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Old 04-01-2013, 09:43 PM   #46
Saralou
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Yes we are going all the way, but we will be in Ushuaia next December. We will be home working for the summer.

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Old 04-02-2013, 01:16 PM   #47
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Columbian KTM riding club

Vasile has met some KTM riders in Medellin and they promised him to take him onto some really nice rough roads. So while I was chilling in Medellin, Vasile went for a ride with his new friends. The ride report below is edited by him.


I was bleeding my rear brake just outside of Shamrock Irish Pub when Frederico, the owner of KTM dealership, showed up. We started talking about KTMs, obviously, and he recommended me some off-road rides around Medellin. He was busy for the week-end, so he called a friend of his, Carlos Alejandro, to take me for a tour.

The next day at 8:30 I met Carlos Alejandro outside with his KTM 990 Adventure and we went to a gas station to fuel up and here we met Felix with his KTM 950 Super Enduro (both their bikes were very clean and in show room condition).

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We started the ride south though winding roads, passing everyone again and having too much fun.

After 30 minutes' ride we stopped for breakfast and I asked Felix if he likes his motorcycle. He answered "Yes" but didn't seem to be very convinced. Then he pulled up his shirt and he showed me his KTM 950 SE tattoo on his chest. I guess if people are not as excited as me that doesn't mean they don't love something.

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Shortly after breakfast we hit the gravel road descending into a canyon, through the canyon and then up on the mountains.

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On top of the mountain we got to Montebello. This is a very beautiful village with incredibly friendly people and as it was Sunday everybody was outside on the main street. We parked our bikes and next thing we knew a group of friendly people surrounded us. They offered us drinks, we chatted and we took pictures together.IMG_3505 IMG_3512 IMG_3514 IMG_3516 IMG_3517 IMG_3519 IMG_3523 IMG_3524

We were riding through pristine landscapes with a big smile on my face when I noticed that my front tire was acting funny. I stopped my bike and realized that once again I had a flat tire. I was working on my tire and I was pleasantly surprised to see everyone who was passing by, including kids, stopping and offering to help.

I took the tube out, found two holes in it, fixed them and when I put it back in I pinched it again. So I had to take it out again and fix it. The whole process took about 40-50 minutes.

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At the end of the ride the guys took me to a restaurant where we had some local empanadas and arepas, which were delicious.

Ever since we came off the boat I had a good feeling about Columbia, but this day was something that I will never forget. I love this country and its people. Thank you so much Carlos and Felix for a great ride and great company!
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Old 04-02-2013, 01:27 PM   #48
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So long mi Colombia querida

The highlights/ events of the ride from Medellin to the border with Ecuador, ride done in 3 days:
1. Said goodby to Al *and Frank at Shamrock and off we go.
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2. Accident on the road. Luckily on bikes we managed to squeeze by, so we didn’t lose much time.

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3. Got stopped by police for speeding. I cannot believe they stopped us....only now! Showed papers, apologized, asked for forgiveness and...forgiven! For the first time when I am stopped by police and I don’t get a ticket! In Canada I got a ticket at my very first offence. All people I know got away with a warning the first time, but not me. It felt so good to get away with it here! Even police is nice here. But it did make us watch our speed ...at least at times. The first country where we saw lots of radars.

4. Accident on the road again. Truck rolled over, off the road. Since the road was not blocked, we did not stop so no pictures taken.

5. Oil spill on the road from a big commercial truck. Thank God we saw it in time, so no disaster happened.

6. Epic ride through the hills with coffee trees.

7. Stop at the hot springs in Santa Rosalia. Beautiful place with a nice waterfall. Unfortunately no pictures taken, as we did not bring with us camera in the pools

8. Ride to the beautiful town of*Salento. Good lunch with “arepa de todo”.

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9. One of the most picturesque rides so far to Valle de Cocora. Very expensive place though (prices comparable to Canadian touristic places) so we did not stay overnight.

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10. Third accident in two days: truck transporting oranges lost control in a turn and rolled over. Good oranges though Once we found out the driver was ok, we could have some.

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Statistics say that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Central and South America. And no wonder, they drive like maniacs.

