local people

On The Importance Of Being Lucky

This post has been lurking inside of me for a while now. In different forms, with different aspects on the same topic. But here I will focus on the aspect in which this post was born.
The post emerged on a cold morning when I’ve opened the door of the shed inside of which I have spent the night. Outside the wind was bending those few trees and the snow was falling almost horizontally. I was in Patagonia, middle of nowhere. In the direction I was coming from, the first town was 130km away. In the direction I was heading for, the next one was 230km away. In between is immense emptiness. Some might say, lots of nothing but I would disagree. There is something, there is emptiness. And in this emptiness is an endless steppe, there are colours that the sun provokes, there is wind that is chasing the clouds and in doing so pictures a movie in front of my eyes, there is Life.
There are no houses, no traffic, no people, no Wi-Fi. The only sign of civilization is the long, endless black asphalted snake that disappears somewhere over the horizon.
I’ve got somewhat carried away so let’s get back to the topic at hand. It’s morning and outside is freezing wind with snow. Far from an ideal situation for a cycling wandering in Patagonia. But I don’t care. No, it’s not that I don’t care, I’m actually happy, excited like a small boy and all because it is snowing. And not only that, in spite the inhospitable face that this morning mother nature is showing, I have a roof over my head and four walls that more or less keep me from the hardship outside. And in this moment I again become aware how lucky I am. Lucky that I’m Here and Now. Again, as so many other times on this trip, I’m lucky to find just what I need at the moment when I need it. Lots of times I do not even know that I need something until the Universe offers it to me and I accept it. And that is what has happened yesterday.

Yesterday Andres and I have started about 18km away from this small settlement of about 20 houses. By some turn of events (not coincidences, since I do not believe in coincidences) we found ourselves in front of some sort of health centre (it’s called Puesto de Salud which could be more properly translated as point of health). I had to use the toilet so we entered and were welcomed by Juan Carlos who works here as a nurse (and in doing so, he is the entire medical staff of this health centre). He allows me to use the toilet and so we start a conversation. This quickly leads to him offering us to camp here. Well, if we want, we can sleep in a shed. Apart from that, we have access to hot shower and toilet.
It’s still early, just past midday. But some internal voice (intuition maybe) tells both Andres and I to accept the offer. Take some rest, shower and tomorrow continue on. So we have stayed. Enjoyed the sunny day and a quiet evening without having to set up our tents. And the morning – well, the morning showed to us that we have made the right decision. If we wouldn’t have stayed, the morning blizzard would have had found us in the middle of the above mentioned emptiness. And I cannot imagine I would have looked at how the wind is carrying snowflakes horizontally with the same excitement.

And this was not an isolated case. Ever since the beginning of this trip, luck is on my side. I will not go into naming all the times I was lucky since in doing so this post will become more like the novel War and Peace.
But seems that my good friend Toni was right in one of our many conversations. He said: “Luck needs to be provoked. You have to do something in order that luck has an opportunity to show itself.” Maybe this means that when it has just started to rain you have to lift the gate off of its hinges to gain access to a big roof that by design serves as a shelter for the cows. But it seems that they haven’t used it for a while. This way you spend the night under the roof and in the morning you start a new day with a dry tent and equipment. Or you might have to do 130km crossing the Patagonian steppe to reach Juan Carlos. Or something else, but for sure you have to do something to allow the Universe to enable you to experience Luck.
And yes, it does help if you can recognize the situation. That you know that when someone unexpectedly offers you free camping in the middle of the day, that you have to take the offer. Or that you see the roof for the cows and that for miles around there isn’t anyone that will use it. During the following day we saw several other cyclists that didn’t recognize the situation and had to dry out their soaking tents and clothes.
I believe that we all have the capacity to recognize these kind of situations. That we all possess intuition. Experiences serve to polish this intuition. I cannot imagine that those soaking cyclists haven’t noticed the roof under which Andres and I have made our home. But probably for the lack of experiences or because they were in their mind already focused on reaching a campsite that was 30km away, they simply did not stop, did not listen to intuition. This is how the rational part of their brain led them soaking wet to their goal.
After almost three years on the road I believe I have some experiences. But in no way am I imagining that I master the topic and so I’m being surprised over and over again every time the Universe shows to me that I have taken the right decision. And that is when I realize that I’m Lucky.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!

Good morning

Patagonian emptiness

The Shed

Snow is just a memory

Snow penetrated also inside the shed

Under a roof on a rainy day


Sand, Wind And Solitude – Part 2

I have rolled into San Juan in the early afternoon. Look for a cheap place to sleep, park Lou and then visit all the local shops to find supplies for more than a week. Not counting parking Lou, the tasks were not as simple as they might have appeared at first glance. The fact is that in these small, remote towns it’s not that easy to find an open cheap accommodation in the middle of the day. The owner normally work on fields during the day and only return to their home about an hour before the sunset when all the tourist jeeps stopping for the night arrive.
Still I did manage to find an open “hotel” where could stay for the night. Then shopping. The prices around here are about double what I was paying in the rest of Bolivia. Reason – remoteness of these places. Uyuni, the first decent town is more than 150km away. And all the merchandise comes from there.
I find a shop that has a bit more on offer than the others. I stock up on rice, pasta, instant soups, biscuits and similar. Then I go back to my “hotel”. Tomorrow the second part of this high-altitude tour begins.

