Welcome to the travel blog of Marlieke and Paul. Our upcoming motorcyle adventure will start on 29-08-2012. We will leave the Netherlands in a southeastern direction.  For the first leg of our journey we have planned to travel overland to Nepal.
We strive not to overplan our trip since we believe that the best things in  live arise unexpectedly. Hopefully our travels will be much like wandering: Spontaneous and without a fixed course, discovering small and large world wonders. We hope you will enjoy reading about our adventures.

Posted in General | 16 Comments

Old men and the sea

Buenos aires – Argentina, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia – Brasil, Tenerife – Spain, Madeira – Portugal, Savona – Italy.

We had known about it for a long time, we had looked forward to it, but at the same we had been a bit hesitant about it as well. In a few more days we would be boarding the Costa Favolosa cruise-ship, which would bring us from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Savona, Italy in 21 days. After almost 20 months and 55.000km through Eastern Europe, Asia and the Americas this ship would slowly sail us back to our home continent again. In this way it would hopefully become a gradual transition, and we would have time to contemplate about our life after this trip, while staring out at open sea, enjoying a red sun setting in a cloudless sky, silence all around us. Of course we knew a cruise might have some disadvantages too, what about tip-requiring cabin stewards, pushy bar personnel, loud Russians and/or Italians, slow, elderly people, the glitter and glamour design of the ship etc.

Shopping spree First things first, after traveling for 20 months with two t-shirts, one pants, one sweater and one jacket, some clothing had become a bit worn out. Apart from that we would be seeing the same people for 21 days, so we probably needed some more attire to fit in with the cruise crowd. Luckily Buenos Aires, our boarding city, is the perfect place for a shopping spree. Every different neighbourhood had it’s own type of stores, for us especially Palermo provided what we needed. It was fun to see each other in (more) fancy clothes again after such a long time: jeans, a blouse and even a dress! When cash started to run out, we indulged ourselves in the cultural and historical parts of Buenos Aires: MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de BA), museo de Xul Solar, La Recoleta cemetery, including the grave of Evita Perron, Plaza de Mayo, the Obelisk and many more places. In MALBA, we realized we had already visited many museums on this continent and we started to recognize art from the different Latinamerican artists: Torres Garcia, Botero, Kahlo, Siqueiros, Rivera and Xul Solar. After five days of city tripping the day had finally come, we were going to experience cruising first hand!

There she is The Costa Favolosa only started sailing in 2011, so the ship is top of the bill in cruising. It is a huge, shiny Italian ship, more than 290m long, it can take 3780 passengers and 1,110 personnel. It has 13 decks (numbered 1-12 and 14), including 13 bars, 5 restaurants, 5 whirlpools, 4 swimming pools, a spa, a gym, a jogging course, a basketbal/tennis court, a 4D cinema, a casino, a theatre, a discotheque, a library, an Arcade, a Grand Prix simulator, a card room, an open-air waterside, and a gallery with stores. So you can imagine that it took up almost the whole of the first day to get a clue where all the different places were, where we could eat, drink, party, do sports, sunbathe, sleep etc. It was fun jumping in and out of one of the many elevators to see what surprise was there, and to see other people hesitantly looking around a corner not sure if they were suppose to be there. It was a true Italian ship with lots of fancy lights, shiny chrome, a myriad of colours on the walls, the floors and even the ceilings. In every corner there was a statue or painting, of which most were not really appealing, but, ah well, we would get used to that over the weeks.

Crazier entertainment Every day we would receive a „Newspaper” including the activities of the day. The main activity appeared to be eating as it turned out there was only one hour per day when there was no food available. From 7.30-11.00 there was breakfast buffet, from 12.00-14.30 lunch buffet, from 12.00-16.00 grill including french fries and burgers, between 16.00-17.00 afternoon tea with cookies and cakies, and at the same time there was a pizza and salad bar at everybody’s disposal from 12.00-1.00am. If you didn’t fancy a bad piece of pizza (on an Italian ship!) for dinner, you could go to the restaurant for a seven course menu at your fixed „Sitting time”. All food, water, tea and coffee was  included, yet we still managed to stick to our weight! Maybe the sports activities helped us out a bit. Everyday there were several hours of pilatus/zumba/body work-out/yoga/ping-pong/volleybal/…, there were dance classes, and there was crazy entertainment like „Crazy race for the bag”, or „Game: Target the door”. Next to that there was a gym available for 15 hours per day, and we signed up for acces to the spa, including a sauna, tepidarium, steam bath, whirlpool, and Japanese tea garden. In the evenings entertainment consisted of a theatre show, a party or two, and some shockingly inappropriate Italian entertainment.

What?! So far, so good you might think… Well, we didn’t talk about the passengers yet. Imagine a village full of old, grumpy elderly, who only speak German, then imagine you put them all on a small boat wit lots and lots of food and alcohol. Indeed, it became some kind of struggle for life at the buffets and bars. We were embarrassed to see our fellow passengers agressively ordering „OMELETTE MIT ZWIEBELN”, without a please, from the Philippine waiters who ‘only’ understood English, Spanish and Portuguese. At the buffet, while there was more than enough, people pushed you from behind, jumped in front of the line, or grabbed one more gamba reaching for it underneath your arm pit. Piles and piles of food were gathered on the plates and eaten as well, combined with beers, cocktails etc. Some people looked like they could explode any moment, especially since most of them also had a completely sunburned face. Other cruise guerrilla included keeping deck chairs reserved all day, without using it, by putting your towel on top, or using a non-smoking sign to keep your seat reserved in the pianobar while you were dancing.

