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Old 04-04-2013, 11:24 AM   #61
camitzi OP
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Boys gone wild

Here's the guys little Chilean adventure in Vasile's words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://youtu.be/lxl1ctBD1FI

Thank you very much Cristobal for everything and I have no regrets for what happened. If I had to do it again I probably would:) Remember, you always have a friend in Canada.
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Old 04-04-2013, 11:36 AM   #62
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Santiago to Bariloche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we were once again in Argentina.

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

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

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

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

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

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And we made it to Bariloche, the famous ski resort with beautiful Swiss architecture in the foothills of the Andes. For kilometers all we saw was hotels, cabanas, bungalows and restaurants, which told us how touristic it is. We inquired at a "hosteria familial" which was supposed to be cheaper, how much they would charge per night. Answer: only $100 USD. So we camped again. It looks like here in the south*is more rainy and a lot colder, so camping is not just as much fun as it is on the beach, but for now it is ok. I have a feeling I will miss the sun and heat for a while.
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Old 04-04-2013, 11:51 AM   #63
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Los Glaciares National Park

As we left Bariloche the whole landscape changed. The mountain view faded making room to the steppe-like plains.

As we were riding straight on the Ruta 40, the sky got covered in clouds. Ahead of us it was looking really dark. We were wondering if we were going to hit the storm, or if we were going to be lucky, as most of the time, and go by it. We stopped and put our rain gear on though. And we were glad we did, since this time we were not as lucky and we went straight through the storm.

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At some point it was raining so hard that we could barely see the road in front of us. On the bikes stopping and waiting for the storm to pass is not an option, as youíre not sheltered, so we kept going slowly. Then the rain turn into hail that was hitting us so hard it was hurting. I was only happy that this happened while we were on paved road, as here it gets pretty nasty and muddy when it rains.

After about an hour and a half of riding through the storm we managed to get to Gobernador Costa, where we decided to call it a day. We found a cosy hostel that looked like a grandmaís house, with warm and clean rooms and some delicious pies. It was perfect for our soaked bodies and gear. We slept like babies till the next day.

From all the shaky gravel weíve done so far all the jb weld on my bike gave in, and the whole front of the bike was wiggling like crazy, so Vasile zip-striped all the broken parts on my bike. Hopefully it will hold well enough until we find a BMW dealership, as it looks like there is none in Patagonia.

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Next morning we packed up everything and headed to Perito Moreno (the town, not the glacier). The road was mostly paved with short sections of gravel in between. It was the most boring day of riding in the whole trip, just straight road through the steppe and the wind started to show its wings, hitting us from one side or the other.

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We got to Perito Moreno, a little town in the middle of nowhere, where there is nothing interesting happening, yet the cheapest hotel room was $65 USD. We asked some guys if there were any hostels*around, with more economic prices, and the answer was ďNo, there arenít. But if you want, I give you the keys of my house, and you can stay there. I am going to work now and I will be back in the morning, so no one will bother you.Ē Once again we were blown away by how friendly and trusting people were here. He just met us and he was offering us the keys of his house. We took the offer and we went to his place, had a good rest and we were ready for another dayís ride.

The next day was another straight ride through the steppe. The wind started to blow stronger and stronger. I was leaning into the wind big time so I could go straight. As I am not a big person, I was afraid that the wind would blow me off the road, as a few times it almost happened. We were looking for the turn we were supposed to take to go to Cueva de las Manos (The handsí cave). At some point I saw a gravel road to my left and I was thanking God I didnít have to ride on that loose gravel in that wind.

Along the way we saw a variety of animals specific to Patagonia: the fox, the guanacos and plenty of nandus.

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We stopped in Bajo Caracoles to gas up and when we asked the locals where the road to Cueva de las Manos was they told us we just passed it. Turned out the gravel road that I saw was the road we were supposed to go on. As it was very windy and the road was supposed to be pretty bad, we decided to leave my bike at the gas station and go two up to the cave. And it was a good decision, as the road was indeed very bad, stretches of very loose gravel *and stretches of semi-dried mud ruts that made it quite technical and challenging even for Vasile.

But the ride was well worth it, as Cueva de las Manos (which is a World Heritage site since 1999) was incredibly interesting. The cave is in a canyon well hidden in the steppe, in the valley of Pinturas River.

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Those paintings are dated 9000 b.p., so that makes them over 11000 years old! That is unbelievable! And yet they are so well preserved. And it was so amazing to find out more about the way people lived back then and how they were using everything nature was offering them.

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After this beautiful history episode we turned around to Bajo Caracoles. We met here a group of 5 Argentinian bikers with a support vehicle. They were heading south to Gobernador Gregores. As the hotel in Caracoles had no rooms left, we had a sandwich and decided to head there too. We had to rush a bit, as the road from Caracoles to Gobernador Gregores was supposed to have a stretch of about 70 km of gravel, and it was passed 5 pm already.

On the way we met another fellow rider, Dave, a guy from Seattle on a V-Strom 650. He left Seattle 18 months ago (now thatís a vacation!) and it looks like he is still enjoying it. He told us about a gorgeous place, El Chalten, which was supposed to have world class mountaineering. So we decided to check it out, and instead of going straight to El Calafate, to take a detour and see El Chalten.

Turned out that part of the 70 km of gravel that we were supposed to have on the way to Gobernador Grigores had been paved in the meantime, so there were only about 30 km left. But most of it was very loose gravel, with some tracks here and there.

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But we made it, had a good rest, and the next day we were ready for the longest stretch of gravel we had in Argentina.

In the morning, at the gas station while we were fueling up, we met a Brazilian rider, Raphael, riding a Honda Varadero. He was coming from south heading north. We exchanged travel and road information. He was just returning from El Chalten and he showed us some awesome pictures. He was so excited about it that it just made us more anxious to get there. He was a very nice, friendly guy, who invited us to stay at his place if we go to Brazil.

With our tanks full and our hearts filled with excitement we headed to El Chalten. We had ahead of us about 120 km of gravel road Ė a mix of packed dirt, super loose gravel, big rocks and as it looked like it just rained the night before, a lot of mud and ruts.

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The only place that was supposed to have gas in between was Tres Lagos. I still had gas, but Vasile was afraid that his bike was not going to make it to El Chalten, so we stopped to look for gas. The road to the little town was very confusing. At some point we found ourselves on a big gravel site with big machines working. They turned us around and pointed the direction to us. After we passed through some deep wide mud sections, we found a tiny road all mud, puddles and bumps, that looked like it was heading to town.

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We got to town, but we found out that the gas station didnít have gas in the past year, so we could not fill up. We stopped to eat at a restaurant and it happened that the owner had 20 l of gas. He had an unfortunate event, a car accident in which he broke his collar bone so he was not driving anymore; therefore he had some gas left. Not that we were happy for his misfortune, but we were definitely happy he had gas. We filled up and off we went. As we were leaving the town we met a German couple on a bike looking for the gas station, a bit confused about the road too.

From here on we were on paved road again. Despite the rough conditions of the road up to Tres Lagos we actually really enjoyed the ride. Part of it was probably because we had a good sleep the night before and we had the energy to put up with it.

As we were getting close to El Chalten, the view changed completely and became one of the most spectacular views of the trip. We missed this kind of view in the past few days.

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And here is El Chalten beautifully hidden in the valley.