One more time we are lucky we are on bikes. Vasile manages to find a very narrow space between the rolled over truck on the right and a big drop on the left and he squeezes the bikes through.

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Meanwhile I stuffed my face with oranges (just like everyone else waiting there). Literally (I had orange jus all the way to my ears). And not to be mean, but we enjoyed the ride on the twisties even more after that – no traffic for a while.*Crossing through two tunnels with no lights whatsoever. Peach dark.

11. Just wondering: how does a truck with five trailers take a 90 degree turn? I don't want to know. We had to overtake it quickly, as it was kind of going in zig-zag.

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11. Beautiful ride on nice twisty road through the Andes. I let you be the judges.

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The only downside, Columbian roads are not too great. Paved, but more bumpy than a gravel road. But the scenery was so magnificent that we did not care about the road too much.

12. Woke up in the morning to find a huge spider in the middle of our hotel room. No heart attack yet. If I survived this, I'll survive anything.

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13. Ride to the border with Ecuador in cold, very busy traffic and pristine landscapes.

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Border crossing ok, despite the warnings of the Foreign Affairs' site to avoid land border crossing at all costs. No landmines, no guerillas and no armed groups so far.

Adios mi Columbia querida! We will miss you.
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Old 04-02-2013, 05:53 PM   #49
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Middle of the world

Here we are in Ecuador, middle of the world. The landscape is somewhat different, but beautiful, and the roads are incredibly good. Lots of highways with two, three or four lanes on one direction, and very smooth asphalt. And they are working on building more roads everywhere.

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One thing we noticed in Ecuador, there are lots of Dacia cars. For my non Romanian readers, Dacia is the Romanian auto make, bought about 13 years ago by Renault. This is one of the old Dacia cars, that we grew up with

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To our joy in the beginning, in Ecuador is not hot. It’s mostly rainy, foggy (and the thick fog lasts for hours) or overcast.

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Somewhere close to Quito, the capital, there is a place called Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the world), where the equator line is. We cannot believe we are actually here! We enter for the first time in the southern hemisphere!

IMG_3809 IMG_3811 IMG_3814 IMG_3817The average altitude we are riding at is 3000 m, but we reached many times 3500, so the bikes (and us) are getting lazier from the lack of oxygen. The highest we've got to so far was 3651 m altitude, on the Cotopaxi volcano, but we will *probably soon reach 4000m and over.

The Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest summit in the country, reaching 5897 m (19347 ft) and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at about 5000 m. There are several way to go up to the volcano, which we didn't know, so we took El Pedregal to ride up. It was 17 km of challenging riding, 11 km of causeway and 6 km of gravel. The causeway was very uneven and bumpy and the road very steep. I would have never thought that I would be so happy to hit gravel, but I was on the last 6 km, since it was so much better!

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At the entrance in the National Park they would not let us go on bikes. You can go in a car, but not on a bike. Apparently the reason is that many bikers don't stick to the road, and they damage the flora. In vain we tried to explain that our bikes are heavy, and with all the luggage on them we won't go off the road, but these are norms of the park, so we had to abide. We were quite disappointed, since we were really hoping to go all the way up, to the end of the road. But maybe it's better this way, as even at 3651 m we were feeling a bit light-headed, so I can only imagine how it feels higher up without acclimatizing.

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Before we headed back it started raining, and a couple of minutes later it was hailing, which made our descent quite interesting But we made it back without getting too wet, and the sun came out soon again. Ecuador weather is so unpredictable!
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Old 04-02-2013, 06:02 PM   #50
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Adrenaline junkies

From the beginning of this trip I kept saying that this trip is not about riding. It's about exploring, meeting people and getting to know new cultures. The fact that we were doing it on bikes was just a bonus. But riding almost every day across Central and South America made me realize there couldn't be better riding than this! As we ride mostly through the mountains, the road twists beautifully between palm trees, coffee tree hills, high grass, rocks, under the sun or through the misty rain. It's a fairy tale!

