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--- News and reports ---

 

Nr.XI: South America I

22.03.2010 (Colombia) - 01.09.2010 (Peru/Greenland)

 

 

01.09.2010, Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord (Northeast Greenland): We are hopping with the plane from Lima to Austria, where we stopover to meet family and friends, before we fly up to Svalbard (Spitzbergen), the European Arctic. Like every year, we are working as guides on a small vessel (80 passengers), doing expedition-voyages around the archipelago (www.oceanwide-expeditions.com). Pack ice, polar bears, walruses, seabirds, tundra, polar desert and great hikes are awaiting us. Working is (as any job in tourism) in some way exhausting, but on the other hand lots of fun. Every year is a new challenge and different from the past ones. Time flies and after six trips around Spitzbergen, we sail to Northeast Greenland. Marvellous weather accompanies our last voyage and even the infamous Denmark Strait (for heavy storms well known) is calm as we have never experienced it before – a great ending for a long season...

  

 

  

  

 

  

 

  

  


08.06.2010, Lima (Peru): We leave Trujillo and start – in thick fog - a dirt road into the mountains towards Huaraz. The following 80 kms are really rough dirt through a gorge with 35 tunnels. In numerous bends the road winds up to 3000 meters. A beautiful, amazing, dusty and exhausting stretch for us. Here we run into two motorcyclists, who are coming down from the mountains. Renate and Peter, the first "self-driving" Austrians we meet on our whole journey so far (see other vehicles)! We spontanuously camp together besides the road in a patch of reed besides the river and exchange travel stories. Finally the dirt road ends and we suddenly face green meadows, cows and lots of villages. Besides that the first huge glacier covered mountains appear and after five days of riding from Trujillo we reach Huaraz. We spend four days hiking in the Cordillera Blanca. Lonesome valleys, enormous mountains, huge glaciers, blue sky and freezing cold nights – we love it! We spend a night in our tent on 4600 meters altitude – not without a little bit of headache. This area is phantastic, an absolute highlight on our trip! Ed has managed to get all his documents replaced and his bike repaired, so he catches up with us and we meet again in Huaraz. After a nice evening spent together we pedal in the same direction for half a day. The morning is really chilly, good that we all bought new gloves and hats! The road climbs slowly and the vegetation becomes sparse. We see dry fields in front of picturesque mountains everywhere. We part from Ed – for the last time – as he stays in the mountains and we head to the coast. We spend a night at 4100 meters altitude (see superlatives), where we stay in the only "guest room" of the whole village of Conococha. In the next morning we start the longest downhill of our bicycle career so far: 4100 meters of altitude downhill! An amazing ride from the highlands down to the coast. The road zig-zags down the mountain, through a few villages and in the end along a river. Unfortunately head wind blows against us from the coast and slows us down in the lower flatter part oft he downhill. At the coast we are surrounded by sandy desert, which reminds us of the Sahara. But coastal fog "sits" in the whole area. Lots of chicken-breeding-factories are run along this stretch – the smell is almost unbearable. The scenery is therefore pretty boring, nonetheless we find interesting spots to overnight: Once we turn away from the highland for 8 kilometers and climb up into the fog-forest (national park of Lachay), where we spend a foggy night in a damp tent. Annoying rodents nibble holes into our bags, but the foggy morning is very mystic, quiet and interesting – so we quickly forget our anger about the rodents. The next night we spend at a Hare Krishna Ashram, which looks like a Fata Morgana here in the Peruvian coastal desert. We camp amongst Indian towers and temples and enjoy the strange Indian-Peruvian atmosphere. Behind a long climb and covered in fog lies Lima. We cycle 50 kilometers through dense city traffic, in order to get to Marc and Chantal, our hosts in the south of the city. We park our steel donkeys here for the next two and a half months, as we take our yearly working-break from cycling. From Lima we fly to Europe, stop in Austria for a while before heading up to Svalbard and Greenland. We will work there as hiking guides and lecturers on an expedition cruise ship for "Oceanwide Expeditions"...