For my first day I have chosen a bit longer route that takes me all the way to the border with Chile. But based on the info I managed to collect, this way I can avoid climbing a pass with a bad road leading over it. On the other hand, the road to the border is almost completely flat. The only problem I can see with my plan is, that I’m going west. And the prevailing winds around here are westerly, south-westerly. But they should not be too much of a problem, since they normally pick up only in the afternoon.
Well, that was the plan. Unfortunately nobody told the winds about my plan. On the day of my departure their afternoon started sometime before 9 a.m. That meant it took me more than 10hours (including short stops along the way) to cycle 65km to Avaroa, the border town. There I found refuge for the night in a house under construction. The workers there allowed me to set up my tent in one of the rooms.
Here in Avaroa I had the last chance to opt for an easier way out. Cross the border and descend down in Chile on a paved road. But I have opted out of this option. I turned away from the border and started to climb on a surprisingly nice, well maintained gravel road towards the interior. Towards the junction for the lagoons.

One last look back – Here goes nothing!

After about 30km I came to the point where the route towards the lagoons splits off. Courageously I took the route of dubious quality.

Signpost for cyclists – Seeing this means you are on the right path

The road confirms the signpost

Managing the first pass. Steep, rocky road was done with a lot of pushing. On the other side I’m again faced with the lottery of tracks. Which one to choose?!

Decisons, decisions…

At the end of the day I manage to haul my ass to the shores of the first lagoon. There I’m greeted by Severino, man responsible for maintaining the road. Well, a small stretch of it. The last 5, 10 km and the 10 that are ahead. But more than in his care of the road I’m currently interested if I could use his house as a shelter from the wind to pitch my tent. No problem, but if I want, I can sleep inside his house. His “roommate” has gone today to Uyuni since then ran out of bread and vegetables. He will not be coming back until tomorrow. This has left him with a spare mattresses next to a warm stove inside the house. It didn’t took him long to change my plans!
I park Lou outside and move myself inside. Our supper is a delicious stew that has been brewing on his stove all day long. We finish the day with a nice conversation. It’s nice and warm being inside!

Severino and me

Saying goodbye to Severino, I set off the next day. It’s about 10km to the next lagoons. Takes me more than 2 hours to reach it. Enjoying the shade of an eco-hotel “Los Flamingos” I decide to stay here for the night. It another 40km of mostly sand to the next populated place. That’s a bit too much for today.

Laguna Hedionda


So I befriend Samuel, manager of the hotel. I do ask about the price of a room, but when he mentions 140 USD/night, I only kindly ask if I can pitch my tent in the nearby house under construction. And that’s how the future toilets become my home for the night. I share it with an elderly Australian couple that arrive a bit later on their bicycles.
In the morning the Aussies are in a rush so they roll out at 7h. I take it a bit more easily and so I receive an invitation by the cook to a breakfast. Pancakes, toast, fruits, yoghurt,… Luxury!

Breakfast at Laguna Hedionda

After about 10km I leave the last lagoon behind and the road disappears. What I’m left with is more like a field of 4×4 tracks all leading in the same direction. Some are sandier, others less, but non suitable for cycling. Most of the day I’m left to pushing Lou up a gentle uphill and into headwind. Until I had enough of it a bit past 3 p.m. I head towards a nearby rock formation that should provide me with some shelter. Hopefully this way I will not be blown away, tent and all, during the night. The wind up here is ferocious.

Campsite at 4.600 metres

I sleep with a bottle of water next to me inside the sleeping bag. The rest of the water that I have left outside overnight has turned to ice.
I start day five of the “Ruta de las Lagunas” where I have left off the day before. In sand! Pushing and pushing, seemingly not moving at all.

Sand, sand and more sand

Common sight – Simon pushing his bike

After about 5km the sand is replaced by rocks. Not yet cyclable, but easier to push the bike. That’s how I make it atop another pass. I’m about 10km from Hotel del Desierto, the nearest building that also promises water and shelter for pitching the tent. Maybe even sleeping inside. I will anyhow reach it only by the end of the afternoon, maybe early evening. As it turns out, I have to push Lou even on the downhill as the sand is so deep that even the gravity is left helpless.
I reach Hotel del Desierto about an hour before the sunset. Price of the room – not even worth mentioning – 150 USD/night. But the kind lady at the reception mentions that they make an exception for cyclists and they allow us to sleep in the rooms reserved for the drivers of the tour jeeps. The promise of a hot shower, warm bed and a breakfast that is included in the price, help to convince me that I do not feel like setting up my tent. It looks like that I will anyhow camp tomorrow evening.
So I say goodbye to the day nicely showered, covered with a warm blanket and a few wet clothes drying on the heater. Making the most out of the situation, I use the opportunity of having running water to do some laundry.

