Thank you

A huge thanks to the following folks who have graciously supported my tour, in a response to the “help Marie get back into the real world” online event.

Kathleen Menegozzi
Leslie Sirag
Seth Watkins
Greg Carson
Emily Howard
Maarteen Vandewinkle
Jeanne Granger
Christopher Taylor
Will Adams
Paul Brossier
Erlinda Walker

Just a shout out to recognize them!

Thank you all for your donations. Additional thank-you’s to the people who have offered other helpful opportunities , here in the States. 

A well rested reunion, from Sacramento, California,

Marie

The walk in Patagonia

For a long time now, I anticipated arriving to the end of the Americas, on my bicycle, with Paul. Well, more days and medical news on Paul’s foot, put me in the hard position, to stay, or to go for what may be the last adventure on this long distance bike tour. “Last”, because I had to narrow my options down to a last event. I can’t continue to travel comfortably, financially, and most of all, I must get back in touch with my friends and family in the States. So, I went to Puerto Montt by bus, and stayed with a Warmshowers host, Sebastian. It was a few hectic days of scrambling to get proper wifi connection, so that I could make money transfers, emails and buy a plane ticket to Punta Arenas. After that was all squared away, I got to the airport, early, with only my backpack to check in. But foolishly, I showed my MSR cooking stove to the LAN airline reps, just so they were aware that I had a “clean” gasoline free container to check in. Big mistake, because the slight smell of gasoline on the canister walls did not meet-up to their security standards. Fortunately, two Italian cyclist were unpacking from a flight. I didn’t have to explain much, they already were sympathetic and gladly took my stove to leave with their Puerto Montt host. Grazie mille, Melissa and Pierluigi!

I arrived to Punta Arenas airport at night. At the guards suggestion, I slept at the airport, in a corner of a closed dining room. Eight am, I took the bus to Puerto Natales, and booked a room in a hostel, where I met two nice German backpackers, Sarah and Jork. The weather in Puerto Natales made a frightening impression that we picked the worst time to be in Patagonia. Rain and intense wind continued from morning into the night. But they say, that the weather is unpredictable in Patagonia. The next day we boarded a bus, which brought us to the gates of Torred del Paine, on a sunny late afternoon. I camped with the Germans, for that first night. They tried to get me to walk with them on the “W trek”- I was tempted because I liked their company. But, I was not going to pass up making the full circuit, the “O”. I had already scheduled 11 days until a flight return to Natales. So, I proceeded first day, alone.

In Torres del Paine, there are a few trek options. There is the “W” which is the shorter version of the “O”. The “W” is usually 5 days trekking the highlight parts of the park, like Valle del Francés and the famous Torres towers. It’s also the park that’s packed with tourist ranging from inexperienced or on a time limit. The “O” explores more of the north, behind the mountain group, and there is a challenging pass, the John Gardner. After that pass, lies the entire Glacier Grey field, 270 square kilometers, and 28 kilometers long. They say the field is not always entirely visible, but we were lucky that day. Over this field the Patagonian the rainy and cold conditions generate random weather conditions, and the field is usually shrouded in clouds. I had in mind to make the fullest circuit possible, the “Q”, but according to the map, I would need exactly as many days as I scheduled in Patagonia, it was tight. And without a cooking stove for over a week… I was not sure if the “O” was a wise decision, already. Well, it all came to be that “we” made the entire “Q” trek.

At noon, on Day 1, I met Maarteen, a Belgium guy-turned-US American-citizen from New York to California. Maarten and I joined forces to hike the entire “Q”, 130 kilometers in 8 days. Not bad, considering the suggested itinerary was 10/11 days. We stuck together, which I was thankful to have his company- many laughs and cooked food! A European with the critical sense of a New Yorker; it was a week of amusement as we secretly ridiculed the Europeans and North Americans. We couldn’t refrain ourselves from laughing at the the trail mix of international walking-stick-“Freds“. Identifiable, from the moment they greet you “Howdy!“.

My most memorable day was the hike over the John Gardner pass. As you can see in the photos, many highlight that brilliant day of clear sky, making the pass and a big giant ice field- Glacier Grey. There was a fuss about the pass being closed if the conditions remained like the night before, of furious rain and wind. That night before, we were the last to arrive to the basic refuge hut, before the rain poured. A few identifiable groups inside; there were the young Chilean guys, the old Frenchies, some strange mix of North American and Germans, and then us, Maarten and I, team -‘California’-. We shared beers with the Chilenos and we all crashed the floor of the refuge hut, breaking the rangers “orders” (But it’s not like he cared!) for we were sane not to go sleep under the rain, like the others. The next day, together with the Chilenos, we were the first in the group to make the pass, early in the morning, and enough time to have lunch next to the glacier valley. It was, so, ideal. A perfect clear sky and no clouds,  the entire ice field was visible for the remaining day, as we hiked down to the Lago Grey camp.

We got lucky with weather, for we had many sunny days. Not lucky, because mice and humans stole our snacks- all the best snacks! It was only by day 4 and 5 that our food bag was near empty. Not severely without food, since there were shops on the “W” trek of overpriced snacks. But the upside to the “W”, were the few folks who kindly donated their extra food to us. An Australian couple, Mandy and Lawrence, whom we saw throughout the rest of the trek, were sweet folks who helped us out. We all combined our kitchen to share meals. We cheered with a few beers and pisco sours. The result of mishap and shared bench spaces, brought the chances to meet some very wonderful people, whom I hope to see again.

Now, for the collection of photos I was able to make from the videos and snaps from Maarten. Thanks Maarten, for sharing.

Morning goodbye to Gork and Sarah.

Morning goodbye to Jork and Sarah.

 

The second night, after the long Day 1 of 32 kilometers, at camp Dickson.

The second night, after the long Day 1 of 32 kilometers, at camp Dickson. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

Begging the pass,  we make our way over the moraine field.

Begging the pass, we make our way over the moraine field. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

Maarten looking back at the valley before the pass.

Maarten looking back at the valley before the pass.

 

Me (blue backpack) keeping up with the Chilenos guys as we concur the mountain pass.

Me (blue backpack) keeping up with the Chilenos guys as we concur the mountain pass. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

And we made it! At the pass the wind speeds were fierce! over 100 km per hour for sure.

And we made it! At the pass the wind speeds were fierce! over 100 km per hour for sure. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

Basking in the glory moment.

Basking in the glory moment.

 

The trail led us down, closer to the field. Still a great distance away. The valley is so huge!

The trail led us down, closer to the field. Still a great distance away. The valley is so huge! (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

A few hours later, afternoon, and continuing great weather!

A few hours later, afternoon, and continuing great weather!

 

Some bridges were like ones we see in safari cartoons.

Some bridges were like ones we see in safari cartoons. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

Some more hours later, the sun sit low over the glacier. Team California has 2 hours til camp Lago Grey.

Some more hours later, the sun sit low over the glacier. Team California had 2 hours til camp Lago Grey.

 

Just as expected, overcast with chance of rain had arrived by day 4. Although, the bleached white sky couldn't hide the colors of the Patagonian fields. Yellow, red, green and various shades of blue seemed more vibrant with the absence of light.

Just as expected, overcast with chance of rain had arrived by day 4. Although, the bleached white sky couldn’t hide the colors of the Patagonian fields. Yellow, red, green and various shades of blue seemed more vibrant with the absence of light.

 

To make the tail of the "Q", we had to make a 5 hour round-trip hike. In the photo, we were at less than 100 meters elevation, which made for an impressive view at the 2,800 meter peaks shooting up into the sky.

To make the tail of the “Q”, we had to make a 5 hour round-trip hike. In the photo, we were at less than 100 meters elevation, which made for an impressive view at the 2,800 meter peaks shooting up into the sky.

 

Completed the tail and a stop at the lake shore before heading into Paine Grande refuge.

Completed the tail and a stop at the lake shore before heading into Paine Grande refuge. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

Maarteen warned me the water would be cold. I wanted my sore legs to be flushed from the lactic acid. You bet it was cold!

Maarten warned me the water would be cold in Lake Pehoé I wanted my sore legs to be flushed from the lactic acid. You bet it was cold! (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

Continuing day 4 hike until arrival at camp Italiano.

Continuing day 4 hike until arrival at camp Italiano. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

From Italiano, today was a hike up the Valle del Francés. A highlight leg of the trek- no wonder why.

From Italiano, today was a hike up the Valle del Francés. A highlight leg of the trek- no wonder why.

We hiked up and had lunch at the viewpoint name Britanico overlooning the Valle del Francés.

We hiked up and had lunch at the viewpoint name Britanico overlooking the Valle del Francés. (Photo, Maarten, http://mvandewinkel.tumblr.com/)

 

Our second to last day hike meandered into a valley, and finally up into camp Torres.

Our second to last day hike meandered into a valley, and finally up into camp Torres.

 

The stolen food incident left us slightly bitter, especially in the times after hours-long trekking. Maarten mumbles  "It must have been a "Howdy"  …and it was definitely a W guy."

The stolen food incident left us slightly bitter, especially in the times after hours-long trekking. Maarten mumbles “It must’ve been a ‘Howdy’…
…and it was definitely a ‘W guy’.”

 

The last morning was the ealiest morning we woke up, for the big special moment of sunrise over the Torres towers. Well, another day of bad weather had cancelled that mornings show. No glowing towers for team California.

The last morning was the earliest morning for us. We hiked up in the masses for the big special moment of sunrise over the Torres towers. Well, another day of bad weather had cancelled that mornings show. No glowing towers for team California.

 

That's alright, we were quite satisfied with the tour. Food was replaced, had great weather for 90% of the time, saw the glacier field and earn bragging rights for making the "Q".

That’s alright. We were quite satisfied with our trek. Food was replaced, had great weather for 90% of the time, saw the glacier field and earn bragging rights for making the “Q”. The heavy winds kicked in, so we left, down the rocky mountain, to have a few pisco sours with our Aussie friends in the refuge while waiting for the rain to subside.

 

Back in Puerto Natales, we rewarded ourselves to the prize we have been waiting for all week... burgers and micro-brewed beer! It couldn't have been a happier ending. Cheers to Maarteen, Mandy and Lawrence.