Party people! On gala nights, I would wear my ‚fancy’ new, non-wrinkle stretch-dress, while the other ladies tried to overdo each other with lots of shiny jewelry and expensive designer  dresses. So, it didn’t take long for other guests to start wondering about our lack of different outfits. Later we heard that our table guests at dinner, Ans and Rene, had been interrogated by other Dutch passengers about it. The answer that we had traveled the world and therefore did not have much clothes did not impress these people. Luckily there were nice people onboard as well, like Ans and Rene, first-time cruisers just like us, the two cute French sisters of 85 and 90 years old who we met at lunch, some youngsters from Brasil, Uruguay and Argentina that were great to party with, our crazy, talkative Chinese friend Ping, and a swiss couple, who had been traveling by bicycle in South America. Moreover, the personnel was super friendly as well and did not ask for a tip once.

Our view for 21 days Apparently, there was also some rivalry going on about who was the most experienced cruiser; couples would show up in their „Costa club to Spitsbergen”, or their „Mallorca”, or „Puketh” t-shirts. We almost felt we should have had a t-shirts from our motorbike trip as well, even though this would probably not count. The weird thing is that we experienced that the excursions to the city centres of the ports we stopped in were so short and rushed that you didn’t get a feeling for a place at all. There was no time to talk to locals, or stroll around leisurely outside the touristy areas. One English couple clearly demonstrated this effect by talking about a beautiful Boeddha statue they had seen on a previous cruise in “Malaysia, or was it in Thailand?” „Ah well somewhere in Asia”. We did enjoy the full seven days at sea, having a regime of breakfast-sunbathing-fitness-lunch-some kind of organized activity-dinner&coffee with Ans and Rene-theatre show-party-sleep. Especially as the sun did not stop shining, and the sea has been relatively calm during the entire trip.

First steps on European soil All in all, the cruise has been an interesting experiment, and although we would never book a cruise for our holidays, it was a nice way to return from South-America to Europe.  We didn’t have a jetlag, the temperature had slowly dropped from over 30 to below 20, and we had already had a taste of European culture and food again. Luckily, Savona, Italy was sunny, so our first steps on European soil were not too cold. However, we were a bit overwhelmed by the sense of purpose of the people walking around in the city centre, the cleanliness of it all, and the exorbitant prices displayed in the shops and restaurants. This also meant we could no longer use taxis, but had to take a bus instead, which resulted in us getting lost in the outskirts of the city, looking for our B&B for one night. Fortunately, friendliness can still be found in Europe as well, so some locals helped us out, and soon we were sipping coffee with our hospitable host. Just a few more days without our motorbikes: The next day we would take a Eurolines bus to Barcelona, where our bikes were hopefully waiting for us in the harbour. The last chapter of our trip!

Posted in Argentina, Countries, Europe, South America | 9 Comments

Passing time

Valparaiso in Chile, Mendoza, Cordoba in Argentina, Montevideo, Punta del Diablo, Colonia in Uruguay

Needles to say this journey has been an experience of a life time. We have had an absolute blast. Yet after a so many months, we had got somewhat tired with some aspects of traveling by motorcycle almost everyday. Pressurize the cooking stove and put the cooking pot on, pack the sleeping bags, deflate the air mattresses, break down the tent and stuff it in the dry bag, pack the clothes, get the cooking pot from the stove and prepare porridge and tea, eat breakfast while planing today’s route, wash and pack the cooking gear, fix everything to the bike, check the chain slack and tire pressure, put on your riding pants, sweatshirt, buff, jacket, earplugs, helmet, sunglasses, gloves, turning on the GPS, extracting the choke, turning the key, pressing the ignition button, and hoping the engine ticks over, ride all day and in the evening find ourselves a new affordable home. That all does become a bit of a chore. Then riding isn’t all fun either, when it is colder than 18 degrees, when it is windy, when it rains, when the road is boring, or the surface highly corrugated. So every once and a while we had jealously looked at those backpackers sitting inside these warm and cosy busses, being zipped seemingly effortlessly from one exciting place to another.

Thus after leaving the bikes, we were pretty exhilarated that we would now also be able to enjoy the perks of being a backpacker. Our first taste of bustransport would be the night-bus from Valparaiso across the border to Mendoza, a 10-hour ride. A distance that would have taken us at least two days by bike, plus queuing for a long time at the border. We bought the necessary foerage: A bottle of mineral water, some sandwiches, cookies and dulce de leche caramelos. The Chilean vehicles do not compare to transport in the rest of South-America. Instead of Bolivian chicken busses, Chile has super deluxe coaches with incredible leg space, even for tall Europeans. As soon as we were seated the steward came by to offer us something to drink and hand out the on-board warm meal. We also had a nice chat with our neighbour, who turned out to be an indigenous inhabitant of the Mendoza region in Argentina. After some cultural lectures, we simply enjoyed the view from our comfortable seats, watched a movie on the laptop, prepared our arrival and onward travels from Mendoza and had a small nap. Travelling had never been so easy!

Mendoza The border crossing had been a bit of a hassle; we all had to get out of the bus in the middle of the night, stand in line with our passports, and all of our luggage had to be scanned for highly dangerous fruits and vegetables and other illegal substances (when on a motorbike they never scanned any of our luggage). Apart from that, it had been a smooth ride and only 10 hours later we were already in Mendoza, over 400km from our starting point. Then the fun started. Of course there was no direct connection to Cordoba, the city of our interest, so we had to spend the day in Mendoza. A city we had already extensively visited and is not as exhilarating anyway. There was no luggage drop-off, so we dragged our bags around the city centre looking for a way to kill the hours. After two McDonald’s cheap coffee visits, a look at a temporary Picasso exhibit and a visit to our trusted moneychanger we could finally head back to the bus station. As taxis were way too expensive and the local bus system pretty confusing, walking was the best option. Sweaty and a bit irritated we made it to the bus-terminal, only to find out we had to wait for another half an hour before our bus would leave. Ah well, so backpacking has some minor disadvantages too. Surely, we would enjoy the landscape between Mendoza and Cordoba from our comfy bus seats.

