Author: SimonOnTour

Paso Agua Negra

I have stayed one week in La Serena. Desperatly needed rest after kilometres and kilometres of desert. In my mind I was already flirting with vacations at the end of March thou it was not even the end of Januray. But it was not only the two months that were separating me from the vacation, there was another little detail. I was on the wrong side of the Andes. When I will return to these parts of the World, automn will be already saying its’ goodbye. And this means that crossing a 4.000 and more metres high mountain passes will not be sometthing that is recomended on a bicycle without chains for the tires.
So I have headed east from La Serena towards 250 km distant mountain pass of Agua Negra. With its’ 4.780 metres above sea level it is the highest mountain pass between Chile and Argentina, just so that my job would not be too simple. And to make it a bit less easy, 120 kilometres of the road crossing it is gravel.
But the motivation was there as well as the desire to get it over with the task that separates me from my vacations.
Three days of pedalling through a narrower and narrower valley pass the Chilean border post, all the way to the beginning of the gravel. Menacing clouds and a few rain drops force me to seek shelter under the roof of a solitary shelter the original function of which is still unknown to me. My first night on a, one could say, no mans’ land. I’m on Chilean side of the pass, but officially I have left Chile about 20km ago when the border police stamped my passport.
The next day I’m dealing with a loose gravel road, the result of road works being done by the Chileans. The progress is difficult. Lou sinks into the loose gravel on more than one occasion and leaves me no choice but to push it along.
The countryside is stunning. Mountains changing colours, the intense blue of the sky, a tranquil lake, first snow-capped peaks beyond which lies Argentina start to appear.
Around 16h heavy storm clouds start to appear again. Today I’m not as lucky with the shelter, some grains of hail and a bit of rain catch me. However I do get lucky meeting an Argentinian family traveling with a van. They stop by my side and give me water. This way I do not have to fill it up and filter it from the nearby turbid stream.
The third day in the mountains I pedal until just after noon when I come to a point where the road continues in a zig-zag up the slope. This means that some flat areas to pitch my tent are probably non-existent all the way to the summit. And I need more than just half a day to the top. So I decide to stop and pitch my tent for one more night on this side of the pass.
I spent the afternoon in a shade of a rock. Observing the landscape and searching for molecules of oxygen in my inhales. I’m at 4.100 metres. A condor comes to say hello (flies over me at a safe distance).
Waking up into a fresh new morning. The day is going to be long and difficult, that much I can tell. The higher I am, the more times I need to get of Lou and push it. Every a bit more steep inclination stops me. At one point I have to push Lou in a zig-zag as doing it in a straight line is just impossible.
Gravel road, the wind and the altitude take their price. I’m moving at about 3 km/h, little break frequent, summit still far. I catch a glimpse of it turn one corner. Still missing about 7 km. But this is a distance that I can do and I can do it before the afternoon clouds roll in with a good chance of precipitation that follows. Slowly but surely I make my way towards the top. The last 2km I walk, the wind coming across the pass forces me into it. Just one curve and I’ll be at the top. Gathering my strengths I mount on Lou and the last 200 metres I cycle. I pass under a sign “Paso de Agua Negra – Limite Internacional”, I stop and I cry. Joy, relief, end of exertion, a flood of emotions.
After a short break I descend on the other side. The battle with the gravel road and the wind is still not over. After two hours of going downhill I’m rattled to the bone, hands are numb. I make camp among the ruins of an unfinished house. At least I have some shelter from the wind.
The next day another 15 km of gravel road before I hit brand new asphalt. Descend towards the gendarmes and then to the border post. New stamp, I’m officially in Argentina.
2km down the road is a small town, Las Flores. In the park in front of a gas station a young family on their way back from vacations in Chile is waiting for me. A while ago they passed me by and invited me to join them in Las Flores. Cold water and a meat sandwich (well lots of meat covered by a bit of bread) – Welcome to Argentina!
After about an hour we say goodbye to each other. They go on on their way home, me … Actually I don’t know, I feel lost, without a goal. The task that I had to do before my vacation, that is to cross the Andes, is done. It was tough, probably the toughest mountain pass that I have ever cycled, but now that is all behind me. So what do I do now?
I wander for a while through the small town. Just enough that the feeling of being lost fades away and a more rational thinking can prevail.
The date on my plane ticket is fix and it will not happen sooner nor later regardless of what I do. Besides there is one more little, pleasant task to do. I have promised Andres I will visit him at his home in Santa Rosa, La Pampa. Still missing about 1.200 kilometres. Since I cannot teleport myself over there I climb on Lou and together we hit the Road.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Desert Solitude

About two months ago I descended from the Peruvian Andes down to the coast and started my »romance« with the desert. After almost 3.000 km I have reached La Serena, Chile a few days ago. Here is where Atacama, the World dries desert, ends. On average there is only 15mm of rainfall per year and there are some weather stations that have never received any rain. In some areas they were even unable to find any signs of life, not even bacteria.
On the outskirts thou, first signs of life do start to appear. So in the days approaching La Serena I have started to see more vegetation around me. Small shrubs and cactuses were gradually winning the battle with sand and rocks. My eyes are starting to get used to greenery.