Back in Puerto Natales, we rewarded ourselves to the prize we have been waiting for all week… burgers and micro-brewed beer! Best thing I ate all week. Cheers to Maarten, Mandy and Lawrence.

 

I boarded a bus back to Punta Arenas. Maybe I will have a couple pics from my Couchsurfing friends, soon. It was a 24 hour stay in Punta Arenas. A lovely, windy city. Now I rest in Puerto Montt. And so far, plans are to return to Santiago, and board a plane for the States. I am not sure how I can describe what I feel, at the moment.

 

Thanks to those who have been with me on this trip, by reading up on my post updates. It’s amazing that I could thank you all for reading over the two years. I’ll have a couple other post following the conclusion of the tour.

 

-Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel tips on Vegas and Central America with Kendra Thorton

Hey everyone!

I am proud to announce that I am teaming up with travel expert, Kendra Thorton, to share our secrets on our favorite travel activities!

Today, Kendra will give you the scoop on attractions fun for the entire family. I have my 2 cents about finding the ultimate adventures in Central America. Soon, you may find our articles on Kendras Twitter page.

índiceKendra Thornton appears as a travel expert on television stations across the country to offer travel tips and deals to millions of people every year. She makes regular appearances on ABC, NBC and CW stations in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. She has also made special guest appearances on The Nate Show, Fine Living Network and The Tyra Banks Show.

And now, from Kendra…

Getting the Most Out of Your Next Trip to Las Vegas

Las Vegas is famously known as “Sin City,” but these days it’s so much more than that. Now you can find events and attractions that appeal to all ages and tastes. As someone who frequently visits with my family, I know this from experience.

1. Interesting and Unexpected Museums

When people think of what to do in Las Vegas, museums may not top the list. Yet there are quite a few offbeat and fun museums that are unlike anything you’d find elsewhere. Anyone interested in science should check out the National Atomic Testing Museum, which is not far from the location in Nevada where many nuclear weapons are actually tested! When I’m in Las Vegas with my kids, I always like to take them to the Discovery Children’s Museum; a place full of fun and educational exhibits. Finally, there is the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, only five miles from the Strip, where Nevada’s wildlife and other natural wonders are featured.

2. Take Golf Lessons From Tiger Woods’ Teacher

Butch Harmon is one of the most renowned golf instructors in the world, and he teaches in Las Vegas. He has taught many world-class golfers, including Tiger Woods. My husband, who is an avid golfer, has taken some lessons at the Butch Harmon School of Golf and has improved his swing considerably! There are many different options and packages available. You can take anything from an hour lesson to a three-day intensive workshop with Harmon.

3. A Challenge For Those With Big Appetites

Have you ever watched “Man vs. Food” on the Travel Channel and wondered if you could finish one of those huge steaks, pizzas or whatever the challenge happened to be? Well, in Las Vegas there are a few places where you can test your appetite in this manner. The Pub at Monte Carlo, for example, you can take their 8-Pound Burger Challenge on. You must also wash it down with 32 ounces of beer. It’s free if you manage to finish it!

4. Thrilling Roller Coasters

If you have the stomach for it, Las Vegas has some of the nation’s most exciting roller coasters and other fast and twisty rides. I usually pass on these myself, but my kids are always up for such a challenge. Circus Circus has its own amusement park, The Adventuredome, where you will find The Canyon Blaster, a double corkscrew, double loop roller coaster that is either a thrilling adventure or a terrifying nightmare, depending on your point of view! You can even have a skydiving experience at Stratosphere with the SkyJump, where you free fall from 108 stories! Riders are given safety lessons and jump suits to prepare themselves for this amazing experience.

Las Vegas is a city that’s always in flux, and if you haven’t been here in a while you may be surprised at how much is new. At the same time, return visitors can also find their favorite spots still intact. In addition to your to new attractions popping up, hotels on the strip are popping up seemingly everyday. Sites like Gogobot make it easy to filter through and read user reviews of the various hotels. There are few places on earth that offer the variety of activities that you can find in Las Vegas any hour of the day!

Hmmm…  Me thinks to have a after-tour celebration in Vegas! 😉

Thanks for sharing, Kendra!

As some of you may know, I will be ending my bike tour soon. So what beeter time than to reflect back and share my favorite activities in Central America…

Go Explore! A cyclist´s tips for Central American adventures

Between the pristine coastlines and into the lush jungles of Central America, colorful wonders await to be discovered. Make your next adventure, or first, into one of the seven tropical countries of the Americas. Imagine kayaking on the lake of Lago Atitlan, eating handfuls of dragon fruits, or finding a Blue Morpho butterfly rest on a banana leaf. The sure way that you are going to get up close to all these wonders, is to throw on your boots and daypack, and take advantage of the following activities. Central America is a paradise for the active and adventurous ones; you can surf, hike, kayak, river raft, and more. And with the exchange rate favoring dollars and euros, you should find the cost of activities and transportation relatively cheap.

 

Hike volcanoes

Dormant or active, hiking on volcanoes are a thrilling experience. If you choose to hike on any volcanoes in Central America, don’t miss hiking on San Pedro or Conception. The pinnacle top of these volcanoes offer extraordinary views over the sacred lakes of Central America. Their trails could be completed on one day, although be sure to start early for a cloud free view, before noon. San Pedro is a stratovolcano, perched on the southern rim of Lago Atitlan, Guatemala. Conception is one of two volcanoes that form the island Ometepe, surrounded by the massive Lake Nicaragua. The last 20 meters is a scramble on loose rocks, so take caution! At the lip of the crater it’s a smelly sulfuric witches cauldron, across you will see the neighboring volcano, and 360° view of the lake. It’s extraordinary!

 

Surf the Pacific beach

Screenshot at 2012-12-20 01_23_06World class breaks litter the Nicoya Peninsula´s coast of Costa Rica. A great stretch for surfers of all levels. Although I lived in Southern California, I never learned how to surf until I arrived to Nicoya! Namely, the reef-barrier free stretches; El Carmen and Santa Teresa. Here it is paradise; white sand beaches, lush jungle a few steps behind, and you won’t need a wetsuit in these tropical waters! Year-round resides a hang loose crowd. For lodging, you have your options between party-til´-sun-rise towns like Santa Teresa, or the sleepy villages like Mal Pais.

 

Canoe through the jungle

IMG_3634Gliding on the rivers in kayak or canoe is the best way to experience the jungle of Central America. We stumbled into a tour around the Rio San Juan in the very south of Nicaragua. Compared to Costa Rica, river tours are economically better and less crowded with tourist, in Nicaragua. The current is strong, so it is only logical to tour the tributary rivers or go downstream. Have your camera ready! We spotted many birds, a couple sloths in the trees and caymans crept underneath our canoe. Alternatively, you can rent a kayak on the Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, and paddle around. We launched off from our lakeside hostel and paddled to a nearby island home to spider monkeys and in the marshes there is fantastic birdwatching.

 

Cycling the rough roads of Belize

Of all the countries that I cycled in Central America, Belize sticks out in my mind. Perhaps it was the thick surroundings of emerald jungle and the echos of howler monkeys and insects in the night, that left an everlasting impression on me. And Belize is a small country to cover in a few weeks on a bicycle. You can rent bicycles in Cayo  or bring your own rig. Most roads are unpaved, there is little traffic, and it´s pure jungle. I highly recommend cycling around the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve in the Cayo district. It’s backcountry in the jungle and higher up in elevation is a fresh semi-tropic pine reserve and crystal-fresh waterfalls. Cycle the trails back down and check out the Mayan ruins of Caracol.

 

Now, I already know what you are wondering- am I going to confirm that travel is dangerous in Central America? As someone who had traveled 8 months in Central America by bicycle, boat and buses, I can tell you from experience-you will survive! I never had life-threatening troubles in Central America. At times, it was stressful or uncomfortable, but that’s all part of the adventure!

 

So go out and discover Central America! Drink plenty of water, try to minimize on wasteful packaging and leave the place better than you found it. And drop me a line to let me know if the tips helped you, or you have any questions. Adventure on!

 

 Follow Kendra on her Twitter account: Twitter (@KendraThornton)

For my next tour, I will cycle from Chile to the Moon, 2020. Donations and support welcomed!

Oh wait. Been done.

Alright, so no one has biked to the moon. But what if I propose to cycle on the moon? Any supporters? At least weigh of the load would not be burdensome! Ok, so moving on..

After the weeks in Bolivia, it was a completely different world in Chile, and after weeks of surviving the rough outdoors, you bet we took a rest in San Pedro. San Pedro is a small town located in the driest desert of the world (second to Antarctica) the Atacama desert. There are areas visited for it’s moon like landscape to see and hike around. But San Pedro itself, let’s be honest, it’s a party town. The folks here rise late, hungover, tour the natural attractions by day, and back to party at night.

I camped at the Sol del Naciemente hostel for a week. The house was full; it was peak season for foreigners and vacationing Chileans. I had a great time here, and meet many cool travelers. Rather than going out to the bars in town, I preferred to be in the main house of the hostel in time when everyone is sharing dinner, beers and laughs.

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I made a cazuela, a favorite Chilean soup, thanks to el Papú (left) who showed me step-by-step how to prepare it. The other two are an adorable couple from Santiago, Emi and Rodrigo.

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Nice ladies from Chile who shared dinner with me at the hostel.

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Hanging with the dudes; Chileans, a guy from Spain, and another from Italy.

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Beer games with Chileans and Japanese. These guys were so funny!

Hanging with the dudes; Chileans, a guy from Spain, and another from Italy.

Hanging with the dudes; Chileans, a guy from Spain, and another from Italy.

Nice ladies from Chile who shared dinner with me at the hostel.

Nice ladies from Chile who shared dinner with me at the hostel.

Beer games with Chileans and Japanese. These guys were so funny!

Beer games with Chileans and Japanese. These guys were so funny!