Cordoba The steward shouting: „Cordoba, Cordoba” rudely awakened us from an afternoon nap. “What, we are already there? I just closed my eyes for a second!”. Surprised we gazed out of the window: “Terminal de buses Cordoba”, so without experiencing anything of the ride we had already reached our destination. Unwilling to leave our warm and comfy environment, we slowly gathered our belongings and prepared ourselves for another tiresome walk to the hostel. This backpacking already started to get to us, the whole concept of zipping yourself from guidebook highlight to guidebook highlight, without experiencing any of the surroundings, without the possibility to leave whenever you like, without the flexibility of your own transporting system, without ending up in unexpected places, where was the adventure?

Cordoba As Cordoba turned out to be just another city, we took up our guidebook to select another ‚hot’ destination. Since we still had quite some time to kill before our cruiseship would leave we decided to add another country to our list: Uruguay. And to add some adventure to our backpacking experience we decided to try hitchhiking, just like our  Argentinian fellow-backpackers. This turned out to be harder than we thought and after 2 hours of trying, a local advised us to check out the train: A cheap, but very slow alternative. That sounded interesting so we gave it a go, unfortunately the lady at the ticket window informed us that this train only runs once a week starting from April?! And as it was March, we had no choice, but to head back to the bus terminal..

Artigas in Montevideo We started in the biggest city of Uruguay: Montevideo, the capital, with a staggering 1.3 inhabitants, about one third of the countries total population. Apart from being a prosperous, aka expensive country, Uruguay has the name to be very tranquil as well. We found out even the capital had a real small-town feel to it: People were very polite, still greeting each other, helping each other by holding doors open or picking up dropped pencils etc. It almost felt surreal. The most funny thing was their extreme obsession with Yerba Mate, some sort of herbal tea that needs to be prepared and drunk in a special way. Almost every woman or man was carrying around a bag, containing a thermos (for the hot water), a mate cup made out of kalebas, a stainless steel straw (for drinking the tea without swallowing the tea leaves) and a big bag of Mate. And it was not just those people going for a leisurely walk, but also the business man on his way to work, the bus driver riding around, the garbage guy emptying the trash bins, etc.

Torres Garcia  After a two day’s walk around Montevideo, visiting the old town, the Torres Garcia (famous Uruguayan painter) museum, an old Spanish fortress, and the radio tower for some great views we felt we had seen it all and headed further North to Punta del Diablo. A town with 50 inhabitants, and famous for a good surf. Since end of season was kicking in, most hostels, rental homes, restaurants and bars were deserted. However, we still found a lively place at “Pueblo arriba”. And while there weren’t many tourists we did run into an old friend: Ginger the German, with whom we sailed from Panama to Colombia! Although our intention was to join the surf crowd, the weather wasn’t that inviting, so instead it became a week of contemplation about our approaching trip back home. Just one more week and we would be boarding Costa Favolosa!


Posted in Argentina, Chile, Countries, South America, Uruguay | 3 Comments

Back(packers) again!

Ushuaia, Rio Gallegos, Caleta Olivia, Puerto Madryn, Esquel, El Bolson, San Martin de los Andes, Pucon, Chillan, Valparaiso. 

Sharing the experience For months we had set our goals at reaching Ushuaia, the end of the world. When we initially drove into town we were thrilled to have reached this milestone. The same day we pushed ourselves to visit the true end of the road in national park Tierra del Fuego. The experience of reaching this remote „end of the road” sign was, however, somewhat thwarted by the scores of bus-tourists flocking around us, demanding snapshots of themselves next to these exotic motorcycle creatures. Back in Ushuaia my motto of the past months „Ushuaia ist nichts” became reality, it was nothing special, mainly rather cold. We got our passports stamped at the local postoffice, had a celebratory dinner and drinks at the Irish pub and set about planning our escape to the warm North. Led by Arun on his BMW 1150gs we raced a good 600km North in day, including two border crossings (Argentina-Chile, Chile-Argentina), a ferry and a good 150km of gravel. The following days were similar, lots of mileage, strong wind gusts, and crossing rheas and guanacos. The highlight of the day usually consisted of a hot cup of coffee at the YPF petrol station. Yet by now Arun and us seem to be rather resilient, we took the beating as it came without nagging.

Finally time to relax  Puerto Madryn is a good 2000km up from the end of the world and thus the weather was much more agreeable; a good place to regain some strength. The beach was lively and content with our achievement Arun and us sipped some non-alcoholic beverages at a rather fancy beach club. The nearby Isla Valdes is a famous nature reserve that boast colonies of both sea-lions and sea-elephants, Magellan penguins and of course countless rheas and guanacos. When the sea lions give birth to their pups, Orcas can be observed patrolling near the beaches. Unfortunately we visited, once again, not in the right season. For us the reserve did not really impress since the views bear a high resemblance to the pampas we had been crossing for the past month….hearing the sea-lions growl was nice though. From here, Arun headed directly for Buenos Aires while we went westwards to check out the Argentinian lake district.