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

  

 


 

22.05.2010, Trujillo (Peru): There are two ways south from Piura. The shorter way is going straight through the desert and is a hotspot for muggings. We take the second possibility. It is the longer, but safer way. Dry bushland, small villages and long straight roads. Since we are riding with some distance to the coast the headwinds are just getting serious in the afternoons. We camp on the way and reach (again back at the coast) the small city of Chiclayo, with a huge market. When we stop in front of a hotel, people come and try to lead our attention away from the bicycles. Behind our backs another "amigo" is already at our bags. Luckily we had a strange feeling and have turned back to our bikes in time. Many people warn us, to keep more than an eye on our belongings – especially in the market. Besides that people warn us about robberies taking place in quiet roads. When we read our Emails in the evening we get news from Ed, with who we have been cycling in Ecuador and who is shortly ahead of us (see cyclists we met). Shortly before he reached Trujillo (our next destination) he got mugged on the road. There is not much traffic on the Pan-American Highway at this desert stretch and suddenly three guys with a knife are jumping in his way. They attack him, slump him off his bike, grab one of his bags, throw his bicycle from a bridge and escape. Money, Credit card, Passport, camera – everything gone. And his bike damaged. There were already seven attacks like that on touring cyclists in this year on that stretch. When we ride on our thoughts are spinning. Shall we ride this part (around the village Paiján) anyway – not every cyclist gets mugged – or shall we avoid it and take a Taxi? In the past years we have been through a couple of areas, where bandits are attacking traffic and we have been riding all of them. But here it seems that somebody is specializing on long distance cyclists. Against heavy headwinds and after a long ride through the desert, we are pushing into the village of Pacasmayo and get stopped by the police. They strictly warn us to ride the stretch to Trujillo and advise us to take a bus. Enough warnings! On short notice we take a taxi and reach Trujillo the same evening. Here is the location of one of the most famous "Casa de Cyclistas". It is the house of Lucho and his family, where all long distance cyclists are welcome to stay. We are number 1321 and 1322. But we are not getting here at a good point of time. The "Casa" is filled up with people and we stack us on top. The strange thing is, that there is only one real cyclist amongst the guests. Most of the people are backpackers. Besides them there is one guy in a wheelchair, who was wheeling to Trujillo from Colombia. He just broke the world record of continuously-wheelchair-riding. And here again - we meet Ed, who is trying to get his stolen documents replaced and his bike fixed. Poor fellow.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 


 

17.05.2010, Piura (Peru): Since we are fed up with the wet and miserable highlands, we decide to escape the bad weather and ride west from Cuenca, 2500meters of altitude down to the coast. In just a few kilometers we are rolling through distinct zones of vegetation. From wet and green hills with agriculture we are riding down (beneath the first cloud cover) into a extremely dry zone with cacti and lots of dust. Some curves lower we are diving into thick fog and even have to turn on our rear lights. All of a sudden it is green again. Shortly after it is getting humid and warm, bananas grow beside the road and the vegetation is lush. We get underneath the fog (second cloud cover) and are rolling into the flatlands. The sun is finally out and we are wheeling through endless banana plantations. Via the pretty disreputable bordercrossing of Huaquillas / Aguas Verdes we get into Peru and to the Pacific coast without any problems. The country is getting dryer and dryer the further south we move. The landscape is becomes desert-like, a dusty steppe-like semidesert with thornbush vegetation. The peruvian roads are bad, narrow and often blotched with potholes. The small villages look poor, dusty and desolate, and remind us of the Middle East and Africa. Motorcycle-rickshaws are cruising the roads. There are not many cars. Two times we are staying over night at endless sandy beaches and jump into the sea. It has already been quite windy so far, but when we are leaving the surfers-village Máncora, the strong southwind almost hinders us to get ahead. The following days on the bicycle are a torture and the headwind is almost killing all the enjoyment as we crowl through a beautiful desert landscape. Two days later than expected we reach the city of Piura. Time for a day off. With Michael, a German who is living and working here since one and a half years, we wander around town. And for hours we are chatting and exchange stories. He got mugged three times so far. The first time on his first day. The second time on his second day. The third time on the day before he went on home leave. Today we all went to explore the big and colourful market, where one can buy almost anything and where it is swarmed with. Michael says, that it is an exception that he brings his camera today. Usually he leaves it at home, because it is too dangerous. We are not even five minutes on the market and Michael´s camera is gone. Stolen out of his closed bag! Wow! Everything went extremely quick. What a pitty! For us a warning to keep a better eye on our belongings. So far we had nothing stolen in over three years on the road – and we would like it to stay that way. We spend another day in Piura, then we hit the road again... and the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

  