High altitude desert

I make the first 10km from Hotel del Desierto half cycling, half walking. Initially my morning choice of the 4×4 tracks looked very promising. But after about 5km they turned into sand and I was returned to the reality of the past 2 days. Off of the bike and pushing towards the horizon that can never be reached. Eventually, after about 3 hours of this torture, I was greeted by a maintained gravel road. For the next 20km I was able to enjoy the fact that I only had to get off the bike sporadically when I came across a sandier patch. Or I was pushed into it by a sudden stronger gust of wind. The road might have been a maintained one, but it has been a while since the maintenance guys have pasted by here.
By the evening I find shelter behind a house of some caretaker who today is not at home. Watching the sunset and observing the game of hide and seek by the shadows and the fading light. The hardest part of the route should be behind me as I have reached the maintained road.

Another day is ending

New day, new curves. After about 5km the descend to Laguna Colorada begins. And again sand, deep sand. At least 80% of the descend I have to push. Lou just sinks in too much. And no, the headwind, that has started again early today, does not help at all. By mid-afternoon I manage do make it to the entrance to the national park. I pay the entrance fee and decide to spend the night in one of the refugios here. A bed for 4 EUR/night, cheap dinner of pasta with tomato sauce. Easy life!

I have decided already yesterday that I will not be climbing almost 5.000 metres high pass laying ahead on this kind of road. True that the actual altitude difference is only about 600 metres since I’m sleeping at 4.400. But based on the info I’m getting from the local drivers, the road to the top is same or very similar shit. Nope, that’s not for me!
So I move towards the entry to the national park and I wait for some tour jeep that could take me at least to the top if not all the way to the first house on the other side. I wait all day in the company of Reynaldo, the park ranger. There is no traffic passing by, so I have time to enjoy a tasty lunch that Reynaldo offers me. And I watch how the wind plays with sand.

Sandstorm over Laguna Colorada

In the late afternoon several jeeps arrive but they are all full and cannot give me a lift. All up until when Omar and Gonzalo come with their tour of 4 backpackers. Since they are not full there is a space for me. Lou and all my equipment go on the roof.
While driving to the summit and chatting with the guys, I manage to find time to look at the road. I’m even happier that they are giving me a lift.
They take me with them all the way to a refugio by the lagoon on the other side where they plan to spend the night. The refugio itself is full so I say goodbye to the company. I manage to persuade Damian, manager of a nearby restaurant, to allow me to unroll my sleeping bag in one corner of the restaurant. I have a headache and I’m feeling sick. After so many kilometres I have done cycling on these altitudes, my body somehow could not accept the fact I have climbed to 5.000 metres that fast. But I’m too tired to be bothered by this. I have a quick dinner, roll into my sleeping bag and fall asleep. Tomorrow is a new day!
In the morning I have all packed up and Lou is ready to depart already by 6 a.m. That is when the first tour jeeps arrive for breakfast. But I do not set off that early. Yesterday Damian told me that if I wait a bit in the morning, I can even get a breakfast. Food that is left over by the tours is worth a fortune to a touring cyclist in these parts. Before setting off Damian and one of the employees give me even more extra food for the road. Time to say goodbye.
Taking into account the local conditions, the road on this side feels like highway. I slowly climb from 4.400 to almost 4.750 metres while constantly turning my head left and right. Every mountain that comes into view seems to be of a different, immensely intensive colour. I did try to take photos, but somehow it seems that the colours and the contrasts on the photos just cannot capture the reality.

Morning mountains 1

Morning mountains 2

Morning mountains 3

Morning mountains 4

After the climb, there is a descend of about 20km. To the other side and the last of the lagoons and a refugio on its shores. Give it is already afternoon, I’m again greeted by the headwind. And not to have it too easy today since I practically have not pushed the bike, I take a “shortcut”. This way I get the chance to again push Lou uphill. As not to forget.
Well tired I make it to the refugio where I get a bed and food. The last port of call before the border. I’m just a gentle 6km uphill away from it. That I leave for tomorrow.
My last day in Bolivia I start easy. Also because while I was yesterday fighting with the wind, I have decided that I will turn right and not left as initially planned at the first junction in Chile. Left would continue to take me through the high mountains to Argentina. And the first sort of decent town in Argentina is about 4-5 days cycling away. Going right, well going right I have about 40km descend to San Pedro de Atacama. Another tourist Disneyland, but exactly because of this even more appealing to me right now. Since if it is a tourist destination, that means there is all the commodity that I have been missing for the past 14 days. Running water, electricity, internet, comfy, cosy bed,… And let’s not to forget to mention, San Pedro is more than 2.000 metres lower and that is well reflected on the temperatures. About 30 degrees during daytime. Isn’t that nice?!
Saying goodbye to Bolivia I roll into Chile. Tarmac! What a luxury!

Goodbye Bolivia

One foot in Chile – Asphalt!

Nice sight – Paved road

After more than 40km downhill into headwind that this time around I’m glad I had since it helped me brake, I make it to Disneyland. Clearing the immigrations I head straight to Sonchek where the owner Mojca, a Slovenian living here for more than 23 years, opens the door.

I’m saved! Well at least for a few days. Argentina is still on the other side of the Andes and it is still where I’m heading to. Let me just first take in the abundance of oxygen and indulge myself in all the comfort.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!

