South America 2019-202x

unknown length - solo travel - Suzuki DR650

Still on the road

December 8, 2019  —  Various
Lauca National Park - Chile
Often, I've been told that I never have any pictures of me. So, to compensate, here is one of me in my birthday suit in a thermal spring at more than 4,000 metres in Chile.

It's been a long time since I last gave some news. Since my last blog published on September 18, three months went by. Don't worry, I'm doing well and I'm still mostly enjoying the trip, but I am still unplugged from the virtual world. It reminds me of my first trips, no Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or this old prehistoric technology named email. Then, I was sending postcards... I am going to stay unplugged until my return home in Quebec...

Wait a minute! My return to Quebec? In a few years? Well, not really, I decided to leave the travel life behind me and come back in Quebec for a few months. Indeed, I will continue my journey down to Santiago, Chile's capital, and then I will go back home for some rest and relaxation. This should be toward the end of January.

Laguna de Pujsa - Road from San Pedro de Atacama to Paso de Jama - Chile

Yes, I am a bit tired of sleeping in a tent or in small and cheap hotels. Sick of fighting with my equipment to fit it all on the motorbike. Less impressed with the beauty Nature has to offer us. I need a change of air. I should be in Quebec for 6-7 months, and it's going to be great to see the family and friends. Moreover in this way, I will be able to replace part of my defective equipment. As a matter of fact, my tent is leaking as are my boots. My camera is broken, but luckily still functioning. I also need parts for the motorbike. Yes, most of this can be found in Chile, but at ridiculous prices. The money I will save by buying home will pay for the plane ticket. Unbelievable, but true!

I still haven't sorted all my photos; thus you won't see anything new on Peru or Chile except for this blog. However, I met some bikers with whom I spent some good time and I wanted to send the photos I took of them. So, here are a few of them about those nice moments.

Chile
line-separator

Meeting very nice people

Bikers I met in San Pedro de Atacama. From left to right: Caroline, Priscilla and Steve.

In San Pedro de Atacama, in the Chilean desert, I met Steve and Priscilla, a couple from California. They bought motorbikes in Peru and want to go down to Ushuaia, in the Tierra del Fuego. I also met Caroline, from France, a solo traveller that bought her bike in Colombia and plans to do a big loop from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego and then return to Colombia to sell the bike.

Together, we went to the Laguna Cejar, near San Pedro. The laguna salinity is so high that it's very easy to float to the surface of the water, without any effort. It's so easy to float that crawl swimming is hard since our butt floats too high up in the water, and that our arched back hurts as a result. An incredible experience that must be tried! Unfortunately, this nice experience had a price. We stayed less than two hours around the laguna, but my white back has been burned by the sun and I was as red as a lobster in the evening.

Chile
Chile
Chile
Chile
Chile
The Laguna Cejar in all its glory.
Chile
Chile
Going back, Steve did a small photo shoot of us.
Chile
A nice dinner between bikers.
line-separator

Detour through Bolivia

Bolivia
Laguna Blanca.

This small detour through Bolivia wasn't planned in my short-term itinerary. I had planned to do the Lagunas Route and the Uyuni Salt Flat only after I went through Argentina and Brazil. For her part, Caroline was planning to continue through Argentina and down south. However, we had the chance to share the road for a few days and to help each other on a route that has the reputation of being difficult due to the altitude and cold, as well as the roads with so many washboards and, worst of all, a lot of sandy sections.

Chile
Getting ready for departure.

After some discussions and hesitations, we finally decided to do some exploration together. We had to be sure to have enough fuel for the entire road, and to be sure there would be no problems after the protests that resulted in the ousting of the country president (Evo Morales) a few weeks before.

As a matter of facts, in the previous days, several violent protests have taken place throughout the country; borders temporarily closed, blocked roads, and also lots of vandalism. To try to force its way through a blockade could have some nasty consequences; at the best, getting the tires punctured, at worst, getting beaten up by an angry crowd. However, before of departure, the country seemed to have calmed down, and in retrospective, we did have any problems.

line-separator

La Ruta de las Lagunas

Bolivia
Laguna Blanca.

Here we are, in Bolivia, in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. We just started the famous Ruta de las Lagunas. The altitude varies between 4,000 and 4,500 metres with fantastic scenery, but also horrible roads.

Indeed, they are many parallel trail done by 4wd going off-road or just fed up of driving in the washboards. The challenge is to find a good track in order to minimize the problems with a motorbike. The 4wd prefer the new trails where they are less washboards. However these tracks are a lot more sandy. For a motorbike, it's the reverse, we preferred the hard and well-trodden tracks, even if often, we were really tired of driving on bumpy roads.

But sometimes, the choice we make are not always good...

Day 1

Bolivia
Laguna Blanca.
Bolivia
Our campsite for a night.