Some days in the late afternoon when it’s cooler outside, I played outdoors in the desert.  I went sand boarding with my friend, Miguel and a few girls from Chile. We cycled a few kilometers out of town into the valley surrounded by dunes and rock, to a huge sand dune. Surfing on sand is much less intimidating than surfing in the ocean, but it’s a lot of work to carry a a board and hike the dune. Another day, Paul and I went to visit the famous Valle de la Luna. Meaning  Valley of the Moon, it’s a highlight of the desert, known for it’s beautiful and strange lunar landscape. Some areas had not received rain for hundreds of years. The road we cycled, and the lookout spot, offered amazing views of the valley, beautifully enhanced by sunset. And if you happen to be in Chile, watching the television, look out for me in the commercials for the World Cup support for Chile advertizement. Paul sent me to a commercial filming that took place outside of San Pedro. The filming took place in an old village (name forgotten). My role was to jump around as if the Chilean team made the finals and jumped into the arms of my “partner” and spun around on the stairs of a church (hilarious bit that took 8 shots to get the right look, and we nearly fallen from the steps!)

The ladies with boards and bikes.

The ladies with boards and bikes.

The dune that we hiked up to board down. It's very exhausting to hike up sand with the boards.

The dune that we hiked up to board down. It’s very exhausting to hike up sand with the boards.

16 km from San Pedro, Paul and I visited the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).

16 km from San Pedro, Paul and I visited the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).

Strange formations of the stone and salt crystallized on the surface.

Strange formations of the stone and salt crystallized on the surface.

Cycling in the gorgeous Valley of the Moon.

Cycling in the gorgeous Valley of the Moon.

The film crew recording a scene for the commercial, in a beautiful valley surrounded my snow-capped mountains.

The film crew recording a scene for the commercial, in a beautiful valley surrounded my snow-capped mountains.

I felt after some days, it was enough to be in San Pedro. Paul wanted to stay, so we agreed to temporarily split and meet later, in the south.

So began my solo touring. Although, it wasn’t so lonely. I met many people who became my company and were very kind and helped me. This has always been the case. However, many assume being alone is so dangerous. I think too many people emphasize the bad situations in life. Why don’t we expect that people want to help and have good intentions?

In short, my experience. I had a first rough night camping, due to furious desert wind that collapsed my tent and I am short on tent pitch sticks. Same night, the stove struggled to stay on fire, while I cooked pasta. Following Murphy’s law; my camera failed to turn on, and my debit car, only bank card expired and the bike has mechanical problems. These inconveniences all were reasons why I pushed to get to Santiago faster. I did so, by hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking turns out to be so easy in Chile. I hopped into about 7 vehicles for rides as long as 6 hours and short 5 minute transport. San Pedro, I cycled a day to Calama, then got a ride to the coast, began with Antofagasta. I cycled out of of Antofagasta to a junction, and hitched a semi-truck ride near Copiapó. I cycled to Copiapó and stayed a few days. A car ride to La Serena, a beach town. Next day I cycled into the wine Valle of Valle de Elqui, and camped at a gas station after I went to a star observatory. Next morning back to La Serena, and a guy offered help by a ride to a popular hitchhiking gas station, and a place to sleep. From La Serena, a ride to Concon, and I cycled from Con con 30 km east towards Santiago, but with 100 km left of dense traffic and no shoulder, I hitchhiked the last 100 to Santiago. It took less than two weeks to do all this.

One evening, I was NOT welcomed to camp at a military base near the city of Antofagasta. A truck full of military men pulled up and approached me with guns and face mask. They told me I had to move do to conflicts between Chile and Peru on ocean borders (a dispute over who has fishing zone rights). The military guys felt a bit bad for moving me, so they offered some bottled waters, a headlamp, and a ride 5 kilometers over to an appropriate camp spot. I camped at the monument for the Tropic of Capricorn. this would be the 3rd line (Cancer and Equator) that I had crossed, but a first to sleep on the line!

One evening, I was NOT welcomed to camp at a military base near the city of Antofagasta. A truck full of military men pulled up and approached me with guns and face mask. They told me I had to move do to conflicts between Chile and Peru on ocean borders (a dispute over who has fishing zone rights). The military guys felt a bit bad for moving me, so they offered some bottled waters, a headlamp, and a ride 5 kilometers over to an appropriate camp spot. I camped at the monument for the Tropic of Capricorn. this would be the 3rd line (Cancer and Equator) that I had crossed, but a first to sleep on the line!

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Delman gave me a ride from the Junction to a station 30 km before Copiapó. I set up my tent to camp next to his truck at a station, and in the morning we shared tea. He loves tea!

Hugo and his girlfriend Natalia were my awesome host in Copiapó. Hugo checks out my bike as we walk to the gas station to find me a ride.

Hugo and his girlfriend Natalia were my awesome host in Copiapó. Hugo checks out my bike as we walk to the gas station to find me a ride.

The couple and their small dog, who have the 3 of us (Nicolás, Filippé and I) a ride from Copiapó to La Serena.

The couple and their small dog, who have the 3 of us (Nicolás, Filippé and I) a ride from Copiapó to La Serena.

Nicolás and Felippé  teamed up with me to hitchhike from Copiapó to La Serena. Gracias amigos y buen viaje!

Nicolás and Felippé teamed up with me to hitchhike from Copiapó to La Serena. Gracias amigos y buen viaje!

With Christian, who a asked at a station for a ride. He wasn't leaving town, but he gave me a ride and ended up bringing me to his house, like a stray cat, to crash on the couch. He is a cyclist himself so he had sympathy for my situation.

With Christian, who a asked at a station for a ride. He wasn’t leaving town, but he gave me a ride and ended up bringing me to his house, like a stray cat, to crash on the couch. He is a cyclist himself so he had sympathy for my situation.

The "Juan and only" Carlos, the funny roommate. This guy had me laughing so much!

The “Juan and only” Carlos, the funny roommate. This guy had me laughing so much!

So many vineyards in Valle de Elqui.

So many vineyards in Valle de Elqui.

Arrived just before sunset to the observatory 9 km outside of Vicuna, the small town where I camped in a abandoned home, next to a gas station.

Arrived just before sunset to the observatory 9 km outside of Vicuna, the small town where I camped in a abandoned home, next to a gas station.

The moon!

The moon! I attended a two hour tour of the observatory, looking though big expensive telescopes at nebulas, saw 3 of 4 of Jupiter’s largest moons, and the only picture that turned out visible was this of the moon.

Nearly all of the drivers and fellow hitchhikers offered me water, snacks, coffee. Even one driver have me 20 bucks to be sure I could get groceries and he got me a bag of very tasty pastries famous from a small town north on Vina del Mar. Some drivers who I did not get rides from, offered help, like a lady gave me her number to stay with in the south and a great map of Chile. In most places I was welcomed to camp, and by the stations there was a guard, in some areas it was only me and the stars. I left San Pedro with a few dollars in my pocket, and I arrived two weeks later to Santiago with more food than I could finish and more cash. Chileans are awesome!

And now, I am in Santiago. A key was left for me at the apartment front desk by Jamie, my friend Miguel’s brother. Miguel is out of town and Jaime works all day, so I have an apartment on 15th floor to myself, in a trendy neighborhood, located in Santiago center. Sweet! There is a great view of the sunset over the city. And an ex-girlfriend of Miguel left a ton of clothes and girly stuff – I was welcome to have at it. Now, I can relax, and try to make some money selling food, and visit some friends whom i met in San Pedro. What more could I want? I feel like I stepped into my home, as temporary as it is, I am grounded.

And what will happen next?! Will I get my card in the mail (oh I certainly hope so. Thanks Mom for sending it!) And what’s after Santiago? Find out later!

Flamingos and snow in the desert? Pink and white lakes? Where are we?

Bolivia- what can be said about this country? In a few generalizations; it’s poor, mountainous, and landlocked. Our southwestern route was only a small portion. We did not see the north to south eastern part of Bolivia’s Amazona. We even did not go to Potosi or Santa Cruz. We cycled from the lake Titicaca through the chilly Altiplano lands where substance farmers work, and later, an intimate time in the most isolated zones of Bolivia’s desert. For me, it was difficult to like Bolivia at first. The people were not socially open. Resources like food, water, and services, were severely limited. The road infrastructure was our worst nightmares true.

The leg of our south west Bolivian tour was one of our toughest cycling experiences. Ten days in a inhospitable high elevation desert. No paved roads and no signs. In fact most of the time there was no road, but only tracks left by the old Lexus SUV models hauling camera-armed tourist through the desert. They were our assurance that we would not be long without aid if we needed it out there. Even so, we had to be prepared for two weeks on the isolated route. We stocked up on two weeks of food and water purifying tablets.

Cycling the southwest part of Bolivia was one of the most extraordinary moments in this tour. Perhaps in all my 26 years the voyage was something so spectacular and so intense. The blue sky span over the expanse of raw nature of red mineral, prominent volcanoes dusted with snow, juxtaposed with dreams of Dalí’; wind cut stone formations on a interminable stretch of sand. Touring the lonely lakes and lagoons; Hedionda, Verde, Colorado, and Chalviri, were mystical and breathtaking. There were color lakes of ice green, coral red, and blue as the sky above. And wildlife, open and free offered a daily spectacle of the vicunas, flamingos, and I may have seen a Altiplano cat!

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I last left off (in the previous blog) that we arrived to La Paz. A few nights there for rest and logistics. The ride out of the city, that sits in the Andes mountains, was nearly burst our lungs, due to the the mix of high- altitude and pollution. The ride From La Paz to Oruro was a few days giving us a taste of what to expect from Bolivia. It began as a trail of diminishing food resources. No produce, no conventional cook-able grains, sometimes no bottled water. Our choices were limited to cheap candy bars for lunches. There were no restaurants to buy a cheap lunch like in Peru. Water was our most precious and challenging resource to acquire on this trip. A few times the village tap water was unavailable (because water was only available in the morning.)

In Oruru we rested in a hotel. After Oruru, there was 150 kilometers left of paved road in Bolivia, until the ride on the unpaved road. The combination of seasons; rain and road construction left us to hours of bike pushing in ankle deep mud. Our daily distance dropped from 90 kilometers a day, to an exhausting 30. Storms sometimes cut the day short, and roaring thunder was frighteningly dangerous as we were in the open and very high in the mountains. We did the second counting test to estimate what was the closest lightening strike, and one was 300 meters close to our tent.

