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Rannoch Moor

Our journey started with a trainride along the West Highland Line, that i would recommend if you are travelling through this part of Scotland. While we waited at the train station in Arisaig, one of the steam trains frequenting this line passed through.

The train ride was amazing. Still stunned by the beauty, we got off the train and forgot our guitar in the overhead compartment. When we realized our mistake, it was already too late. We heard the train doors shut and the train leaving with me running after it and screaming. As it sank in, there was little we could do and we sat a while in silent shock. We called the train station in Glasgow and were given little information what might happen to a guitar travelling all by itself and where it might turn up.

Sadly we rolled down the lonely road leading from the station and just camped next to the road. The beautiful scenery deserved better onlookers than we were at that moment.

These photos won’t give you any impression on what level our hope was to ever see our guitar again. And also not, that after the rather traumatising tick bites on Skye, that we now shared our home with a whole family of ticks. Including further relatives until the great-uncle’s niece’s cousin.

The next day i boarded a train to Glasgow to investigate at the lost and found office. The conductor was extremely helpful and tried to enquier with her cellphone, but to no avail. I returned in the afternoon, with no result. After some debate we decided to continue our trip and try to investigate further with phone calls in order to track down the guitar.

The route towards Pitlochry was beautiful and while we were already starting to give up on the guitar, we decided to at least make one more attempt in Glasgow. Since our friend Maggie from Canada would also be in town, there would be a reason to celebrate.

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carretera austral

Arriving in Santa Lucia at the Carretera Austral, i was somewhat taken aback when there was a perfect asphalt road starting just a few hundred meters out of the village. I’m not a dirt road fanatic in the sense that i grumble at any sign of asphalt, but in my mind the carretera austral was like patagonia, wild and rough around the edges. Recently a lot of stretches were paved and in others, works were in progress. Sometimes with explosives to make room for two lanes, and so some parts of the road are closed at certain hours. At least the second half towards Puyihuapi were dirt and i arrived somewhat relieved that at least some parts remained untamed.

At the plaza, i met Boris from the casa del ciclista in Coyhaique. Some minutes later Samuel from Spain, and since two years a resident of Santiago, arrived and we had a cyclists’s chat.

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There is a hostel next to the lake which also offers camping. After dinner we were presented with this view.

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Back at the hostel i met Flo from Germany who was travelling with Ariel from Santiago. They both had participated in the race in Futaleufu the day i was passing through. The next morning they started early but we made plans to catch up later as we all in to intended to make a stop at the hanging glacier in the Queulat National Park.

There is a campground at the side of the road which was already packed with other cyclists and an old bus who now served as common room and sleeping quarters. In the afternoon we first walked to the mirador which is a two hour walk uphill.

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When we got down again we found out that the fifteen minute walk to the lagoon at the bottom is not only shorter, less streneous but also offers views just as good.

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We thought about taking a swim and the colour of the water looked inviting, but after wetting our feet we were content to leave the rest of our bodies unfrozen.

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In some parts the influence of which part of the globe the people came to settle here is obvious. Not only the name giver to this bridge but also to one of the many local beers or cerveza artesanal.

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The paved part towards Puerto Aisén doesn’t see a lot of traffic and for the better part of it, we could cycle side by side occupying one lane while chatting. Here with Flo and Sam, who took the photo.

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In one of the villages we met Kevin from San Francisco and continued as a group of five. Only some kilometers from town we found a nice camping next to Lago Las Torres. We had a swim and relaxed at the shore until it was time for dinner. Here with Kevin, myself, Ariel, Samuel and Flo.

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We had our share of bike problems: broken racks, punctures, a snapped spoke and trouble with the brakes. While working on Flo’s broken rack,

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Ariel preferred to have a siesta.

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Water is plenty around here. If you are not seeing a waterfall on the side of the road…

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you’re likely to follow a lake or a river.

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When arriving in Coyhaique, we first had a hearty lunch in a restaurant before making our way to the casa del ciclista and occupied the last remaining space in the garden with our tents.

