Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Argentina And Chile - solo
Raul will cycle Chile and Argentina solo. I decided to pull out.
Why? As we kept saying from the very beginning of this trip it has never been about destination. But we had to choose two points on the map to draw the line of the journey between them.
When we left Alaska two and a half year ago, we had countless number of turns and junction ahead. That's the beauty of a road trip – freedom of choice, lack of routine, spontaneity. We rarely turned down invitations from locals; we would stop in the middle of the day just because someone invited us for 'chicha' or stay a day longer in a village, because Dona Maria promised to cook local speciality for us or her children wanted to show as their hideout in the forest. We would take longer ride just because someone told us that there is something beautiful to see that none of the guidebooks talk about. We would stay longer in a town just because we like its vibes or there was a local party coming up.
Neither was it about cycling, at least not for me. It was always about travelling freely. To be honest I had very serious doubts about 'the whole bike thing' at the beginning. But now, with no doubt, I can say that bike is the best vehicle to really be there with the environment and with the people, to truly experience the place, not just look at it. Cycling lets one engage fully with the surroundings. Whether it's uphill or downhill, whether is hot or cold, rainy or windy (or both ;)), whether we pass through the most stunning canyon or in between traffic that follows no rules in La Paz, whether it smells pine forest or sh.t – we feel it all, with all our seances. But the most beautiful is the experience with people; bikes have opened for us many doors and even more hearts. This trip was the best lesson of human generosity and kindness. Ans I'm sure no other vehicle would give the same experience.
However, few months ago we noticed Ushuaia on the map. The destination, the end of the trip, became an obvious part of it. And it wouldn't be a problem, if it wasn't for the fact that each day it was gaining more importance. Soon we realized that if we want to arrive to Ushuaia on time (there is a very small gap of good weather), we have to speed up. To do so we even decided, for the first time, to take a bus in Peru, which I didn't like at all; it was killing the spirit of the trip. And yet counting days and kilometres we realized that we are still too slow. We started to turn down invitations, we couldn't afford to 'waste' time to wait for a fiesta that is in few days time, we had to plan how far to go each day in order to make 'the minimum daily distance' etc. The priorities switched; it was more about reaching Ushuaia by bike rather than about the journey. And I didn't like it, didn't like it at all. I didn't want to cycle across Chile and Argentina in order to reach Ushuaia, I wanted to experience those places. So I decided to pull out. I might be back one day. And then I'll start from Ushuaia and go North. This way I'll have all the time I need to explore. Free again.
Raul keeps cycling. The fact is that he is faster then me, so by making a bit more kilometres every day he is 'saving' more time for exploration. Yet he has to keep Ushuaia in mind; he has to speed up significantly. But he still have the strength and determination to do so. However I doubt he'll find much time to share his stories with us. I'll however post sometimes on his behalf on Facebook, just to let you guys know, how is he doing. And we'll definitely post pictures from Peru and Bolivia some time in near future.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

After, as beautiful as challenging, ride through Bolivian altiplano, we are taking a short break from cycling to visit some sites in Peru that were totally off our cycling route. We are now in Arequipa enjoying pleasant warmth of 2000 masl and planning hike to the deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon.

Since we left our bikes behind, we had to face the disadvantages of backpacking, one of which is arriving at your destination at early morning hours. Our bus, surprisingly and to our disappointment, arrived on time, which meant 4 in the morning. Not having much option, we found a corner where we curled around our bags and tried to get some more sleep. But a guy who was sleeping next to us, decided to get up. And it wouldn’t bothered us if not for the fact that, before he even put his trousers on (the terminal even at 4 am was full of people), he pulled his portable radio out and standing there, just in his underwear in the middle of bus terminal at four in the morning, started to tune the radio to his – and every single Peruvian – favourite music – Cumbia Peruana.  This music is like some national epidemic; as bad as it is, it can be heard everywhere and we haven’t med one Peruvian who wouldn’t like it. Raul thought that there can’t be worst music than receton, Marta that the cheesiest music ever made was disco-polo. But we were both wrong…