Sand, Wind And Solitude – Part 1

Second day in a hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Shade, 30 degrees, roof over my head, running water and electricity, all the commodities of civilization. Now, let’s see how I ended up here!
After returning from a short trip to Machu Picchu, it was about time to saddle up Lou and to finally start moving sort of South.
While I was absent, Lou was in the good hands of Luis and Marina, owners of a cheap lodging in Challapata, a small town on the main road La Paz to Uyuni and then Argentina. Two, three days of preparations, doing laundry, shopping, reviewing Lou and it was time for new adventures on the road. Based on the info I had for my intended route, the next 600km will be “adventurous”. Interesting “roads” which are a mix of rocks, sand, washboard, headwinds (prevailing winds are westerly or south-westerly), sporadic access to water, small shops with food are more of an exception than a rule. Oh, let’s not to forget, all this is happening between about 3.600 and 4.600 metres above sea level. Just in case, so not to be too easy.
My first goal was the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flats in the World. Absolute flatness of pure white that stretches beyond the horizon. It was just a matter of getting there.
On the first day I got a pleasant surprise in the morning when Luis, the owner of the place where I was staying, told me that the road to Salinas de Garci Mendoza, a town to the north of the Salar de Uyuni, is completely paved. The info I had, which were a bit older, prepared me for dirt roads, so pavement will be a nice gift.
After about 30km on the main road to Uyuni I have headed west. Morning predictions of tarmac proved to be true, so I was enjoying the gift. Wide, open expanses of the Altiplano are battered by the wind which produces dust storms that sometimes cross my path and cover me with dust. I’ll have to get used to this.

Sandstorm in the distance. We crossed paths a few kilometres back

End of the day in a small village of Vengalvinto where the local teacher opens the door to the schools dining room where I can roll out my sleeping bag. Dark, black clouds looming on the horizon. Just in time as 10 minutes later the village is engulfed in a sandstorm that covers everything in a cloud of dust.

And all of a sudden, I was only able to see a few metres down the street

The next day the tarmac continues and the only inconveniences are the two small storms that catch up with me just when there is a possibility to seek shelter under a roof of a house or an open shed. To finish it off for a day, I treat myself to a cheap hotel and a hot shower in Salinas de Garci Mendoza. Tomorrow I’m heading south and my goodbye to tarmac is swift yet touching.

Exiting Salinas I’m greeted by a sandy road and the logic of the local paths. Often there are more tracks to choose from and you have to decide which one you like the most.

Choosing a path

To make a judgement which one of them is the most passable (i.e. least sandy), you have to rely mostly on luck. So I choose one that seems like it will take me across the dry mud flats to reunite with the main road with the least effort. From there it’s just over a small “hill” and the promised flatness of the Salar. I enjoy the unexpected plains so much that I do not even notice the track has taken me away from the main path. All of a sudden the track practically ends and I’m left with no other option but to get off Lou and push it through sand for about an hour back to the main road. Latter it will turn out that this was just an intro to what will become a quite common situation in the coming two weeks – pushing fully loaded Lou through deep sand.
But today I make it back to the main road, head uphill on top of which there is immense whiteness on the horizon – Salar de Uyuni!

That white thing on the horizon

I descend to the other side and on the edges of the Salar I find shelter for the night. A small community house that is currently not in use.
Beautiful, sunny morning, a bit fresh. Today is the day for Salar. The road takes me out of the village and after about two kilometres it transitions from rocks to salt. Flatness!

Entering the Salar

Today’s goal is Isla Inchuasi, a small island in the middle of the Salar. I turn in the general direction of the island. Same as yesterday, there are plenty of tracks to follow that all disappear somewhere in the distance. I decide on the dirtiest since it means they are the most transited ones. And based on that logic they should lead to the island.
The horizon is endless, whiteness everywhere you look!

I’m on the road to nowhere!

Only after about 15km a small dot starts to emerge on the horizon. It confirms I’m moving in the right direction. Slowly, way too slowly it’s getting bigger and bigger. Here on the Salar the distances are misleading and are practically impossible to judge them.

That small dot in the distance is Isla Incahuasi. Still more than 20km away!

Contrary to what I have expected, the road is not exactly smooth. Sure there are parts that I can ride practically with my eyes shut, but mostly that is not the case. There are small potholes or small bumps or just the connections of the salt plaques. They transform my ride across the Salar into a slalom across a minefield.

Not at all smooth

After hours of whiteness, nothingness and the sun that burns I make it to Isla Incahuasi in the early afternoon. The solitude is replaced by Disneyland of tourist that make it to the island on a day trips by jeeps. The price I have to pay to visit one of the touristiest destinations in Bolivia.