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The town booming with tour operations, Uyuni, was out last stop of moderate civilization. We arrived as the town was preparing to host the Dakar races. In days the town blew up as if it were the Olympics. 20 kilometers before Uyuni, Paul and I arrived to the worlds largest wonder, the Salar de Uyuni. Although the day was cold and overcast, and with out bikes loaded, it was not tempting to cycle on the Salar. The following day the sun was out, and I felt that the day before did not do justice for the Salar experience. So I cycled from the city without the gear, and cycled to and from the famous Isla Incahuasi.

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The first day at the Salar it was overcast. From the salt share, we watched the cars drive into the enormous puddle. Paul and I were tempted to cycle, but we were dubious about the gear falling into the salt water.

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The following day, I cycled into the Salar, and to the center of the Uyuni salt flat at the island named Incahuasi. Many flags stand here showing the worldwide attendance to the Uyuni salt flats.

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I could cycle the harden floor of the salt, in 20 centimeters of water flat until I reached the “island” i reached top speed heading into the illusory blue with no horizon. It was my most surreal moment experiences. Water warm by the sun and salty earth splashed my legs and wiped in the fenders of the bike. In all the directions, it was like looking into infinite space.

I asked people is they wanted to take photos with my bike for the effect of the light made objects appear _.

I asked people is they wanted to take photos with my bike for the optical illusion of standing on the bike.

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A group of Korean ladies pose for my camera.

After Uyuni began the much anticipated journey that most of us crazy cyclist touring the Americas do; the road though southwest Bolivia. It is the challenge of 10 days cycling roads said to be in the worst conditions of the world. Either sand, gravel, large rocks or washboard, and usually a mix of all. After what we went through in the north to Uyuni, it was nearly convincing that this was going to be hell. Actually, the conditions were better than what we saw between Oruro and Uyuni. We did not have rain storms that turned the road to mudpools. But we did experience powerful winds that nearly broke the tent and blew us off the road. The day, we had to stay covered from the suns powerful rays. In the nights we had to layer with all our clothes- the temperatures dropped sometimes below -5 C and lower with the wind chill factor. We didn’t run out of food before San Pedro, although the restriction of small snacks replacing a normal lunch, was not enough for us to reach optimal calories. Peddling and pushing for 9 hours in these conditions taxes are body to the maximum. You can assume there were many episodes arguments, psychological and physical breakdowns more intense than an MTV reality program. This was as real as it could get. And through all the tears and exhaustion, it was all totally worth it. Here is a 10 day count of our wild journey.

DAY 1

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We stocked up on food in Uyuni. It was not enough. We bought more food a couple days later.

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There is an old train station just outside of Uyuni filled with old steam engine trains.

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At the end of the day, we arrived to Ramaditas for water. Paul turned the knob, but no water flowed. We asked around and found another tap that gave water.

DAY 2

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A couple of guys (perhaps Chilean?) stopped to give me a bottle of water. They were part of the Dakar organization and they had so many questions about how could we stand being out in these conditions.

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A pause for a cookie break.

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The rewards of cycling in the Bolivian deserts are incredible sunsets.

DAY 3

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The road took us to the Valle de Rocas. It’s Amazing to see what the wind and erosion can do to the different stones.

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At the end of our day, we found a secret gem of a camp spot. There was a wall of eroded rock walls, and behind this wall were a few of these towers (formed by wind erosion) It seemed it could be a place where tourist visit, but it was off the old road and the SUV’s took the new road behind the hill. This left us privacy and a place of natural wonder to enjoy for ourselves!

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Our home for the night. One of our favorite camping spots.

DAY 4

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For much of the SW Bolivia route, there were NO ROADS. Only tracks left from the SUV’s were evidence of where to go. We had Paul’s handy GPS to navigate our way and a PDF on cycling SW Bolivia.

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The road took us over gorgeous valleys.

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So many nights of camping in the cold, but we luckily found a couple refuge hotels that allowed us to camp in an empty room (under construction), for free. This was before the Laguna Hedionda.

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Laguna Hedionda, a beautiful, but smelly lake. The smell of sulfur is strong, that’s why it’s nickname is the “Stinking Lake”. There are many species of flamingos that migrate here.

DAY 5

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The next morning, flamingos were out on Hedionda for breakfast.

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Just one track, of many, in this desert.

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Almost at 4,500 meters, I put my balaclava on (Thanks Will Adams!). It was extremely cold!

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The last hours of the day we pushed, literally the bikes, through the sand, which seemed endless pursuit. Yet, we finally arrived to the junction, where an option to go to the Hotel de Desierto for an extra 2 kilometers. We did just that. One of the hotel guys found us a total hot mess, we could barely talk. He offered us a room (again, under construction) for camping.

The next morning, the guys at the hostel invited us to have breakfast. A huge thanks to them, for a proper meal, shelter from the wind and a bathroom to use! They run a very comfortable hostel out in the amazing desert.

The next morning, the guys at the hostel invited us to have breakfast. A huge thanks to them, for a proper meal, shelter from the wind and a bathroom to use! They run a very comfortable hostel out in the amazing desert. Graciad Hotel del Desierto!

DAY 6

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The next morning, we awoke to snow covered desert. They folks there said it was rare that snow falls, and especially this time of year. It was a magical morning to see a rare phenomenon.

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But the snow covered ground didn’t last. It melted quickly, right up to the foothills of the surrounding mountains.

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The road conditions were better today, it wasn’t long before we reached to today’s destination; Arbol de Peidra. Plenty of gringo-filled SUV’s were there. Paul and I retreated to find a private place to camp. If you are wondering why we seem anti-social.. just imagine being asked for the 13th time in an hour “Did you ride you bikes to here? From..?” Yes folks, we did, or do you think we just brought the bikes just to take the photo with?

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Around here there were some amazing rock formations, like this spiral forming a window.

DAY 7

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Woke up to a blue sky morning. The SUV’s had already arrived and photos of the Arbol de Piedra were being snapped.

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We got our photo’s with the iconic rock, the Arbol de Piedra, then off we were for another day of cycling.

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A good road, for most of the day. A good road makes the day go faster.

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We arrived to the national park. We paid a 150 Bolivianos fee for the 4 days, but at the exit they didn’t care how many days extra it took. At the park entry there lies the Laguna Colorada. It’s a pink-colored lake! We couldn’t get too close because of the murk surrounding. but from afar we could see some formations of _ around the lake and many flamingos.Past the lake a road came to a junction where we could go to a town _ for rest. For the third time, we got invited to sleep in a room of a hotel under construction.

DAY 8

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The next morning, we took a long and rough way to the road.

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Whew! Finally… After 5 kilometers that took us a long hour and 30, we reached the road that would take us to our highest climb of this Bolivian tour. It was also the day I reached the highest elevation by cycling.

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Here we were still climbing up, but we made it to about 4,920 meters in elevation!

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Another rest brake for crackers and jam. We did not consume the necessary amount of calories equal to what our bodies were burning.

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Here we reached the Sol de Mañana, a active geyser zone. In the photo was our home for the night. Disgusting as it sounds; it was a toilet hut. but there were no toilets.. only a space inside where people go.. and behind it, were two small cubbys, well insulated, and apparently, no one used it as a toilet. Why did we choose to sleep inside? Because at 4,800 meters (the highest elevation i have slept at!) the outside temperate plus wind chill was unbearably cold! it got to – 5 C, maybe a bit lower, that night.

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Paul sets up the tent in the cubby. It was a few centimeters too short.. but we improvised..

DAY 9

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The following morning, the geyser steam raised to the sky at Sol de Mañana.

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The mud lakes and steaming pools of boiling mud.

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Later in the day, we approached the Laguna Chilviri, where there was a hot spring pool. This lake was so beautiful. the colors of the lake were a mix of crystal blue and greens. Here, I may have seen an Altiplano cat who ran below the road..

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After the refreshing and relaxing bath in the pool, we continued on to find a camp spot near the Desierto del Dalí. Turned out the Desierto del Dalí, is about 4 kilometers of the road in sand.. We were hoping to use the rocks as windbreaks.. but too far. so we camped across the road by the smaller boulders. They didn’t provide windbreak.. but eventually the wind stopped, as it usually does in the evening.

DAY 10

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Woke up to yet another perfect blue sky.

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Back on the road, before us, the desert of Dalí-like stones shone in the sun. We felt the near end of this long journey in the desert.

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Our last climb of this SW Bolivian route, up to 4,700 meters, was on a gravel-filled road. Crazy truck drivers raced down the road one after another. We jumped out of the way to let the mad train pass.

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This part of the road was fantastic. The view of the volcano, Licancabur, indicated that Chile was on the other side of him and there were the last lakes to cross.

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Laguna Blanca.. it does not appear white, per se.. but we assume that in some seasons and certain daylights, it would. We saw the Laguna Verde, but it wasn’t the season to see it in full green action. Here, we were at an abandoned refuge. Some of those old trains like the ones back in Uyuni, were found laying around here, too.

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Aww, our last Bolivian evening sky…

DAY 11 (We cross the border of Bolivia! First day in Chile!)

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The next morning, I rode on and Paul went back to search for his lost camera. Yea, it was an accident of loosing it the day before. At this point, you can imagine spending nearly two weeks lost at desert with someone, the last thing you want to see, is them. We split here, as I rode on to the border. We knew we would see each other in San Pedro, anyway.

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Made it to this little famous migration office. North Americans crossing the borders into Chile by land, you don’t have to pay the $130 reciprocity fee, as of 2014. Actually, the stamp entry for Chile is not there, but in the north of San Pedro de Atacama. so I rode a few kilometers through no-mans land to the best gift in weeks…

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That gift.. was a paved road. Hooray!!!

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Hmmm… I’ll take Chile for now. Here we are! Country number 14th to cycle!