El Bolson hiking After yet another two days of dead-boring pampas and back-breaking headwinds we reached El Bolson, the nature-hippy capital of Argentina. We did as the locals, parked our bikes and headed for the mountain trails. The hiking was excellent fun and the basic refugios seem to operate in harmony with their tranquil surroundings. Life here seems to move at a slower pace and before long we could easily entertain ourselves for hours just staring at a stream gently flowing through a bright green meadow. Our nature retreat lasted 4 days when low food stocks forced us to return to civilization. By now we had a good week left to return to Valparaiso where we would prepare the bikes for shipment. Our first stop after crossing into Chile again, was Pucon, the lakeside touristy town we had already enjoyed on our way southbound. In search for a place to stay we rolled onto the „Anohui” campsite. During inspection of the campsite we heard somebody shouting my name. Much to our surprise we recognized the ever grinning face of Silviu, the Rumanian motorcyclist we had met earlier in Mendoza… time for BBQ and Chilean wine! Later Michael, a German-Brazilian BMW rider joined in… time for a second BBQ and Chillean wine! Needles to say we had a blast. After this, I spend a good day fiddling with the speedo-meter of „Precious” and the carburation of „De uitvreter” only to find out later that I had only made things worse… ah well just 1500km left to Valparaiso. After a break in our favourite walk-in hospedaje in Chillan, we forced the bikes over the last remaining 400km of tarmac towards villa Kunterbunt.

There they go We had been looking forward to be back in Valparaiso, city of hills, panoramic views over the bay, colour-full houses and the even more colour-full home of Martina, Enzo, their son, daughter and their two dogs. We received a warm welcome and were happy to finally put the bikes (and ourselves) to rest for at least 6 weeks! Soon Villa Kunterbunt filled with other bikers from Austria, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, so we organized another BBQ this time accompanied by Chilean beers instead of wine. One night we also tried the local fish restaurant, where they served us an amazing pile of fresh seafood, accompanied by jack potatoes and a crispy salad. We were a bit apprehensive about the hygiene, but our tummies held up well. Paul and Enzo eventually managed to refit an existing crate to fit both bikes, so the next day we headed for the dry docks, dismantled the bikes, squeezed them in and nailed the box shut. Although Enzo got a bit stressed when time started to run out, most of the process went pretty smooth and the two bikes, four panniers and camping gear fitted in perfectly. Then the truth struck us: We were mere backpackers again!


Posted in Argentina, Chile, Countries | 2 Comments

To the end of the world

El Chaiten, La Junta, Coihayque, Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Chile Chico, Bajo Caracoles, El Calafate, Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, Rio Grande, Ushuaia

While Chile is about 18 times bigger than the Netherlands, the number of inhabitants is about the same. Most of the people live in the capital city of Santiago, meaning that the South of Chile is still mostly uninhabited. From North to South the landscape changes from dry, sparsely inhabited desert highlands, to the bustling capital area, to rolling hills filled with small villages, thick forests and lakes, to empty, flat, windswept Patagonia. South of the lake district there is only one connecting road: Carretera Austral. This mainly unpaved road stretches for 1240km, from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, connecting 100,000 people to the rest of the Chilean mainland. Since this part of the country is South of the Tropic of Capricorn, the weather can be very unpredictable and cold. This information, combined with the fact that 80% of the roads would be ripio (gravel) from now on, meant that a new chapter of our travels had started: No more sunshine touring, only perseverance would bring us to Ushuaia, the most Southern city in the world.

Loads of cyclists Since we crossed Isla Chiloe, we already skipped the first part of the Carretera Austral and would take off from El Chaiten. The ferry boarded at a small pier, just big enough for the cars and motorbikes to disembark. It was a beautifully, sunny day so after two home-made empanadas (savory pastries) and some coffee from our own stove we drove off into the wilderness. Giant rhubarb leaves were growing on each side of the road, high grey peaks were rising in the distance and around the first corner ice-blue water streamed underneath the bridge; this was indeed a spectacular road. However, it was not deserted at all, at least every half an hour we would meet fellow bikers (without engines) and unfortunately 4X4 were also omnipresent. The latter especially caused problems on the ripio as their wheels would steer up lots of dust and stones making it almost impossible to discern where the road was heading and where the potholes were. On the other hand, it was nice to chat up with some of the drivers, when we had to pass time, waiting for obstructing road works. After starting on tarmac, a tricky, slippery ascent and descend followed on ripio/tierra through Queulat National Park, with amazing views of fjords, glaciers and waterfalls. Unfortunately, the weather rapidly changed, so as soon as we hit tarmac again, rain set in and within minutes we were soaked. Shivering on our bikes we rode into Coihayque, where we found Yolanda’s guesthouse, a place that was remarkably similar to The Burrow (see Harry Potter): Crowded and rackety, but with a lovely, heat-emitting wood stove.

WAAAUUUWWW The rain had cleared the air and under a blue sky we headed for Puerto Rio Tranquilo at the shores of lake General Carrera. Nothing could have prepared us for this amazing sight: The water was as blue as blue can be, sharply contrasted by black giants with blinding-white snow on top. With big grins on our faces, and after uncountable foto-sessions, we entered the small town, where we saw two parked BMWs. Roberto and Gigi, from Italy, turned out to be excellent company, so we greatly enjoyed the traditional beers in the local Cerviceria. Since it is impossible to cross the border into Argentina from Villa O’Higgins (end of the Carretera Austral), we decided to head for the border town of Chile Chico, on the South-side of Lake General Carrera. A beautiful ride along the shores. Unfortunately, halfway the wind picked up, so we had to struggle through unpredictable gusts of wind while riding on gravel til Chile Chico, where we found a run-down campsite just in front of the border, where we could at least put up camp sheltered from the wind.