Welcome to Disneyland

My arrival is followed by a long period of questions from all the tourists. To them I was probably an even bigger attraction here in the middle of the Salar than the cactus filled island. After replying to all of their questions I manage to get some time to myself. That means a quick befriending with Juan Lopez, the guy in charge of a small group of workers, taking care of the island. After we establish that I will be staying on the island for the night, he offers me to sleep in an office that is not being used. The price of this luxury is buying the ticket to visit the island. Obviously for me, a cyclist, the price will be local, 15 Bolivianos (about 2 EUR). Officially this is the price for Bolivians, for foreigners the price is double.
I accept the offer since it means I will not have to seek shelter for the tent neither will I have to set it up. And yes, buying the ticket also gives me the opportunity to climb to the top of the island to take a view of this white immenseness.

That is what I have cycled today

And that is for tomorrow

Just before the sunset the Disneyland ends and all the jeeps head back to Uyuni. Now it’s just me and the caretakers on the island. Each of us turns to his things. For me this means first a coffee and looking at the sunset as the wind blows to my face.

Sunset over the Salar

Already before 5h I’m awaken by the jeeps that start to arrive with new hordes of tourists. I get up just in time to catch the weakening of a new day and then I head south and out of the Salar.

A new day awakens

This means another 40km of “minefield” that somewhere halfway through turns into a smooth surface so that I can do some more kilometres. Nearing the exit from the Salar I focus on following the tracks leading out of the Salar. Still have a vivid memory of pushing through the sand two days ago.
So I’m again welcomed by washboard, sand not being far away.


And yes, there was also sand not far away

Given being reunited with the reality of local roads, it is not that hard to decide to finish the day a bit early. Well that and the fact that my equipment started to rebel a bit. Already in the morning I broke off my rear view mirror, then somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Salar I broke the stick I had to support Lou when I stop. After that the antenna I use as a flagpole almost got between my spokes and to finish it off I find out that one of the hooks of my panniers has broken lose. Added by the fact that it’s already afternoon and that the wind is already wide awaken, I can with a complete peace of mind turn towards the nearest town where I find a cheap bed and a hot shower.

Tomorrow I have another 30km to San Juan which is my last option to stock up on supplies for “Ruta de las Lagunas”, another 300km of dirt roads, sand, wind and wilderness all the way to the Chilean border. But that is a story for next time.

Sandstorm on my way to San Juan. A sign of what is to come?!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!

Back Up

Already on my first day in Bolivia I could see silhouettes of mountains on the horizon. All the time, pedalling the plains of Paraguay, I was aware of the Andes hidden somewhere in the distance. Could not see them but I was aware of their presence.
A few days in Villa Montes to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable climbing ahead. Then, to “battle”! After a few kilometres the asphalt stops. I don’t even manage to make it up the first proper climb, already I have to deal with a puncture. I change the tube, patching it will wait until evening.
About a week of a bit up, a bit down. A bit on paved, a lot on dirt roads. These are a mix of fine powder and loose rocks. Every time a vehicle passes my by, I’m left in a cloud of dust. It has been two years since they started widening and improving the road and the works will go on for another two years. That is, if all goes to plan!
Thanks to road blocks which are the result of the road works, the last 50 kilometres to Tarija, the first major city I have encountered in Bolivia, I’ve spent in the cabin of Daniel’s truck. They open the road midday for an hour and a half, while the workers go for lunch. Absolutely not enough time for me to make the necessary 20 km uphill. So I’ve stopped, lifted my thumb and Daniel with an empty truck on his way back to Tarija has stopped.
In Tarija I’ve ended up in a hostel. Sort of unplanned, but based on the welcome I have received, it was immediately clear to me that I simply had to stop here. Juan, Argentinian volunteer working at the hostel, received me with a “torta frita”, a typically Argentinian snack, sort of a fry bread. Not even managed to finish it, I already had maté in my hand. Just as a welcome!
The warm and pleasant atmosphere of the hostel as well as good company of Marcos, Tomas, Virgi, Lele and the others “kept” me there for a whole week. Just to be clear, it was not all about doing nothing. Lou was looking for a new rear rim which again “developed” anomalies. It was better to take care of it there and then as opposed to later somewhere amongst lamas and alpacas.