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Once we settled down we went out for dinner. The owner of the restaurant where we were eating, and Argentinian girl passionate about climbing, started chatting with us and telling us about the beautiful hikes and climbs in the area. We were planning to do a one day hike to see the Fitz Roy, as we do not have a proper backpack with us to carry all the camping gear. But she convinced us to stay and camp at the base of the glacier and she lent us her backpack.

The hike up was one of the best hikes we have done, comparable only to the trek we've done on the Himalayas, in Nepal, two years ago.

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Once at the campsite, we pitched the tent and then continued our hike to the glacier.

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The last part, for about an hour and a half, was the most difficult part. Very steep climb up through loose rocks.

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And this is what we found when we got up there.

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We sat there in awe for more than an hour contemplating the beauty of the nature. It was hard to turn around and leave. But eventually we had to do that. We turned around to our campsite, and the next day we woke up to this.

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We have been so incredibly lucky to have such a perfectly clear sky, as apparently this is quite rare in this area. Not many people manage to see Fitz Roy without clouds. We had blue sky both days, so we could fill our eyes with the beautiful view and take it with us.

Once back in town and to the hostel we met Ramon, a nice guy from Ushuaia, who offered to cook for us. As he was a chef we trusted him and accepted

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We decided to leave the next day and head to El Calafate. But we received a facebook message from our friends Kurt and Cory that they were in El Calafate and heading to El Chalten the next day, so we decided to stay one more day so we could meet up with them.

It was so great to see them again. With them came Dana, an old girlfriend of Cory's from Williams Lake, Canada, who came to travel with them for a bit. We had a blast together, laughing with tears to all the travel stories we all had since we split in Cartagena. We went to bed late not looking forward to parting ways again. We were just having too much fun together. But they are towards the end of their trip, they met their goal, Ushuaia, and now they have to ship their bikes and fly back to Canada.

So after having some delicious waffles for*breakfast*together we headed to El Calafate. There were only about 200 km of paved road, so we got there early. Since we had time, we decided to go see the Perito Moreno glacier, so we can leave the next day early in the morning. So we dropped some of our stuff in the hostel room, jumped on the bikes and headed to the glacier. There are about 90 km from El Calafate to the glacier. On the way we met a French girl, who lives in Vancouver now, Anne-Sophie, on a unicycle. She's going across Patagonia on a unicycle! Wow, she's our hero!

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Once we got to the glacier, it left us out of breath. I do not know how to describe it as no words would make it justice. Neither do pictures, but at least you can get an idea.

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Back at the hostel we met again our friend from Ushuaia, Ramon. We offered him some veggie omelette, as that's what we were cooking, but he turned it down with a smile. I guess chefs don't have omelette for dinner?

Next will be Torre del Paine, Chile. Stay tuned.
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Old 04-04-2013, 12:03 PM   #64
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Torres del Paine National Park

We left El Calafate in the morning and headed south, towards the Chilean border. The ride was again a very boring one most of the time, in the wind, and to top it off, with some showers. It looked like we left the nice weather behind us.

The border crossing was a pretty fast and straight forward one, with no problems this time. Once we crossed the border, we were debating*whether to go straight to the national park, or to go to Puerto Natales and get some food first, as in the park we were told that everything was extremely expensive. Puerto Natales was about 50 km south of where we were, so we would've had to do a bit of a detour. We realized that the money we would have saved on food we would've spent on gas to go there, so we decided to go straight to the park. But one minute into our ride Vasile had a thought: what if there is no gas in the park? no one builds gas stations in national parks, so chances are there is none, and we did not have enough gas left. We asked some bikers that were just returning from the park, and they confirmed for us: no gas station anywhere except Puerto Natales. So we had to go there after all. As it was afternoon already, we decided to go and stay there for the night, and go to the park the next day.

We got to Puerto Natales and now the challenge was to find a hostel. They were all full. We finally found one that still had rooms, and that was because the girl in charge was not there all day long, so people had to wait for her if they wanted to check in. But the hostel was very nice and the room very clean and cozy. At the hostel we met another two fellow riders from Australia, on two BMW F 800 GS. They were coming back from Ushuaia and taking the ferry north.

The next day we woke up in a crisp but sunny weather and we headed to Torres del Paine. We basically had to go back to the border we crossed the day before, and from there towards the park. Most road was paved, just as we got closer to the park the gravel started. As we got to the park, the entrance fee was $40 USD per person! Just to enter the park. But that was, of course, as for everything else, just for foreigners. Locals pay only $8. Maybe we should do the same in Canada, have different prices for tourists, and see how they feel about it when they visit our country. I could understand the different prices for tourists in the very poor countries, but it's not the case for Chile and Argentina.

Anyway, once we entered the park we forgot about the money, as the view was magnificent.

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Lots of wildlife on the way

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The only downside was the wind, that started blowing really strong; and on gravel, very loose at times, strong wind is no fun at all, believe me! It was blowing me from one side of the road to the other making it impossible for me to stay on the tracks. At some point I thought of stopping, but that would've meant falling, as I wouldn't have been able to hold the bike up in that wind if stopped. So the only option was to carry on.

We managed to get to the campsite beautifully located on a green patch of the park.

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Again, the only problem was the wind. And to give you an idea of how strong the winds were, hear this: we pitched the tent, put all our stuff in it and Vasile was in it too; a wind gust flipped the tent over with Vasile and everything in it. And Vasile is not a small guy. He came out of the tent all shocked "What the heck was that?". Therefore we were afraid to leave the tent for one minute, as we*would've*been left without it. Not to mention that we had some clothes out in the sun to dry out; we looked for them for half hour: The good part was that is was just wind gusts, so we had moments of peace in between.

At night it got so cold I could not sleep all night long. The next day I was like a zombie. We were planning to do a hike, but in the morning it was all overcast, so we wouldn't have seen much. The other thing was that if we did the hike, we would've had to camp one more night, and that was not an option for me. I was already tired after one night with no sleep, it was even colder now, one more night would've been too much, and then we had to ride on gravel and wind to get out of the park. So we decided to just ride all across the park and see as much as the clouds allowed, and then go back to Puerto Natales.

The ride through the park, even though very tiring from the riding point of view (very strong winds again and loose stretches of gravel at times) was incredibly beautiful. This park is just amazing, it has so much to offer! And we were lucky and the sky cleared out too.

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This was basically our last touristic stop on our way to Ushuaia. Now it's just going to be the road and us until we get to the penguins land
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Old 04-04-2013, 12:12 PM   #65
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The end of the world

As we headed south from Torres del Paine the weather got harsher. The temperatures dropped substantially and the rain started.

We rode to Punta Arenas where we were supposed to take the ferry across the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego. All these places that I've studied in my geography class and seemed so far away to me back then. I can't believe I have actually been there! The ferry normally leaves every day in the morning. That day was leaving at 4 pm, and we got there just in time to catch it.

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Along the way we had company: some cute playful dolphins.

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Two and a half hours later we got to Porvenir. That's it! It's official: we are on Tierra del Fuego! There's no turning back now, Ushuaia here we come!

Here 140 km of gravel were waiting for us.

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We were planning to stop for the night in some little village that was showing on our map. But when we got there, there was just a big tower, nothing else. So we had no other option but to keep going.IMG_6505
We rode until late in the dark, looking forward to San Sebastian, our only option to spend the night. It was getting really cold and my hands were frozen, despite the heated grips. We finally got there and we stopped at the first hotel we saw. Turned out it was the only one in town anyway. Got the room and big disappointment: the rooms were cold, the heat was not on. We convinced the owner to turn the heat on and in the meantime went to the restaurant to warm up with some hot tea and pisco. At that point we were so happy we found a room, that we didn't even care anymore that the price for it was outrageous.