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And to top it off, yesterday we had one of the craziest and most challenging rides. We stopped for the night in Azogues, a wonderful town in the mountains, about 30 km before Cuenca. We saw on the top of a peak there a big statue,*so we figured we should go and check it out. We started climbing the steep cobblestone streets with sharp turns, watching the beautiful houses on both sides. It seems like some wealthy people are living there. Then we continued a bit on a gravel road till the foot of the mountain, until the road narrowed a lot. We weren't sure if it was possible to go on bikes all the way up. We asked some local people, and they confirmed for us that it was possible. Looking up, the road looked to me more like a trail, very steep with 180 degree turns.

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As you know how much I love gravel lately, I didn't feel like going on my bike all the way. One of the local ladies offered to keep my bike on the patio of her house, so two up we kept going. Boy, was I ever happy I didn't go on my bike! That was a ride with no mistakes allowed. The road was very narrow, a car could barely fit, very steep up and very sharp turns on gravel. At some point there were cars coming down, so we had to go into the ditch almost one meter deep to make room for them. On the side of the mountain I was feeling safe, but I was afraid to look to the other side. I couldn't even see how deep the drop was. We got to a little "parking lot" from where only access to pedestrians was allowed. But the guy there made us sign that we could go by the gate and keep going. You can imagine, we were the only motorized people on that trail; 'cause at this point that was not a road anymore, it was literally a trail, where lots of families with kids were going up and down. I cannot explain to you how my heart was racing and how high my pulse was. I cannot believe we actually made it there! I almost wanted to walk back down And here we are at the top, and the view we have from here.

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Despite my adrenaline, and probably his as well, you can picture the smile on Vasile's face, since this is his kind of ride: "You've got to be kidding me!!!"

Here is a short video with the ride

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpyD6...ature=youtu.be

So far in this trip I think this ride gave me the most adrenaline. Oh, this and the shower in one of the hotels we stayed at here in Ecuador.

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I was afraid to raise my hands above my head to wash my hair. A few drops of water on those electric wires manually connected to our shower would have spelled disaster....or hair perm. This is the closest I got to death in this trip

But the fun continues. From Azogues we took a side road with some beautiful villages. Ecuadorians take pride in their houses. There were some beautiful big houses along the way. This reminded me of the Transylvanian villages, especially those in the counties of Bistrita-Nasaud and Maramures. Actually the whole landscape looked so much like Romanian landscape in the countryside, just that at 2500 m higher.

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We got to see the*Ingapirca ruins as well. I loved the quiet feel, the fact that they were just there, some of them on the side of the road, and it was not made too touristy yet.

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Ecuadorians seem to be very agriculture and farm oriented. There are sheep, horses, caws and cornfields everywhere.

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And their dedication to farming is reflected in the delicious food as well.

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We look around with big eyes like two kids. We're loving it every day more. We're loving "el dolce far' niente", the days with no schedules, no plans, just stopping wherever we like it and discovering things and places spontaneously.

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Old 04-02-2013, 06:11 PM   #51
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Last days in beautiful Ecuador

We stayed for the night in Loja, with the idea of riding to the border the next day, and crossing to Peru. Loja is a beautiful town, the cultural capital of Ecuador.
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But the next day Vasile did some maintenance on the bikes, so we ended up leaving around 5 pm. And on top of that the road from the city to the Panamerican Hwy was a gravel road, so it was going a bit slower. But the landscape was worth it.

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After about 15 km of gravel we're getting close to the highway.

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Soon after we hit the fog again.

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The fog got so dense, it felt almost like rain. In 20 minutes my gear got soaked. We were riding very slowly, as we could not see anything ahead. And in this places there is no point on waiting for the fog to go away, since it's foggy almost all the time, especially in the afternoon. And at some point I think Nature thought we were bored and we were not having enough fun, so it decided to help us a bit. The pavement ended, and we hit mud for about 8-10 km. They were actually working on fixing the highway I guess, and in the meantime there was mud. I would assume when it's dry it's not bad at all, as it was very smooth, but with all the humidity is was pretty slippery. And then, not that it mattered, since we couldn't see a thing anyway, it got dark too.