Ancient hands Crossing from Chile to Argentina is always easier than the other way around, because Chilean customs does more rigorous checks on ‚illegal’ fruits and vegetables than the Argentinian. So after four days on Carretera Austral, we easily crossed into Argentina and started following Ruta 40 again: Straight, windy roads through a completely desolate, dry landscape, horrible! The only entertainment was brought by a visit to a local cherry farm and the ancient Cueva de los Manos  (cave of hands), a huge graffiti in the cliffs of a steep canyon. While it was fascinating to see the negative images of hands of people that had lived here more than 2000 years ago, we both detested having to ride 30kms of bad ripio back and forth just for the visit. The next town, Baja Caracoles, was no more than a petrol station and a handful of shacks, yet the owner of the hotel still insisted on 35 Euros for a dodgy room. Dutchies as we are we decided to stealth camp instead, resisting the strong winds in our tiny polyester shelter.

Ushuaia!!!!! After another day of boring and cold riding, we reached El Calafate, famous for the Perito Moreno glacier. While we did treat ourselves to a warm dorm bed and heated cooking facilities, Paul insisted we would use the bikes to ride the 80kms to the glacier: COLD! The ride was, however, very rewarding, the glacier is famous for good reasons and we spent quite a while walking around on the boardwalks. Another highlight in this region is Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile, so after another border crossing we spent a night in this amazing park full of lakes, mountain peaks, guanaco’s and nandus (or rheas). Now that Ushuaia was getting closer and closer and the number of sights were running thin, we decided not to linger any longer and press on. After a night in cosy Puerto Natales, we found ourselves in Punta Arenas, where just the Strait of Magellan was separating us from the most southern province of Argentina: Tierra del Fuego. The next morning three bikers headed for the ferry: The two of us and Arun (British/Indian) on his BMW1150. After a beautiful cruise, with even some whale sights, we entered the barren land, named after the burning fires of the once present Indians. The three of us had a last stopover at Rio Grande, B&B Ruta 40, where Wyllie and Martina prepared an amazing warm welcome, including home-made pies, chicken and rice dinner, wine and ice-cream. Then finally, the last stretch of road, 250km of wind and cold, straight roads and a mountain pass, but there it was the entrance gate of Ushuaia!!



Posted in Argentina, Chile, Countries, South America | 2 Comments

Almost Europe

Chillan, Pucon, Ancud, Chile

Kuchen! Chile has a distinctly pan-European feel to it. The blueberry kuchen made in the german settlements are just as delicious as those produced back in the heimat. The cheese produce of certain areas are almost of Dutch quality and the water from the tap is drinkable again. The houses are constructed way better than in the rest of south-America, yet the level of detail is Belgian; not quite finished. The highways can rival with the German Autobahn, yet the secondary roads can be on par with some of the most challenging roads we encountered in Romania, way back at the beginning of our journey. All in all we feel that Chile provides a good setting to contemplate our inevitable return back to Europe and the Netherlands.

Siete Tazas A few days into the new year we left Valparaiso to explore southern Chile. After two days of riding we found ourselves in Siete Tazas (the seven cups) national park. This park is a favorite by the national tourists and since we were there on on a Saturday we found ourself amidst scores of Chileans, all enthusiastically taking pictures of their families statically posing in front of the waterfalls. The Chileans expressed a shared delight for all this natural splendor. We, in contrast, were struggling to fully appreciate the beauty of this site. Later that evening we made up our minds: After 18 months of traveling we were getting a bit tired and less able to fully appreciate our adventures, time to plan our return home. We identified two issues: First the flight tickets to Europe can be quite costly. Second, we feel that we need to ride our bikes over the land border into the Netherlands, but the European climate is not very kind to motorcyclist up to early April. A short internet search provided the perfect solution: On March the 21st we will board a cruise ship in Buenos Aires that will take us to Barcelona in a good 21 days. Underway we will briefly visit Rio de Janeiro, Tenerife and Madeira. And for all Dutch, budget-minded followers, here is the good news: All this luxury travel will only cost us a few hundred Euros more than a flight ticket :-).

Chillan Church Now that the end of tourney is planned, we knew the bikes needed only one last big service to cover the remaining 8000km. In Chillan we found a nice mechanic at MDR Motos to do some maintenance and realign the front wheels of both bikes. Accidentally we also discovered cracks in both luggage racks so we also paid a visit to the local welding shop. While waiting for the bikes to be ready we waisted our days on running, doing some shopping in preparation for the luxury cruise and sipping some of the famous Mote con Huesillo: A farmer’s favourite, made out of barley, sugar, dried apricot and ice. Not our favourite… For lodging we had found an excellent place: Sonia’s hospedaje. A hostel run by an old lady, who felt the house was too big for just herself, which resulted in a busy coming and going of local workers, backpackers, neighbours and a self-proclaimed very famous writer/philosopher. We never really found out who Sonia was of all the people walking in and out, but the old ladies took very good care of us, even treating us to an extra large breakfast the day we were leaving: „We would need it”.

Lake district During the 19th century many Germans settled in central Chile, an area commonly referred to as the Lake district. The german influence is still very much apparent in settlements such as Pucon. The town centre, though a bit touristy, still has a pleasant Schwarzwalder atmosphere. The architecture of many buildings is distinctly Bayern, many delicatessen shops sell excellent cheese, delicious Kuchen and the blueberries are sold by the kilo (1,5 Euro/kg!). Only the backdrop of the Villarrica vulcano reminded us that this is still South America. At the time of our visit the Ironman marathon was organized. This created a surreal spectacle: Top-fit athletes cheered on by crowds of generally grossly overweight Chileans. I guess this reminded us of our Newyear’s resolution and for the next couple of days we strictly adhered to our running schedule to counterbalance the ever-present temptations of the kuchen and cheese. In addition, we took to the mountains in the nearby national park Huerquehue. A good 800m climb brought us to the tres lagos (three lakes), breathtaking, literally!