It was a love/hate-relation ship with Bolivia. More love than hate, of course. Despite the lack of roads and human accommodations, it benefits the conservation of this unique ecosystem. It was a unforgettable journey, that I already miss. Thanks to my partner, Paul, who wiped off my tears and gave me a hand-up to keep going. Thanks to the few who stopped to offer their help and gave us protection from the cold nights. And big thanks to the contributors of the Cycling SW Bolivia PDF, which was very helpful for this challenging tour.

Thanks for reading. ‘Til next time!

Riding our way into a New Year!

Dashing through the headwind (and rain)…

Sometimes shoved off the road (by those damn drivers)

O’er the Altiplano we go,

Panting all the way “AH-UH-AH-UHHH”

Oh, what fun it is, to ride, on a two-wheeled-touring-rig-pulling-a-beast-of-burden name ‘BOB’.

Seriously tho’, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally be back on the road, after what? Four months?

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Our route increased in elevation since Cuzco, Peru (at 3,400 m/ 11,200 ft).

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    Taking a rest break. We had reached the highest point, for that day. We say good-bye Peru's southern sierras and soon to the Andean Plateau (Altiplano).

Taking a rest break. We had reached the highest point, for that day. We say good-bye Peru’s southern sierras and soon to the Andean Plateau (Altiplano).

After a few days of a taste of the Altiplano, which is wind and sunburned exposure and shortness of breath, we rested in the last city of Peru, Puno. I arranged to have dental work in the next town, Juliaca. For the work of getting a wisdom tooth pulled, three teeth with cement sealing, adn the general check-up.. the dentist, Gary, made me a kind quote of less than 30 USD. Huge thanks to him for the professional care. No infections.. and so far no after-complications.

After a few days of a taste of the Altiplano, which is wind and sunburned exposure and shortness of breath, we rested in the last city of Peru, Puno. Here was our hotel with a view of the west side of Lago Titicaca. I arranged to have dental work in the next town, Juliaca. For the work of getting a wisdom tooth pulled, three teeth with cement sealing, and the general check-up: the dentist, Gary, made me a kind quote of less than 30 USD. Huge thanks to him, for the professional care. No infections.. and so far no after-complications.

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In the morning, our route brought us closer to the lake. There were wetlands and sections of crops between the lake and the road. It was Sunday. Many farmers and families were out tending the crops.

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A moment to relish the beauty and vastness of Lake Titicaca. Somewhere over there, we have yet to discover, Bolivia.

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After a long day ride.. finally we arrived to the Bolivian border. And as a USA citizen, I ‘proudly’ get to pay my way into the South American countries. It’s just $135 greenbacks.. It my sarcasm obvious? It’s a BIG BOO!!! For charging foreigners a fee that’s equal to a months rent, (and no refund if their disqualified to enter) we traveling citizens have to pay for the counter-punch of this ‘reciprocity’ fee.. thanks ‘Merica, from all of us citizens and foreigners.. And Feliz Navidad, Bolivia.

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For a few nights, we rest in our first Bolivian town, Copacabana. Twas only the final days before Christmas. Our Christmas was very mellow; phone calls to the families, watching sunset on the lake, and a Christmas movie that was cornier than I remembered.

A hike up 250 meters for a view on the lake. The clouds rolled in. Yes, the rain season has arrived.

A hike up 250 meters for a view on the lake. The clouds rolled in. Yes, the rain season has arrived.

On Christmas day, we cycled out of Copacabana. On the road side there were Bolivian children, for the entire stretch around the lake. Apparently, these kids are here to receive holiday handouts from the drivers who commute between the cities.

On Christmas day, we cycled out of Copacabana. On the road side there were Bolivian children, from the remote rural, around the lake. Apparently, on Christmas Day, these kids are here to receive holiday handouts from the drivers who commute between the cities. Many on the kids interacted with us, from sweet “hellos’ to down-right annoying boys who played ‘dare-devil’ by running in front of us.  Sad as it may sound, this was their Christmas day.

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Less riding for more moments to sit and enjoy the views. It’s been nearly more than 3 days commuting with the view of Titicaca. It’s huge!

After some 70 kilometers from Copacabana, the road meets lake. We had to board the ferry to reach the other side to continue the route to La Paz. These "ferries" are indeed some ramshackle planks, with a load capacity of 1 and 1/2 Mercedes Benz buses (Bolivian retrofitted) and a few extra locals and gringoes. I went to pick up snacks before departure, however, I returned to find the ferry, Paul and the bikes departed without me. Rest assured, I boarded the ferry behind. Slightly concerning when the waves would rock the ferry  and the buses on board swayed.

After some 30 kilometers from Copacabana, the road meets lake. We had to board the ferry to reach the other side to continue the route to La Paz. These “ferries” are indeed some ramshackle planks, with a load capacity of 1 or two Mercedes Benz buses (Bolivian retrofitted) and a few extra locals and gringoes. I went to pick up snacks before departure, however, I returned to find the ferry, Paul and the bikes departed without me. No worries- just had to the following ferry. What was slightly concerning, was to witnessing the old boards and nails grate under the pressure of the waves and the fully loaded buses. Without capsizing – we all made it to land.

Tent set-up with view on the lake and the snow-covered mountains.

On the road to La Paz, we completed more kilometers before callin’ it a day. Crowded on the lakeside, it was rare to find a secluded zone, but we managed. An excellent tent set-up with view on the lake and the snow-covered mountains.

A turn-off brings us to one of the most amazing views: The Bolivian mountain range before the lake.

The next morning, a turn-off brings us to one of the most amazing views of this weeks journey: The Bolivian Cordillera Real mountain range before the lake and Altiplano.

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The morning was pleasant, the afternoon brought rains- typical of this early rain season in Bolivia. We dashed through the most uncomfortable mix of afternoon rain and passing through the town of El Alto. El Alto is the previous industrial town most will pass before La Paz. Familiar to us as the phase of cycling though the grimiest-traffic-congested outskirts before reaching the core of the mega city. It was yet another harsh ride into a country capitol, on yet another rainy day (Mexico city, Medellin..) but we had arrived to La Paz. At 3,660 m/ 12,000 ft, it’s the highest “unofficial” capitol city of the world.

And now, to take advantage of the rest and available internet before we head out into the brutal wilderness of Bolivia. As the online PDF guide of “Cycling Southwest Bolivia” begins with a compelling excerpt…

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With that said.. we’ll take it!

Stay tuned for the next chapter… which will come sometime in the year 2014, when we reached civilization.. perhaps in the next country, or in Bolivia.. if we are lucky.

Happy holidays, and to a adventurous new year, 2014!

Machu Pikchu… brought to you, by, Saṃsāra!

The two months in Europe came to an end. I scheduled a flight back to South America while Paul stayed in Spain. With two weeks to spare, I wondered, what would I do when I returned back to South America? Between my plane landing in Guayaquil Ecuador, and the bicycles stored south in Lima, Peru, there was the long, overcast coastal stretch, that I was not willing to see again for the third (or fourth?) time. I fancied a alternative river route through the Napo river.. although there would have been the humid heat, mosquitoes and delayed boats… perhaps not this time. I felt the need to rest and catch-up with my friends online.

Then serendipity arrived…

Whilst waiting in the terminal at my connection flight in Colombia, I logged online to see if I could make a call to my dear friend Daina. We both lived in Detroit in 2011, and it had been since my departure (in 2012) was when we last saw each other. For months, we missed Skype appointment calls. This time, in the reply message, she too would be available for 8 hours, at the airport. “The airport?” Coincidentally, she was flying somewhere too? Hmm…

Come to find out, she was on her way to Cuzco, Peru! Daina was going to Cuzco for a two week Buddhist retreat. She had no idea I would be back in Peru at this time. On the evening that I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, she proposed a plan. Daina was inviting me to the entire retreat, however, according to the guru, Domo Geshe Rimpoche, participation would only be possible, if I were to arrive by Monday. It was the beginning of the weekend, so the availability of buses were short, but I managed to board all the connections consecutively. First, a morning to the Ecuadorian border; following the (re)entry to Peru, an overnight bus to Lima; and from Lima, another overnighter, to Cuzco. In the couple restless days riding down that dreary coastal route and winding though the Andes, I made the arrival by Monday evening, to Cuzco.

Hey Cusco

Ya pues, estoy en Cuzco!

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I must mention a warning to anyone taking a bus in Peru- or any bus in any country. If you have to stow you luggage in the compartment below, take all valuables with you on the bus. The risk of stolen items is notoriously high on the night buses in Peru. In my case, I went with Flores, a middle-grade bus company. I took out most of my electronics, except my laptop charger on the top pocket of my large backpack that was going into the storage. I asked the guy in Lima luggage control, if the bag would be secure. He said yes. Yet, at the  Cuzco terminal, the charger was missing. The driver and luggage handlers in Cuzco, concluded that it “could have fallen out of the bag”.. or, it might have been the Lima luggage guy, but “they have no association with the guys in Lima, so they couldn’t do anything about it” Even after complaining with tears of frustration, they gave a measly phone call, just to confirm that no one knows about the charger. On the same line, Paul had an electronic stolen and some other passengers had their values stolen, as well. If you ride the overnight buses in Peru (here’s looking at you- Flores-Lima to Cuzco-line) take all valuables and if you can take the bag on board with you!

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Tuesday, I began my two week retreat with the White Conch Dharma Sangha. Jumping into meditation practices was a bit abrupt, but the transition was quite easy in the relaxed and welcoming environment. Everyone gathered for breakfast, and following was morning meditation. Domo Geshe Rimpoche arrived before noon to give teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, in western context. There were arrangements for the Sangha to participate in the ‘day trips’ which were included in the touristic ticket, otherwise known as a BTU, in Cuzco. Thanks to Daina, the Sangha, and Yury our guide, I was able to participate in the trips to the sites around Cuzco and in the Sacred Valley.

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Meet the wonderful Daina! A Inca site that is entirely open to the public is the 12 cornered stone found in the San Blas neighborhood. It’s part of a large Inca wall that exemplifies the brilliance of the Incas architecture- perfectly polished and cut to fit, without mortar.We would usually walk by it, and the tourist taking their pictures with the stone, on our way to lunch.