The next day we crossed the border again into Argentina. We were getting so close to Ushuaia! Unfortunately the weather got worse, it started pouring and it was very cold. My leather gloves got soaked and I realized that my old Goretex jacket was not waterproof anymore as all my clothes were moist underneath. At least I had my heated jacket and that helped a bit. Vasile was not as lucky though and he was very eager to get to Ushuaia.

Here we are crossing the Garibaldi pass.

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And we made it! We got to our destination.

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We wanted to take a picture together, but we were so cold that we didn't have patience to wait for someone there to take the picture for us.

We were starving too, so we started looking for a restaurant. Not easy task here, as it was about 3 pm and here all restaurants are closed in the afternoon, until 7 pm. We found something that looked like a restaurant, we parked the bikes, just to realize it was just a grocery store. Back to the bikes - surprise: the KTM's battery was dead. So Vasile had to engineer something and take some juice from my bike. This entertainment lasted about half hour. It didn't matter anymore that we were freezing and hungry, the bike wouldn't move, like that was the last thing we needed. But Vasile managed to fix that and then we started the hunt for a restaurant. Mission impossible. All we found eventually was a sandwich place, but at this point in time we were happy with that too. Now we were just worried that we wouldn't find a hostel room, as there were lots of tourists in town, but we managed to find that too. The only problem was that even though they advertised as having wi-fi, it was not working, all three days we stayed there (Lupitos hostel, or something like that).

But hey, we are not at the end of the road yet. The road still goes for a bit through the national park.

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And here we are, literally at the end of the road, the tip of the world!

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It looked like animals were excited for us too.

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We made it! We had such mixed feelings about it: excitement and sense of achievement as well as sadness as half of our vacation was gone.We still couldn't believe that we were actually there, at the southernmost point on the continent. I got to feel that the next day, when we took a tour to Isla Martillo (Hammer Island) to see the penguins. We were at 1000 km away from Antarctica, and we felt it. Freezing cold and windy.

Here is for you to see how windy it can get here.

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But the penguins were well worth it. They were so incredibly cute. We saw two different kinds: the Magellanic Penguin (most of them there) and Rockhopper Penguin.

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We were lucky to see one King Penguin as well, no one knew what he was doing there, as apparently they do not leave on that island (somewhere in the middle of the picture).

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There was one little fellow there, a Rockhopper Penguin that looked exactly like the Mexican fellow in the Happy Feet movie "Let me tell something to giu".

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After seeing these little cute creatures I realized that my trip in the cold and rain for the past few days was well worth it. And even though we were so excited about being there, we were both now ready to go somewhere warm and chill in a hammock.
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Old 04-04-2013, 12:22 PM   #66
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The ride through the great nothingness

When we left Ushuaia it was 2 degrees C and pouring. I decided to put my GoreTex gloves, even though they were really bulky and I could barely reach the clutch and throttle with them. It was so cold I was looking at the temperature display on my bike all the time hoping that I would see an increase. We decided to ride as far as we could that day to get out of the rain and cold. So we did 300 km of paved rod to the border, crossed the border into Chile, then 160 km of gravel and mud road, took the ferry and crossed the Strait of Magellan north this time, crossed the border back into Argentina, another 100 km (approx) of paved road, and in Rio Gallegos we decided to call it a day. The whole ride was in horrible conditions. It was dumping on us, the temperature did not go higher than 4 degrees C and because of the rain the gravel road was even worse. It was all potholes everywhere and where there were not potholes, there were deep washboards. In normal conditions, the road with potholes is my favourite type of gravel road. I love to stand up on my pegs and feel the bike going up and down. But when you have to do that for so many km, it's no longer fun. My bike is a good bike, but the suspension on it is not the best. My tiny wrists were hurting so bad, I almost felt like crying. And on top of it the winds were getting stronger and stronger. When we saw the paved road ahead, both Vasile and I were happier than if we won the lottery. That day we did 560 km in total, paved and gravel, took a ferry and crossed two borders, all in the pouring rain and heavy winds.

We were warned by another fellow rider from Spain that Rio Gallegos was going to be expensive. And he was right. For a little town in the middle of nowhere, the price was higher than we've ever paid in the very touristy places. And again, I guess the prices for gringos kicked in. When Vasile went into the hotel (it looked like a family business) he was given two different prices by the father and the son. I guess the price given by the son was the regular price, and one given by the father was the price for us. While we were unloading our stuff from the bike, they must have talked to each other, as suddenly the correct price was the higher one for us. As we were tired and cold and we had a tough day (probably the toughest in the whole trip) we took it, but the room conditions did not justify the price at all.

The next 4 days was just another long ride in the rain with nothing to see around but this.

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The only thing that was keeping me from falling asleep were the strong winds. Now these were the kind of winds we were actually expecting in Patagonia. So far we kept thinking that we got lucky and the winds were not that strong (at least not as we were expecting them to be after all the stories we've heard), but this time we felt the full Patagonian winds. Luckily at times they were blowing from behind, and that was actually helping us with the gas consumption. It was flat, rainy (never in my life have I traveled for such a long distance without changing the weather or the landscape), windy and freaking boring. We started doing shorter days (500 km, after two days of 700 km each) as we could not handle the boredom of such long rides anymore. After four days of riding we were stoked to see the first tree! And the only exciting thing along the way was the view of the Atlantic Ocean.

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As we got close to Buenos Aires it got a bit warmer though and we started to see some vegetation and a lot of farms. The traffic also started to change, becoming a bit *more aggressive. But it was still way better than the traffic in any central american countries or any countries in the northern part of South America.

As we got to the city, the traffic got pretty jammed, as we were expecting in a capital city. But the city is beautiful; very nice old buildings, built with good taste, proof that a lot of artists were involved in it.

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And here is the oldest Cafe in Argentina.

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We decided to stay there for a few days as our bikes needed some maintenance.

One day we celebrated Saint Patrick's day. It looks like here they celebrate it even more than they do it in Ireland

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And then it was work time. My BMW was due for a general*maintenance, plus we had to replace the sub-frame. Vasile went to the BMW dealer and picked up a new sub-frame and new steering column bearing (the beemer had steering problems since Baja Mexico, that we thought we fixed, but it wasn't fixed 100%). The two parts were somewhere over $300 USD. He also asked BMW if he could work in their shop, but the answer was negative. So far KTM rocked (Vasile had to mention that to me several times and I had to admit it), they always let Vasile work in their shops, and made their tools available to him at no charge. So then Vasile went to the parking lot where we parked the bikes over night (public parking) and changed the sub-frame and replaced the steering column bearing right there.

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The next day Vasile went to KTM to buy oil for his bike, but as it was Saturday, their mechanic shop was closed and the guy there could not find the keys to let him in so he could work on the bike, so Vasile had to find a different option. And he found this Yamaha dealer, and the guy there was more than excited to let him work in his shop. They were so excited talking about bikes, that they didn't even introduced each other. The only identity of him that we have is his facebook name, Polaco. So that's what we are going to call him here.

Vasile did the oil change on the KTM and*oil change and valve adjustment on the BMW. Polaco offered him all the tools that he needed for that, and he even offered his help. Him and his team were just incredibly nice and helpful. At the end Vasile wanted to compensate him for all the help, but he didn't accept anything. Another proof of Argentinian hospitality. Thank you Polaco &co.