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Boris was still on his way to Puerto Montt but his friend Paulina took care of the place. Such a lovely person and such a great group of people we had to pleasure to meet during our stay.

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la guitarra

Already in La Paz, the guitar was out of shape. Sadly unlike with cyclist, this could not be mended by some days of resting. With some meddling and putting a piece of a bicycle tube under the bridge i could get it back to a level that it was playable. Another month of riding through one of the driest climates on this planet and it was beyond my skills to repair it. The neck was bend. And most of the frets produced only a rattling sound with the highest point of the neck now being around the 14th fret.

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While there were no outer signs visible at the beginning, by the time i had reached Cafayate, cracks were obviously showing.

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Also on the top where body and neck are joined. Luckily this was more cosmetic and nothing substantial.

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I adressed the problem as one of the first things after arriving at the Huayra Sanipi. Pepo, one of the two owners, was quick to call up a friend of his and twenty minutes later i was talking to Pedro, an immensely helpful guy, still a  student but soon to be a luthier himself. He took the guitar to his professor and came back with some suggestions how to solve the matter. Some rather cheap, but only the most expensive one offering a solution that would last.

As the neck adjustment screw was still intact, the luthier changed to the medium expensive version without replacing the fretboard. Which brought the price down to about half of what we had agreed on and i still had a working guitar. In the evening we played a small concert to celebrate the rebirth of the that guitar.

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If someone is looking for a good budget guitar, this is a good choice. I’m not sure if the variations in quality are a big issue. Playability and sound were outstanding for an instrument with a such a low pricetag. Just be aware of dry climates while travelling with wooden instruments. I weren’t thinking about how to humidify my guitar until the neck was already bent.

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abra acay

Luck found us in the way of Rosario. Not only had he a replacement suspension fork for Alvaro’s bike and could change dollars at a good exchange rate, he also offered us an empty apartment to rest in. After fixing the bike, we spent the evening with him and his family to say ‘thank you’ for all is help. Alvaro was preparing a spanish tortilla on this occasion.

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Leaving San Antonio, we soon gained altitude before turnong off on the famous Ruta 40, whichs spans almost the whole country from north to south for more than 5000 kilometers. In the afternoon the clouds looked anything else than inviting and around the mountain tops lightning could be seen while blasts of thunder resounded around us. We found shelter in a tool shed of a cemetery, a rather cramped spot and the surroundings with the tombs probably not to everyone’s liking, it still made for a good night’s sleep and a photography playground for Alvaro.
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The next morning the view had changed dramatically and the mountains were covered in snow. Photo also taken by Alvaro.
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The weather was nice and we started the real climb towards the pass. With declining energy it was a bit disheartening after turning a bend, to see that we were not even halfway there and the view of the whole road ahead up to the top seemed to be the work for more than one afternoon. But taking it one turn of the wheel at a time, we soon had the last turn of the pass behind us.

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At almost 5000m, it was rather chilly…
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and though a lot of the snow of the night had already melted, we still found enough to built this snowy compañero.
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The descent was spectacular. Had the ascent been a bit monotonous, now the scenery changed every five kilometers and we stopped every so often to take in the views, which passed almost too quickly now going downhill.
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We had planned to reach the next village but camped at an abandonned house instead with a river flowing nearby. The following day, the road descended more gently along the river through this beautiful valley.
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Especially at first, the road crossed the river very often, around every kilometer, which made for some wet feet.
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After all the rigidness we had seen over the last weeks, this valley seemed to be the land of plenty and every tree seemed to be an invitation to take a rest.
Shade was also starting to become a necessity, as we were dropping into a drastically hotter climate. When we reached Cachi, it seemed to be too good a place to just pass through. And after we had settled in at “la mamama”, it was clear that we would not be cycling the next day.

