While i'm getting my life back together, please look at a fine selection of my photos:

Friday, December 25, 2009

In Ushuaia!

Hi all, I'm happy to announce that after about 18 months i'm in Ushuaia!!! So, IT IS DONE!  

I owe a lot to a lot of people. A Big Thank You to all who supported me, took care of my stuff at home, all beautiful people i met, and all who were kind enough to donate.

From the bottom of this continent: Merry X-mas and a happy, healthy and rich 2010.



Sunday, December 6, 2009

Highlights of North Chile/ Argentina

I got some inquiries on my whereabouts not having posted for a while. Thanks to all who are concerned. I apperiate it a lot.

Have been struggling for a long time to get my rear rim fixed properly. First inSantiago, then i left for Valparaiso and Pichulemu, discovered more broken spokes and returned to Santiago again. There i figured out that my bike uses the same spoke/hub sizes as the older WR enduro, and the Yamaha parts dealer had spokes on stock. Lucky me. After replacing a few spokes at a time i have had the whole rim done at once. There's a good mechanic used by KTM. So got all that fixed. Finally. And now, the last bit, i noticed a lot of oil draining from the airbox! Uhoh bad news. Engine throws out a lot of oil through the crankcase-breather-hose, which,  I'm afraid indicates warped valvestemseals and/or piston rings. If not worse. It runs fine though and so far I suspect the first, that being a problem before. And I was already near Osorno, having difficulties finding parts. Chile doesn't do big bikes here. I managed to find three valvestem seals, originally Yamaha. Not at the local Yamaha dealer, they order everything from Santiago, but at a tiny little bikeshop. Hope this is enough. At this point, i don't want to invest a lot of time and money for the last 7000km of my trip.

Yes dear all, the past few weeks i'm more preoccupied with the bike than enjoy riding it. Takes the fun out of it and that really depresses me a bit. Strangle how fixing a problem shifts from a challange to a burden, and how it affects my mental well being. Too long on the road maybe?

I'm currently in the nice and friendly Bariloche at lake Nahuel Huapi, Argentina. Where the weather is good, air fresh, pine trees green, the lake is crystalclear and all that against a background of snowy mountaintops. Lovely. Familiar too, like Swiss maybe? There's at least three bikeshops, so hopefully one of them allows me to work in their shop. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to enjoy the last leg down and back up to Buenos Aires without problems.


What where the highlights after Bolivia? My route went from San Pedro de Atacama, to Antofagasta back to San Pedro into Argentina to Jujuy, Salta, Cafajate, Iguzul falls, Cordoba, Mendoza and Santiago in Chile. Since La Paz about 9000km. My MT21 rear tire still had 1mm thread left. Not bad at all.

'Mano del Desierto' in Atacama desert.

Was it worth driving 750kms through desert to see the famous hand? Still don't know but it was a good ride. Still travelling with Graham we made a loop from San Pedro to the hand and from there to Antofagasta and back to San Pedro. This desert is beautiful, hot and deserted. All smooth tarmac though.

This scenery for hours.

But just before San Pedro, there's mountains and winding roads. Remarkable, starting at the coast where its cold, going throug almost the dryest place in the world where its bloody hot to end up at 3200m altitude. And its about 300km.

Pretty special.

About San Pedro: THE tourist spot in north Chile. Expensive, shockingly expensive when you come from Bolivia, actually.The whole village is about touragencies and lodging. Take that out of it, and there's nothing left.

Entering Argentina! The road from San Padro to Jujuy, the first city in Argentina of any importance is really beautiful, mountains, great roads to ride.

..GREAT roades to ride...

Salta. Nice , Not special. Spend a few days appreciating the musea and weather.

Absolutely recommended: From Salta to Wine village Cafayate are two roads. On through the mountains, unpaved, and one back, paved.

 I urge everyone who happens to be in the neighberhood to take this road. It's really really scenic. The unpaved stretch is easy, way less difficult that the lagunaroute in Bolivia.

One of those did-I-really-did-this?? ones.

Made Graham very happy.

Really weird rockformations. It's a famous area, of which i forgot the name....


Nail made 2 holes in my innertube.
I have to say that patching tubes roadside usually doesn't work for me, so i flung on a spare innertube. Quicker and more secure.

Although i was a bit tired of dirtroads after Bolivia. Highly enjoyable.

The paved road back from Cafayate to Salta is through this kind of scereny. In Cafayate, a relaxed, friendly, village, is some excellent wine tasting and tours to do. 