Curanto Chiloe Island, just below the Lake district was our next planned stop. After a short ferry we drove the remaining 50km to the seaside town of Ancud. We planned to spend a few days exploring the island that is famous for its wooden churches. The nice lady at the campsite, however, informed us that the ferry connecting Quellon to South mainland Chile only sails once a week and would leave in two days at 4-5 o’clock in the morning. We re-evaluated our planning over a dinner in the restaurant overlooking the harbour. We ordered the local speciality „Curanto”, a mix of clams, bacon and pork sausage served with a strong broth and some rather tasteless potato pancakes, interesting, but certainly not worthy of a Michelin star. The ferry schedule meant that we had only one day to travel to the southern tip of the island while visiting some of these churches on the way…a busy schedule.

Patrimonial church We visited four of the sixteen patrimonial churches, which bore a close resemblance to wooden churches we saw in Romania. All were located along far-stretching gravel roads, but we made it just in time to the Naviera Austral office for printing our reserved tickets. After such an exhausting day, you would think we deserved a good nights sleep. Cheap Dutchies as we are, we did not feel like paying the high hostel prices for just 5 hours of sleep, as the boarding was at 4am in the morning, so we ended up making an improvised camp in the waiting room of the ferry terminal. A local worker showed up and we were afraid to be sent away, to the contrary the nice fellow just wanted to point out how the wood burner worked, in case we would get cold: Chilean hospitality! We woke up at 2.30am, but there was no sign of the ferry til 4am, and we could finally board at 5am. As soon as we hit our reserved seats we fell asleep, only to wake up five hours later at the terminal in El Chaiten. Next, we would finally behold the often raved about Carretera Austral, the only road in this distant part of Chile, once constructed under the Pinochet regime to reinforce the Chilean claim on this lake-filled, spectacular mountainous area.

Posted in Chile, Countries, South America | 6 Comments

Perfect strangers

Mendoza, Argentina, Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile

Perfect strangers from Romania and Switzerland A lot of travellers will tell you that the best part of their trip was the hospitality they experienced, offered to them by complete strangers. After a luxurious meal, a night full of drinks and laughter and a good rest you are left with a warm feeling and a ever growing trust in the goodness of humankind. Moreover, you are a little bit more enlightened about local culture, different world visions and alternative life-styles. On our way from The Netherlands to Nepal we met a lot of people from the communities we traveled through. However, traveling from Chicago southwards we mainly met a lot of other travelers, bikers, bicyclists and backpackers. While, in general, these people couldn’t inform us about local customs, they did have interesting views on lifestyle, helping us to shape our plans for the future.

Christmas dinner At the campsite in Mendoza, we organized our own asado (BBQ) together with Silvio and Krina from Romania. They had just started their trip and we could help them out with some travel hints and tips, while they inspired us with stories about their life and struggles in Romania. Since Christmas was approaching soon, we decided to stay at the campsite for this celebration. Our Swiss neighbours invited us to join them for a Christmas dinner and pretty soon we had a whole posse together: Argentinians, Spaniards, Swiss and us Dutchies. So in the summer heat we shared stories around a plastic garden table filled with BBQ pizzas, fresh salads, steaks, wine, Fernet (sort of Jagermeister) with Coca Cola and as a dessert we were treated to real Swiss chocolate: A perfect Christmas celebration. Cedric and Evelyne from Switzerland travel with their four children (between 4 and 10) for two years. They were tired of the stressful life at home and had decided they wanted to spent more time together, five months in the trip they weren’t regretting their choice. You only live once!

Paso de Libertadores After fourteen(!) days at the campsite, we finally managed to get our stuff packed again and we left for Santiago de Chile (385km). Paso Internacional de Libertadores is one of the most beautiful border passes between Argentina and Chile, but one of the most busy borders as well. On the way we we were treated to a thunderstorm, luckily the sky cleared soon, so we could skip the international tunnel, and take the old gravel road winding it’s way up up to 3832m. Here we encountered our second Cristo Redentor statue (Christ the Redeemer) since Eureke Springs, Arkansas. A reminder of the peaceful resolution of the Chilean-Argentinian border dispute in 1904. After a tricky descent, we joined the queue for the border: Four hours waiting in line to have our passports stamped, our temporary vehicle permits arranged and our luggage checked for highly illegal fruits and vegetables. Luckily there were enough people to talk to, even two other bikers (a couple from Brazil and one from Colombia/Russia). One guy even wanted to take our picture, which surprised us a bit, since we hadn’t had that since Central-America. Then another queuer solved the mystery by asking us if we were a race team from the Dakar (which would soon start from Mendoza); we didn’t know we looked so professional!

Santiago Santiago is a very clean and safe city, with wide lanes, lots of parks and a nice hotpotch of old baroque mansions and postmodern office buildings. It seems to be a mixture of American and European influences; lots of serious business people in fancy clothes, a manhattan grid, many Chilean flags, but at the same time they have wide sidewalks, pedestrian areas, people on bicycles and an excellent public transport system. We enjoyed wandering around, seeing one of Pablo Neruda’s (Nobel prize winning poet) houses, watching all sport activities in the park (e.g. slacklining) and visiting the arts museum. The sports activities had inspired us, so when we encountered a Skechers shop in the “largest shopping mall of South-America”, we decided to treat ourselves to some new running gear. Now that we were “back in civilization” again we could finally pick up on our cardio training, which we had departed from ever since Iran (as running with a headscarf on is not as comfortable as it may seem). Back at the hostel we enjoyed the swimming pool, and the international company: Americans, Australians (on motorbikes), Israeli, French, and even some Dutch!