So if you are in Buenos Aires and you need some help, there is no better place to go (it is on Av. del Libertador Gral San Martin,in Vicente Lopez)

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Now after a face lift, my bike feels really nice and smooth, I can actually enjoy the ride again

After a few rest days in Buenos Aires we decided to take the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay. The other option was to ride around the water, about 870 km to get to the same place on bikes. As we were afraid that it would be just as flat and boring, we preferred to take the ferry. In one hour we got to Colonia. But about that, in a new post. Stay tuned.
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Old 04-04-2013, 02:07 PM   #67
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Little Switzerland of South America

The ferry took us to Colonia del Sacramento, the oldest town in Uruguay, on the banks of Rio de la Plata. I followed the advice of a friend, who told me that Colonia was one of the most beautiful towns she has visited in her whole trip. And was I ever glad I did! Colonia is a gorgeous little colonial town, one of the best preserved in the whole Latin America, gaining its well deserved title as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's narrow cobblestone streets and its amazing architecture impress thousands of tourists from all over the world every year.

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Unfortunately the weather was not on our side.

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I loved these beautiful collection cars.

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This restaurant (Drugstore) had a very original idea.

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Plaza de Toros

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And me playing el toreador

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As we left Colonia the sun came out, finally! And we found ourselves riding through this amazingly beautiful and green landscape, which made us understand why Uruguay is called the "Switzerland of South America".

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We stopped for the night at some hot springs south of Salto and we pitched our tent.

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To end the night we jumped in the hot spring pools they had there.

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We were kind of sad when we left Uruguay, as we liked it a lot. But we were sure there were lots of other nice things and places waiting for us.
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Old 04-04-2013, 02:26 PM   #68
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Iguazu Falls and Salta

We left Uruguay and crossed back into Argentina through the border north of Salto, crossing over a long dam.

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Our next destination was Iguazu Falls. The ride was a nice one, twisty at times (oh, we so missed that in the last while), through swamps and green jungle. The earth turned red too (they call this area "Tierra Colorada" - Colored Earth)

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We ended up again riding until late in the dark trying to get to the next town that would have a hotel. We were on the highway close to Paso de los Libres, riding at over 100 km an hour when I saw Vasile swerving slightly right in front of me. I thought he was trying his tires, he does that sometimes. On the side of the road I saw a shade that looked like a flag or something. But the next second when I got right by it, the shade started to move towards the center of the road, and that's when I saw it was a horse! I swerved quickly as much as I could, and as I was doing this, I saw another horse on the other side of the road, so I was going straight towards it. Swerved again and luckily managed to avoid them both. I guess this is one of the biggest reasons why people should not ride or drive at night in these countries. Both Vasile and I were like "What the hell was this?" Around Buenos Aires there were signs on the highway encouraging people to call police if they see loose animals on the side of the road. Maybe they should do that everywhere.

Happy we got away unharmed, as this could have turned into a disaster, we soon got to Paso de los Libres and called it a day.

The next day we had an awesome ride through beautiful, rich jungle vegetation.

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We got to the famous Iguazu National Park where there is the Iguazu Falls, the second largest falls in the world as volume of water. We left the bikes at the entrance of the park and we took a little train to the cataracts.

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And we saw myriads of butterflies

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Once we got off the train we started walking on a bridge over the swamps and the river

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And here we were lucky enough to see a caiman and a big cat-fish in their natural habitat.

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The butterflies were very friendly and welcoming

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And we finally got to The Devil's Gorge, the most spectacular and astounding view.

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On the way back we had the chance to see some more of the fauna of Iguazu.

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We saw lots of big, colorful butterflies, the ones that you only see on tv or at the butterfly garden and a toucan on top of a tree, with his big, orange beak. Unfortunately it was too high in the tree, so we could not take a picture.

I felt like I could have spent a couple of days in that park, it was so special.

Before we left Puerto Iguazu we went to see the intersection of the Rivers Uruguay and Parana, which are the borders between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. *On each side there is a monument representing the flag of each country. You stand in one place actually and you can see a bit of each country.

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There was a ferry crossing the river actually to Paraguay, so we thought we would give it a chance and try to cross. As Canadian Citizens we need a visa for Paraguay, but we were hoping that we could get it at the border. Unfortunately this was not possible, but the border officer directed us to the Paraguayan Consulate in Puerto Iguazu. We went there, but they could not give us the visa, as their computers system was not working. But they were very nice though and they recommended us to go to the consulate in Posada. They even called the consul there to make sure we could get the visa the next day. But later on that day we gave up on this idea, and we decided to go to Salta, and skip Paraguay.

The ride to Salta was not too bad, despite the straight road. It was nice and warm (28 C), green, and lots of wildlife to see,*among*which this "little" friend.

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Yes, that's right, a dead yellow anaconda on the side of the road. He must have gotten out of its swamp to warm up and he got hit by a car or something.

While riding on Ruta 12 we saw some big electrical towers, so Vasile figured we were close to some big dam that someone told us about. We turned right onto a side road, and we got to a small border point, where the officer told us we could not ride to the dam, but we could go on an organized tour the next day, all free. So we stopped for the night in Ituzaingo, the next day we went to the "Oficina Central" where they put us in a van and took us in a guided tour to see the dam. I have to admit, it's quite impressing, especially when you have someone very qualified who explains to you all the details.

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One*annoying*thing in Argentina were the "routine police checks". We were getting stopped sometimes twice a day for these checks. And yesterday we got stopped twice in a two minutes span. The first time, there were 8 of them in the middle of the road, stopping all the motorcycles. Reason: we did not have a fire extinctor,which apparently is mandatory in Argentina. We explained to them that in case of a motocycle accident we would not be able to use it anyway. We totally understand each country has its laws, but this one we found it a bit of a money grab law. And what really bothered us was that he said "The fine is 4000 pesos (about 800 USD, which I totally doubt, that's their salary per month), but this time I will make an exception. You give me 700 pesos and I let you go". I guess he was not expecting Vasile's answer "No way, man. I am not giving you a penny" cause he looked kinda shocked, and he let us go right away. We barely took off and turned right onto a big avenue, when we got pulled over again. We were thinking "We won't get away until they make us pay for that freaking fire extinctor". But no, this time there was something else. Apparently motorcycles were not allowed on that avenue. We apologized to the officer and told him we did not see any signs suggesting that, so we didn't know. He told us there was a sign four blocks before and that we would see another one six bloks further. I explained to him that we had just turned onto this avenue at the previous intersection, therefore we could not see that sign. We*promised*to get out of there at the first turn, and eventually he let us go. We got off that avenue and took a side road parallel with it, kept riding, but we did not see any signs that would say motorcycles are not allowed on the main avenue, and this time we really looked for it. As we were following the GPS, the GPS was directing us back onto the main avenue, as we had to cross a big bridge over a river. We took our chance again and turned onto the main avenue again. Three seconds later we saw a police station, but they did not stop us or anything, nor were they bothered by the fact we were riding there. We were just curious: if motorcycles are not allowed on the main avenue, the one that was crossing the bride, how do motorcycles cross though? I guess we will never find out.
A couple of hours later, Vasile stopped as he felt there was something wrong with his bike. It had a very slight wobble. He checked his front wheel out, and he realized the bearings were gone, so he had to do another fix on the side of the road. And this time he wanted to do it the right way