Regardless how much I love deserts, I do have to admit that the past two months were tough. Desert is an extreme environment. Kilometres and kilometres of nothing, emptiness. The sun is already high in the sky at 8h and it doesn’t get weaker until about 19h. The wind picks up around noon and doesn’t rest until sunset or it keeps on howling into the night all the way until morning. And all the time without any possibility of running away from the elements. No shade, no shelter from the wind. All that you have is a bicycle and turning the pedals hoping you make it to a shade that can be 60-70 or even more kilometres away. A lonely house of a roadside inn which around here is called posada. A location where you can stock up on water, refresh yourself with a cold drink and treat your body with some rest in a shade. Providing of course the posada is open. But if you go into this adventure with some of my trademark brightness, then you leave the comfortable and cosy city environment of Antofagasta on January 1st and you make sure that you will go through the most empty stretch exactly when everything is closed for two days. I did stock up on water before leaving Antofagasta but the next day I made it to a posada that was closed. Normally in Chile only January 1st is a holiday, but this year the president of Chile probably knew that I will be wandering around so she made January 2nd also a holiday. How lucky am I?! This meant I could only use the shade of the posada. Surely welcome but it doesn’t quench my thirst. Fortunately there was a camp for workers building a new power line about 30km further ahead. There I was able fill up my water bag. One of the workers caught up with me on the road about an hour later and he gave me an extra bottle of water. Also Chileans proved to be a hospitable and friendly nation. The way they have been on many occasions in this month that I have spent in Chile. Sometimes I was given a cold drink somewhere beside the road when a car has stopped and waited for me to drag myself to it and they were able to give me a cold drink. Once it happened that a car was unable to stop so they just slowed down to throw a bottle of water into the desert. I have stopped, picked it up and drank it.

At the same time, this is an area of the clearest night skies. After the wind calms down, when the Sun is saying goodbye and with its last rays escorts the da into night, small lights start to light up on the sky. Usually this is the time when I have already finished my first dinner and with a cup of coffee in my hand, speechless, I watch the Universe and this magic transformation of light into dark. All the effort I have invested during the day to reach this magic place is gone, like it has never existed.
The show actually never stops, but at some point you find yourself surrounded by silence and the starry carpet. Its clearness and immensity have always enchanted me. And so I have, in moments of infinity, where Time and Space do not exists, often just sat there until my neck started to ache. At the same time I was there, anywhere in the World and nowhere all at the same time.

Most of my time I have spent in kilometres and kilometres of emptiness, solitude. The only sign of life were spars trucks and buses overtaking me. In their absence I’ve listened to the sound of silence, only a hushed buzzing of the tires being bitten by the tarmac. Nobody in sight, just me and Lou.
In all this solitude I never felt lonely. I just was and I was alone. Alone with my thoughts and feelings. Hours and hours “walking” through the remotest parts of your own consciousness (or thinking about more practical stuff like how to repair a big hole in your front pannier). There is no society that would force you to put on a mask that is more socially acceptable. The kind that slowly, bit by bit robs you of your own identity, of your own Being. No need for that and the immensity and roughness of the surroundings in a way also do not allow you to waist your energy on these kind of things. You just are the way you are and you have to accept yourself like that. Sometimes I like myself more, sometimes less, but all of this is Me.

Andres and I went our separate ways just before entering Antofagasta. I wanted to go into the city, nothing urgent, just profiting for a while the benefits of civilization like running water, supermarket and the option to connect with the World. This meant about 25km of a detour and also one not so nice climb on exiting the city. He wanted to avoid all this. After months and thousands of kilometres he had behind him, he felt that home is practically within reach (true, still about 2.000 km away, but at the same time so close). So close to home he did not want to make an unnecessary stop and additional kilometres and climbs. He stayed on the by-pass road and continued south towards his family and friends waiting for him in Argentina. I on the other hand turned off and descended into Antofagasta and only virtually connected myself with my family. But the goodbye was “Hasta la proxima vez!” (Until we meet again).

Not only the separation but also all the kilometres of emptiness, solitude, brought to the surface the sentiment of homesickness in me. I miss my family, friends, familiar surroundings, I have never denied that. The down side of travelling is that I’m not home with familiar, dear people. That I cannot have a cup of coffee on a balcony with my brother, that I cannot go to my mother for a lunch, that I cannot go for a beer (well, two since it’s never just one) with a friend.
Since a few months ago I have decided to prolong my wandering in South America for about a year, my reunion with my dear ones has been postponed for the same period of time. And this aspect of my otherwise brilliant plan of discovering what lies behind a corner is something I have never really liked. So in the kilometres of desert solitude I have decided that I’ll return home, temporarily, just for a visit. With the help of internet I managed to find an affordable plane ticket and with some help from my family I have also bought it and am now ready to return to Slovenia end of March to enjoy the springtime over there.
With this I’m officially announcing that from the end of March until mid-May I’m open for invitations for a cup of coffee, a beer or straight to a picnic. Just let me know where and when.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Camping According To Simon

Here I am in Chile, somewhere. It has been a few days since Andres and I have left Arica where we had a pleasure to be hosted by a friend of Andres, Fernando and even more so by his mother Alejandrina. For a few days we were back in civilization where water, hot water comes by turning a tap and there is no need to set up a tent every evening just to put it back down in the morning. And also when you crave for a cup of coffee, there is no need to first set up your camping stove. You simply go to the kitchen, turn a knob on the stove and the water is boiling. A welcome change after more than two weeks in the desert.
And here we are again in the desert. About a kilometre away from the main road, the noise of sporadic traffic almost does not make it to here. Here there is peace and quiet, solitude. Just the wind is our companion. Constant!