The next stop on my repeated climb into the Andes was Potosi. Between me in Tarija and Potosi, there was about 350 kilometres. And 3 very decent climbs. The first of which started just outside the city and ended 1500 metres higher up. At least that was what I have thought. There was a tunnel up there and I have naively expected that the road will start to descend on the other side. Well, it didn’t!
After surviving some stressful moments in an otherwise lit tunnel, where the lights in the middle of it started to go out just as I was passing them, the road first went a bit downhill before it started to slowly but surely climb back up again. But what goes up must come down. Just that this time way more aggressively than when it was going up. The brakes were suffering. Up to the point when I started to hear a metallic noise. I’m losing the brake pads in front. So I stop and change them.
Front brakes always were and continue to be Lou’s weak point. They are practically impossible to properly adjust. The rest of the descend I was stopping every 2 km. To check if the breaks are OK. At the beginning they weren’t and they demanded some attention. Just as I managed to come close to fixing them, I was almost at the bottom of the descent. With an empty tyre. So I was again changing the tube and patching it in the evening.
The first climb done, about 100 km of almost level cycling, another flat (this time it was a thorn from a roadside bush). Starting the second climb. Not feeling well, I have a headache. A stop in the shade for about an hour. Not feeling any better, definitely not in shape for a new climb of more than 1.000 metres up to 3.500 metres above sea level. So I turn around, back to the first town. Looking for a cheap place to hide away in a bed and wait for tomorrow. In this search, I pass by a service centre of a local mobile provider. For almost a week I’m unable to connect to the network. Well, since I’m here, I might as well enter and solve this.
Alejandro receives me, solves my problem and in the meanwhile offers me to wait for 5 minutes for him to finish his shift. Then I can go with him to his house, where I’m offered a room that they don’t use, so that I can lay down and rest. I’m also treated to a lunch and dinner.
The next day, well rested and without a headache, in my second attempt I to drag myself up to 3.500. Wasn’t that easy, but I’ve managed. At some point of this ascent I’m still climbing. Slower than the inclination would deserve, the legs also aren’t tired, but it just can’t go any faster. That energy that still lays hidden in the legs, just cannot come out. Then it occurs to me – there is no oxygen up here! So I continue in my own slow pace. To the top, then a short, violent descent and again a flat tyre at the bottom. This time due to the excess of quality of the patch still from Nicaragua. Again, I change the tube, another half an hour climb and that is it for today.
I come to an abandoned village of about 20 mud houses. The only sign of life is and elderly woman sitting on the ground, her back against the door of one of the houses. I park Lou, approach and start talking. The answer I receive is: “Mana intindini castellano.” The lady doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, only Quechan. With her hand she points somewhere behind a nearby wall. I interpret this gesture as that there I will be able to find someone speaking Spanish. An old man is just taking a donkey into the yard. I ask for permission to pitch my tent here between the houses, where there is shelter from the wind. Highlands are the realm of the wind. Permission granted I look for a suitable location.
I pitch my tent, next on the list – water. There is no running water, of course. The old man directed me towards the “river” which is not a river. A group of puddles in an otherwise dry riverbed. I look for the cleanest of them. I take out a filter that is supposed to filter up to a litre per minute. After about 20 minutes I have about 2 litres (would probably have more if only I would have cleaned it after the last use). Then I treat myself to a litre of unfiltered water to quickly wash myself before the sun goes down together with the temperature. The next task is to patch the tube, but first I have to locate the hole. This requires another visit to the puddles. After locating the bubbles, I’m almost there. Returning to the tent where I put a kettle on my camping stove. After all this I deserve a coffee and a smoke!
Gazing at the stars, listening to the wind (and an occasional truck passing by on a nearby road) and I simply Am. With every passing minute I’m further away from all the effort I have put into this day. I simply am Here and Now!

New morning, new day. The sun pushes away the clouds.
Breakfast, coffee, drying the condensation on the tent, putting away all the stuff, loading up Lou and we are off, exploring the mysteries behind the curves. All day I’m climbing and descending, a little up, a little down. For 100, 200 metres. After 5 – 6 hours, with the wind picking up and black, stormy clouds looming, I’m just tired enough to start looking for a location to hide away for the night. At this point I see a white van, stopped on the road a bit further on. It’s apparent it is waiting for me to pass by. Indra’s friendly smile greets me as he immediately offers me to take me a bit further on.
“Where are you heading?” I ask.
“To Potosi.”
“And you have space for me and my bike?”
Such a gift from the Road cannot be turned down. We load up Lou and about an hour and a pleasant conversation later I found myself on the main square in Potosi.
Before I manage to collect all my stuff, there comes Lucas, a guy I’ve met in Tarija and now works here at a hostel as a volunteer. Together we go there and I end up at a new hostel.
Coffee in hand I sink into an armchair. Next to me there is a couple, looking at Lou, leaning against a nearby wall. They are talking about how nice it must be to travel by bicycle. In silence, I unintentionally listen to the conversation, just being content with being where I am.
They are dreaming aloud, all exited, how one is cruising the roads on a bicycle, taking the curves at one’s own pace. I’m thinking:” Yes, and meanwhile hoping that you don’t get a flat!”
And again, how on a bicycle one can take one’s time to soak in the surroundings, listening to the wind, smelling the autumn leaves,… And again me: “Yes, and inhaling profoundly the big, thick, black cloud of smoke that the passing old truck is leaving behind!”
I move away silently, before I burst their romantic bubble.

All that being said, I can, with a complete peace of mind, say – I like it!

I did however take some days off here in this hostel. In about a day or so I’ll embark on a new search of romantic on the high mountain expanses of the Altiplano. Heading for Uyuni, the biggest salt flats in the World. To let the wind blow through my soul.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!


Small, steamy hotel room. Sitting on the floor, a fan is blowing to my back. More to make me feel like it’s cooling me down than it is actually doing so. Outside it’s 40 degrees, inside it’s more. Air is dry.
The town is called Villa Montes, SE Bolivia, about 120km from the border with Paraguay. I came here on Saturday, but I needed a few days to come to the point where I’m able to write something. 11 days from Asuncion to here were though. Wind, heat, endless, straight roads!