And all this mud, fog and dark took the toll on some drivers. We saw another commercial truck rolled over into the ditch. And we almost saw a bus full of people rolling over right in front of us. That was so scary, as one of the rear wheels was off the road at some point. I have to admit the bus was going quite fast for those conditions. I definitely wouldn't have felt comfortable if I was in that bus. We were so happy when we caught up with that bus, at least we could see something in front of us, and we were trying to keep up with it, so we don't lose it.

And here we are, finally arriving in Catacocha, a bigger town where we have chances to find a hote, if we can see it. With the help of locals, we find it.

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There was something about this place that reminded me about Christmas when I was little. I don't know if it was the misty fog, the cold in the air, the church in the middle of the plaza and the lights or all together, but I had a warm fuzzy feeling when I got there, despite the low temperatures.

And here is how this place looks like in the sunlight.

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There were tons of these big beautiful butterflies flying around and resting on the church's walls.

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The next day we decided to leave early, before the fog comes down again. With the bikes full of mud, we were ready for a new ride.

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We crossed the border through Macara. The border crossing was very mellow. There was no one in front of us, but it still took a couple of hours to enter Peru. At least there were no fees, except the $35 USD per bike for insurance. But in exchange, while waiting for our papers to be processed, we could not help not noticing the bribes going around. All the locals were paying bribes (I guess to get their paperwork done faster, or to get away with some things). It looked like the only job of the border officers at the gate was to collect money, nothing else. Every single local car, truck crossing the gate was handing money, that interestingly was getting lost in the officer's pocket (I guess he was just keeping it for the day ). I was watching smiling and it didn't look like they were feeling uncomfortable in any way. This was the first contact with Peru. Details to follow.


 
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Old 04-02-2013, 06:26 PM   #52
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New landscapes in Peru

The first image of Peru was very disappointing to us, after the green beautiful Ecuador. From the border south on the coast it's all desert, nothing really to see, just very poor villages and a whole lot of garbage everywhere. And it's not even the poor people to blame, since there is no one to pick up their garbage at the door, as we have in the developed countries, so they just dump it wherever, and from there the wind takes charge of it.

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Another thing we noticed, all the domestic animals walk loose on the side of the highway, and they cross it as they please, so we have to be very careful. You can see anytime a dog, goat, chicken or even pig crossing the highway at leisure.

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So as we finished with the border crossing around 1:30 pm, we decided to keep going. Well, we didn't have much of a choice anyway, since most villages/ towns did not have hotels. We arrived in Chiclayo around 9:30 pm, very tired after a few hours of ride in the dark and once there Vasile noticed that his fork was leaking, so he had to fix it right away. Around midnight we were walking around to find a place to eat.

They do not have a lot of cars in Peru, but they have lots of these little moto-carts

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The next day we washed the bikes (they so deserved it after all that mud) and here they are all shiny. My bike didn't look this clean since I left Vancouver.

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The next stop was in Huanchaco, a little town on the beach close to Trujillo. Here we met again with our riding friend Chris and his girlfriend, Stephanie. It looks like we will be riding together for a while, so we started with an evening with lots of fun and laughter.

As we went south, it started to look every day better. Chris suggested we do Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon), a beautiful road along Rio Santa, in north-central Peru. We are glad we did it, the ride was spectacular!

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And here is where we camped for the night, in the middle of the canyon. It was the most amazing campsite we have ever camped in. We made a protective wall out of our bikes, since it was very windy and all was good.

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The next day we continued our amazing journey through the canyon.

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In some places the road was so high that I was getting dizzy, I could not look to a side anymore.

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There were lots of man-made tunnels on the road, some shorter, some quite long and as you can imagine with no lights whatsoever. The tunnels were narrow and the traffic was both ways, so in case the traffic meets in the tunnel, it gets quite challenging, someone has to back off.

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We passed by an old abandoned mine.

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The people in Peru are more than amazing. You don't even have the time to say that you need something and they all jump to help with anything. And you can tell they help with all their hearts. Here's a picture with some beautiful people in one of the villages we passed by.

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As we were riding up we stopped to drink some water and an old guy came to offer us fresh mangoes. Then he invited us to his house to have some more and to eat if we were hungry. So we made a short stop, we ate mangoes straight from the trees and we saw all kinds of different trees and fruit that they have here.