From Cafayate i decided to go to the famous Iguazul falls, splitting up with Graham. And it seemed a good idea to take a shortcut east. Dusty rocky dirt again with some small rivercrossings. Not really what i was looking for. But defenitely nicer than a 200km highway stretch.

Crossing the famous Argentina pampas. At this point still an interesting novelty. Which wears out quickly when its 1600kms the same stuff to Iguazúl. Really nothing to see in between.

Ah! So this is where everyone is so enthousiastic about! The worldfamous Iguazú falls!!

Really amazing. I rained quite severely the days i arrived. Because of the high waterlevels the argentinian side closed some of the viewpoints.

Worth the little detour for sure!

Its realy big, look at the tiny people!!

Yup, really rained quite severe...
I put my tent up underneeth a cover. Lucky me...
Nothing like we have in Holland.

Whats this fuzz about shortage of sweet water again??

Ghosts from far gone times. I spend a day in San Ignatio Miní. A village with one of the best preserved Jezuite ruines. At night there's a audio/video spectacle in the ruines which tells the Jezuite history.

What you see here is a photo of a 3 dimentional laser video projection. Very well done.

Cordoba. Well uhm.. Big city period. Not special, crowded. Didn't click, so to do something usefull i experimented a bit with taking pictures at night. Best result out of 25 takes.

Getting from Cordoba to Mendoza. Did i mention i'm a huge fan of Apple ipods?  And definitely have to clean up a lot of rubbish from it...

These roads are the least used i've encountered in my trip so far. Lonely. Bloody hot and no shade. Luckily all went well.

In Mendoza i learned that Argentinians really take their siesta serious.
Fountain at 12.59.

Fountain at 13.00.  It started again at the end of siesta, around 17.00 or so. Weird.

I stayed too many days in Mendoza. Relaxing. Nice hostal, good people.

I learned a lot about Quebeck from these girls. Aparantly they think the rest of Canada should speak french. Lovely bunch. Jade (red hairband) and her frien (pink hairband) worked as nurses way up north amongst eskimo's. The climate and circumstances are pretty hard there. Respect.

Leaving Mendoza for Santiago I wondered what this white haze was...

The winds were ridicilous strong and turbulent almost blowing me from the road a few times. At some point my bike started vibrating heavily. Ah! I know that feeling! And yes, another enginemount bolt broke. Need to find originals one of these days. But good stuff is hard to find.

Got myself a spare bolt after the last time, so easily fixed? Uhm No. This dumb-ass forgot to buy a fitting nut. I limped 20km to till i found a tire repair shack somewhere. Couldn't make any sense from the heavy dialect they spoke, or maybe it was because the guy missed about all his teeth, but they were kind enough to give a nut for free!

Ah, i see, the haze was snow! Froze my nuts off for about an hour or so crossing the Andes to Santiago despite wearing about everything i had. (Not much these days). Not that high altitude, about 2500m. Things are a bit different than Bolivia for sure. My bike has a thing against cold and wet weather, you might recall one of my first posts in Alaska.

20km befor the border it decided to quit. Luckily at a small village, or rather 5 houses. During my warm-up-instant-nescafé it stopped snowing. Guess what, my bike started again! There's definetly something going one there. Frozen carb? To date still clueless. Continued the last stretch up the mountain to the border in rain and prayed the damn thing would hold up.

Riding in snow didn't happen since beartooth pass in Montana. And i promised to myself not to go to Patagonia too quickly. With all challenges going on lately it might turn out i have to hurry before end of summer!

The bordercrossing was a clownesque event. Reminded me of Central America. Although i really cannot imagine being the first foreigner crossing the border with a foreign registered bike, they were absolutely clueless about the procedure. Very annoying. Or they had a new crew working. I expected better entering Chile. Maybe that was the problem, my expectations of Chile being a DEVELOPT country. They like to believe so.... but at that time i certainly thought otherwise. First time i really got focal about my annoyances which resulted in an official angrily slapping all sorts of stamps on a paper.

The beforementioned delays caused me entering Santiago around 7pm in big city evening traffic. Just got frustrated with finding my way when i looked up a saw this: Andes mountains in afterglow.

And all was good.

...great picture except from the electric cable crossing the street. Anyone handy with photoshop??

I took some time off in Santiago. One reason was that i wanted to wait for the weather to get better in Patagonia, the other that i just wanted to stay put for a while. Besides that there was stil this spoke issue going on. And of all big cities, Santiago isn't that bad. 