05.05.2010, Cuenca (Ecuador): On the weekend we are joining Quitos "Ciclo Paseo". In the whole city big roads are closed for motorised traffic and only belong to cyclists! All Quito is moving on two wheels. What a great atmosphere! Something European metropolis should definitly adopt! We almost get the impression of Quito being a green and alternative city. On the day we say goodbye to our friends, we are back in reality. Trucks and busses are blowing thick black clowds into the streets. The throat starts hurting and the exhausts are befogging the city in a grey cloud. The 20kilometers out of town (always slightly uphill) are torture. Finally we reach the green hills and can breathe again. Unfortunately the weather-god is not on our side. Rain and thick fog are our daily companion. We are riding south via Rioabamba. Huge volcanoes like the Chimborazo to the left and right. But we only see them on tourism advertisement posters beside the road. The clouds are low and we are often riding in rain for hours. In small villages and cheap hotels we are trying to dry our clothes at night. The next day we are immediately hitting the next downpour. For the small appetite on the way we are offered meat from whole pigs barbecued beside the road and on the plazas guineapigs on a spit. Interesting for taking pictures, but nothing for vegetarians. We are better off  with stopping for a bite in the chinese restaurants, that we find (almost) everywhere, and get fried rice with vegetables. The track is mountainous and every day we are climbing up to 2000meters of altitude. Here in the wet and misty hills of Ecuador we meet another cyclist: Ed from England, who we have met months before on the Baja California (Mexico) for the first time (see cyclists we met). Together we are riding the last two days to get to Cuenca, the nicest city we visit in Ecuador. Still the clouds are hanging low and it is raining often, but the small town has a cozy and warm atmosphere. It is also a good place to be ill, since there are modern hospitals. Valeska has amoeba and invitably we spend a couple of extra days in Cuenca, before we start riding again...

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

  

 


25.04.2010, Quito (Ecuador): It is cloudy and rainy when we leave Medellin. In the following weeks rainfall is our disagreeable companion. Sometimes it rains already in the morning and we stay in bed for another hour, then it hits us again during the day, sometimes in the evening and ocasionally it stays dry for the whole day. We are often riding uphill for several days. Fast as the wind for more than thousand meters down the other side. Then uphill again for another two days and downhill and uphill and downhill. We thought that Mexico and Guatemala were hilly, but Colombia dwarfs every other country. Every day we are riding more than thousand meters of altitude difference, on peakdays more than two thousand. Phantastic landscape, green range land, forests and mountains. It is comfortable cool at night and enjoyable warm during the day. In the many hills of the country, roadbikers are doing their training-laps. Specialy on the weekends hundreds of cyclists are speeding passed us. Smiling, waving, greeting, a short chinwag and we get bananas as a present. Another time we are comparing force with a group of mountainbikers, who we ask for the way. We stay overnight in grubby hotels along the road, with people who we learned to know via the cyclists-network-site www.warmshowers.org, we sleep on a banana-farm, in a country-side-disco, camp beside the pool of an upgraded hotel and get invited on the street to stay in a private house. We are guests of rich Colombians, of people from the middle-class and of poor farmers. There is one thing that all have in common: great hospitality! People are very open and friendly to us and we feel completly comfortable. There is no strange feeling in our stomachs when we are out on the streets at night. Nobody ever tries to diss us, or shouts something incomprehensible after us to get his buddies a good laugh. And we are never called "Gringos". The Colombians approach us with lots of interest and couriosity, but in comparison to lots of other countries we never get tired of telling our story. The friendlyness of the people is great and from this perspective Colombia is definitly one of our favourite countries! Although the guerilla-activities are still not completely under control (amongst other areas also around the border to Ecuador), we never ever feel unsafe or in danger. We wheel across Colombias coffee region and across the lowlands around Cali, where sugar-cane is growing alongside the road. Again there is a long and ample ascend, and we reach the beautiful collonial town of Popayan. The road descends forever down to a dry valley with desert-like vegetation, before we start climbing again to more than 3000 meters of elevation. Via Pasto and the interesting church of Las Lajas, we reach - after a never ending day where we climb 2400 meters of altitude and ride more than hundred kilometers - Ecuador. The country welcomes us with bad weather and uncountable more hills and deep valleys. But there are also clear mornings with great views of volcanoes and phantastic vegetation-successions. Cacti- and desert-vegetation in the gorges and green medows and forests thousands of meters higher. For two days we are riding together with a humorous Venezuelan (see cyclists we met) and cross the equator – for us the second time over land since Africa. Since the border we see much more indigenous population. They wear their traditional clothes, a hat and in the chilly morning hours a poncho. When we stop in villages to have a break, we are surrounded by curious onlookers, who don`t want to miss those two white-noses on their bicycles. Via a narrow, steep road – which could also lead into a greek mountain-village – we reach Quito from the east, where we are warmly welcomed by our friends Anita, Leon and their family. It is good to park the bikes for some days after all the climbing of the last weeks. We enjoy the flair of the metropolitan and hike up volcano Pichincha, the landmark-mountain of Quito...