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Apparently the guinea pig is the biggest delicacy in Peru. We were offered, but we politely declined

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The canyon ended in Caraz, a little town in the mountain. We decided to go to Paron Lake, the largest lake in Cordillera Blanca, at 4185 m altitude. As I was feeling tired and we did not know how the road was going to be, we left my bike in town (we found a nice old man who let us put it in his backyard for 2 soles) and we went two up. And I was so glad we did this, since the road was about 32 km of gravel and very loose gravel going steep up, close to the glacier. At some point the road was closed by a gate, and there was no one to open for us. Later on we found out that you cannot enter a national park in Peru after 3 pm. So the guys had to squeeze the bikes by the gate, on a very narrow edge by the ravine.

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As I only had the mesh protection, I was freezing by the time we got to the lake. But it was so much worth it. The lake and the glaciers lookes beautiful in the evening light.

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Up there we were greeted by two local people who were working at the water station. They made us feel more than welcome; they invited us into their modest shelter and we shared some glasses of wine (except me, I was afraid that this would interfere with my acclimatizing), some veggie sandwiches and a good laugh. Despite the rides at over 3000 m that we've done in Ecuador, up and down, since we never slept at high altitude, we were all feeling dizzy when we got there, but by the time we went to bed I was having a headache already. Over night it just got worse, and I could not sleep at all. Vasile suggested to start descending, but I did not want to overreact, I thought it would go away. Plus, I wasn't feeling comfortable with us descending in the middle of the night, just the two of us, on that steep loose gravel*road. I was especially concerned about the gate passing, since it was quite difficult even in the daylight. But when I started to feel nauseous, I finally realized that there was no time to waste anymore, and we started packing up the tent and started the descent. It was around 4 am at this time.

The ride went pretty smooth down to the gate, but at the gate it became more challenging. Past the gate, on the other side, there was a big rock, which was making the passage almost impossible. Vasile struggled to go around it, but the bike fell and caught both his legs underneath. As bad as this sounds, I was glad that it didn't go the other way, which would have meant they would have been both, Vasile and the bike, in the ravine. I was trying to help, but I couldn't have done much even in regular conditions, let alone now light-headed from the lack of oxygen. Vasile managed eventually to free one leg, and to push up the bike. Luckily he got away with some bruises only.

The plan was to get under 2500 m altitude and find another place to camp. But there was no decent place to camp further down, so we ended up in the city. Of course all hotels were closed at that time, so we were incredibly happy when we found one open, and they had rooms as well. To say that the rooms were basic is too much said, but we were happy that we could rest. We fell asleep for a couple of hours and we woke up in the banging and squeaking of some workers who were renovating the interior patio of the hotel.

Later on that day Chris and Stephanie managed to track us down (they stayed until the morning up at the lake). It's funny, out of the four of us I was the only one who didn't drink, and the only one to get altitude sickness. I guess the secret is to have some booze

As Vasile and I were really tired and didn't sleep much we decided to stay there for the night while they were going to camp by another lake in the area. We got together again the next day to continue our awesome journey south.

 
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Old 04-02-2013, 06:41 PM   #53
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From the sand dunes to the high mountains

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

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

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There was actually a village up there, at over 4000 m, by a nice lake.

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And of course we see more accidents on the road.

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And this is how you fix it here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Later that day we took a tour in a buggy on the sand dunes. This was incredible fun. We stopped to do sand boarding, which was a totally interesting experience.

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

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We watched the sunset.

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

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

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

The tree

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The hands

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

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

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

IMG_4788 IMG_4798

Morning coffee after a cold night with little sleep.

IMG_4803

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

IMG_4824IMG_4852

The highest altitude for the day was 4466 m.

IMG_4861

Many washouts on the way.

IMG_4953 IMG_4955

And now looking for a campsite.