At the end of the first day, we slept at the Polques hot spring. There are two sites located within a few kilometres of each other. The first one is very touristy with huts to change yourself. The second one, that we chose, is only a large pond set up as an infinity pool. Apparently, it's a bit less hot than the commercial site, but having the option to go to a site with a dozen tours and so many tourists and a site with slightly colder water where we were alone, the choice was easy.

In the afternoon, after we arrived, we enjoyed a nice, quiet and peaceful bath, with the company of flamingoes minding their usual business; that is to say to constantly feed themselves. We slept a few paces from the pool with a spectacular view over the laguna.

The next day, we also enjoyed the hot spring for a good time before a few guides without any customers came to take a short bath,

Bolivia
We are enjoying a nice thermal bath in a quiet environment.
Bolivia
Bolivia
The next morning, because of the cold, some vapour can be seen...

Day 2

Bolivia
Bolivia
The geysers Sol de Mañana.
Bolivia
Bolivia
Bolivia

For a while, this trail was fairly easy, but after one or two kilometres, it changed to a hellish road. Yes, there were a few falls and some frights.

Caroline even had one foot stuck under the motorbike and I had to sprint back to her to help her get out of this mess. Yep, a sprint at 4500 metres looks more like a slow walk, and I had the impression my heart was about to burst out. However, we came out unhurt from this ordeal.

Bolivia

Once stuck on this trail, we had trouble getting out of it. Notice, on the photo above, that the trail is flanked by fairly high sandy walls. Yes, yes, just about 20-30 centimetres , but crossing such an obstacle with motorbikes weighing 170 kg (Caro's bike) or 200 kg (for mine), it's not an easy task.

Bolivia

Since we could not carry on that track, we had to get out of it. We managed to get Caroline's bike out while I was pushing, but for mine it was more difficult. I sank down in the sand, and I had to remove all my equipment. You are going to think it was easy after all, but let me remind you that at 4,500 metres, all the efforts we made were so much harder due to the high altitude.

Bolivia

Finally, after this trying day, we arrived exhausted at the Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) where workers offered us to sleep in an unfinished building still under construction. The problems were not over and even if we were partially sheltered, the tents were hard to install due to the strong wind.

I witnessed an angry Caroline cursing against the desert, the dust and the wind. Anger I shared, but more calmly. In retrospect, it was a memorable day for all its challenges, but also for the beauty and the harshness of this environment.

Bolivia
The building where we are going to sleep.
Bolivia
Even between these walls, the wind was blowing away the tents.

Day 3

The last day on the Lagunas Route was very nice. The sandy trail gave way to a bumpy road with large rocks. The type of road that is hell to a 4wd, but a blast for motorbikes.

Bolivia
Bolivia
Bolivia
Bolivia
Laguna Hedionda.
Bolivia
Laguna Canapa.
line-separator

Salar de Uyuni

Bolivia

The second leg of our journey in Bolivia was to drive on the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world. It was an awesome experience, hard to describe. The salar is a vast salt plain with occasional islands of rocks and cacti. When I say big, I mean humongous...

The salar covers an area of about 100 x 150 kilometres. Imagine, driving for some 150 km on a salt flat. It's incredible. The scenery is also quite spectacular and so incredibly shiny. It's almost impossible to open your eyes on this landscape without the protection of good sunglasses. The sun, so strong at 3600 metres, fiercely reflects on the almost purely white ground of the salt flat.

Bolivia
Bolivia
Bolivia
The Incahuasi Island, the most famous and the most visited islands of the salar.
Bolivia

We preferred finding an island just for ourselves. We went to the Phia Phia Island where we established our base camp for a night. On this island, we also encountered the Devil Cave.

Bolivia
Bolivia
Bolivia
The Devil Cave.
Bolivia
Our campsite... Caroline slept under the stars, protected by the stony wall.
Bolivia
line-separator

Uyuni

Finally, our journey ended in Uyuni, a small town right next to the salar. Next to the town, a nice train cemetery can be visited.

Bolivia
Bolivia
Bolivia
line-separator

What's next on my journey

Here we go, all good things have an end... After a superb week with Caroline, it's time to part ways. I go back to San Pedro in Chile while Caroline continue her journey to Argentina. It was a pleasure to have an excellent travel partner during these few days and also a genuinely fun experience.

Back in Chile, I will continue my trip down to Santiago. From there, I will visit the region around the capital before ending this leg of the trip. Like I already said, I will go back home in Quebec for a few months to rest and see family and friends.

Until them, I will not update my website. You have to wait until after my return in Quebec before seeing any of the numerous photos I have taken in Peru and Chile...

Chile
La Portada, near Antofagasta.
Chile
The coast, near Antofagasta.