2014 has begun! We didn’t really have plans for Newyear’s eve, but we knew that Valparaiso is one of the best places in Chile to celebrate this event. Another reason to go here was Villa Kunterbunt; a German/Chilean owned bikers hostel from where they organize bike transport to Europe. We would like to get some more info about prices and dates for shipment and since it wasn’t too far from Santiago, we put on our riding gear and enjoyed the excellent highway to the coastal port town. Valparaiso consists of several small hills (cerros) connected with each other through the central boulevard and steep escalators. While it is still a bit of a rough port town, including lots of graffiti, it is perfect to wander around, admiring the colour-full houses in Adam’s family-style and the beautiful views over the moon-shaped bay. Cerro Playa Ancha, where Villa Kunterbunt is located, has a lively atmosphere with lots of small specialized shops, where you can buy great wines, cheeses, fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, and even the ingredients for Dutch ‘oliebollen’! Three Germans had arrived in the hostel as well, who were about to start their three month motorbike trip around Chile and Argentina, great company for Newyear’s eve. December 31st we enjoyed a dinner of pasta salad, fresh bread rolls and German sausage with the five of us. At 23.30 we headed out to join the crowds to see the 20 million-worth firework show all around the bay. „Chi, Chi, Chi, Lee, Lee, Lee, Chile”, the locals were shouting. As the clock stroke twelve, the 30-minute show started and pretty soon the whole sky was filled with twinkling lights and loud bangs that seemed to be fired from all around the bay, a beautiful sight! Everybody was wishing each other, including us, weird gringos, „Feliz ano” and champaign and beers were shared in the streets. We enjoyed the live stage show in the center, after which we ended up in a local pub, where the owner and his wife entertained us with stories about Valparaiso. Around 4 we stumbled into our beds again. Our Newyear’s resolutions for 2014? The past year has been excellent, so I don’t think we need any :-). Best wishes for everyone, may make your dreams come true!

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Countries, South America | 5 Comments

W(h)ining and dining

San Pedro de Atacama, Socaire, Cachi, Cafayate, St Florentina, Mendoza, Chile/Argentina

There is a little secret that we have been keeping from you ever since we entered Central-America. It is a small thing that for us actually already started to feel like a habit. Only now that we are in Chile, and a sign indicated that we could change our habit again, we realized that what we were doing wasn’t ‘normal’. Due to small sewage pipes in many of the poorer countries we have visited it is not allowed to flush your used toilet paper down the drain, so instead we had to dispose of them by throwing them in a nasty-smelling/looking waste bin, which indeed looks like you are now imagining…. What a heavenly relief to be allowed again to flush it all!

San Pedro de Atacama Crossing the border with Chile felt like being warped back into civilization in other ways as well; the streets were paved again, the officials at immigration spoke English, and restaurants looked hygienic and were selling things like pizza and salmon, instead of pollo con arroz or sopa. Also the temperature was a bit more bearable, the strong winds were gone, and the sun radiated a little less brightly, due to a descent of almost 2000m from the Bolivian Altiplano to San Pedro de Atacama. A good climate and ambience to restore our strength. In the local farmacia, I found something to nurture the pealing skin on my sun-burnt legs. At the local petrol station, we could use the hose to remove the dust from our bikes, the air pressure gun to clean our air filters, and we found a handyman who was willing to weld my broken side stand, Perfect, all chores done! In the evening we celebrated a bit; red wine, pizza with tasty olive oil and Dutch ‘Tijgernootjes’ we had kept since Ecuador. It almost felt like we were back in Europe again.

Paso de Sico After a few relaxing days in touristy San Pedro, we, however, realized not everything was like in Europe. We decided to cross to Argentina by Paso de Sico, supposedly a beautiful, gravel road through the Andes passing flamingo-filled salt lakes, colourfull rock-walls and views of snowcapped volcanos. This road would lead up to the Viaducto de la Polvorilla, a so-called engineering masterpiece of South-America, not to be missed, right?! So we left early, with enough food and water to camp twice, just in case. After the altiplano we were a bit hesitant about riding gravel again, but the first few kilometers were easy, after that it was a bit more work, but fortunately it never got as bad as in Bolivia. After a night of wild camping under a beautiful, starry sky we rode the last kilometers to the border. Soon we saw the sign ‘Bienvenidos a Argentina’: Great, but where was the Chilean border control?? Another 11km down the road the Argentinian border officials enlightened us: “You need an exit stamp from the office in San Pedro de Atacama, without it we cannot let you go through”. WHAT?! The Chilean immigration is 250kms back?! That is like a border official in Maastricht (most Southern city of the Netherlands) telling you they cannot let you exit without a stamp from their office in Groningen (most Northern city of the Netherlands)…. Unfortunately, we could not persuade the uniformed muchachos, so reluctantly we turned our bikes around and terribly disappointed we headed back to San Pedro.