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

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

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

IMG_4999

Life is good.
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Old 04-02-2013, 07:03 PM   #54
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One of the Seven Wonders of the World

We got to beautiful historical Cuzco, with its narrow one way cobblestone streets. The riding through this city was a nightmare though, we were always finding ourselves on the wrong way

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

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We decided not to take the tour to Machu Picchu, since it was $250 USD per person, but to ride the bikes there instead. We were told that the road is very bad (turned out not to be entirely true), so we decided to leave my bike in Cusco and to ride two up. This way we also didn't have to worry about putting two bikes in a safe place while going up to Machu Picchu. So the plan was to ride to Santa Teresa, leave the bikes there (the only place where we could leave the bikes in a safe place), then take a bus from there to the Hydroelectric Plant, and then take the train or walk for 12 km to Aguas Calientes.

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

IMG_5087 IMG_5096 IMG_5109 IMG_5115 IMG_5119 IMG_5129 IMG_5133 IMG_5167

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

IMG_5179 IMG_5182 IMG_5196 IMG_5198

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

IMG_5187

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

IMG_5203 IMG_5221 IMG_5224 IMG_5232

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

IMG_5239 IMG_5241 IMG_5235 IMG_5398 IMG_5400 IMG_5409 IMG_5413
This is a cute little girl who started playing with Vasile. She went in 30 seconds from smiling at him to jumping on his lap and playing with him. I love Peruvian kids, they're so cute!

IMG_5386 IMG_5405

Once in Aguas Calientes we went right away to buy the tickets for Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (also known as Wayna Picchu), and the guy tells us that there are no more tickets for the next day for Huayna Picchu (they only allow 400 people a day, in two groups). The only ones available were three days later. But he managed to find two more tickets for us eventually.
The tickets for Huayna Picchu were for 7 am. So as we had to hike to Machu Picchu first and we had to be there at 6 am, we decided to wake up at 4:30 am, so we have enough time to get ready and to do the 15-20 minutes walk to the gates, before they open at 5.

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

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

IMG_5245 IMG_5246

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

IMG_5251 IMG_5286 IMG_5287 IMG_5289 IMG_5295 IMG_5298 IMG_5303 IMG_5306 IMG_5310 IMG_5314

View of Machu Picchu from Huayna PicchuIMG_5321 IMG_5325 IMG_5331 IMG_5340

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

IMG_5354 IMG_5362 IMG_5368

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

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

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

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

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Old 04-02-2013, 07:20 PM   #55
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Last days in Peru

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

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

IMG_20130202_104410

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The boat they call "Mercedes Ben(z)" as it is their luxury boat:)
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I don't think Vasile could live in one of their houses, he wouldn't be able to stretch

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

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

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And guess whom I met here too? My best friends from Ice Age

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

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

Bolivia, here we come!

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Old 04-04-2013, 09:29 AM   #56
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El Camino de la Muerte - The Death Road

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20130206_210730

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

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

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

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

P1210076 P1210083 P1210091 P1210097 P1210103 P1210105 P1210109 P1210126 P1210136 P1210139 P1210144 P1210169 P1210174 P1210196IMG_5633 IMG_5641

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

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

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

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

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Old 04-04-2013, 09:30 AM   #57
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Joined: Feb 2013
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Oddometer: 94
El Camino de la Muerte - The Death Road

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20130206_210730

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

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

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

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

P1210076 P1210083 P1210091 P1210097 P1210103 P1210105 P1210109 P1210126 P1210136 P1210139 P1210144 P1210169 P1210174 P1210196IMG_5633 IMG_5641

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

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

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

We will be heading south towards the salt flats and then soon towards the warm Argentina. The cold got too deep into my bones, my lizard body needs a sun break
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Old 04-04-2013, 09:50 AM   #58
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Amazing rides in Bolivia

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

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

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

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And off we went again.

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

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

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

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

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We saw some llamas again on our way.

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And the beautiful pink flamingos.

IMG_5693A few river crossings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before

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and after

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

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The road goes up to 4000 m altitude and surprisingly there are still villages up there.

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

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

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With our stomachs happy, we could jump on the bikes again.

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

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

Glad to finally have the tank full, the last one we needed in Bolivia, we headed to the border. Despite the beautiful landscapes and rides, at this point I was so ready to leave Bolivia.
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Old 04-04-2013, 10:59 AM   #59
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Short overview of Argentina

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

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So I guess we still have a long way to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Old 04-04-2013, 11:20 AM   #60
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New friends and new adventures in Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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