I have decided that this time around I will not write about current events, well at least for the most part. This time I will focus my thoughts on one constant of my wandering and that is camping. It has been almost 200 times I have set up and put down my current home and one could say that in the past year and a half my most current address was “Tent under stars 3”.
What new, up until now unwritten, can I write about camping. Well probably nothing, but I can put into these lines some of my thoughts on the subject and in doing so try to avoid reinventing the wheel.

For start the most obvious – To camp or to use some alternative?

There are plenty of alternatives, more so free ones. There are those that require internet access to use them. These are different so called hospitality portals like couchsurfing which is meant for all kinds of travellers. Or one that I prefer, warmshowers which is meant just for cycle touring. With the help of these portals the doors to homes of local people open up. There you receive hospitality, almost always a bed, occasionally a meal or two, surely almost a conversation and the possibility to meet different, interesting people.
Since internet access is not always available and the host on these portals are not in every single town or village you pass, there are other, more traditional options. They require you to come there, knock on the door and ask in person. These can be fire stations, Red Cross, schools, municipalities, stadiums, churches,… Options are abundant, all you need is some imagination and most of all you should not be afraid to knock on the door and ask. The results can be amazing, from a simple room or a garage where you make your bed on the floor, to a private room with air con, WiFi, shower and use of kitchen as was the case for me one night with Red Cross in Nicoya, Costa Rica. Up until now there has been so many of these kind of experience that I could write a small book about them.
Then there are not free alternatives such as all sorts of cheap hotels, hostels and similar establishments. As a rule of thumb I try to avoid them, my bank account being them main obstacle. Besides they can be so soulless, so empty and the four walls of a stuffy, cheap room can be stifling. But sometimes the body and mind deserve, even demand a hot shower, a bed and peace insde the four walls of a hotel room. This was the case in northern Peru when after several rainy days and three consecutive days of climbing up to the mountain pass four weary cyclists arrived in Celendin, a small town. Exhausted we searched for a cheap hotel where we treated ourselves to an invigorating shower, went outside to grab a bite and then dragged ourselves to our proper, warm bed. Yet there was something missing. What it was I have learned the next evening sitting in front of my tent. I had all my “kitchen” set up around me and was cooking dinner on my little stove. The ability to comfortably sit down in front of your tent, everything you need within reach and sipping your coffee under a starry sky, this freedom only comes with camping.

All in all I would have to say that most of the times I’m for camping. But since this can be more of a challenge in a town or when it’s cold or when it rains or when you simply need a shower and the ability to wash your clothes or maybe you just want company, in these cases alternatives are more than welcome.

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Me Happy With My Kitchen Set-up (Photo by: Andres Peters)

Wild camping or seeking permission?

OK, so I’ll camp. Next thing is how will I camp. There are two general options, one is wild camping and the other is to go and find a house where I can ask for permission to camp there. On the driveway, behind the house, on the yard, under some roof,… Again, many options.
Wild camping has it’s benefits such as there is nobody to bother you. With houses there are sometimes nosy kinds that in awe observe how you set up your tent, prepare your stove and cook yourself a dinner. Sometimes quite fun and without trouble you quench their curiosity but other times you just want your peace and quiet.
But when you are in the mood, it’s worth asking at a house. It can make camping easier in so many ways.
With house normally comes access to water so there is no need to carry extra weight (one litre of water equals one kilo).
Then there is greater sense of security if someone gave you permission to camp beforehand as opposed to hiding somewhere in the wild. I do sleep peacefully in both cases, it’s just that if I’m wild camping I tend to make sure my things are nicely packed inside my tent.
What makes camping next to a house more attractive are the occasional bonuses. These could be access to a shower, the ability to wash your clothes, sometimes WiFi, sometime invitation to a dinner/breakfast or even sleeping inside.
Occasionally you get to sleep in a less conventional option. The other day Andres and I were seeking shelter from the desert wind so we headed towards a property that seemed to have some abandoned houses on it. It turned out Roberto was living there. Obviously we were granted permission and in the end we ended up sleeping in an old, redesigned bus. We also had a shower and unlimited access to water in the middle of Atacama, the driest place on Earth.

Deciding on what option to take again comes down to your current inspiration. Or you might be “limited” by the offer since in more remote areas such as deserts or high mountains there aren’t always houses where you could ask for hospitality.