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Once this done, we thought that would be it for the day. But we were wrong. Vasile's bike was running out of gas. We have done a long stretch in between cities, and we didn't gas up in the last one. We were really hoping we would make it to the next town, but we didn't. The bike died, so we had to pull over into the grass, as the highway didn't have a shoulder. My bike still had enough gas to run another 14 km (according to the bike's computer) and Vasile found on the GPS a gas station 12 km *away. As it was getting dark and I am blind like a bat in the dark Vasile took my bike and went to get some gas, while I was waiting by the big KTM, waiving proud to all the bikers passing by and waiving at me

Vasile came back 20 minutes later with a jery-can of gas, and this way we could make it to the gas station, and then to Salta. And before we got to Salta we had to go through a storm too, which left us nice and soaked. And in Salta another surprise (man, I thought that day was never gonna end): all the hotels were full because of the Easter. It was a Thursday, and apparently here everyone is off for Good Friday and they all go, for whatever reason, to Salta. We asked at quite a few hotels, no rooms, and they told us they didn't think we would find any. So we found a campsite on the GPS and we decided to go there. But on the way there, we stopped by a Yamaha shop, as the KTM needed a new front tire and my bike a new chain. We didn't find what we needed for the bike, *but the owner there told us about a hotel close by that might still have rooms, so he escorted us there. And indeed, we found a room! No camping in the middle of the night.

And here are some pictures we took the next day.

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And our dear hotel. Don't let the old sign full you, it was not cheap, but it was decent, and the people very nice.

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Next we will do some riding around Salta, and then head to Atacama Desert. Stay tuned.
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Old 04-10-2013, 08:36 PM   #69
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Last days in Argentina

Before we left Salta we stopped by a mechanical shop, as Vasile needed to do some welding on the side stand. The side stand relocating bracket was broken, and it needed to be fixed.

The guy there was very nice and after about half an hour of team work, the side stand was fixed. But now that was not enough. Vasile wanted to make a custom side stand, so he can adjust the*length. So after another 20 minutes of team work, the side stand was perfect.

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Once that done, we decided to take Hwy 51 to cross the mountains to Chile. Most of the road was paved, but it did have some gravel sections.

Here I'm asking some locals road directions. Each one with their horse power:)

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The ride up was epic: beautiful landscapes and nice winding road.

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En San Antonia de los Cobres we stopped to gas up and to decide what to do next. It was about 5 pm, and from there we had to do 160 km of gravel to get to Salinas Grandes, and from there to HWY 52. We were already at 3900 m altitude, and we would have had to go even higher, well over 4000 m, so we were thinking to maybe sleep there for the night and continue the next day. We were just hoping that our bodies were still acclimatized from over a month ago when we went through Peru and Bolivia, otherwise, this altitude could have caused us problems.

While we were fueling up, we met a nice couple from Australia, but living in Chile now. They told us about a really nice road on the other side, beautiful ride apparently, that was going from Salta to Purmamarca. As we wanted to see that side anyway, and we were told that on this side it was not too spectacular, we decided to turn around and take that way.

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On the way back down, we saw a van stopped on the side of the road. We stopped and asked them if they needed help. Yes they did, they needed some air in their spare tire (they had a flat tire, and they had just changed it). As it was Easter eve, they had probably partied, and they were all a bit too smiley. They were trying to put the new tire in, but they were turning the screws the wrong way:) Vasile helped them put the tire and inflate it. They were so grateful, they kept insisting to pay him. As Vasile did not want to take anything, they gave him a gift to remind him of them: a bottle opener with a llama. Vasile used it already a few times:)

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We got back to a little town close to Salta, we stayed for the night, and the next day we headed to Purmamarca. Beautiful ride in a nice sunny day. We got there, and it was extremely busy, cars parked everywhere. And the prices...you don't want to know. But they were all full anyway. So then we decided to do a quick hike, to see the 7 Colours Mountain and then to ride out of town and find a camping spot somewhere. While we were walking to the hiking trail, we saw a little hotel, and just for the sake of it we asked if they had rooms. And they did! So we paid a deposit quickly, to make sure he keeps the room for us, and we were supposed to come back and bring the bikes after our hike.

And here is the 7 Colours Mountain.

IMG_7158

While we were hiking up I was just following Vasile without paying too much attention to the trail, and at some point I find myself on this very steep, narrow trail, and at the end of it on a very sharp edge that I could only sit one, as I had no balance to stand on. There was no trail on the other side to get down. And then I hear a local guy yelling at us to get down, as we were not allowed to be there. And I was like "Sure, but how do I get down from here?" Slowly and carefully we finally managed to get down from that cliff.

IMG_7149

Then we went to pick up the bikes from where we parked them and went to the hotel. Once settled down nice and comfy, we went for dinner. And we found this place that initially didn't look like much, but that turned out to be incredibly fun, and the food amazing. And they had a live band who was singing incredibly well.


Later on, once the band left the stage, the owner took its place. And we were very surprised to see that she was singing very well. Apparently she was a well known local singer.

We had a great time, dancing and singing along. We were happy we had a last great night in Argentina, before leaving.

The next day we headed to the Chilean border. The landscapes looked like painted.




Higher up we got to the desert.


And then we got to the salt flats (El Salar Grande).







And then desert again, all the way up to over 4000 m altitude.







And there was the Argentinian border. We did our exit stuff, and now were heading to the Chilean border. I would have thought the Chilean border would have been a few km away, but little did I know. As we were over 4000 m it got very cold, and I only had a tank-top on, my mesh protection and my waterproof jacket. My bike's thermometer was showing 4-5 degrees C. As it was very windy (winds worse than in Patagonia) I did not want to stop outside and take my jacket off to add some more layers. I thought I would do that soon, when I would get to the Chilean border, and I could go inside. But I found the Chilean border 157 km later, when we got to San Pedro de Atacama.

So for 157 km this is what we saw.









It was amazingly beautiful. I was watching in awe, and the only thing that would bring me back down to earth was my body shivering with cold. When we started the descent on the other side and the temperatures started to rise I was delirious.

We finally got to San Pedro de Atacama and did the entry in Chile. Then we went to town and found a nice hotel and checked in. I was so happy to find the warm blankets on the bed!

But more details about Atacama in the next report. Stay tuned.
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Old 04-11-2013, 08:54 AM   #70
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Salar de Atacama

We got to San Pedro de Atacama (now we were down to 2440 m altitude) and we were pleasantly surprised: a nice little town with narrow dirt streets and beautiful old style buildings. We checked in a nice hotel and we went out for dinner. The waiter there saw we were tourists (just like the majority of the people there) and we were inquiring about things to do, so he gave us a brochure with all the good things to see around. So we decided that the next day we would do Los Geysers del Tatio and Valle de la Luna.

On the way up to the geysers we were surprised to see the frozen water, as it didnít seem that cold.


The Geysers were amazing. It was incredible to see that hot water bursting out of the desert.






Of course the child in me didnít give up until I tried to see how hot the water really was and I managed to burn my finger


And this is Vasile steaming. I didnít realize I made him that angry


So to be safe, I hooked him up on a rock


And here are the mud pools



There was a hot pool too where we couldíve swum, but as the temperatures outside were not too friendly, we skipped that.