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paso sico

The road out of San Pedro at first is straight and flat and there is nothing much to see around. We made good progress until i headed into Toconao and stopped at the first little shop with Alvaro some minutes behind. Since it was the only place for the day along the road, it was clear to me that we would make a break. Only after half an hour i was growing suspicious that this might not be the case for all members of the team and i returned to the main road. It was hard to stop passing cars and some drivers just waved at me in response to my sign to stop as if i had greeted them instead. And the driver of the first car that stopped, coming from the south, was cocksure that there was no cyclist in the road ahead. So i waited longer. The second person i could ask was coming from San Pedro and this time the information was, that they had seen a cyclist coming from there. But by that time i was already past the point of believing that Alvaro could still be lagging behind and i approached the other passengers of the truck and they told me that they are pretty sure that the cyclsist they had seen was me, an hour ago. Perfect. Finally the next driver confirmed that a cyclist was about twenty kilometers ahead and some kilometers down the road i found further proof.

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I caught up with him in Socaire, where we camped next to the plaza and the church. The real climbing started the next day, for half of the day on asphalt until we took the turn-off towards the lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, a sandy and rocky road climbing towards the entrance six kilometers further. The idea was to cycle along the lagunas and exit on the other side, rejoining the main road towards the pass. But at the entrance we were told that the road is closed because of a protected bird nesting on the shore. Usually a friend of laws protecting wildlife, this bird wasn’t making it easy for us to become friends. All efforts with the person present were to no avail and in the end we paid the entrance fee and started with the bikes unloaded to explore the two lagoons. Alvaro in front of the laguna Miscanti.

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The road is closed. ¨Fucking ave (bird)¨ became a line often used these days for anything annoying that happened.

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Laguna Miñiques, just a kilometer down the road from Laguna Miscanti.

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We were not allowed to camp within the park and thus returned to the main road and cycled some kilometers more before finding a beautiful spot to camp between beautiful rock formations, that also provided protection from the wind. The next day brought more lagunas and by now were felt compensated for having missed out on some in Bolivia.

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Whiter than the laguna blanca…

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and greener than the laguna verde.

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We had heard from other cyclists that the miners just before the border are very friendly and from time to time offer cyclists a place to sleep. Nicolas, the man in charge, offered us a room and later a soup that was boiling on his stove. We also met a familiar face in form of Armando, a motorcyclist we had met in San Pedro, who had no luck entering Argentina without international insurance. But being a guy with good spirits, he hadn’t lost his smile just yet.

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Things became distinctly greyish just before crossin the border.

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Recovery service seems to be rather poor in these parts and so cars are just ‘parked’ next to the road after an accicdent.

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A last look back towards Chile and its, at least in these times of the year, seemingly always blue skies.

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Rock formations just before the borderpost of Argentina.

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Just in front of the building, Alvaro realized that his fork had a crack, that wasn’t inspiring confidence. The people of the border let us sleep in one of their unused buildings and we made plans to make it at least to San Antonio de los Cobres and see if it would be possible to mend it there. If so, we would continue to the south and the highest pass in Argentina, the Abra Acay.

 

 

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adventures in-between

After all that salt, we were riding straight into a mud bath when we left the salar. By then it didn’t matter much anymore.

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We stopped for lunch in Yonza, where we were offered a place to stay next to the plaza and could also wash the salt and mud off our bikes. The next day saw us cycling to san pedro de quemez, where we camped in the yard of the staff of the centro de salud and cooked up some good dinner for him when he returned from work.

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Crossing the main tourist trail at san juan the following day and the rail line coming from Uyuni, we were soon on our way to Alota and Villamar.

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A sandy ascent, but with nice skies to look at while we had to push occasionally, was followed by a descent on a much better road surface…

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and delivered us into this valley were llamas were munching on algae in the river.

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The road was heavy washboard and so we were glad, while thinking we would have to ride another twenty kilometers, to suddenly arrive at the international road and the pueblo of Alota. Time for an icecream at the plaza.

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On the way to Villamar, we were stopping at these rock formations close to the valley de las rocas.

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From Villamar the idea was to rejoin the main route at the Laguna Colorado. That didn’t quite happen…

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La Paz

The first view of La Paz is an impressive one. Arriving in el alto, the city is lying in a huge bowl below.