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Our first trip was to Saksaywaman. Its commonly pronounced “Sexy Woman” by the gringoes. This Inca construction is in the north of Cuzco. It was believed to be a military fortress.

While exploring the ruins, Peruvian tourist, some giggly group after another, asked if they could take their photo with us. After a few that had asked, we began to ask them to take an additional photo with our camera. None of them took us seriously for the 5 soles charge per photo, but we let them slide.

While exploring the ruins, Peruvian tourist, some giggly group after another, asked if they could take their photo with us. After a few that had asked, we began to ask them to take an additional photo with our camera. None of them took us seriously for the 5 soles charge per photo, but we let them slide.

First stop on our Sacred Valley tour, we visited a wool ranch. There were alpacas, llamas and other breeds on site. First we feed then, then there were demonstrations of the processing. Lastly, we were lead to the store - how could we resist soft, fuzzy alpaca sweaters and teddy-alpaca-bears?

First stop on our Sacred Valley tour, we visited a wool ranch. There were alpacas, llamas and other alpalcy-llamy breeds on site. We feed them, then there were demonstrations of the wool processing. And lastly, we were lead to the store.. Oh, how could we resist soft, fuzzy alpaca sweaters and teddy-alpaca-bears? (Cindy and Dolma pictured)

Rinpoche feeds the herbivore friend a green lunch. :)

Rinpoche feeds the herbivore friend a green lunch. 🙂

We visited Pisac ruins.

We visited the Pisac ruins. It was believe this site serves as a defense for the southern entrance of the Sacred Valley, and controlling the route that lead to the rainforest.

Mystical objects at a stand in the Pisac market. The market is very huge on some days in the week, and perhaps, for the better, we did not go on one of those days.

Mystical accessories at a stand in the Pisac market. The market is very huge on some days in the week, and perhaps, for the better, we did not go on one of those days.

Then to Ollyatatambo ruins. Thre was a brilliant moment when rainbow appeared over the "holy mountain".

Then to Ollyatatambo ruins. Another fortress located in the northern entrance, and stronghold for the leader of Inca resistance to the Spanish conquest. There was a brilliant moment when rainbow appeared over the “holy mountain”.

Then to...

Another day, we visited more ruins outside of Cuzco.

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Q’enko, a religious area for the Incas.

Then there was the most expected Inca ruin trip; to the site of Machu Pikchu. Most of the Sangha boarded the train in Oyalltatambo. A handful of the members took on the Inca Trail trek and met us at the Machu Pikchu ruins. There was lodging in the town, Aguas Calientes, below Machu Pikchu. Of course at a town name “Aguas Calientes” there were… hot springs! We enjoyed the pools after the couple days of scrambling over the ruins and on the Wayna Pikchu trail. The Wayna Pikchu is a 2,720 meters (8,920 ft) mountain neighboring the MP ruins. Many of the members bravely made the trek up and down the steep mountain congested with visitors. At the summit the clouds rolled in, yet most of us were lucky to catch the view overlooking Machu Pikchu.

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The Aguas Calientes soccer field, surrounded by lush semi- tropical mountains!

The hot springs, jungle, and mountains… what more could we need?

Hiking up the trail, and looking back at __.

Hiking up the trail, and looking back at our friends.

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Alas! We reached the summit of Wayna Pikchu.

Looking back at Machhu Pichu.

Looking back at Machu Pikchu.

After the morning at the ruins, and after a spiritual tour lead by Rimpoche, everyone was exhausted. Yuri still had arrangements for an afternoon tour. I still had some energy left in me, so I took the tour. My own private tour! My guide walked me around the ruins and presented each site with archeological background. It was fascinating to see the example of complex construction- polygonal blocks assembled in the fashion of the pieces of a puzzle. There were so many examples of the Inca cities designs aligned with the cosmos. In addition to astrological observational sites, there were many ritual and ceremonial sites in the city. It was nice to explore Machu Pikchu late in this day, because the sun was fully out and the droves of SLR-handed visitors left.

Most of the stones are the original constructions of the Incas, like these here.

Most of the stones are the original constructions of the Incas, like these here.

At the western end of the temple is a kite-shaped stone embedded in the ground pointing south. It's said to symbolize the Southern Cross constellation, as it is seen in May, June, July, and August.

At the western end of the temple is a kite-shaped stone embedded in the ground pointing south. It’s said to symbolize the Southern Cross constellation, as it is seen between May- August.

The Temple of the Tree Windows- actually has 5 windows but two were closed off. It is believed that the windows framing the distant mountains, represented the three mythological caves from which the Ayar brothers, children of the sun, stepped into the world.

The Temple of the Tree Windows- actually has 5 windows but two were closed off. They are most conspicuous on site, the windows, and there are a number of legends following them. The guide said the windows framed the distant mountains, and represented three mythological caves.

Stone cut bowls were found in some areas (most observational sites) and theory is that they were used to see the stars and operated as a clock.

Stone cut bowls were found in some areas (most observational sites) and theory is that they were used to see the stars and read as a sundial.

The remaining stones of an area where it was likely a large source for building materials. Essentially - the construction zone.

The remaining stones of an area where it was likely a large source for building materials. Essentially – the construction zone.

Returning to Cuzco, we ended the last days of retreat according to the usual scheduled. It was enough time that good memories and new friendships were gathered in heaps, much like their souvenir bags, but was also time for everyone to say goodbye and return to their abodes.

Daina and I spent our last days doing what we became accustomed to; lunch trips to the Hare Krishna cafe or to the peculiar A&Ω ‘comedor’ that sold a hard-to-beat-dollar-25-cent lunch meal, some additional shopping for Daina’s farmers market project, and being silly, although we tried best to be “zen” for the duration of the retreat.

Inca Walls!

Inca Walls!

Shanga

I can’t thank my dear friend, Daina, enough for inviting me into this special retreat, and for the accommodations. I also thank Domo Geshe Rinpoche for allowing me to participate in such short notice and I enjoyed the talks and exchanges we had. Thank you Rinpoche for this introduction. Additionally, many thanks to the entire Sangha and Yury; those who worked hard to organize an enjoyable trip for all, and the rest whom I had wonderful and endearing connections to. Thank you, danke, merci, and gracias, all!

A journey in France.. and Spain!

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Between the months of September and October, I stayed in the regions of France the north and the west; Paris, Grenoble, Dijon, and Albertville.

By last minute decision, I joined Paul for a trip to Europe. Two years ago, I considered making a bike tour in Europe, and although that would have been an amazing journey, my decision led to a good compromise- traveling Latin America with Europeans. So it turns out, two years later, I go to Europe to visit Paul’s family in France. Well, here is the small Eurotrip dream that came true.

Oh-la-la… Paris –  An international leading center for business and culture for more than two millennia. Yet, after all this time, Paris retains her character of class and historical preservation. Antique apartment that still bear the Gaz & Eau advertizements, which during late 19th century, they featured “modern” services that today’s city dwellers would take for granted. Streets are lined with sidewalk cafes, haute couture boutiques, luxury pastry shops, and entertainment for all between Old World music halls to today’s Parisian hipster club. And of course the internationally recognized monuments. By purchasing a Velib bike rental ticket, we could comfortable cruise though the fascinating world of Paris.

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The sign translates to “Gas and Water, on every level”.

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Greening of Paris?

A walk through the Grand Carré (eng: The Large Square) in the Tuileries Garden. Once a private garden for royal families until after the French Revolution, it became open to the public.

A walk through the Grand Carré (eng: The Large Square) in the Tuileries Garden. Once a private garden for royal families until after the French Revolution, it became open to the public.

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The Basilica of Sacré-Cœu sits atop the Montmartre.

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The Notre-Dame (of) Paris.

We were in Dijon for the film festival weekend. Its architecture, like Paris, but smaller town feel. Began as a roman settlement, the province was home to the Dukes of Burgundy. The special products recognized on a worldwide scale are the Burgundy wine (located in the wine growing region) and the Dijon mustard. Although, most Dijon mustards are not exactly locally produced. “It’s produced industrially and over 90% of mustard seed used in local production is imported, mainly from Canada”, says Wikipedia.

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Displays of their Coat of Arms flags, in Dijon.

Abertville, a town back-dropped by the beautiful snowy Alps. The town got a boost in development when it became the host of the 1992  Winter Olympics. And since then, the town infrastructure has hosted festivals, like the Biouvac festival. Nearby is the medieval village of Conflans, where we stayed for a night with the Batook group. And nearby, it the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, famous for the pioneering of climbers and mountaineering (and I learn was the first winter Olympics in 1924). Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to Chamonix, but there could be another chance in the future.

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Alberville. Just another old industrial town.. until the Olympic games came… and went…

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Walking in the historic village of the Conflans.

Grenoble is the city where Paul’s brother, François, lives. It’s a very pleasant city. A major city for science and technology. Surrounded by the mountains, it offers activities for the outdoorsy types. Paul and I went climbing at a park featuring some fantastic walls, which I don’t have any photos to share. Just above those walls, there is a great view from the Bastille, a fortress located high above the city of Grenoble, accessible by “the bubbles”.

Leonie and Aurore inside the "bubble".

Leonie and Aurore inside the “bubble”.

The view of Grenoble from the Bastille.

The view of Grenoble from the Bastille.

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College student chill in a park, in Grenoble.

And a friend, who I met by hosting him via Couchsurfing, was born here in the city. His name is Dimitri and he came to Detroit in 2011 while touring for one of his bands. Didn’t get to meet in Grenoble, but we managed to meet up for coffee in Paris, where he lives and works now. Great that we had a chance to catch up on life! 🙂

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When I met him he was playing with Jose and the Wastemen. Nowadays, Dimitri is drumming with the band Simple as Pop.

There is a little paradise that escapes the urban world, just south of Paris. It’s name is Fontainbleau. It’s a forest littered with limestone rock. A prime spot for the sport of climbing and bouldering, and the biggest developed bouldering area in the world. Many of the boulders are marked with a climb grading system invented there. This time of the year the forest was turning colors of Autumn. Getting lost we discovered the magical forest of tall golden ferns and mushrooms.