On the way we saw a multitude of wildlife among which the pink flamingos, vicunas with their little ones, llamas, viscacha and some other interesting birds. I noticed vicunas are more sensitive to human presence than the motorcycle presence. On the bikes we could go very close to them and they didnít seem to be bothered too much. When I got off the bike, as I wanted to take a better picture with the little vicuna and I thought I could go closer as I would not make as much noise as the bike, they sensed me from far away and ran away, so I had to zoom in a lot, therefore the picture is not the best quality.











And a very protective duck male with his little ones.


We passed by big snow-capped volcanoes, and one of them was active, we could actually see the smoke coming out of its chimney. It could have been maybe Lascar, as thatís the most active volcano in Chile.


And since we were here, I thought I could try Vasileís bike for a bit...while on the side stand, as I have no chance otherwise Ė I have more than one foot clearance to the ground


And then we went to Valle de la Luna where we went through the Salt Cave.



Turns out Salar de Atacama is not just a salt flat, itís a whole salt mountain! In this trip we managed to see the two biggest Salares (Salt Flats) in the world: Salar de Uyuni and Salar de Atacama.






It was just magnificent! Despite the low temperatures we really enjoyed it. But now we are due for some sun and beaches
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Old 04-14-2013, 10:29 PM   #71
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Last days in Chile and back to Peru

After Pedro de Atacama we took the Hwy 23 to the coast.





We made a stop in Calama, where Vasile got a front tire.


When we were leaving, there was a big demonstration on the highway, and the whole road leading to the city was blocked. We were happy the road going out was free.


After a couple of hours on the road the temperatures raised significantly for a short little while (30-33 C), making us take off some layers. It was so hot and dry and static. We didnít see one living soul around, not even insects.


The only moving things were the sand tornadoes everywhere.



But as soon as we got closer to the coast, the temperatures dropped again to about 17 C. And we saw this floating mist cloud over the coast line.


We got to the coast in Tocopilla, a very industrial town by the ocean. We had a good meal while debating if we should stay there for the night or not. Eventually we decided to keep going, as there was not much to do or see there, except the big ships floating on the water and all the machinery on the shore.





So we kept going up north on the cost, and we got to Iquique right after it got dark.




People play golf here too






We found a hotel and we went for a sushi dinner. We missed sushi so much! The food was alright, but they put cream cheese in all the rolls!?
The next day Vasile went and found a rear tire for my bike. As he found a rear tire for his bike too, he agreed with the owner that he would go with his bike in 20 minutes. But when he got there at 15 to 1, they told him that in 15 minutes they were starting their siesta, therefore he would have to come back at 4. In vain Vasile insisted for them just to sell him the tire and he would replace it himself, so he didnít have to go back again, no, siesta is siesta in Chile. Vasile got so pissed off, he did not go back anymore. His tire was not too bad yet, so he could still ride on it to Lima where he would find one.
Iquique is a nice city on the beach. Apparently people are attracted here by the business opportunity, as there are no taxes.



On the way out of town we saw the biggest Coca Cola sign in the world.


The next day we crossed the border into Peru and we realized how much we missed it. We decided to take a different route this time, to get to know this part of Peru as well. So we crossed the border through Arica and we continued up north on the coast, through the desert. One more time Peru surprised us in a wonderful way. We were expecting the ride to be a bit boring and hot through the desert. But this time it was not flat desert, as it was in the north, but mountain desert, with a great twisty road and a fabulous view. And the temperature was rather cool.




We stopped one night in Chala, a beautiful town on the beach, where the sunset is breathtaking.



As we were so craving some sun we decided to stop by the oasis in Huacachina again and spend a couple of lazy days by the pool and in the hammocks. But unfortunately with Peru came Montezumaís revenge again. Both Vasile and I were sick for a few days, so instead of really enjoying the days in the oasis, that became recovery time.
But for Vasile the best medicine is working on his bike. So while I was recovering at the hotel, he removed the evacuation canister on his bike, removed the catalysers from the exhaust pipes and fixed his side stand again (it was cracked again). And then he played a bit on the sand dunes to try his lighter bike.






And this is why one should not leave the roomís door open


These little creatures were extremely friendly. They were walking around tourists without a problem at all. But I still donít know how one of them ended up in our room, or how long she had been in there for. I just found her trying hard to get out of Vasile's stuff with no success.
After a couple of days of recovery time at the oasis both Vasile and I got better and we hit the road again, heading to Lima. Details in the next report.
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Old 04-17-2013, 09:56 PM   #72
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The amazing Amazon jungle

From the oasis we went first to Lima to find a rear tire for Vasile. We found the KTM store (another one, not the one we went to on the way south) and Vasile was impressed. The shop was huge and they had everything in it, so he found a Continental Attack tire for $180 USD. He is incredibly happy with it, and heís glad he didnít buy a tire in Iquique. We were now regretting actually that we got a tire for my bike, as we got a Heidenau K 60 Scout 150, and we paid $300 (we traded in my used tire for $20) and I have to admit I am not very happy with it. It is a very good tire for off road, but on road itís not too great. My bike vibrates now at low speed, which is not big deal and I got used to it, but it just feels weird, and it also makes my bike a bit lazier.
Now all set with new tires, we headed to the Amazon jungle. The ride was incredible, on twisty roads with pristine landscapes, going up to almost 5000 m altitude.







The road was mostly paved, but most of it was in very bad condition, full of big, deep potholes. There were so many that there was no point trying to avoid them, so we were just going straight through them. There were also stretches of gravel here and there. But the thick green jungle on both sides with beautiful colourful birds and butterflies was making the road not to matter anymore. We were so amazed and excited that we just felt we were in no rush to go through it.









From time to time we were stopped by groups of local volunteers who were protecting the road, for a donation. As it was for such a good cause, we always contributed (I think we had about 5 of them each day).


The locals were telling us that the road through the jungle used to be very dangerous due to road robberies and hijackings so now they have these volunteer groups who leave off donations and since they operate the roads are a lot safer. Not very safe, but better. After we heard all these stories, Vasile was never driving too far from me, not to lose sight of me.
And then the pavement ended. And Vasile decided to make his boots shinier with some boots cream (we had just passed through some really deep muddy puddles).


We stopped to buy some fruit, and we bought ďgrenadinasĒ some really tasty fruit that we have never had before, and we were stuffing our faces with them right there. When he saw how much we liked them, the boy who sold them to us gave us a whole bag of that fruit at no charge. That was really nice of him.
As there were no gas stations on that gravel road, we bought some gas at a ďgrifoĒ, some very small gas station, but they only had 85. They had 90 in barrels. Good enough. Or maybe it wasnít good enough: the gas had a very dark colour.



Further up, the whole traffic was stopped. There were some big landslides (no wonder with so much rain there) and they were working on fixing the road, therefore there was only one lane working.


We were told that the road would open at 6 pm. So we had to wait a bit over an hour. Surprising enough for Peru, at 6 sharp they opened the road. The landslides were bigger than we imagined, and for a long distance. We went for kilometres on damaged road, with mud and rocks. In the meantime it got dark. And itís not a good idea to ride in the dark in Peru, especially not on a gravel road in the jungle. But we had no choice, and we were close to the next city, Juanjuy. And we did get there after only about 30 minutes of riding in the dark. We stopped at the first hostel (here hostel or hotel is the same thing, there is no difference) just to ask the price, thinking that maybe we would go to check some other ones too. And surprise: it was the best hotel we have stayed at in the whole trip! The price? 70 soles (less than $30) with breakfast included! It was the best value for the money. And it was a three stars hotel, incredibly nice and clean, decorated tastefully and with very good internet too. We could not believe it.
The owner recommended us a good restaurant, and even though it was just a few blocks away we decided not to walk, but to take a moto-taxi, just to help the local economy. The food there was more than incredible. I had the best beef Iíve had in my life, without exaggerating. After all the rough ride through the jungle was well worth it, we were pampering ourselves now.
The next day we rode to Tarapoto. We decided not to stay there, but to keep riding, and just explore the places, while we ride back towards the coast, on the north of Peru. On the way there was a road collapsed, and the traffic was deviated on a side.