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Humbert, another cyclist travelling with a guitar, and stephan rocking the casa.

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While usually not too motivated to explore cities, i sometimes yield to persuasion and take a look.

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The plan was to visit the musical instrument museum which is located in this quaint little street.

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The museo is small enough not to overwhelm a tired cyclist. One of the more curious items on display is this guitar with five necks, probably contructed with indian gods in mind as patronage.

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The casa is full of scribblings of other cyclists that have passed through. And i found quite a few familiar names on the walls or in the guestbook, like Dallas for example, my host in Brisbane some years ago. The room we slept in is decorated with this tree and some suggestions what to do while resting.

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The house got a bit crowded in the last days of my stay. On the left is Christian our host.

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Thank you for this great place!

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Huayhuash

After arriving in Huaraz, i was starting with paul (here his account of the trek) on a bus at five the next morning. A breakfast break in chiquián and a rather rough ride to llamac later, we were ready for our first day of hiking to the laguna jahuacocha and the first views of the snow capped mountains of the huayhuash range.

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Even though the direct sunlight fades already in the afternoon while being in the valley, the light stays with one at least on the mountain tops for a good while longer.

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And the rising sun creates a nice backlight in the early morning hours.

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But the new morning also brought bad news. Paul’s stove was gone. Someone had taken it out of the tent’s vestibule during the night. After an initial phase of doubt what to do, we continued with the only difference being, that we had to do with fires from now on. (photo by paul)

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This shepperd we met the day before. Then he had asked us for pain relieving pills for his knees and we couldn’t help him. Instead we offered him some of our clos wine this time in the hope it would help. (photo by paul)

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We continued up valleys with the ever so beautiful changing play of light and shadow offered by the clouds.

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While climbing up the passes, pausing to take a photo became a favourite for a quick breather. Paul in front of the panorama of huayhuash before cresting the yaucha pass.

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Especially during the first half of the trek we were delighted to have such good weather and views were consequently amazing. Leaving the main trail soon after Huayllapa, we instead chose to explore a side valley and the area around laguna jurau. We left our tents and stuff at the campground close to the laguna and went on exploring without load on our shoulders and thus felt quite ready for more adventures. (photo by paul)

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It turned out to be one of the most stunning sceneries in these already rich surroundings. Three blue lagoons nestled between the mountains. (photo by paul)

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After returning to the camp and having lunch, we made our way to the san antonio pass, or so at least we thought. Being the pass shown in the official maps, we didn’t think it would be too difficult to find it. But after two hours of a fruitless search, we half angrily and half impatiently opted for the ‘we-will-find-our-own-way’ method. Though it was a difficult scramble uphill, it seemed we made good progress in the beginning. But when the light of the day was fading and the weather had turned really bad on us for the first time, a light rain soon had developed into a hail storm, we soon agreed, even if we would make it up the moutain, we would still be far from a suitable spot to camp or a source of water. So we retraced our steps to last night’s camp site. The downhill part being only slightly less exhausting, with the knees soon groaning and memories of the shepperd and his plee for pain relieving pills flashing through the mind in lack of more positive thoughts. Since the trip had, despite a stolen stove, been going really well, this was a bit of a sudden setback that had to be digested.

In the evening, while another attenpt to make fire went rather smootly, because we had carried fire-wood in our backpacks and thus were in possession of dry twigs, i thought i would not want to climb any passes the day to come. But already while lying in the sleeping bag a while later, the “why not” questions was making itself heard, and the crushing defeat, felt not long ago, had changed to a small mishap one could deal with easily.

