barriers and enjoy the fresh tarmac without the hustle of overtaking cars and trucks. As I got further north I got into the southern parts of the Atacama. The vegetation disappeared – nearly completely – and I was just surrounded by lots of gravel.

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Coquimbo

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Under the Highway

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On the motorway

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Copiapo

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Copiapo is the last city and the last place before it goes up the pass and the next civilization is 450 km further, the little town of Fiambala in Argentina on the other side of the Andes. So I had to stock up with food for a week and plenty of water. My bike wasn’t that heavy for quite a while and took me a while to get used to that. It was a weird feeling passing a sign saying the next gas station 450km away. I was definitely excited about the next days, especially how I would deal with the high altitude. The first day weren’t really hard though. It was not steep at all, only a gentle incline and a tailwind made even easier. The remoteness was different to the previous days on the busy highway. There were only a few cars and basically all belonged to some construction workers or miners, one car stopped to supply me with a bag full of grapes – awesome. So I made my way up a valley to 2000m and the following day onto 3300. There I ran – as planned – out of water, but I read before that I should get water from a mine. When I saw the buildings I was relieved, but as I got close I realized that they were all abandoned. Shit – I thought. Was the information from internet really that old? Without another choice I kept going, still optimistic that my water problem will get solved somehow. And it did. Two kilometers later I saw another complex of buildings, new and definitely not abandoned. At the entrance the security guys were more than happy to refill my bottles, but they were also a bit worried to let me keep going. The sky was cloudy and it looked definitely like rain – or snow? Additionally the wind got stronger and stronger. I got the kind offer to camp in the windbreak of the security building. My plan was originally to get a few kilometers further.  I decided to consider their offer while having a little break, but before I could make up my mind I got another even better offer, which I definitely couldn’t deny. The security officer had called his boss and organized for me to stay at the mining camp. A few minutes later I rolled my bike into a room with a comfy bed and my own shower. It was like a hotel room. Before I was actually pretty keen to spend my nights in the wilderness in my tent, but I couldn’t say no to this comfort as well. They even allowed me to eat in the canteen and it was quite interesting to see how the miners live as well.

After a big breakfast I headed on. The first highpoint at 4300m was ahead of me and for first time I could feel the altitude. My body was just not yet used to the low oxygen and I was breathing hard while riding up the switchbacks. Luckily I only got some headaches and not more. It was actually the steepest and hardest part of the pass. From 4300 it went down to the Salar de Maricunga on 3800, where the Chilean Immigration was. Even though it was still early I decided to stop und give my body a chance to catch up with altitude. The headaches disappeared and on the next morning I felt ready to ascend further. Now the sky was for the first time clear and deep blue. The landscape was just breathtaking and hard to describe.  I felt like being in another world up there. Surrounded by some of the highest mountains of the Andes I cycled up to 4300, where I stopped again for the night beneath the three 6000m summits of Cerro Tres Cruces.

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The next morning I woke up before sunset. It was damn cold, so cold that my water bottles were frozen. A breakfast and a tea warmed me up, but it took still forever till the sun got over the mountain range. After a slow ascent to 4600m I went down again to 4300m at Laguna Verde. At the first view of the lake I couldn’t believe the color is real. So different to the brown and red of the mountains. At the shore of Laguna Verde is a refugio, whch is just a little hut with two rooms. When I arrived there I was welcomed by Eduardo, a Chilean Mountaineer Guide. He arrived there the day before witch his German client Andre. They were staying there for a few days to acclimatize as preparation to climb the Ojos de Salados, which is at 6893m the highest active Volcano in the world and the second highest mountain in South America. To my advantage they were happy to share some food and I enjoyed having some company after some rather lonely days before.

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Cerro Tres Cruces – all three peaks are over 6000m

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around 16 liter water I was carrying at one stage

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Ojos de Salados 6893m – highest active volcano in the world and second highest mountain in South America

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Laguna Verde

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The refugio at Laguna Verdeblogchile (44 von 62)
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That are actually hot pots

blogchile (51 von 62)Guide Eduardo, Andre and some Chilean climbers

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After two nights on over 4300m I was used to the altitude and so I started on the next day for the last climb. And three hours later I reached the top of the Paso de San Francisco on 4730m. I was relieved that everything went well, it was such a great feeling to have made it and to know that it would go downhill now for more than 150km. Also with a view on the next months, when I will ride on the Altiplano for several weeks in high altitude, it was a good test. blogchile (54 von 62)

Finally on the top

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The way down went quickly and I was so keen get back to civilization, especially for a supermarket and something different to eat. Unfortunately it was Sunday and everything was closed, so had to wait another day. From Fiambala the last section of Argentina starts for me before it goes up again on to the Altiplano. I’m excited. blogchile (56 von 62)blogchile (59 von 62) blogchile (58 von 62)

In the refugio on the way down

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