We saw this guys doing free climbing on that rock. And then once at the top he tied a rope.


We got stopped by police three times in 15 minutes. Nothing major, just ďWhere are you coming from, where are you going, how was your trip so far, drive carefully and make sure you donít drive at nightĒ. Once they checked my papers too. Weíve seen a lot of police throughout Peru, but they never stopped us so many times. I guess there was a reason why there were so many of them on that road. But I have to admit it made me feel safer.



In this area the main occupation is agriculture. Lots of green rice fields on both sides of the road.



As there was no big town in our way and it was late, we decided to go out of our way about 17 km, to Jaen, and find a hotel.
And in our hotel room, I found another little friend, a blind one this time.


I have no idea how this bat got into our room. I opened the window, but he was flying around in panic and he didnít find the window. So when he stopped exhausted and scared on the floor, I had to actually grab him and let him out the window.
Tomorrow we are planning to get to the coast and rest on the beach for a few days.
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Old 04-17-2013, 10:24 PM   #73
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Sometimes things don't turn out as planned

The next day we changed plans: instead of going to the beach in Peru, we decided to go straight to Ecuador and find a nice place on the beach there and stay for a few days. We left Jaen around 10 am and we decided not to turn around to Hwy 3, 3N, but to take another road going north-west, towards San Ignacio. The road soon turned to gravel and we realized we were not on the right way; that road was not going to San Ignacio. We missed a turn somewhere. We asked the locals, but they didn’t seem to know more than us. So then we decided to take the road we knew, rather than finding new ones, as it was much faster, and we turned around back to the highway.
As we were going on the highway at some point the left lane was closed, they were working on the road. There was a big truck in front of me. After the lane opened again, I was preparing to pass it, but the truck changed lanes, it moved onto the left lane. I thought they were probably turning left or they were stopping there, maybe they were with the road work team, so I continued on my lane. And then suddenly the truck changes direction and cuts me off. By now I was on the side of the truck. I had one second to realize what was going on and I knew I could not come to a complete stop in one and a half meter to avoid the truck that was cutting me off, so I swerved to avoid it. I thought I made it, but then I heard a big noise, a felt a heavy shock and my bike went sideways. The truck hit the back of my pannier, on a side and pushed me. I didn't fall right away, I tried to gain control, and I went sideways a few times, and it almost threw me over the handlebar. But then I remembered my last crash, and all I knew was that I didn't want to high-side again, so I pushed back hard with my hands on the handlebar and then I low-sided. I slid on the road for a few meters and the bike went even further.
At the exact same time there were two police cars coming from the opposite direction, so they could see everything that happened. They came right away to see if I was ok. Luckily I got away unharmed, with just a few bruises.
Vasile was in front of me, he had just passed the truck, and he saw everything in the mirror. He turned around in haste and came to me. My first worry when I felt I was ok was to stand up quickly to show Vasile I was ok, as I knew he would freak out. And he kind of scared the shit out of the driver and the co-pilot at he started screaming at them
As Vasile had the go pro on his helmet, and police thought we were filming, they had to take action. So they immediately took the driver into their car, took their documents etc. Of course they asked me if by any chance I filmed what happened. I told them I didn’t (later on I realized I should’ve said yes), but in the meantime Vasile turned his go pro on. And I didn’t need to film as I had them as witnesses, and they were police, no? One police car took me to the closest medical clinic for a check, while the other was dealing with the paperwork. After a doctor saw me for a couple of minutes he confirmed that I had no major injuries. By the way, here if you wear a helmet, they rule out any head injury off the bat, they don’t even look at your head. Thankfully in this case it wasn’t necessary, as I didn’t feel like I hit my head or anything. But I appreciated the care the police guys showed by taking me to the clinic and back. Now what was the next step? We had to go to the “comisaria”. Well, we cannot, as my bike is not in rideble condition right now. Basically, as a result of the accident, the visible damage was: one of my side panniers was completely destroyed, my stuff were all over the road; my windshield was cracked open on one of the low corners; my handlebar was crocked.




After Vasile calmed down, the driver (21 years old) and the co-pilot, who was in charge of the truck (he had driven all night long, and now he let the kid drive for a bit while he was resting) dared to come to me to apologize and to come to an agreement. They seemed to be very sorry about what happened. And they were still scared of Vasile. They said they saw Vasile passing, but they failed to see me behind him. And all they could offer us was $100. The damage of my bike (visible at this time) was about $350. So then Vasile and I decided that $100 would not make a huge difference to us, but it would probably make to them. We knew we couldn't sleep at night knowing we took money from these poor people, even though it was their fault. So we told them that we didn't want any money from them. They were incredibly happy and thankful and they invited us to have lunch on them.
As we took a lot of pictures, and we filmed, police felt that even though we came to an agreement, and we didn't claim anything, we still had to go to the “comisaria” to fill out papers and stuff. I tried to explain to them that after having an accident all I wanted was to go somewhere and rest, but no, the law is the law, we had to go to the “comisaria”. So Vasile had to fix the handlebar on the side of the road to make the bike rideble. Also, we moved the remaining pannier on the back of my bike and we tried to squeeze everything in that pannier, in the black bag I had on the back of my bike, plus Vasile’s panniers. Unfortunately we had to leave our jery-can there, as we had no more room for it.
Once the bike fixed (at least temporarily) we went to the “comisaria”, about 60 km from there. Once there, they asked me to sign a report of the accident. Luckily I can read Spanish, so when reading it, it was saying that the truck went very slightly wider to the left just so it could turn better to the right. I got quit mad when I saw this, and I told the policeman that that was not the truth, the truck was actually completely on the left lane. It was one of those short trucks, camion, so it did not need to go wide to the left in order to turn right, and there was a big wide space on the side of the road on the right anyway. The truck had completely passed a continuous double lane to the left, and then to the right, without signaling at all. And I reminded him that he was actually there, so he must have seen that. “But this is what I meant on the report, that it went to the left” “But it wasn’t “slightly”, it was completely on the other lane” “So then you refuse to sign? I will write here that you refuse to sign” “No, I don’t refuse to sign, I just want you to put the right story” “Well, I cannot re-do it now” “Why don’t you put a note then, on the side” “No, I’ll just put here that you refuse to sign” I think this was convenient for the guys, as the truck guys tried to convince me before going to the “comisaria” not to sign that paper. Apparently if I signed it, it had to be investigated etc.
While I was having that discussion with that policeman, a commissar intervened and told him to add that I didn't sign because I did not agree with that description of the facts. Anyway, as I wasn't going to make any claim, it didn't really matter; I just wanted to make sure it wasn't going to turn against me. By that description it almost sounded that I didn't have patience to wait for the truck to pull over on the right, and I passed it by its right side, which would have been my fault, and that was not true.
But that wasn't enough. We had to go to a “Juez de paz”, something like a public notary, and make a written agreement that I do not claim anything. We did that too, and around 6 pm we were finally done with everything. It only took 4 and a half hours from the accident. I don’t even want to imagine what it would have been if I actually wanted to claim anything. First off, I don’t think I would've gotten anything, anyway. Police would have written in their reports whatever they wanted (I’m sure they didn't do that for nothing), there would have been declarations over declarations and nothing actually solved. An accident here is a punishment even if it’s not your fault, let alone if it is. I was really lucky (if I can say that) that police was there when my accident happened, they saw what happened and they couldn't really lie, even though they did try to make things smoother for the locals. But if they weren't there, I am sure the fault would have been thrown on us, as it usually happens with tourists unfortunately. But most of all I was happy that I was fine and I didn't have any major injuries. As Vasile says, I’m unbeatable, nothing hurts on me Just some bruises on my arms and legs, a slight ankle pain and some ripped pants And after all the paperwork, at the end of the day, a horrible headache.
We were just thinking, earlier that same day, how incredible it was that we went through all these countries with crazy traffic and we didn't have any accidents! I guess it was too early to think about that.
I am just hoping that the driver learnt something from this. He did promise me to be more careful in the future. I, for one, learnt that I should honk all the time, as they do here, to make them aware of my presence around them.
Now I really need to get to the beach and spend some lazy days there
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Old 04-30-2013, 08:21 PM   #74
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Galapagos Islands