While coping with the failed attempt in the evening, we both forget to stow away firewood and were only left with wet wood and no dry things to start a fire in the morning after a rainy night. Despite it taken us an hour to get a fire going and some effort to keep it alive, there was hardly any need to ask the question what the other wanted to do. After breakfast we packed up, climbed up to the laguna jurau and went on the lookout for the startpoint to another pass we had heard of by joshi, a fellow trekker we had met the day before. It took over an hour and some moaning on my part, at first not believing when paul was shouting down from the mountain that he had found the path. But some stone pyramids unquestionably pointed the way, along which the laguna kept us company…

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almost until we crested the last pass on our circuit at punta cuyoc. (photo by paul)

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All in all a tough but rewarding six days in the mountains. Despite a stolen stove, some tough weathers around the passes and one pass we never even found, we kept our chins up and could enjoy some of the most stunning scenery we’ve seen so far. Thanks to paul for asking and doing almost all the planning as i don’t know if i had undertaken this trip by myself. Now it is time for some rest days in huaraz and visits to the countless bakeries to regain some calories.

 

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cajamarca

On the way from Celendin i stopped at a small village where the market was in full swing on a saturday morning. I had a late breakfast while the candidates of the coming election and their supporters were wandering through the crowds and trying to win over some votes at the last minute. All the while cows were looked over and prices negotiated.

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The road was blocked, which gave the drivers a nice excuse to use their horns even more often and vehemently than usual.

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In times right before an election, there is hardly any house, or any other surface for that instance, that isn’t used for propaganda. One area was full of this outhouses, which probably was the consequence of a campaign pledge by a former candidate… one that was fulfilled for a change.

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It was getting late when i arrived in cajamarca and got to the plaza de armas with its iglesia san francisco.

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I spent some time soaking in the atmosphere of the historic city center and was in no hurry as there are many hotels just off the plaza.

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The search for a place to stay though, turned out to be more difficult than expected. Just as i was getting a “sorry, we’re full” from the sixth guesthouse, i met james of pedalinforpennies.info, who was in town with anja and marko. Both their guesthouse were full as well but after finally getting hold of a bed for me, we could get some much needed dinner and were soon busy exchanging route plans and former stories from the road.

The next morning a parade was passing by the guesthouse and i was wondering if the potrayal of jesus was not too much lifelike.

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Others were carrying the logo of the day “feliz dia de la biblia” and were dancing and brought thus some welcome joy into the parade.

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A tour take its toll, this time in form of a broken bottle cage. luckily i found an able welder to fix this.

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Huaraz is the next stop where i will catch up with paul, with whom i rode parts of central america. And maybe i will seek an adventure off the bike, trekking though the cordillera blanca or huayhaush.

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Dedication to camping

It was a hard time leaving the relaxed vibe of the guesthouse. The climbing was getting harder towards the border, and for the last kilometers, the dirt road with its steep inclination was a real struggle. It was the campspots and the atmosphere in the evening that made this stretch worthwile. On the first night from Vilcabamba i found a campspot on a terrace out of earth created by moved during the roadworks of recent times. I enjoyed setting up camp earlier these days to have enough time to cook and enjoy the beautiful light in the evening.

The good weather was lasting throughout the night and offered this starry sky to look at.

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The next day i met, Zuza & Michal from the czech republic who are travelling with Sang from Belgium towards the north. We spent an hour or so chatting and exchanging tips and good wishes for the road ahead.

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Besides the camping, the ride through this beautiful valley around valladolid made the goodbye of Ecuador special. The road is going slightly downhill until this river crossing…

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and turns into a construction site a bit after Palanda, from where the road changes to dirt. Other cyclists had bad luck here and had to ride through deep mud after much rain fell and some who tried to overcome that stretch by bus where disappointed, when the bus got stuck and had to turn around. Two days without rain was enough to dry the road sufficiently and i had no trouble getting through. The climb to Zumba was still enough work and when i stopped for lunch, i wasn’t that sure anymore that i would make it to the border in the afternoon. The two following climbes were of similar kind and i camped in between them at a river crossing.

So the next morning i just had one last beast of a climb to overcome until the border with Peru was near. A really laid back border post, where i stopped for a late breakfast and to change some dollars into soles. Ecuador was brilliant. I had as good of an experience with the people as in Colombia, and the diversity and above the reward of going exploring is high as there is so much to see in this comparatively small country.