So far a short update on my trip. All pictures can be seen here.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bolivia II: Cochabamba-Sucre-Potosi-Uyuni-Laguna route to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

Since a few days i'm in Argentina, the land of wine, steaks and tango. Where people actually use their turn signals and behave civilized in traffic, have insane long siesta's and are hooked on maté (thea).

Bolivia, as i experienced, is a coutry where riding days are always longer than expected, where i managed to ride through rain and dark more than once to get where i wanted. And tires preferably go flat when you're already running out of daylight. I saw a fair bit of the of the country going from La Paz to Cochabamba, straigh down to Sucre continued to Potosi, back to La Paz, straight south to Uyuni to cross the Salar de Uyuni and took the infamous lagunaroute to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Hardest ride so far, for me and the bike. At this point there's little i don't know about fixing tires. I also learned how to change broken spokes and that m10 engine mount bolts can actually brake.

I stayed in north Chile briefly, rode 700km through the Atacama desert area just to see the famous 'Mano del Desierto', probable the most useless thing i did so far.  Experienced Chilean biker hospitality (Thanks Jorge and Nelson!!!) in Antofagasta and got out of there asap. USD 1.50 for a liter of gas! Expensive food and lodging too. Not sure if i want to go back there.

All my Bolivia pics can be seen in the Bolivia Photoalbum. But below a few with some comments, as usual:

Cohabamba to Sucre.

Cochabamba. A really charming town, relatively untouched by by tourists. A bunch of nice coffeeshops and restaurant with a bohemian vibe like Café Paris at the plaza of some of the places on Calle 25 de Mayo (towards the end) make it a good place to chill.

En route from Cochabamba to Sucre. One of those mistakes which turned out to be brilliant. 300km, 1/3 paved, 1/3 cobblestone 1/3th dirt. What more can you wish for in a days ride?

The road started from La Paz as good tarmac,  after which it turned to an antique cobblestone road, which turned to gravel/sand/rocky before turning to the last stretch of twisty tarmac up the mountains to Sucre. This last part would be enjoyable if it wasn't for the rain and the inevitable end of daylight.

Here i just fixed my rear tire. Not a puncture, but an old patch came of. Aparantly glue deteriorates with time (replace it every half year!). The patch would come of another time later on on my way to La Paz to pick up a package from holland, which resulted in a very rainy last few hours in dark to get there.

Dusty and dark air. Not very promising. And clueless about how much more dirt i had to go.  A good example of a secundary road in Bolivia.

Road following river = corners.

Last stretch was quite enjoyable, till rain started pooring down.....

...which was at the last 20km or so bit to Sucre: Wet tarmac uphill. Beautiful, slippery. And because i had a long tiesome day i couldn't really appreciate it.

My first experience with Sucre was a cold, wet and dark one. The more I was supprised the next day: all sunny and warm i took a stroll through the center.

It wasn't that bad actually!

Pleasant central plaza.

Market with jummy fruits and veggies.

Hostel life = Good Life. Group of good people, home cooking and plenty of alcoholic fluids.
Life on the road isn't that bad. See why i don't want to go home yet?

Hung out with this bunch in Sucre and Potosi. Every now and than you meet people you connect with more than average.

Next stop Potosi. The highest city in the world at 4100m. Only one reason to go there: to experience the horrible circumtences the miners work in. Dressed in helmet and plastic I visited one of the many mines. There's nothing funny about it, but it's definetly impressive.

Chemical plant where minerals are separated from the ore. Nasty chemical fumes dominated the scene. Little protection for the people who work there.

Even the dogs are covered in dust from the mines...

Mine entrance. Narrow, and the further you go in, the narrower and hotter and dustier it gets. To go from one level to the next, we had to crawl down through narrow caves. At an altitude well above 4100m not a little effort. Like pumping up a tire on 4500m altitude...

On the way back you have to crawl up which is even more intensive. At some point, the lack of oxygen, fysical effort, confinement in narrow space and dust almost made me panic. Not my forté, those mines.

I promised myself to be happy with whatever job i get when i return, knowing how bad it is here.

One of the miners rattling by on a car full of ore.

The entrance is free, but tourists are expected to bring presents for these guys. Soda, cocaleaves, dynamite, or a local 90% alcoholic drink (!). Literally tastes like spiritus.