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Atacama Bus

So we make it to the next item – Choosing a location

Now there is a topic I have read several posts about. From how it’s not really recommended to start searching for a hidden place in the middle of the day to how you have to pay attention to the inclination so that a potential nightly rain does not turn your tent into an aquarium. I would say you have to set up priorities and be capable to adapt to the environment.
It is highly unlikely it’s going to rain in the desert, however dry river beds are still ill-advised. You just never know. What you should absolutely take into account in the desert is the wind. It can create sand dunes inside your tent.
In rainy areas you will surely pay more attention to finding a roof above your head. It just the way it is!
I will always try to find a location where I will feel safe. This means I will try to avoid sleeping next to a road where anyone can see you.
There is something I haven’t, up until now, seen anywhere written down and that is access to toilet. Obviously it’s not going to be your normal toilet seat, but surely a place where in the morning you can peacefully squat and watch the nature while your intestines do their job. For me personally this is way up there on my priority list. But then again, everyone has his/her priority list set up according to their own taste.

Vista From My Toilet
Toilet Vista In The Mountains

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Toilet Vista In The Coastal Desert

Equipment

And now the equipment. A topic I could write several posts on and still not cover all the options. So I will not even try. What I will do is, I will write about what I use and why I use it.

Let’s start with the tent, surely a piece of equipment most linked to camping (thou not always needed since there are alternatives such as hammocks). Mine is Robens Raptor, colour green. I would never have thought, but the colour does matter. Fluorescent orange, incredibly useful when you are trying to find your way back to your tent in a blizzard is absolutely rubbish when you want to remain hidden between the trees.
Then there is size. My is a two (and some more) person tent. True, it’s big and for that a bit heavier than a ultralight one-person. But then again it doesn’t get cramped when I’m putting all my stuff inside and away from unwanted attention it might receive left outside. Only Lou doesn’t fit inside.
Robens Raptor is also freestanding. It means I can set it up even on concrete without using pegs or some other option just to keep it up.
Then there are two entrances that are longitudinal. Incredibly practical when you are putting your stuff inside and you do not have to crawl all over your sleeping bag just to reach something you forgot in the pocket next to where you lay your head.
And there are many, many more small things that transform it into a true villa on the road. Absolutely highly recommend.
I sleep in Robens Caucasus 600 goose down filled sleeping bag. With it’s temperature range from max. 13°C to the extreme of -27°C I was happy to have it from Canadian spring up to 4.500 meters high in the Peruvian Andes (and even in the surprisingly cold Atacama nights). Soft, warm and once packed small and doesn’t take up much space. And it’s light.
What also doesn’t take up much space and provides ample comfort is my Robens AirImpact 3,8 inflatable mattress. It makes sleeping much softer and provides insulation from sometimes very cold floor.
These are basics. Then there are wishes and desires. A big desire of mine is to have a hot meal and coffee. To make it a reality I use MSR Whisperlite camping stove. It works on normal petrol as well. Something that you can get anywhere unlike cartridges for gas stoves. Good luck finding them in the Peruvian Andes or Guatemalan jungle.

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Texas Sunset

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Sheltering in Massachusetts

Basically this is it. I did my best to keep it short. No way have I covered all, but then again I’m not writing a guidebook on camping. If the is a specific question you might have, do put it in the comments.

May 2017 be a year you go and follow or keep on following your Dreams!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

The Plans Are Changing

Sitting in a small, stuffy hotel room (fuck it, it’s cheap) in Nasca. Still in Peru. After almost three months it seems like it’s never going to end. A few days ago I saw a sign that indicated that I still have more than 1.000 km to the border. I do have to admit it’s starts to drag a little.
But on the other hand I’m glad that the mountains are behind me. Regardless of their beauty and mightiness they are though. Especially when, for I don’t know what day in a row, you wake up in a tent by the roadside and you know that it’s just going to be another day of grinding uphill and still it’s not going to end today. It’s simply wears you down.
It’s also because of this that I felt some kind of relief upon reaching the coastal lowlands. It will keep on going to be tough as it was shown to me in the first days of it since this is desert land. Here the sun and the wind can form a ruthless partnership that slowly but surely drain your energy away. But then again this combination does have it’s magic, especially in the evening when the day is saying it’s goodbye, the wind is calming down and the sun takes on a painter’s role of pastel colours on rocky or sandy plains which seems to get lost somewhere in infinity.
Though this plains can lose some of its magic in the morning when you are walking and walking in search of some privacy from the looks from the road and “restaurant” behind which you camped. I like to do my morning no. 2 in peace and a half-hour walk towards horizon when you can clearly sense movement in your intestines doesn’t feel that magic.