Before coming to Paraguay, I knew little about it. I knew that is, by South American standards, a small country wedged between Brazil and Argentina. Well, it does also border Bolivia, but let’s not go too much into details.
I also knew that it has a huge plain in the West of it, called the Chaco which is a kind of savannah and another thing that I knew was that there are no major tourist attractions. And this lack of knowing, absence of any stereotypes is what attracted me to this country. To get to know it!

After almost three weeks in the country, I cannot really say I know Paraguay. Far from it. But surely today I know more about it.
I know for example that they have yellow and red firefighters. I wouldn’t have known that, but coming into Coronel Oviedo I stopped at a gas station to ask for directions to the firefighters. They are still the most reliable option to get a place to spend a night in a town. And the guy at the station asked me which firefighters am I looking for. The yellow or the red ones. “I don’t know, the ones’ that are closer!” Later I found out that the difference between the two is in their affiliation to two different voluntary firefighter unions. I don’t really understand the situation, but I’ll survive even not knowing this.

I also know that there are at least two Paraguay. Depending on the prism through which we look at the situation. One big and obvious divider is the river Paraguay. This river on the banks of which the capital Asuncion is situated, divides the country between a hilly, relatively humid, agricultural East and dry plains of the West which are home to huge livestock farms. And this difference in access to water also reflects in the way the land is populated. In the East it’s hard to find a stretch of road longer than 10km that would not have a village or a small town. In the West you can consider yourself lucky if you see any signs of settlement every 50km.

What I did make sure is that Paraguayans also are super friendly and hospitable people. And this makes crossing the Chaco more bearable, nicer.
Chaco is a huge plan that covers the Western two thirds of the country. The roads here are straight, leading into what seems like infinity. Traffic is scarce, the countryside is monotonous.

Yet another day you are fighting northerly wind which is so hot and dry that makes your mouth dry as a pepper. The asphalt is at least 10 degrees hotter than in the shade where it’s already 40 degrees. Shade, at least the kind you can use is a scarce commodity. And then, in the distance you can see a communications antenna. Maybe there is something there you say to yourself. And you push on. The antenna is obviously further away than you hope. Every turn of the pedal becomes more difficult. Every gust of wind that slows you down is cursed. The mouth is dry. You feel your body overheating and the only thing you wish for is that you could stop and took a rest.
There is a house next to the antenna, the caretaker. You are “greeted” by the dogs whose barking alerts the owner. And the lady offers you a chair in the shade, sheltered from the find. And the owner offers you a huge plastic bottle full of ice cold water, straight from the fridge. You are left speechless!

It could also happen that at the end of yet another hot day without a shade and with relentless wind, you stop at the last shop in Rio Verde. There are actually two shops, one on the left side of the road, the other on the right side. I turn left. A friendly owner, Norma starts chatting. I buy some cold water and go out for a smoke. With the intent to return to buy some onion and tomatoes as to give some variety to the pasty that I have on the menu for tonight. And the owner, Joel approaches me. “Have you already eaten?” “Well yes, some cookies.” “Come, let me give you some empanadas.” I don’t wait for a second invitation.
After a delicious late snack I sit outside. In the shade where there is already a small group, the owners and some locals. We drink ice cold terere (a local drink, similar to the Argentinian mate, only that this one is prepared with cold juice or water) and we talk. The time is approaching the point of day when I should be looking for a place to pitch my tent. I ask Joel if he has any space behind the house. Sure, we’ll find something. And then he quickly adds: “Don’t worry, we’ll prepare a room and a bed for you!”
“No, I don’t need a room. A place to pitch my tent will do just fine!”
“Well, if you want to sleep in the tent you can go to some other place. If you’ll stay here you will sleep in a room!”
I’ve stayed!

At the end of the hottest and windiest day, just before the sunset I dragged myself to a semi ruined larger building. I enter the courtyard and a man, Luis comes towards me. It turns out this is a military post thou there are only three, maybe four men stationed here.
I ask for permission to camp, using the building as a windbreaker. He shows me a dormitory with an empty bunk bed. “Here you will be sheltered from the wind and will have a roof over your head. There’s the shower, water is drinkable. If you need anything else, just ask.”
After the shower I make myself some coffee and then I go outside to drink it accompanied by a cigarette. It’s a standard ritual that I have. It sort of makes me realize I’m saying goodbye to yet another day on this carousel that we call Life.
I notice the wind has changed. It’s coming from the South. This new wind brings freshness, smell of water. Half an hour later come the lightings, thunders and brief storm. And I have a roof over my head, isn’t that great!

And so I was once again, in an otherwise inhospitable surroundings of the Chaco, shown by the Universe that hospitality is one of the most natural of human reactions. And that the World is, in spite of what the media, capital and politicians are trying to make us believe, full of good, friendly people.
It’s just that sometimes you have to make an effort to get to them!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!

A Quarter Of A Hundred

It has been more than two years since I have set off from Halifax. Due south! The route has never been something fixed, more a vague idea. Across the USA, Mexico, Central America and more or less on the west side of South America to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the World. There the road ends. I was calculating on doing 25.000km, a bit more, a bit less.