We entered Ecuador and as it was late we stopped in the first town right after the border, Macara. It was dark, we were tired, and we were looking for a hotel. But first, we had to find an ATM and get some cash. And surprise: the only two ATMs in town were not taking any of our cards. We tried all the cards we had, nothing. When we saw this, we decided to keep going until the next town, about 150 km away, hoping that we would find an ATM that would work for us there. But hey, we had no more gas either, and gas stations only take cash, so we couldn't go. The last option was to find a place to camp somewhere, and then try again the next day. But before we did that, we decided to try one more time. And finally one of our credit cards worked. The sound of the machine counting the money was never better music to our ears. So now we had money for dinner too! With our stomachs full we went to a well deserved sleep.
The next days we rode all the way to Guayaquil. Another challenge here to find a decent place to stay, as there was some concert in town and all the hotels were full. We figured if we were going further from the center, we would have higher chances to find something. But soon we realized we did not want to stay in a hotel in the outskirts of the city. We found ourselves in some really creepy places, there were plenty of hotels, and they had rooms, but I would have been scared to stay there. On top of that it started pouring and the streets were flooded so bad, we could barely get through on bikes. So we turned back to the center and managed to find a nice place that still had some rooms.
The next day Vasile did his oil change on his bike, while I shopped around for flight tickets to Galapagos Islands and hotels. This little escape was going to cost us an arm and a leg. But we were decided to do it.
Two days later we left the bikes at the hotel and we were in the plain heading to Galapagos. And when we got there we felt like in a different world. The whole landscape was so different! Even though it rained the first day, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.
Here are some of the highlights of our stay.
First, we stayed for three days in Isla Isabela, and here are its beautiful beaches, with white fine sand and the perfectly clear and turquoise water.




Lots of big, colourful crabs


The second day in Isla Isabela we rented bikes and we rode on incredible trails on the beach or through forests of mangroves or cactus














We saw the beautiful pink flamingos


and the giant Galapagos turtles at the breeding center


as well as lots of them in the wild, in their natural habitat








On the way back, we saw the lava tunnels, where some people were snorkeling






Lots of marine iguanas, species that only leave here, in Galapagos Islands




After three incredible days in Isla Isabela, we took a speed boat to Isla Santa Cruz. And here we saw more giant turles




The unique blue footed boobies




The cute Galapagos penguins


Playful seals sharing the same space with humans




More marine iguanas


and land iguanas


And pelicans and seals trying to get some fish from the fishermen




We were so fortunate to see there, among the fishing boats, a beautiful big eagle ray


This was the thing that impressed us most about Galapagos: the variety of animals living in such a small place, and sharing the same space with humans. Never before have we seen so many different species in their natural habitat all at once.

The last day in Santa Cruz Island we went to see the Tortuga Bay beach, as I heard from so many people that it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We had to walk for about 45 minutes, but it was so worth it. The beach was amazing, and the water was great, just perfect for swimming.




We were quit sad when we left the islands, but now we have to get to Bogota and ship the bikes to Miami. We will be using Lynn Cargo to ship our bikes. We have already contacted Veronica, and we are planning to be in Miami the first week of May. More news to come.
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Old 05-11-2013, 07:28 PM   #75
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Leaving the beautiful South America

We got to our last destination in South America Ė Bogota. From here we shipped the bikes to Miami. I contacted Lynn Cargo (Veronica) to get some quotes, and Miami was the cheapest one: around $700 per bike, as opposed to about $2000 to have them shipped to other cities in the USA. And we figured we werenít going to mind a few more days on the beach.
The shipping process was easier than we were expecting. Veronica provided all the details for us, she was really helpful. We got to Bogota on Thursday, we went to the Lynn Cargo office on Friday, and while they processed all the paperwork, we bought our flight ticket online. We bought tickets to Fort Lauderdale, as it was almost $400 cheaper per person than to fly to Miami international (a bit over $300 as opposed to $700).
Once Veronica was done with the paperwork, she sent one of her employees with us to the Airport.

And over there we prepared the bikes to be shipped. We didnít leave any luggage on mine, as we thought it would be cheaper if it was lighter, and I could take my pannier in the plane, but it turned out they have a formula that takes into consideration volume and weight, and if it is under 500 kg, there is a way higher rate, so the shipping of my bike ended up being a bit more expensive that Vasileís, even though it was a lot lighter (Vasile left his panniers on, and we put as much as we could in them). But anyway, the price was very good, and Veronica gave us a discount too for shipping two bikes at a time ($1680 for the two bikes).
Hereís Vasile taking off the mirrors and the windshield.



As it was Friday, and police was busy they could not finish the inspections of our bikes. So we left the keys with the Lynn Cargo employee, he assured us we didnít need to be there the next day, unless we wanted to wait there a whole day for police to be available. So if we werenít needed there, we didnít insist. This way we could spend a nice day walking around Bogota.
On Sunday we flew to Fort Lauderdale. And this is the view from the plane.



Now I understand why it is so famous.
We asked a cab how much they would charge us to Miami and the answer was $75. To rent a car was $40 with tax and insurance included, so we opted for the car rental.
And here we are, in Miami Beach!





We waited a few days for Veronicaís confirmation of the bike shipment. She did warn us that it was peak season, and it would take a few days. No problem, we donít mind the beach and the pool at the hostel. In the meantime we met with some old friends from Romania, leaving in Palm Beach now, and had a great time.



Wednesday our bikes arrived and we went to pick them up. The process was even easier, we went to the Cargo company, they gave us a bunch of papers, went with them to the Customs, got a stamp on them, came back and picked up the bikes. Couldn't have been easier.
The next day, really happy and on our bikes again off we went to the Florida Keys. Amazing view from the bridge!







And then we decided to start the long journey back to Vancouver. We miss South America so much already, but we are excited to head home though. And we are having an incredibly hard time getting used the very civilized traffic here We canít believe we see lines of cars and empty shoulders
We did one stop in Daytona, now we are in Atlanta and hopefully tomorrow night in Nashville. More news to come.
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