But let me try to go back to the theme I wanted to write about – The plans are changing.
Sometime in the last days of Ecuador my conscience started to receive the first signals that the Road in front of me is still long, very long. Mountains of Peru, plateau of Bolivia, desert of northern Chile, plains of central Argentina and to finish it off the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. About 10.000 kilometres more. And timing isn’t really on my side. From about November up to March there is a rainy season in Peru and Bolivia. And as I was to later find out in the mountains of central Peru through first-hand experience, this in practice means afternoon storms. They seemed to be an everyday occurrence. Right around 14h everything is cloudy and an occasional thunder can be heard with a lightning brightening up the sky. Above 4.000 metres there is no rain but rather hail, from time to time even snow. Not that pleasant if not outright dangerous. Also because of this Andres and I normally stopped for the day around that time. With ample time to find maybe another roof over our head but surely some shelter from the wind that can be surprisingly cold and does keep on reminding you of any potential hole you might have in your windstopper.
This early calling it a day obviously slows you down. Since I’m no Lance Armstrong this additionally shortens the distance I get to cover daily. Consequently this prolongs my stay in Peru.
This much I did learn in my life that I cannot change the topography of the countryside nor can I do anything about the climate. This left me with no other option but to start looking at other options that would enable me to visit the places that I want to visit and in doing so try to avoid as much of inconveniences in form of rain and cold as I can. The more I have fiddled around with different options available to me, the more I started to realize that my physics teachers were right – it’s physically impossible to be at more than one place at the same time. It simply cannot be done! After being stuck for a while in this seemingly unsolvable puzzle a revolutionary thought passed my brain. What if I change my route and start to calculate to visit Tierra del Fuego next summer in the Southern hemisphere (i.e. December 17 – March 18)?!
Be as it may, in Life you can make plans for the future and worry about what is going to happen and then you meet reality and it forces you to change your plans a bit. And it’s not that bad at all, is it?! After all, it was Forrest Gump who said (well actually it was his mother but let’s not go into too many details): “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get!”

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Just watched it the other day – memories!

 

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Snowing!

 

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Goodbye mountains in Peru!

On Education

Not going to write about how important it is to go to school, listen to the teacher, do your homework and all in all be a good student. No, what I will write is about the lack of education and how sometimes it is delivered in improper manner in some parts of the World.
In Peru, where I’m currently located, the lack of education can be seen on a daily basis. Just so that there will be no confusion or mistake, it’s not only Peru where this occurs. And that it is delivered in an improper manner was very explicitly demonstrated to Andres and me on one sunny day when we have reached yet another small town by the road.
After visiting several shops we managed to buy bread and butter so we decided to have a short break and have our lunch on the main square. In all Latin America the main square is reserved for a small park and it is surrounded by a church, usually the municipality building and sometimes some other very important public office.
This town was no different so we have searched for the only shadow that was available to us. While I was parking Lou I turned my head away from Andres and when I have turned it back once again, he was already surrounded by about ten kids aged on average around 10. Great, there goes a peaceful lunch. Countless questions were inevitable. So we sat, kids all around. We were trying to put butter on our bread without putting it on any of the heads that were curiously, annoyingly prying into us. The conversation soon touched the theme of God, his miracles and similar. The kids were able to dictate everything by heart.
I will not go into sensfulness of the education provided (forced!) by the Church since that would be more like a battle with windmills. The interest of capital here is just too strong. The sheep needs to be straighten out early, very early. Best if it is yet unable to read or write and later on any potential access to information needs to be cut off from it. Uneducated it can be more easily manipulated. And here in Peru (again, not only here but all over the World) they seem to be quite successful in doing so.
We have received lots of stares full of condemnation of heresy from the kids that have started to argue with us as we have said that our mothers gave birth to us and that we were not created by the angry dude with a grey beard that is hiding somewhere up above. It’s no surprise that we are meeting 15 year old mothers with babies.
But the purpose of this post is not just to be grumpy about it all. No, I actually have some constructive suggestions that I would like to share and to the best of my knowledge I will not be in any conflict with what the Bible is teaching (fuck it, I haven’t really study it so I cannot be sure).
Let me put some concrete ideas here (all references to the Bible are based on my vague memories, so there will not be any exact quotes):
1. When you are teaching them Genesis and how God created everything on Earth, do tell them that God’s idea did not include piles of shit and plastic on every step. And that he wants it to stay that way! – Maybe this way we can keep the countryside clean.
2. When you are describing to them the Last Supper. Do please put some emphasis on the fact that there is no mentioning of there being more than 13 of them in the room. That they had peace while they were eating and that nobody was asking Jesus why he talks so funny (e.g. “This is my body given for you…). – Maybe this way future cyclists passing through here will not get the feeling of being an animal in a ZOO. Maybe they will be able to avoid the situation where the municipality does provide you with an empty meeting room for the night. Just that you then end up sharing it for at least 3 hours with a night’s guard and two of his buddies, Them sitting at the table, observing you how you are repairing a bicycle, preparing yourself dinner, how you eat and wash dishes. Somehow we than managed to make them go away before we unrolled our sleeping bags and have fallen asleep. To avoid nocturnal observation we blockaded the door.
3. When you are teaching them the teachings of Jesus, in particular about loving thy neighbour. Do explain them this more in details. It seems that the current explanation does not have the desired effect. If it would have had, then we would not receive several times a day shouts of “Gringo!” with a very negative tone.
I will stop here so not to be too long. There are more ideas that I have. Maybe something in line of logical thinking as to avoid stupid questions. An example would be when they are staring at you with a bicycle, probably all sweaty and in the end they ask you: ”Don’t you get tired?” “No, you dumb idiot! I’m some sort of a special species from another planet that gets tired only if it lays still!”
Obviously there is plenty of other, way more useful knowledge than knowing the whole story about a madman that has heard voices in his head, built a boat on top of a mountain into which he put two specimens of every species on Earth (by the way, today, a few thousand years later we are still discovering new species). Maybe they could do something in the direction of general knowledge. This way people (e.g. police) would not be asking Andres where is Argentina. The whole continent has 12 independent countries. And maybe he would not be congratulated by the locals on how good he speaks Spanish.
I will not go into the fact that some of them have no idea that Europe is another continent when the debate comes to a point when they ask me where I’m from.