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 


05.04.2010, Medellin (Colombia): Early in the morning we are wheeling out of Cartagena. For the first time since months it is really flat and no headwinds are blurring our riding pleasure. In one of our longest days (see riding time at superlatives) we ride 170 kilometres to the coastal town Tolú, where we see the Caribbean for the last time. Three more days we are pushing through the – in the meantime hilly – lowlands of Colombia. It is extremely hot and humid and sudden heavy rainstorms are bringing a pleasurable cooling down. People are very friendly, smile, wave and wish "Happy journey". So far we don’t feel unsafe or in danger at all on our ride through Colombia. The problems with guerrillas and drug-gangs kidnapping people seem to be under control on the main routes and trucks, busses and private cars are on the road even all night. But there are lots of military and police checkpoints. We guess that the young soldiers can use their phones for free while they are in the army? It is unbelievable at how many roadblocks the soldiers are busy texting messages or phoning :-) Now we get into the mountains and the road starts winding its way up into the hills, since we left Puerto Valdivia, like a snake. In only one day we are climbing more than 2400 meters of altitude. It is almost only uphill and we reach one of our worst average speeds (see superlatives). Up in the town Yarumal it is heavenly chilly and the sweating of the last months finally comes to an end! It is such a pleasure to put on socks and a fleece and we enjoy using a thick blanket at night. Still hilly and with lots of altitude to climb the road continues through beautiful landscape until we reach Medellin, the second biggest city in Colombia. Unbelievable how many cyclists on road racing bikes are on the street! In Colombia bicycling absolutely is a national sport and has a very high value in society. We are warmly welcomed by the cyclist Alejo in his house and enjoy nice and cosy rainy-days with him and his girlfriend Mildred in and around Medellin – the rainy season has started.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 


22.03.2010, Cartagene (Colombia): Leaving Granada we are cycling a long day with heavy cross- and headwinds in order to reach Costa Rica and stay the night in La Cruz, a friendly hilltop village. The wind is picking up, the not very solid built hotel is shaking and the tin-roof rattling. In the morning we first think that it is impossible to cycle, since the wind almost seems to blow us over just standing in front of our hotel. But we ride anyway, facing extreme wind conditions (cross- and headwinds) for the next couple of days, which even make  us change our route. We end up riding across the Nicoya-peninsula, which we can really recommend. Small roads, little traffic, lovely hilly landscape, fincas (farms) and country-towns. Crossing over back to the mainland with a dead-old rusty ferry – at least it is not a far crossing - and we were sure we could probably swim to shore, if the boat would sink. The wind is back to moderate and even turns back to its normal northwesterly direction. We take the coastal road on the Pacific side, which is a nice stretch through jungle-like vegetation, sugarcane and oil-palm plantations. It is a very rural area, where thousands of retired Americans and Europeans have their tropical retreat. "House / Lot / Property for Sale" -signs everywhere. It seems the Costa Ricans (short: Ticas) are selling their country as much as they can. Our guidebook described Costa Rica as "the tropical backyard of the Gringos". And it is true. At least for along the coast. Everything that makes money is Gringo owned. On every nice spot Gringo-Villas are erected. Supermarkets are selling what Gringos like, from Peanut butter to Pancake mix. Burgers, Hot-dogs, Coca Cola and apples are imported from the US. The coast has its special flair and beauty, no doubt, but there are far too many white faces around. Overall Costa Rica is much more developed than all the countries of Central America that we visited before (excluding Mexico). Houses are bigger and nicer. There are far more cars and they are newer, cleaner and larger. There is less poverty and it seems much safer. No more barbed-wire-fences and walls around houses and no more armed security at supermarket entrances. But roads seem to be neglected. They are small and almost no road we are on has a shoulder. That sucks! Humidity is extremely high, we sweat day and night and night and day without a break. Hills really become a killer and we start dreaming of living in a fridge. We stop in Jaco, surfer’s paradise, and for the first time after thousands of kilometers along the Pacific coast we really do it - we jump in the water! It is wet and salty. What an experience! The border-crossing to Panama needs some preparation. We knew already that the authorities will not let us in without a proof that we exit the country again. Without showing a plane-ticket they will make you buy a bus ticket for 25 U$ out of the country as a proof of exiting. There is an internet cafe just beside the checkpoint. We hop in, fake a plane ticket (e-tickets are a great invention :-), print out the Word-document and make it look a bit "traveled" by folding it a couple of times. Prepared like this we walk over to the customs. The guy really checks on the tickets (at least the names) and without any more questions our passports are stamped and we are in Panama! Like Costa Rica, Panama is a rich country and not much is changing. Supermarkets instead of farmers-markets, a secure and safe vibe in the cities and something strange: almost all small groceries along our way are run by extremely unfriendly Chinese families. We meet two other cyclists, Stefan and Gareth (see cyclists we met) and cycle with them for two days. Together we stay at a nice Couchsurfing place in Davis and at the Catholic Mission in Tolé, and experience our first rain since months. Gareth’s bicycle is making more and more trouble every day and needs some proper repair. We are riding ahead and after another three and a half days through Panama’s countryside we reach Panama City. After crossing slums and shabby areas we get into the new downtown area. Skyscrapers are stretching for the sun, Mercedes’ and BMWs are cruising the streets and with the boutiques and fast-food-restaurants it seems like an imitation of Miami or Singapore. We spend a day at the Miraflores Locks just out of the city, where we see small yachts and huge containerships with up to 5.000 containers on board, crossing the Panama Channel. Very impressive!