About 10 days ago my speedometer showed 25.000km. I was in Argentina which was consistent with my original plan from back home. What was different from that plan was the fact that I was almost at the opposite side of Argentina, about 700km from the border with Brazil and Paraguay. And not only that I was roughly 2.500km as the crow flies away from Ushuaia, I was even moving in the opposite direction. As it often happens in Life that the plans normally have very little to do with the reality.

I’m still moving away from Ushuaia and will continue to do so for a while. Since I have turned towards the coast in central Peru, I’m still missing a visit to Machu Picchu. So I’m going there now with a small detour via the Iguazu waterfalls as I’m in the neighbourhood (well in the same country). And then there is Paraguay which I want to visit. Also Bolivia is missing from my list so it seems I still have some “work” to do up north. And then there is all of south Argentina with Patagonia and Chile with its Carretera Austral. Still a lot to do!

Then at the same time there is also so much already behind me. Deserts and coasts, mountains and plains, jungle and empty steppes,… Not only that there is already 25.000km behind, there is also more than 420 different locations where I have slept. Sometimes with a roof over my head and a nice, comfortable bed, another times I was in a tent under a clear sky. I was hosted by firefighters, police, Red Cross, churches even schools and a WC have all been a place to spend the night. And I cannot even mention how many times my paths have been crossed by good, friendly people that have almost always somehow intuitively knew what I really need in a given moment. Sometimes they knew it even better than me, whether it was a bed, a hot shower, a safe place to pitch a tent, great food, directions for further on, a conversation or just a simple Smile.
So much of it that I really cannot describe it all. That is why to all of You, that have carried me all this distance, a profound – Thank you!


Look At That – A Slovenian!

If I relate to last thoughts of my previous post about going with the flow and then in the evening being surprised by the bank on which the flow has washed you up, then for sure I must write about meeting with a Slovenian community in Entre Rios.

The day has started in a tent, squeezed between a pick-up than has long ago finished its service, a truck than not so long ago must have still been working, an ice machine and some sort of a cage. Hidden behind a gas station in a large village. Outside there was frost on the grass and the sun on a perfectly clear sky hasn’t yet managed to warm up the atmosphere. Morning tasks are routine, cleaning and taking down the tent, making breakfast, enjoying my coffee, then saddling up Lou and back on the road.
Plan for the day was simple. A stop in the first town, Cerrito that is about 25km further down the road Entering the first shop to stock up on supplies for dinner and push on into the wide open farmland. Maybe, just maybe I might make it to the next village that is about 60km further on from Cerrito. All in all, it seemed like just another day on the Argentinian countryside. Until I have reached Cerrito.
There is a junction at the entrance into town. I look left, no traffic, I look to the right, no cars – wait a minute, there is something wrong with this picture. There is a sign and on that sign a Slovenian flag. What?! I turn to get closer and I read: “Plazoleta Republica de Eslovenia” (Park Republic of Slovenia) with additional text “Colonia Cerrito, cuna de los Inmigrantes Eslovenos” (Colony Cerrito, cradle of Slovenian Immigrants). Obviously I’m totally confused, but the more I look at this, the more it seems to me that I have to find out more about it and that it was meant for me to turn into here.

I let go of the thought of finding the first small shop, buying what I need for dinner and to push on. Instead, I turn into town all the way to the central square/park. I look for a nice bench, so as to soak in the sunshine, roll up a cigarette and try to think of a plan what to do next. Well, before I manage to finish my cigarette, a man approaches. A friendly handshake and a conversation starts. Pedro is a cyclist that lives here and it’s immediately obvious to me that he will not “allow” me to go on that easily (another reference to my previous post). So we go to his house where he feeds me and when I mention through the conversation that I have stopped here because of the sign at the entrance, Pedro goes into action mode. All organized! My bed is in the guest room, there will be a fish asado at his friends’ place this evening and I’m going to meet the local coordinator of the Slovenian community here in Cerrito. Now it’s time for maté.

In the afternoon Pedro first introduces me to Laura, his wife before we head out. To Luz, the local coordinator of the Slovenian community. The meeting is brief, there is only enough time for her to invite me to tomorrow’s lunch at her house. So we will have more time to talk. Today I’m out of time as Pedro has other plans with me. These continue in the company of his friends Edgar and Amilcar, eating fish asado.

The day after I have lunch at Luz’s where I meet the rest of her family. And the lunch turns into more “tasks” for me. A visit to the Slovenian community in the city of Parana, a short history of Slovenian immigration to Entre Rios and a dinner at family Fatur. Time flies by and it’s getting a bit difficult for me to keep up with all that is going on. And for me, it doesn’t stop here.
The following day in Cerrito I attend the presentation of the book “Cocina Eslovena” (Slovenian kitchen) by Carlos Savor And I could not leave the town without stopping at Javier Podversich the day after for an asado, strait from the farm.

The four days in Cerrito went by in a second. Spending time with friendly, warm people that have opened the doors to their homes, have honoured me with the time they have shared with me,…
In reality in all these days I did not even have the time to comprehend what has actually happened to me. A state of constant amazement by the turn of events and an ever new surprise by what is to follow.
To be honest, even now as I’m writing about it I cannot stop myself no to be surprised by the bank on which I have been washed up that day.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!