It could be that I have high expectations, but we have to aim high!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

a_more_representative_photo_of_the_landscape
Surely a more realistic photo of a Peruvian landscape

It Is Never Boring In Peru

As usually I have problems starting this text. I’m sitting behind a table in a backpackers in Huaraz, listening to music and drinking coffee. Behind me is more than 1.300 km of Peru, a land that is all but boring. Diversity comes on many levels from the countryside to people and events that have all impact on my every day.
One of the first surprises after I left Ecuador in company of Safia and Andres, was the countryside. Generally I try to wander around the World with open eyes, free of stereotypes in my head that subconsciously affect one’s perception of a land, people, events… They build prejudices or some expectations that are inevitably shattered by the reality that inevitably leads to disappointment, a feeling of being robbed of a true, authentic experience that was actually sold to you through photos, movies, book,… That is why I prefer to leave these images outside and venture into uncovering the unknown with an empty head and open eyes (obviously when I’m not sleeping).
But I do not always succeed in this effort. At least not in fullest. Whether I like it or not, over the years an image of Peru was carved into my head. An image of white Andean peaks, high mountain steppes, solitary houses with herds of lamas grazing outside. And then this image collided with reality. Hot river valley with rice paddies of intense green and palms. As if I woke up in Vietnam. A few days later I was amidst clouds where we were being washed by the rain making our way through green pastures and woods over 3.600 meters high pass. And the same day found me in yet another hot oasis by the river, surrounded by mango trees and thousands of small, bloodsucking flies.
And those were not all the landscapes that I have managed to encounter so far in Peru. No, there are also the coastal desert with wind sweeping sand across the road (that evening I got about half a kilo out of my right ear. Apparently the wind was from the side since my left ear was clean). Or the narrow Cañon del Pato where on a winding road, sometimes narrower than some cycling lanes I have rode on, and through 35 tunnels you get lost amidst the infinite majesty of vertical cliffs towering to mindboggling heights. And there is more and more of this, probably somewhere there is also the landscape of the images in my head.

For diversity there are also everyday events that break up the “monotony” of the evening ritual in front of the tent. If this used to be time when all was in order and I was able to indulge myself in solitude and peace, this is also slowly changing here in Peru.
Once I got this brilliant idea to change a little the music I’m listening on my mp3 player. And then the next three evenings I was fixing the mess my little player managed to mix up. After those three evenings have passed, it was about time to wash a load of laundry. To take the advantage of having access to running water on our campsite. The next evening I was patching my air mattress. It’s been a while since I managed to puncture it just by the seam so that, just in case, I had a bit more of a work patching it. And then there are evening I pay more attention to Lou. It’s wise to clean a bit the chain after a day when the road took us through mud. And if there is nothing to do, then I invent something. Since Andres and I were camping on a stadium and there were pieces of wire for a fence I took pliers in my hands and made an improvised adapter for my camping stove. I can now lift my pot a bit above the flames so that I can calmly cook rice without the fear of burning it. There’s always something to do.