Check yourself.Specialy for you: Sonia Morales! La Internacional!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Yep, Peru is huge and yet we are already by the very end of it; in two days we'll be in Bolivia. But it wasn't without a price, we had to rush. We can inevitably feel the breath of Argentinian winter on our necks and, for the first time on this trip, the time matters. We had to say no to so many invitation to sit and chat over chicha in the middle of the day, we missed so many fiestas and has to skip so many side trips and for the first time we even had to take a bus just to catch up with time; however distant it still is, we can see the end…
So that is why we neglected a bit the blog, three months in Peru and not a single picture has been uploaded. It is all coming; slowly, but surely. For those few who still follow our travels, we just want to let you know that we are alive, we still keep cycling and pictures from the Amazon Jungle and text about Raul’s Ayahuasca experience is coming very soon!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wow! Peru is huge! We haven't started cycling South yet and we've already done close to 800km in a bit more than 2 weeks. After crossing the border we headed East as we decided we want to see Amazon Jungle.  The only highlight of this ride was the stopover in Chachapoyas, where we met our friend, Daniel and went to see ruins of Kulap, very interesting pre-Incan culture. The rest of the ride was just the way to the Jungle; we were afraid of heat and mosquitoes, but luckily neither of these was an issue.
So here we are - in Yurimaguas, still at the same latitude as 2 weeks ago, the road has ended and the only way to go from here any further is to take a boat. And that's our plan! We'll cruise along Amazon River for 3-4 day, arrive to Iquitos, a city the size of Edinburgh that is not connected by land with the rest of the country (which makes it the biggest city in the world that is not connected by land) and come back to finally make our way South!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

our long way to Peru
We finally crossed the border with Peru. A bit reluctantly, as on one hand we got to like Ecuador so much and on the other we heard some stories of people having bad experiences in Peru.  But everybody lives their own story, so leaving all the prejudgements behind, we are here – in Peru!

But what a border crossing it was! Zumba seemed to be the most obvious choice for us – straight South from Cuenca and towards the Peruvian jungle, where we are heading now. The road on the map was beautifully drawn, all the way to the border marked as ‘secondary road, partially surfaced’. Not that we trust maps too much – you cannot trust any map in South America (some roads have been planned to be paved for years, but the money always disappear from the construction site and appears in somebody’s pocket; yet they are optimistically put on the maps as paved; and then other roads that are marked as unpaved we found with smooth brand new surface), but since in Ecuador they frenetically pave every single donkey track, we learnt that even the smallest roads, that we didn’t expect to be paved,  are already surfaced.

And yet in Vilcabamba, I had this feeling that maybe this road won’t be paved; we asked few people, including Police and Visitor Centre, but since it is very small border crossing and the road leads to nowhere, we got very different answers. At the end we managed to establish that the road is not fully paved; that about 40 more km is paved (to the top of the hill, which was good news, because at least we’ll climb n pavement), but then another 100ish km is dirt; that there are road works going on and so the road is being prepared for new surface so has been widen and smoothen. It sounded ok, however on the back of my head I had still this disturbing information I read in a guide that the bus ride from Loja to Zumba (about 150km) takes 6 to 7 hours! But I just thought it must have been written before they started paving the road.

So our plan was: day 1 Vilcabamba – Valladolid (60ish km), day 2 Valladolid – Zumba (60ish km), day 3 Zumba – border – San Ignacio (60ish km). But it didn’t go this way…

We completed day one, but….it took us 7 hours! First the hill – for the last two months in Andes we’ve been climbing may hills, but this one we won’t forget for a long time; at 44th km we finally stopped climbing and my speedometer was showing nearly 2000m altitude gain, but we gained it in less than 30km!, as over this 44km of climb there were few brief downhills. That could possibly be one of the steepest climb we’ve done! From there was ‘only’ downhill.  As we were told there was no more pavement, but as we weren’t told the road works were super intense and what were supposed to be smoothen dirt turned to be totally destroyed  by heavy-duty machines surface; add to this recent rains and you’ll get… mud until ankles!
15 hellish km downhill where we had to try hard not to slip and fall and break so hard that we were going downhill not much faster than where we were climbing. 
We thought we cannot go like this for another 70+ km, so the next morning we decided to take a bus. The 60km-ride to Zumba took us 3 hours! The road was bad and I just couldn’t imagine how it can get any worse, because we were told that the 14km-ride from Zumba to the border will take about 2 hours!!!