Mining god Tio. The miners believe in God above ground, in Tio when under. Tio, lucky guy, gets offers every day. Cocaleaves, sigarettes and alcohol. Cheery fella. The conquistadores invented this god to oppress the indigenous people working the mines. To date this believe is still strong. Every now and then a lama is butchered and it's blood splashed against the mine entrance.

Before i did the tour i saw The Devils Miner, a movie about children working in the mines. Touching.

On my way from Challapata to Uyuni.

Aargh!! I was pretty sure the map indicated 'primary road'!?!

Shortest route from  La Paz to Uyuni ends with 200km road under construction between Challapata and Uyuni.

Passed some small dusty villages. Cool to get somewhere were kids are still curious about foreigners.

Further down the road. At this point i wondered if it really was a good idea to take the shortest route. Via Potosi was twice as long, but probably easier!

But, as usuel, the views and satisfaction afterawards made it all worth it. And again, rolled into Uyuni just before dark. Again.

Outside Uyuni is a train cemetary, or rather, a random collection of very old trains.  Apparantly the metal used in these old trains is unsuitable for recycling and they just put them out in the desert.

Very photogenetic in late afternoon sunlight.

One more.

Salar de Uyuni. Can't think of a reason to go there. There's not much to see. Oh wait! That's exactly why you should go there!

This picture, i hope, illustrates how insanely wide and vast it is out there. 

I traveled this part of Bolivia with Graham, a British bloke doing the same thing. We took a whole afternoon to make all sorts of funny pictures. Apparently a must when you're here. More of that here.

Just before entering San Juan, end of day 1.
After the easy crossing of the Salar, it gets hairy.

Following the laguna route it is a beautiful hell really. Sceneries are breathtaking, and so are the 'roads'. The latter in a negative sence. Washbordes, loose sand, rocks, and a combination thereof. Worst riding on my whole trip.

The 550km from Uyuni to San Pedro the atacama took us three full days. We opted for savety and arranged fuel and food dropoffs to the hostels we stayed in along the route. You can do without that, trying to buy food and gas from locals or organised jeep tours, but that is pretty uncertain.

This part of my trip finally made my bike falling apart. Damage done by the insane fibrations caused by washbord surface: Cockpit assembly is held together with iron wire, tie-raps and expoxy glue. And engine mount bolt broke off  (!). Used up all my three spare spokes. Dropped my bike at 5km/h in sand and on of my panniers landed on a rock and has a hole in it. These panniers are really not made for dropping them. Besides that, due to metal fatigue one pannier starts to rip apart.  And they are totally not dust/watertight anymore. Should have spend a bit more money on those. It is all fixable though. The real important thing, the engine of my TTR keeps suprising me. It goes and it goes and it goes. Kickstart is really not a problem, its even better on high altitudes. Grahams f650 dakar for example doesn't like high altitudes and we (i actually...) had to push it several cold mornings to get it going. I blame the 15W50 oil for it, make sure you have 10W40. For fuel efficiency i would take a fuel injeced bike the next time though. I didn't bothered to adjust my jetting and on high altitudes in 1st and 2nd gear stuff the fuel economy drops to SUV levels. Fuel Injection adjusts, so there's not much change in fuel economy or powerloss at altitudes. And Graham's Dakar really proves bulletprove. Doesn't use an drop of oil after 65000km, no broken rims, spokes etc. So a cheap bike in the long run is more expensive it seems.

Anyway. More pics!

Uhm... What did the sign say again?

Another laguna. With Birds this time. Beautiful.

End of day 2. Running out of daylight.
The longest stretch was between San Juan and Laguna Colorada. About 225km. We had to wait for the fuel and food dropoff so we couldn't leave before 10am. This proved to be too late, this picture is taken 25km before Laguna Colorado. It would take us an hour in dark on these roads to get there. Fierce cold wind. camping on this altitude is not an option, it freezing!

Day 3. Another beautiful laguna.

This kind of scenery for a few days. Breathtaking.

I did cursed the bad 'road' surface more than once, and had constant fear of parts falling off.

Last look over our shoulder towards beautiful Bolivia, crossing into Chile to San Pedro de Atacama.

We made it! I don't have the words to describe how i felt when we reached tarmac.

Thats it. Done with Bolivia. For me the toughest country to travel, but also the one with the most amazing scenery. It should be a breeze from here on...or should it? We'll see.

From Grahams video footage i put a short compilation about how it is to ride overthere on youtube. Hope you get an idea:

salar and laguna route video