And obviously there are also the people that I meet. The part of the story that brings life to the backdrop of the landscape. What I have learned very early on (actually in the first hours of Peru) is that when word comes down to people, here in Peru this is a story of extremes. Practically there is no middle way. They are either incredibly friendly and kind or completely cold. Obviously there is far more of the former, but the latter also have an impact.
When we crossed the bridge from Ecuador into Peru, we had to wait for the Peruvian immigration starts to work. Since we were all hungry we went to the first restaurant. The kind that serves a menu consisting of whatever one dish is on offer that day. Angry looking lady reluctantly came to us and showed us our table. Her short and murmured answers made us quickly realize it is better not to ask too much. So we’ll have soup, rice and chicken. Andres tried asking for a beer, but the lady almost killed him with her look when he desired to be a cold one. He did not get it! Safia had an empty battery on her phone so she ask if she can charge it for a while. Negative! I had no desire for a new dose of negativity so I ate in silence what was put in front of me.
Than we made it across the street to the incredibly kind, relaxed and talkative policeman that did not complicate our lives the way border officials sometimes can. And that evening the municipality in the nearby town provided us with a place to camp with access to toilet and shower.
And then there are moments when I simply don’t get the people here. Let’s leave aside the fact that I will never, and I mean never understand the uncontrollable desire to hunk their horns. I “adore” it when a truck hunks it right behind your ass. Not to greet you or to show that he’s mad at you (at least I think so) it’s just a way to let you know he is there. BUT I know he’s there. There are this little thingies called side mirrors if I completely ignore the fact that I can actually hear him from a distance on an empty road. Obviously this is a moment when you really cannot afford to get scared. If you twist your handlebar just by a little you can end up under the wheels of the same truck. It seems beyond the driver’s capacity to pass you by with ample space. No, he turns just enough not to hit you. Providing you do not divert 15-20 centimetres from a direct line.
The only time the drivers here do not hunk their horns is when there is a sign they should. Like in front of a narrow, one-lane tunnel in Cañon del Pato. Go figure!
There are also moments when you get to a gas station. Camping stove works on gasoline and every now and then you have to fill up your fuel bottle. It’s just that this is not always a straight-forward procedure as we manage to reaffirm yet again the other day. A lady was observing us from a distance as some sort of an attraction but only approached when we went to search for her and ask her to attend to us. Since they are used to filling up motor and car fuel tanks, they seem to have troubles adjusting to the fact that a one litre bottle that I’m carrying with me gets full much, much sooner. So you have to warn them to fill it up slowly and not all the way. This does not always help. That time I manage to stop here just in time to prevent a fuel shower since the lady was incapable of stopping the pump in time. Sometimes you are not as lucky.
Also shopping is not always a simple and stress-free task. If you do manage to be lucky and you are the only customer, meaning that the vendor is only attending you and not four other persons, then you have managed to eliminate a common cause of a stressful situation in shopping. This however does not guarantee you a simple procedure. What can happen is the following:
“What do you want?”
“Good day to you too. Do you have cigarettes?”
“No!”
You look around and you notice a display with an entire row of cigarette boxes in it.
“What about these ones here in the display?”
“Oh, these. I do have!”
Obviously you have to pay an exact amount as the lady either cannot be bothered to calculate or count the change she has to give back. I come out furious – again Peru!
And as was writing these lines, Andres came to me. He just went outside to buy some rice. He puts a can of fish in front of me. To my confusing look he answers, it was a gift from the shopkeeper where he was buying rice. Still confused I look at him and he explains that he basically went to the store to buy about half a kilo of rice. The shopkeeper asked him where he’s from, what he’s doing here and so on. And after he told him that he’s traveling on a bicycle and that there are two of us, the shopkeeper first put a bit more than just half a kilo of rice in a bag and added the two cans of fish. As a gift! – again Peru!
I would be able to turn this already long post into an even longer if I was to write down all the moments when I experienced the kindness of the local people. From places to sleep when a family accepts us into their modest home and basically vacates a child’s room just so that three cyclists have a warm place with a roof over their head that they can sleep in whilst outside it’s pouring rain. Or when… No, I really cannot write down all the kindness. I am however extremely grateful for it.

I’m finishing this text behind the same desk in the same hostel, still in Huaraz. Still listening to music it’s just that the coffee has been by now replaced by a tea from coca. Apparently it helps you adjusting to the altitude, beats the weariness and so much more. I like it because it’s hot.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