 

Panama City is also a point of decision for us. There is no road connecting Panama and Colombia. The so called Darien Gap is a swampy jungle area between the two countries. Due to guerilla activities and lots of drug smuggling it is an extremely unsafe and dangerous area and highly not recommended to travel in. And if one does not get kidnapped, raped or killed by smugglers, a "bicycle journey" looks more like the one of Ian Hibell who was dragging his bicycle across in the 1970es - see video. Yes, some people have really managed to cross this stretch by cutting their way through the jungle and being dead-lucky. We think we are adventurous, but not stupid. It is not an option for us to try to cross over land. Another possibility is to hop on a small open cargo ship operating along the coast. We heard that people have managed doing that, but it might take a long time waiting in a small harbor for a captain, who might take you, and - on the other hand – finding a captain you trust is difficult too. Those vessels are often smuggling goods both ways (refrigerators, TVs and other electronics to Colombia and Cocaine on their way back to Panama). We read a few reports of people crossing like that and nobody was happy about being part of illegal affairs. Not our preferred way of making it to Colombia either. But there are two relatively safe and easy ways to cross over: Flying or taking a private yacht, who takes passengers. Those boats are all owned by Americans or Europeans who are hanging around in the Caribbean and want to increase their budget by offering backpacker trips from Panama to Colombia (or the other way). We already had reserved on a large sailing vessel with very good reputation, but did not catch it in time. We got recommendations for two other boats, but both of them were crossing over too late for us. Those trips cost some serious money and there are lots of stories of unsatisfied customers: ships being too cramped and people have to sleep on deck, food being crap, captains being drunk in the storm and captains just being after the money and not trying to deliver a nice product. And about two small boats with passengers sink every year. For those reasons we wanted to be on a ship with good reputations. We spent almost a day in the Internet searching for possibilities, but did not find anything promising. We always thought of crossing to Colombia by boat, but the more we researched the more we also figured out that those trips are probably not too much our thing anyway. It is an organized tour, where you stop on the San Blass Islands, to take pictures in Indian villages of poor children begging for sweets and topless woman breastfeeding, white-sand-and-palm-trees beaches to sunbath, and its advertised (like many backpacker activities and tours) as being real FUN! Well... maybe it was good we did not find a boat, who knows. It should be quite windy at this time of the year too, and it is very likely that seasickness takes replaces all the FUN anyway. So we check for flights and compared to the prices of the boat they are super cheap! We fly and save cash and time. Besides that we stay the individual travelers that we are. After only an hour our prop airliner lands in Cartagena, Colombia. Customs are easy and we are on a new continent :-) Cartagena is an extremely pretty town and we stroll the narrow streets with their beautiful colonial buildings and get ready to cycle again...

  

  

  

 

 

  

  

 

 


  

   

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