The next day my bum learnt how it can be worse…so both Google Map and our guidebook claims that it actually is only 14km, for me it felt like minimum 140km… The transport that goes from Zumba to the border is ‘ranchero’ (in Colombia called ‘chivo’), a poorer cousin of Guatemalan chicken buses. It is a truck converted to transport people, where the back where passengers are seated has open sides, wooden roof and rows of benches (cushioned, but it doesn’t really make much difference to me…). We put our bikes and pannier bags being last bench, so we had to seat on the back of the truck to keep an eye if we are not losing something on the way, as I said the sides of the ‘bus’ are open.  I knew it shake the most at the back of the bus, but we had not much choice. What a ride it was! Stones and holes, holes and stones, stones in holes – it didn’t stop even for a second! I had to hold myself with my two hands and press with my knees against the bench in front of me and yet I was thrown up in the air constantly.  My poor coccyx will remember this ride for a long time, the cushions were useless… And yes! This 14km ride took us 1:45 hrs!!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Happy 20000 km!

Just before arriving to Cuenca the first number on our speedometers changed from 1 to 2. Perfect! A reason for treats and celebration! So since for quite a while we were craving the ordinary apple pie (an apple is an exotic fruit here, so an apple pie is something fancy and not easy to find), rather than buying local cream cakes, we made our own 20000km-pie :)

How was the ride from Banos to here? Beautiful! It was overcasted all the time we stayed in Banos; the day we left I was pretty sure we'll get wet. But, instead the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we finally got to see the Tungurahua volcano. We went towards Chimborazo (6300-and a bit m asl, the highest mountains of Ecuador and apparently - for its proximity to the Equator and the not that perfect spherical shape of our planet - the furthest point from the Earth centre) and we were pretty much climbing for three days straight up to nearly 4500m asl. So high and with the sky clear the views were stunning; sometimes we could see four different volcanoes at the same time, including mighty Chimborazo and perfectly conical Cotopaxi. 
Leaving Chimborazo we decided to cycle on PanAm for a longer time for the first time; and since past Riobamba the official PanAm heads to the coast, the road that keeps going straight South receives very little traffic and actually is very pretty; I can't get enough of Andean patchworked hills. 
Ah! And we got first broken spoke (Marta's rear wheel) :(

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Adventroubulus ride from Tumbaco/Quito to Banos
In Ecuador there are pretty much three roads running in N-S direction; one along the coast, other in the jungle and the third one - the busy Panamericana in the mountains. So since we want to stay in the mountains, but not necessarily breathing fumes of the trucks roaring along the big highway, we followed, already well beaten, cyclists track and looped first to the left and then to the right of PanAm. The first loop took us through Cotopaxi NP. On the way there we had to go through very through internal fight; we took an alternative route to avoid cobble, but we ended up on a cobbled road anyway - very bad, sharp and uneven stones. We had already tried cycling on cobble in Ecuador and with our rather thin tires and heavy weight in, gently speaking, a nightmare. So when we were standing there (4km of cobble behind us, half cycled half pushed; another 12km ahead), trying to decide if the Cotopaxi Volcano is really worth it, a car came and offer us a lift; it was a hard decision, but we accepted. It was the first time we took a lift, the first time the road won the battle...
The second loop, called after picturesque crater lake Quilotoa, was one of my favourite rides on this trip, even though I had all the reasons to be fed up with it. First my front inner tube exploded damaging the rim (after some filing down it still can be used) and the brand-new tire (this one most likely is damage beyond use), then for the next three days I had problem with the rear wheel loosing air (the protection tape inside of the rim over time hardened and its edges became hard and were cutting through the inner tube; we put an insulation tape over it, but the inner tube had already so many small cuts, that with the pressure they were just opening on by one) and when we were done with this and the ride was becoming 'boring' my rear gear cable lost tension. But the loop is truly beautiful; the road winds and rolls through hills covered with patchwork of fields and pasture lands, with snow-capped volcanoes in the background, small indigenous villages until it reaches stunning Quilotoa Lake at nearly 4000m asl. 
We actually bit our record and reached over 4000m asl on bikes on the way from the lake to Latacunga. We made a short stopover in Latacunga as we arrived there a day before one of the biggest markets in Central Highlands in a nearby village, Saquisili. So we couldn't miss it. The next day after a long ride against heavy wind we arrived to Banos. Today we go for well-deserved soak in thermal baths fed by water heated by nearby Volcano Tungurahua.