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‘Twas not an easy rock route to do!

I love food. And French food had raised the bars of my gastronomic taste. It’s food of quality ingredients and simply prepared.

I learned there were some rules and customs at the French table:
Breakfast (in French: déjeuner) is lighter compared to US plates: A buttery crisp croissant, or two, with jelly or butter, milk with Ricoré, a small cup of juice or coffee. No savories. I appreciate a simple meal that’s not piles of greasy bacon and eggs.
Breads sit on the table. I was reminded that bread does not need to take up plate space, so the breads can lay next to the plate on the table. Of course the tablecloth is clean.
And bread is meant to clean off the plate. The meal is not complete, if there still is all that delicious sauce spread all over your plate. So take what is left of the baguette, wipe off and eat. When the plate is completely cleared, then you have finished your meal.
Cheese is served last – I asked why this, and not as an appetizer? The simple answer; is because the guest would not be tempted to eat all the cheese to satisfy their appetites. Rather, cheese is enjoyed for a few bites, as the very last dish, usually with fruit or the remaining baguette. The order of tasting is from lightest cheese to the strongest and robust (let’s be honest- stinkiest).
No, you are not “full”. In the States, they might say after a big meal “I am full or stuffed”. If you say this at the French table, you might disturb the others, as “being full” makes them think your like a canister filled with food that you might spill over if someone bumps you. If they ask, a polite “je suis rassasié” (I’m satisfied) is a pleasant answer.

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Snails for appetizers? Oh yes, and they are delicious cooked with garlic butter and herbs.. perhaps because the garlic butter and herbs disguise the chewy.. shriveled.. slugs…

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Cheeses after the dinner. Enjoyed with a glass of vino.

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In a cafe after the lunch; divine cheesecake,  tiramisu, and an excellent cup of coffee.

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This truck was seen everywhere, everyday we were out in the city, it was parked in another location.

Street Art. I have a fancy for street art since I discovered Banksy. Paris (and in Grenoble) has some clever works to admire.
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This truck was seen everywhere. Every time we went out, we saw it parked in some other block.

This truck was seen everywhere. Every time we went out, we saw it parked in some other block.

Paris's world famous Invader.

Paris’s world famous Invader, who paste mosaic characters from the video game Space Invaders.

The Sheepist in Grenoble.

The Sheepist in Grenoble.

My time in Paris wouldn’t be complete with out a day in the museum. And a visit in Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Louvre. The Louvre is a world renown museum. A palace as old as late 12th century, home to François I and, later, Louis XIV. It’s huge. It holds thousands of timeless collections of paintings  and artifacts which I read somewhere it would take about 9 months to glance at all of them! For 4 hours, we did well touring the departments of great works from Egyptian, Greek, Roman. We saw the famous masterpieces of Raphael, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and da Vinci. We were lucky to visit Mona with out a huge crowd. Paul warned me that it could be too crowded.. but I had to get the glimpse of Mona Lisa. I was intrigued since the Carmen Sandiego episode of the stolen smile. But the glory lasted all about 25 seconds until I was bumped out by the following cues. I think the attention to the high secured portrait is almost more impressive then the star herself!

Antonio Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss

Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

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Tombs of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Tombs of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

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The smile is still there!

The buzzkiller of enjoying Paris, is jumping into the masses to have a turn, or get right up, and into, the famous icons. But hey, I just had to stand on the Eiffel tower to have that postcard experience of Paris…

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Overlooking the Tuileries Garden.

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Hands down- the best way to enjoy Paris, is cycling at night. Cycling the bicycle paths along the riverbank and on the bridges looking over the Seine. Whilst sophisticated party boats passed under our feet, we savored the luxury of a panoramic view of Paris, in a misty night, the city lights danced on the river.

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Spain

My flight was scheduled 2 weeks before Paul’s departure, from the Madrid airport. Paul invited me to Barcelona so that I could know his second home; where he went to university and worked for 5 years. We arrived by plane on a sunny day and the weather was  excellent- T-shirt and no need for a rain jacket again!! Upon arrival, we were in need of a snack, so Paul took me to one of his favorite cafes to try A very Spanish, thick chocolate drink. Then we went to another spot, liked by Paul. I ordered tapas Vermouth, a sweet, automatized alcohol with herbs, roots and spices (and it might be Italian?) We arrived to the apartment of Paul’s good friend, Matilde. The following day, Paul gave me the cycling tour of Barcelona. My first impression was the climate and the colorful buildings, contrast to Paris. It was familiar, in a way, being already familiar with the Spanish cultural influence in Latin America. Although what I truly first noticed, was the accent, as soon as I boarded the plane. If you don’t know the difference of Spanish accents, the Spaniards sound like they talk with a flamboyant lisp when coming from the west (I know- it’s their language origin.. but I couldn’t hold back my amusement!) And in Barcelona, it’s more Catalan, than Spanish, it’s hardly comprehensible just to know Spanish. There seemed to be more gothic-style buildings and cathedrals (Catalunya> Gothia> “Land of the Goths”) but I learned that the architecture was “Modernisme” having roots in the expression for Catalan independence. The architecture works of Gaudí was amazing to see- his style was most elaborate in the industry. I love mosaic and organic inspired design. I think the Earthship designs took much inspiration from Gaudi. Cycling by the beach, it was my first view of the Atlantic from the eastern land. There were many surfers out, there were many folks out enjoying the beach day- it reminded me of life on the Californian coast. In the evening we joined a few more of Paul’s friends for a full tapas dinner.

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The Sagrada Família, most iconic work of Gaudí.

The Sagrada Família, most iconic work of Gaudí. Still under construction after his death!

Rooftop of Parc Güell, Barcelona.

Rooftop of Parc Güell, Barcelona.

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Casa Batlló, by Antoni Gaudí

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Riding by the harbor.

Riding by the harbor.

A short stay, but I was so glad to have a taste of the Barcelona life. The following day, I hugged Paul good-bye, and flew from Barcelona to Madrid. Thanks to Pepe, who answered to my last-minute couch request, I had an inflatable bed to sleep on for the night, and not a bench in the Madrid airport. There were other travelers sharing the room; a Polish couple; and an American woman from Chicago. My stay in downtown Madrid lasted for 12 hours, then I was back on the underground train with the Polish couple to catch my last flight. It was so short, but a nice experience to meet Pepe and his guest. (Thanks Pepe!) Madrid has a huge airport, and the underground train has two stops; Airport T1-T2-T3 and Airport T4. I stepped off at the wrong airport! And I had less than 30 minutes to get to T4. I got on the next bus, and on arrival, I dashed for my terminal. It is not easy to navigate this behemoth airport, not to mention, having the main passage to the terminals via high-end make-up department, is silly.  I was ten minutes late after the boarding time.  I thought I lost the flight. But to my surprise- passengers were still waiting on board. Turns out, there were 6 wheelchairs that need special accommodation for our flight. Thank the wheelchairs! We departed half hour after schedule.

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Flying over the Atlantic. Back to my beloved Americas.

Again, I thank everyone who made this trip possible, Paul, his friends and family, Pepe, and of course, my Mom.
Back to South America.. a few weeks until Paul’s return.. what would I do in the meantime? Are we still going to complete the thousands ans thousands of kilometers to Patagonia??

Find out next…

Meet the Bros

After an unforgettable week with Brigitte and Paul in the warm Mediterranean Turkey (many thanks), we returned to Paris. Just in time for Autumn, we adjusted to the season by resting in the childhood flat of Paul, where Brigitte would prepare a nice breakfast like she always use to, and practice the piano playing lovely tunes. And within a few days it was time to meet the rest of the Brossier family!  For the following six weeks, we visited Paul’s family in France. Paul is the youngest of two brothers and a sister. It had been over two years since he had seen his family before parting for his grand journey; from France, Barcelona, across the north to Greenland, from North to South America. The eldest brother, Eric, and his family were returning to France for the holidays. With Paul and Eric’s return in September, it was a big Bossier reunion, or as I like to call: ‘Bro time’.

During the first week, we made trips out to see the family in and around the Parisian area. I met Paul’s sweet sister, Charlotte. She recently had her second child, Joseph, and had been on maternity leave from work. She invited us to a elegant fruit de mer lunch (Fruit de mer is seafood. It literally translates at “fruit of the sea”) in the historic Montmartre neighborhood. We spent some nights with Charlotte and her family, in their cozy home outside of Paris.  In the mornings we would walk Paul’s niece, Rose, to school and in the evenings we shared dinner and her husband, Mathieu, made delicious pastries (best in France!). In the southern suburbs of Paris, we made visits to Paul’s father, Philippe. Paul was introduced to Philippe’s new home that he just got with his girlfriend, Annie. We shared a pleasant walk with them along the riverside neighborhood and shared nice dinners prepared by Annie. The following day we met Annie’s daughter for lunch, and together we drove down to Fontainebleau, a wonderland for the sport of bouldering. Phillipe is very kind, very smart, and he makes an incredible chocolate cake that Paul has been raving about since I met him.

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With Charlotte having lunch in Montmartre.

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With Charlotte and Brigitte, we made a nice day tour, observing the historical monuments of Paris. Here, we stand outside the Louvre; one of the largest museums in the world.

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We exchanged turns holding the newborn, Joseph!

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A stroll through Phillipe’s block.

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Back in the early days, Paul was known as the “Billy Goat”, because he was the smallest one who would be ahead of the group during long family hikes. I concur, he is still quite the goat.

Back at Brigitte’s home in Paris, Eric and France arrived with their two daughters, Leonie and Aurore. It was a return from another season in the Arctic. They make annual sailing expedition on their vessel, Vagabond, anchor in the Arctic sea, and locked in after the sea freezes over. Throughout the season, the Vagabond serves as a station for researchers. After hearing about them and following the media updates, I wasn’t sure if I would meet an intimidating duo. Come to find out; Eric and France are very kind and so humble about their lives. Their daughters, Leonie and Aurore, are sweet, too. Their hugs and kisses gave way that they liked me. Leonie was my English speaking buddy, since she has been learning at school and from the researchers on board. Impressively, she knows some Inuktitut, the language of the Inuits of the Canadian Arctic region (where they lived during the previous winter). I wont forget witnessing the girls first day out in the unfrozen urban world; their joy glowed in a typically gloomy Autumn afternoon, making bouquets of fallen leaves, dancing, and happily socializing with the children in the park.

In addition to the reunion, the “Bros” had arrangements to attend some big events. First up, was the Adventure Film Festival, in Dijon, France. The line up of documentaries included the Sur le Grand Océan Blanc (The Children of the Cold is the English title) featuring the story life of Eric, France, Leonie, and Aurore on board the Vagabond.

Paul and I arranged a ride to the city, Dijon (as you may know; Dijon for it’s mustard) to meet with Eric and France. I met ‘Middle Bro’ François, and his girlfriend, Christoo, when the arrived to join us at the festival. It was three days of inspiring films; tales of men and women who venture the world documenting their projects, special communities, and environmental issues. We saw the premiere of the Sur le Grand… and the film received an honorable prize at the end of the festival! And thanks to François and Christoo, we had a convenient location to go to rest. What a joy it was to be amongst amazing travelers and talented film professionals! Despite my understanding of French, all the films were incredible!

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Eric and France, sitting with the director.

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The closing of the festival, with all featured persons and directors.

After the weekend, we carpooled to the city Grenoble, where we had stayed in François and Christoo’s home. Their home was so inviting to cozy up in the spacious main room, eating bro’s homemade cookies and surrounded with hip funky Brazilian music and paraphanilia. Why? Because, François and Christoo run an awesome Samba group name Cie la Batook. Cie la Batook is a drumming group, based in Grenoble, influenced with precision styles from Africa and Brazil, and of their own unique flavor. The groups presence is silly and mischievous – but of good intentions – to bring music and dance to life where they may be.  The group has made a lot of noise, in Grenoble, and around the globe! The group had toured to Brazil and Africa for performances.

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They prepared a Grenoble special- Raquette (cheese fondue) dinner that was amazing- sorry that you had to miss this Paul.

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With François showing off our new shirts at a hip-hop show in Grenoble (Merciii Xtoo!!!)

I attended a Batook group rehearsal, which was the last before their performance in Alberville. It was the second adventure-traveler themed event, Le Gran Biouvac. The name means “the big camp” and it was a grand convergence of adventurist. The Biouvac featured books and signings, showcased products and films. François, Christoo, and Batook had schedules for entertainment and Eric and France were scheduled to speak before an audience. Paul and I? We were the incognito bike touring stars, of course. At showtime, the Batook marched before the crowd of attendees, beating the drums for an exciting show that invited the crowd to dance along.

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Batook band practice, which was already exciting and fun to witness.

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To the Batook-mobile! Paul and I joined François for a carpool ride to Albertville.

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What could those sneaky Batook-ers be up to…?

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Performing a hit show at the festival!

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The beginning of the interview with the Vagabond family. It was brilliant! For the duration of the talk, as Eric and France are breaking down technical explanation of their work, the girls were smiling and waving to us, and getting up to hug Paul and I during the talk. Just being themselves. And that something I appreciate about France and Eric; they are relaxed about their lives.

One major attendance was a famous figure in the cycle touring world; Claude Marthaler. He has been touring by bike, for as long as I have been alive. Paul had met and toured with Claude, years ago, when Paul was a youngster on his first bike tour in Africa. We scored an opportunity to have lunch and conversation with Claude. Paul bought his book featured at the book fair. It was the book that we found at the Casa de Cyclista in Peru. One of the photos in Claude’s book, is a photo Paul captured; a dead python they propped on the sponsored tire, bearing the brand name, Python.

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Paul and Claude at lunch.

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Paul buys the book, Le Chant des Roues.

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And there is the page with the Python. It was cleverly made to look natural.. but the secret behind the photo (it was dead).

The final feature of the weekend was the screening of the film, Sur le Gran Ocean Blanc, followed by the Arctic family making a stage appearance and audience interview. The announcer called for François and Paul up to the stage to recognize each “Bro” for their adventurous endeavors. What a moment!

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Back In Grenoble.. I had the pleasure to meet Christoo’s family! Christoo has two lovely children, a bit younger than me; Judy and Louie. A short drive from their home, is the home of Christoo’s parents and her two sisters live nearby, too. So, for many occasions, casual or special, they meet at their parents for a huge Sicilian style lunch. We gathered for  a few lunches, one celebrating Louie’s birthday. And another evening, Mallorie, a niece of Christoo, cut 4 family members hairs and I was invited to have mine cut too. It all started because Paul came back to France with so much hair, they thought he was “The Dude”.

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Her daughter Judy took France, the girls, and I on a stroll through Grenoble, and took the cable cars up to the Bastilles, a place on the mountains overlooking Grenoble and the great Alps!

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Paul, Francous, Christoo and I, arrived to her mothers on bikes - a tandem for Paul and I! there's a lovely bike path that connects their homes.

Paul, me, François, and Christoo, arrived to her parents on bikes. Look! A tandem for Paul and I! There’s a lovely bike path that connects their homes. (Photo credit: Angel, Christoo’s momma)

Christoo and her sisters, her mother, her daughter Judy, France, and I, all gathered after a great meal.

Christoo and her sisters, her mother, her daughter Judy, France, and I, all gathered after a great big meal. (Photo credit: Angel’s camera shot)

...the dude abides...

In the salon chair… the dude abides…

Wallah! And us after the cuts. Thanks!

Wallah! And us after the cuts. Thanks Mallorie!

Back in Paris, it was a lovely reunion with all the siblings and their families. Many days of gathering at families homes, celebrating the October birthdays of Louie, who turned 19, and Paul, who tuned 35.

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Everyone was gathered at Brigitte’s to celebrate Paul’s birthday. It was the first one in many years where the family could all be together for such an occasion.

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Louie opening his birthday card. Aurore is just as excited!

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A happy Grandmother; from left; Leonie, Rose, Brigette, Joseph, and Aurore.

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I had an absolutely wonderful time with Paul’s family. They all made me feel so welcomed with big smiles and hugs. I am in awe of their humbleness and strong brotherhood. Amazing for what they do, and all beautifully kind. Also the family of Kristoo, all whom I had the pleasure to meet and touched to be so lovingly welcomed. And additional shout-out to the super great folks who make up Batook. Thank you all for your generosity, sharing all these wonderful meals and occasions with me.My time in France was unforgettable. Merci beaucoup!

Two Years

Day 731 on the weary travelers path,

Today marks my 2 year bike-a-versary, since I began my bike tour, beginning from the apartment of my friend, Inertia. A grand tour starting  from Arizona to the end of the world, Patagonia. It is my last day in France- a two month parenthesis of my road diaries. Soon, will be back again in Peru. With less money, less possessions, no place- I am getting use to it. With no direction home, the journey continues.

So, one year ago

I was in La Fortuna for a break. Then, I got offered a gig to work on the coast for the holidays.. which funded my surf holiday.

And since then I expanded my Vagrancy Job Resume:

Waitress-at Jewish-Sushi restaurant

Busker- master of playing with fire poi

Chocolate ball truffle-monger

Argentinian Empanadas sales assistant

Languages:
Spanish: Proficient
French: Beginner
Turkish: A handful of phrases

It’s been two years.. and I still haven’t finished?!?

What do you want?! Yes, I am slower than the escargot than I ate in France…

“A year ago, I thought  (to the year ahead), I would be in South America, maybe even entering the last country Argentina. At one point I estimated I could make it to Columbia by May 2011.” -Me, Nov 2013

Yea… and two years later.. I’ll be back to Peru to get on my bike and catch up with this seasons riders… And it wasn’t ’til May 2013 I was in Colombia for my birthday.

So, where have I been, during the last year?
Costa Rica,
Panama,
Colombia,
Ecuador,
Peru
(on the bike tour route)

Air and Sea…
Spain (does  5 hours in an airport count?)
France
Turkey
Greece
Guatemala (I returned for New Years)

It has been 12 countries in South America, and 3.1 in Europe, total.

So, it hasn’t all been “A bike tour” in year two:

Bus- I know the bus lines, very well, in Peru.

Commercial Airline-
Costa Rica>Guatemala>Costa Rica (For New Years 2012-13)
Ecuador>Colombia>Spain>France (September 2013)

Boat-
A 24 transport on the Panama Canal,
Paradise in the San Blas,
then a nightmare sea boat from Carpugana to Turbo, Colombia,
A whale watching adventure and to Isla de la Plata, Ecuador,
and a week of lounging in the Mediterranean of the coast of Turkey and Greece.

When it comes to food.. you got to be adventurous:

Last year: A fried pig ear in Nicaragua and Grasshoppers in Mexico

This year: Snails in France and Guinea Pig in Peru

Other ways I have explored the world and my abilities:

Surfing! The Pacific waves in Mal Pais, Costa Rica & Montanitas, Ecuador

Kayaking! in San Blas, Panama & Turkey, Mediterranean Sea

Outdoor climbing!!!

Bouldering- Cali, Colombia ; Huaraz, Peru ; Kekova, Turkey & the famous Fountainbleu, France!

Climbing- Ecuador; Huaraz, Peru; Grenoble, France (& Indoor in Cali, Colombia)

Mountaineering! Cayambe, Ecuador & Pisco, Huaraz National Park, Peru

After two Years on the road:

I had much more to say last. I can only express great fullness to my family, for their everlasting support. I express gratitude for the extended family- those who I had met whom had inspired me and loved me. I write these figures to entertain, but the real milestones are within.. I am proud to have stuck it out this far. I am quite amazed at what I have done.

A few words of wearily traveler wisdom-Less equipment and few plans are best. Sleeping under the stars is guaranteed the best night sleep. You will not know love with another until you have tasted hate and they’ve seen you cry.

Thanks to all the kind and beautiful people of South America.

Thank you, Paul. For your love, patience, and sharing the road.

Thank you Mom, Dad, and brothers. I will see you all soon.

And thanks for riding along with me.

But.. when will it be over?

The Einstein answer:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”