Viaducto de Polvarillo A few days later than planned we finally arrived at the ‘marvellous’ Viaducto de la Polvorilla, via the paved, but boring Paso de Jama (4200m). The train-viaduct was not really worth the visit, but Ruta 40 (Argentina’s Route 66) from here to Cachi was spectacular; a single lane, gravel pass of 4895m, stream crossings, red rocks in all kind of shapes, cacti, and later vineyards all along a completely desolate road. After a few nights of wild camping, we ended up at the nice municipality camping of Cachi; time for a hot shower, some local wine and ‘Pepernoten’ as it was December 5th (Sinterklaas). For the first time during our trip we met fellow campers and we were introduced to asado (Argentinian BBQ), the favorite activity of every Argentinian camper (breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack). At the camping in Cafayate, a little further along the ‘Ruta del vino’, we learned about padel, a weird mix of tennis and squash. The local padel-club had a 2-day tournament, of course combined with lots of beer and an asado, of which we got a bite as well, hmmm. A 1,000 boring kms further South along Ruta 40 we ended up in the wine capital of Mendoza. Here we found a lovely campsite with lots of trees and a swimming pool, a great luxury at temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius.   Time for some bike maintenance (new rear wheel bearings, some repairs), some rest and some social interaction with other European and Argentinian travelers.

Posted in Chile, Countries, South America | 8 Comments

Highs and lows

Uyuni, Nacional Reserva de Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Supervision Uyuni is a dusty, wilderness-frontier town where nothing has happened, happens or will ever happen. Little reason to visit, yet flocks of motorcyclists, cyclists and regular backpackers converge in this dull town. Obediently we joined the crowds since we also wanted to see the famous salt lake with our own eyes. At the hostel we encountered a suspiciously high number of French speaking cyclists. Julien from Swiss had just ridden the difficult route from Chile up to Uyuni. As it turned out he was a professional mechanic and together we made some modifications of the carborator to prepare my bike for the difficult gravel/sand roads at 4000-5000m altitude. He also invited us for some genuine Swiss raclette when we will arrive back in Europe, sounds like an excellent plan…

Our camp Fully restocked and prepared we first headed north to camp on the Salar de Uyuni. With nothing but emptiness surrounding us we pitched our tent using the bikes as protection against the sweeping winds. The sunset felt like a spectacular show just for the two of us and the night-sky was dazzling with bright stars and constellations… speechless. Next, it was time to head south to the tourist hotspot of Reserva Eduardo Avaroa. We had quite some difficulty in getting fuel; some gas stations were not selling to foreigners, at some the fuel pumps had broken down and the last station we visited was only willing to sell us fuel for a special, hugely inflated price.

Still smiling...first bike Heading south, past San Cristobal the roads deteriorated fast until finally we hit upon a waist deep water crossing. Unwilling to wade through this deep stream we took the chance to cross the nearby, wobbly pedestrian bridge. We succesfully pushed/rode the first bike over the stream without any issues, but when I drove Marlieke’s bike over the narrow bridge I hit a perturbing rock and accidentally steered the front wheel off the bridge into the stream. I fell into the water as well, but somewhat miraculously the rear end of the bike was still on the bridge. It took a good 10 minutes and all the strength we could muster to get the bike back on dry land again. We huffed and puffed on the riverbank, was this a bad omen for the next 400km?

Marlieke's crash imprint The road got worse and worse, crisscross tracks created by speeding 4×4 cars, heavy corrugation, well hidden lose sand pits and gravel ridges up to 30 cm high. At a certain moment the surface seemed to improve slightly and we accelerated up to 50kph. All went well until all of a sudden I saw a big dust cloud in my rear mirror. I turned my bike around and rode back as fast as I could. “Are you allright!!!”; I shouted to the silhouette that arose silently from the dust cloud. “I hate this road!” Marlieke replied angrily “Yes I am ok”. In contrast, Marlieke’s bike had taken quite an impact; the left-pannier was ripped off, the side stand was almost broken off and the engine was not starting anymore. We took camp nearby between some big boulders and we got the bike starting again. The next morning we bended the pannier rack back into shape using the biggest rocks we could find and refitted the pannier. Overnight Marlieke had developed some pain in her wrist, nothing serious, but the warning was clear: We should ride more carefully the next 300km.

Highest camp ever The horrible road conditions reached its lowest point north of Laguna Colorado in the direction of Arbol Del Piedra. We struggled to keep the motorcycles upright and frustrated by the slow progress I had a bit of a episode. „Why on earth are were doing this?” I shouted angrily to Marlieke as if she was to blame for our predicament. After a bit of a fight we decided to finish the last few miles North to the famous rock formation, but we agreed we would not make any other unnecessary excursions anymore, but would head straight South towards the Chilean border. Later that day we visited the highest aduana in world at 5050m, well-hidden in some sort of mining complex a good 70km before the border. We set up camp a few meters from the Sol de la Manana geyser together with Joris, a French cyclist. The wind was howling around our heads with incredible furry while we tried to put up our tents behind a small stone wall. Eventually the wind died later that evening, but it still was the highest (4860m) and coldest camp I have every experienced.

Soaking Next morning we drove down the mountain towards the nearby hot springs. We soaked for hours while observing the countless tour-jeeps delivering their customers for a quick dip in the pools. Luckily for us these packaged adventure itineraries do not allow for prolonged breaks, so most tourist already left after a mere 30 minutes. Later Joris also arrived at the pools and immediately set about on doing his laundry in the pool amid some rather worried looking 4×4 tourists. After eating a free lunch, left over by the 4×4 crews, we jumped on the bikes an rode the last few miles to a campamiento just before the Chilean border. Later that day Marlieke experienced the downside of all this high altitude relaxation; her legs developed a reddish (almost purple) complexion… somebody had neglected to apply ample amounts of sunscreen. Painfull! Just like our cracked lips, due to the altitude, the relentless wind and sun. We were looking forward to leaving the heights of the altiplano, back to ‚normal’ weather again.

Posted in Bolivia, Countries, South America | 6 Comments