The Illusive Peru

And I’ve managed. September came and went without me being able to put together a single post. The first month since I have set off from Halifax without posting a word. Actually I did not take the time to write, the time to take a break that would surpass the basic regeneration that the body needs and essential errands like taking care of my bicycle, shopping (mainly food), washing (to avoid any misunderstanding – hand-washing) of clothes and similar.
There are several reason why this was so but I think what was forcing me to push forward was the feeling that I’m not putting in enough of an effort, that I’m simply not doing the distance. I had several days when I made 15, maybe 20km. Far from the average 70km somewhere far away in Mexico. Not to mention the days in the US when a hundred was something ordinary (then it was my shrinking wallet that pushed me on). And this slow progress was subconsciously bothering me and it took me quite some time to basically accept the fact that this is my current speed. It is the only possible outcome when you are hauling 60+ kg of Lou, equipment, food and water from one mountain to the next. And this being southern Ecuador!
I left Loja, from where just over a month ago I managed for the last time to give you some updates on my progress, in a group – Safia, Andres and yours truly. We abandoned the Panamericana in direction – South, Peru. Just short of 200km which could translate into about 5 days. How naïve.
We started excellent, one hill, sheltering under the roof of a national park entrance during a short shower followed by a descend into a sunshine and warmth. And here the first complications started. Me being the first of the convoy I managed to miss a bypass around a small town of Malacatos. Not that it’s not possible the go through it but going through turned out to be more challenging than anyone imagined. The locals immediately informed us that this day was the last (and the most important) day of the fiesta. Fireworks, live music, people on streets, basically your all inclusive fiesta deal. Needless to say we were left to no other option but to search for a location where we can set up our tents, leave our stuff in a safe place and go out to see this Event. Just for a beer! Not really any more accustomed to drinking so a second one could already lay us down.
Well, it was not just one beer, there were two. And they would not be so much of a problem if we would not have ventured in the direction of discovering local flavours which lead us to meet canelazo. This is hot water with cinnamon that is mixed in 50:50 ratio with homemade aguardiente made from sugar cane. And the fiesta just got started.
The aftermath was well visible the next day and with a great deal of effort we made it to Vilcabamba, a town just 10km away. There the friendly firefighters gave us a little bit of roof under which we could unroll our sleeping bags, sheltered from the water that the sky was generously distributing all around us.
The next two days we spent getting to the other side of the mountain chain and soaked to the bone from the rain that was pouring on us all the way down we entered the outskirts of Amazonia. Greenery intensifies as well as humidity. And an occasional shower can occur (thou I have to admit that there weren’t many). What attracted more of my attention was the change that occurred to the road surface. This combined with the heat and humidity made an impact on our speed of progress. We said goodbye to asphalt in Loja. There it has changed to concrete slabs (the kind that are cut every 5 metres so that riding on them gently shakes you so that you do not fall asleep. Wait, that’s when you are riding in a car, on a bicycle it just shakes all the time, no benefits from that). But then after a few days we had to bid farewell also to concrete. What was left was a road of densely compacted dirt with some rocks. Luckily for us there was not a lot of rain since I was able to imagine, on some wet spots, the sticky mud the surface easily be transformed into with just a bit of water. And just to top it off, so we really wouldn’t dare to think of making any fast progress, the Ecuadorean engineers made sure that the road does not stick to the bottom of the main valley. It rather goes parallel to it over the hilltops that separate the smaller valleys of the tributaries. This way we were able to keep alive the logic of antennas and bridges from my previous post. And to make it less monotonous they did not bother too much with the gradient of the road. Those who wish to pass here will make the effort and climb if needed. So there were occasions when we were left with no other option but to descend and push our bikes uphill.
Every morning I managed to realize that this is just not going to be the day I will see Peru.
I will remember the last evening we spent in Ecuador. After yet another climb we descended a bit and found ourselves in a small village named El Chorro. In the middle of the village was a small park with the one and only shop on the corner, next to it a church. It was just past 15h. After a short consultation we were came to a conclusion that we will call it a day here. Continuing would mean the remainder of the descend and a new climb and maybe, just maybe there would be Peru on the other side. Probably not! We do not have neither the strength nor the motivation to venture into this unknown today. We have a bad experience from yesterday when we optimistically set off from a village in a valley around 15h. At 16:30 we made it midway uphill almost dead. The gradient and the dust of the road under a burning sun left their impact.
So Andres and I savoured our last Pilsener in Ecuador, then we moved in front of the church where we set up our camp for the night and started to prepare dinner, enjoyed the unique and unrepeatable moments of the sunset and after dinner, when it was already dark we sat each in front of its tent. Each one with his/her thoughts, emotions and somehow jointly observed children playing in the square in front of us.
There was 6-8 of them, divided into two groups. They set 5 half a litre plastic bottles in a triangular formation as if for bowling and then from a distance targeted this with a ball. Once they managed to knock the formation over they scattered. The group that managed to knock over the plastic bottles then tried to reach them and reconstruct their original formation while the other group, the ones possessing the ball, tried to prevent this. This they could achieve by throwing the ball at them and the one that got hit was eliminated from the game. I personally was most impressed by the fact the kinds were of all age groups. From about 4 up to about 12 years. And they had no troubles playing together, outdoors and with a real ball. A real Playstation.
Watching the kids playing my mental fatigue of yet another day still without reaching Peru slowly faded away. A new thought started to sprinkle up in my relaxed mind. A thought that I really have reached the end of the World. This is what I have pictured myself the end of the World looks like. As a village that is 2-3 hour of diverse mototaxi ride (a bit less with a bus, but then again the bus seems to pass here only every third rainy Friday) away from the nearest town which in itself is what seems to be lightyears away from the nearest city. A village where kids still freely play together on the street and have no idea what Pokemon Go is (truth be told, the author of these lines also has only a vague idea about what that is. To be honest, this absence of knowledge of the latest trends and current hits does not bother me even a bit, on the contrary). A village where you can buy a cold beer in the one and only shop. But only if you have exact change. The lady in the store has no desire to calculate the difference let alone to count the coins for change if a crazy thought of paying with a 10 dollar bill occurs to you.
At the end of the World, this was the thought with which I finished the day.

The next day we were faced again with the new reality that was strikingly similar to the reality of the last few days. Descend during which you lay a lot of faith and hope into brakes and cables, crossing a river (sometimes on a bridge, sometimes washing your feet), optimistically into uphill, descent from a bicycle, pushing upwards, several short brakes, finally summit and – what the fuck, just a military check-point, there is more to climb onwards. And then descend, after every curve yet another one. Peru is nowhere to be seen. As if Peru was just an illusion that someone once managed to picture and I have chosen to believe in its existence. Like some mythical promised land.
And yet, it’s not an illusion. There comes a moment when after one curve I manage to see first a river that divides the two countries. Then, on the other bank, I can see a wide, dark grey speck that follows the river. It cannot be true, it simply cannot be true that there is asphalt on the other side! And in that precise moment Peru really appears to me as a promised land.
This sight overwhelms me to the point I almost do not make the curve. After all the breaking, the breaks simply are not as efficient as they used to be. And the gradient demands them, demands them 100%. Luckily there is very, veeeery little traffic so no car comes the other way.
We almost wake up the border police in Ecuador so that they can stamp our passports. The barrier is down (probably nobody could be bothered to lift it) so we make it under it on to the bridge and stop in front of an empty Peruvian immigration post. There is nobody there. Some people tell us that they “open” in 2 hours.
When we come back later there is a policeman (at least I think it was a policeman, adidas jersey and jeans that the guy was wearing do spring some doubt). He warmly greats us, we chat a bit and then he asks us how long would we like to stay in Peru. Given the progress of the past three weeks and the fact that Peru is about 5 times the size of Ecuador, I’m inclined to say 2 years, but I bit my tongue. I ask for 6 months, the guy offers 4, we settle on 5 or 150 days. Hopefully this should do it!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon