Colombia - the final stretch of our journey

We are enjoying the last few days in Bogota and tomorrow we are flying to London after this fantastic 7 month adventure in South America. But before we leave I would like to share with you what we experienced in Colombia. A lot of people warned us about Colombia and were even worried about us – let me tell you something: Colombia is the safest country we traveled so far. The people here are super friendly and helpful. Given the recent history of this country one would have half way expected a country in shock but that is certainly not the case. Let me go a little bit into the recent history of Colombia. We all heard about Pablo Escobar and his murderous reign in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He was the most violent drug lord who had so much influence that he even got elected as a member of the government. This lasted just a day for him though and he quickly gotexposed by the former Minister of Justice for his past and present criminal life. It is safe to say that Escobar had a temper mixed with no respect for human life and a very violent nature. He is responsible for the killing of thousands of people in Colombia, most of them had nothing to do with the intermediate drug traffic. He brought down an Avianca plane in an attempt to kill the presidential candidate who opposed him. The candidate wasn’t on that plane though since he got tipped of just minutes before the flight that there might be an assassination attempt on his life. All 107 passengers and crew on that plane died. Escobar declared war against Colombia and his own hometown – Medellin was one of the 5 most dangerous cities in the world. Despite all the violence and deaths he caused he was also popular among the poor. He gave millions of his illegal drug money to the poor and built homes, schools and even churches for the poor. This was the reason why it took such a long time to capture him. Eventually he turned himself in but under the condition that he can serve his sentence in his own “prison”. The “cathedral” was hardly a prison but more a base of operations where Escobar was protected from the other drug cartels by the Colombian police. In the end he managed to “escape” his own prison and kept on with his murderous war against the people of Colombia. Obviously if you murder and rain terror on everybody around you, you finally end up with everybody against you. Pablo Escobar went into hiding but was finally found by the Colombian police on December 2nd 1993 and killed. If you want to know more about Escobar and this dark side of the Colombian history I recommend the Netflix series Narcos. It is very well made and sticks to the facts. Now Escobar was just one of the problems Colombia was facing. The other problem was the numerous communist guerrilla groups and paramilitary facist groups that were raging another war on the Colombia people. To finance themselves, they kidnapped people for ransom and in the wake of those groups fighting beneath each other the ordinary people of Colombia became the victims. But this all is in the past and Colombia performed a miracle in the past 20 years to become a peaceful nation. Just as we arrived in Cartagena – the last stop on our motorbike adventure – the last of the communist guerrilla groups handed in their weapons. You still see a lot of military presence around Colombia but most of the military personal are in their 20’s and don’t come from the time where the drug lords and the guerrillas controlled the country. All I ever experienced from those armed to the teeth guys was friendliness and curiosity about our trip. No macho behaviour or hostility at all. Enough now about the political and historical part of this blog. We entered Colombia close to the small town of Pasto. The custom clearance for the bike was possibly the most time intensive we had all over South America and very thorough. It took about 2 hours but then we were cleared to enter Colombia. The roads in Colombia are superb and drivers are really friendly! Colombia is a massive motorbike country and at times it seems there are more bikes on the road then cars. The roads are a paradise for anybody on a bike. Endless mountain roads on good asphalt with countless turns. We stopped in Popayan and stayed in an old monastery that got converted to a hotel. The journey went on through endless coffee fields (Oh yes – Colombia coffee is sooooooo good!!!!!) and we spent a few days in Medellin – the city of never-ending spring. Long gone is the danger that Escobar inflicted on the city and Medellin presented itself as a safe and thriving metropole with high living standard. Food in Colombia is fantastic and I think it is safe to say that we had some of the best restaurant food in South America in Colombia. From Medellin it was just a small stretch until we reached Cartagena. The last day riding I rode the Penguin for over 600Km and reached the beautiful town of Cartagena. I decided to ride along the Caribbean coast instead of taking the highway that goes straight to Cartagena. So this is the end of our epic motorbike adventure through South America. Now the bike is on it’s way from Cartagena to Bremerhaven in Germany. Getting it out of the country and onto the ship was way more work than driving it into Colombia. We had help from a British based shipping company called IVSS (easy to find on Facebook). Martin – our contact at IVSS – was super helpful with organising the shipping. I can highly recommend this company if you need to ship your vehicle to or from South America. In case you are in Colombia and need to go through the custom’s nightmare I can send you some instructions how to do it – just send me an email. We completed 24,000 km. on our trusty Yamaha 660 Tenere. We made lovely friends on the road who will stay with us for the rest of our lives. My passport has 8 pages filled with stamps from South America and we collected fantastic memories nobody can ever take away from us. Most of all though I am grateful and thankful to my fiancee Siri who went on this epic adventure with me. I know a lot of adventurous people from all corners of the globe and some riders who did some really awesome rides but in my opinion Siri deserves the biggest respect of all. When we set out for this ride Siri never went on a motorbike trip before. Still she agreed to be my pillion rider through South America. She rode with me through rain, freezing cold, gravel roads, rivers, endured crazy car drivers, endless highways, camping, bugs and even a few crashes. She is the most tolerant person I know who makes me laugh every day and I can’t imagine a better partner for anything in life but her. I love this woman to bits!

In my next blog I will try to write about all the highlights of this trip so stay tuned. Beside this my adventure called life will go on of course. Next I am going to Iceland for a couple of months (not with a bike though) before I return to Bangkok in September. The next motorbike adventures will be in South East Asia so stay tuned for more....

As always please feel free to comment and share this blog 

 

Ecuador - in a bit of a rush

Dear blog readers – we arrived in Cartagena / Colombia! Time is flying so fast on these last few milestones of our epic trip that I hardly have time to write up all that happens. But before I tell you all about Colombia (I am still processing the images), I want to write about our trip in Ecuador. To be honest we did a bit of a fly by so to say with Ecuador. I am sure we could spend easily 2 months in this beautiful country but unfortunately we are running out of time. We entered Ecuador on the Pacific coast and found ourselves in one of the biggest banana producing areas of the world. The banana plantations went on for miles and miles. As a matter of fact when we stopped for some refreshments and I asked how much it is for a few bananas, the lady at the shop just laughed and told me to help myself to as many as I want – they come for free. Now more then 99% of the bananas are grown for export and are packed in boxes when they are still green. Those are the ones you find in your local supermarket (by then ripened and yellow). The ones for the locals how ever are much smaller and way tastier. They actually ripe on the tree and the taste is much sweeter with a hint of zesty lemon.  After leaving the bananas we climbed up to altitude again and through some rather sketchy roads (due to landslides) we reached the motorway to Quito – the capital of Ecuador. Driving in Ecuador was, after our experience in Peru, really relaxing. People are very civilized when behind the wheel and the roads are made of asphalt that puts some German Autobahns to shame. Everything seems to run very smooth and the fact that the Ecuadorians chose to use the US$ for their main currency in September 2000 makes it even easier for lots of travellers. The reason behind choosing the US$ was an overgrowing inflation that started to spin out of control. Quito today is a modern city with a lively restaurant and bar scene. We needed to stay in Quito a little bit longer than initially planned to obtain a Colombian visa for Siri. Just to “kill off” some time we decided to spend a weekend in Mindo Valley in the middle of the rainforest. Dropping from nearly 3,000m altitude down to 1,000m changed the climate drastically. While we were in Quito it could get cold during the night and on an excursion to a volcanic crater on 4,000m it got really cold – even during the day. In Mindo we found ourselves in a tropical rainforest – hot and humid and this is just 100Km away from Quito. The area around Mindo is a bird watchers paradise and even though I am not an ornithologist I saw some pretty colorful birds like Toucan and other tropical birds. I just wish I could name a few more of those but – sorry I can’t. So after a weekend in the rainforest, some hikes around and refreshing dips in rather cool jungle swimming pools we returned to Quito and got the Visa sorted. Now nothing was in our way anymore to get to Colombia – the last country on our journey. One thing for sure though – we will be back in Ecuador soon – last not least to see the Galapagos islands.

The next update will follow soon – stay tuned.

The South America gear list!

Dear blog reader!

This is a bit of a different update. I promised you at the beginning of our trip that I will publish a list of what we carry along. I have to admit – at the beginning we had way too much stuff – like most people. So over time we gave things away, send stuff home or just dumped stuff. For example our sleeping mats. We used them in Patagonia but when they became perforrated by the cactuse’s in the north of Argentina we decided to bin them. Other items were clothes that ended up as cleaning rugs for the bike before they got trashed. However – I took a picture of all our gear nicely laid out in front of our bike. The description of what is what can be found beneath the image:

1.     Hiking backpacks around 50 liter each for 2-3 day hikes

2.     Drybag with sleeping bags, warm clothes, spare gloves and rain gear

3.     Camera gear: Nikon D5 digital fullframe SLR, 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, SB911 flash with ProPhoto radio remote control and cable release for long exposure. I decided to skip a tripod for this trip because of weight reasons

4.     Semi waterproof duffel bag (next trip I would take a proper waterproof duffle)

5.     Tankbag to keep the camera during the day with a map pocket on top

6.     First aid kit – it sits usually on the outside of our boxes forquick access

7.     Transport boxes from Givi. NOT a good choice! After 6 months these boxes are falling apart and the aftersales service from Givi is tragic. I send them an email (through their official website) about where I can get spareparts since the boxes are falling apart and the reply was that they usually don’t deal with inqueries from the general public!!!! What a joke... For the next trip I will possibly be using soft luggage from Ortlieb or Kriega

8.     2 litres of spare fuel – came in handy in Bolivia where it can be difficult to get fuel. With the extra 2 litres we have a range of 450 km per filling

9.     Our shoe collection: Siri is wearing her hiking boots on the bike, I have some waterproof touring boots, 2 pair of flip flops and each of us has a pair of trainers

10.  Our lightweight MSR tent – not the best for bad weather but REALLY light

11.  Clothes – here we haven taken it to the minimum. I carry next to our protective bike clothes 5 x T-shirts, 2 long pants 1 pair of shorts, 1 fleece, 1 shirt, swim stuff and obviously socks and underwear. Siri has additional a dress, a couple of extra warm layers and some leggings.

12.  Our field kitchen: 2 titanium cups, titanium saucepan, non stick frying pan, titanium cutlery, 2 plates, a superlight weight titanium gas burner and some spices and teabags.

13.  Hydration pack which also holds credit cards. lip balm and other small items

14.  Well – you need to ask Siri about this. It is make up and a woman handbag – short a mystery to the male population of the world

15.  Office stuff: all important documents for the bike as original and copies, 1 Mac book pro laptop with 500GB for image post production, 1 Mac book air and a small bag for receipts

16.  Our tool and spare part shed – usually stored in the tube at the back of the bike. These are all the important tools to change the tyres, adjust the chain slag and what ever else I can repair on the go. For spareparts we carry wheel bearings, clutchcable, brake pads, spark plug, puncture kit and last not least duct tape, WD40 and chain lubrication

17.  Small daypack for trips to the market – folds neadly into itself

18.  4 litre waterpack – weighs nothing and is very handy for camping

19.  chargers for the camera and laptops plus extra USB cables

20.  2x USB back up drives with 2 GB each. I use rugged ones from ADATA

21.  medicine pouch. We carry some antibiotics, ibuprofen (the only stuff we needed to use so far), eyedrops, Buscopan (for cramps) and Imodium.

 

To the bike we are using (in case you haven’t noticed): We opted for a 2011 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere which we lovingly call the Penguin. It has done a great job on this trip and handles really well. It is realtivly light (wet only 206 Kg) and has loads of suspension travel. In case you wonder about the white can attached above the foot rests: This is out chain lubrication. It always gets dirty and out there I dont have to worry that it greases up the inside of the rest of our luggage. For tyres we are using Heidenau K-60’s in the back and Metzler Sahara in the front. They are 60/40 off road / on road tyres and the Heidenau last’s forever. We get about 12.000 Km out of the back tyre, which is impressive giving the weight of 2 people on the bike plus all the luggage.

For Helmets we are using touring helmets with a motocross look. They have a fullt closing visir and drop-down sun shades - well my helmet lost those a while ago in the winds of Patagonia. They also have a beek (just like a motocross helmet) which is handy when the sun is low. The yellow duct tape on my helmet replaces a missing screw from the beek – not beautiful but practical.

That is all for this blog update – the next update will be about Ecuador so stay tuned. Please feel free to share this blog or contact us if you have questions – stay safe.

Peru – Inka ruins, beautiful landscapes, mad drivers and dangerous dogs

Hello dear blog reader and please accept my appology for the late update. Traveling can be so time consuming and doesn’t leave time for writing the blog. We are in Quito now and having a few days rest so that I can finally tell you about our trip through Peru. We entered Peru at Titicaca lake and this was the first time that we had problems at the border. The immigration was easy – as usual and all was done in a matter of minutes. But when it came to the custom clearance for the bike we got stranded. Apparently we didn’t had the right insurance for Peru and without an insurance issued by SOAT – a car insurance broker in Peru, the bike was not allowed in the country. So the only option – as it seemed – was to abondon the Penguin at the border, take our luggage off and stay in the first town after the border to sort out the insurance. Luckily there was a lady who could give us the insurance – even on a Sunday – so next day. We found a VERY cheap hostal just above the store that would issue us the insurance and decided to stay for the night. I had to go back to the border to pick up the rest of our luggage. When I got back the “big boss” of the custom bureau just arrived as well, looked at me - then looked at the bike and said – you look very trustworthy so just take the bike and buy an insurance as soon as you come to Puno. SURE THING! So one more trip back to the hostal to get all the documents and get the Penguin through the paperwork. While I was waiting for the custom officer to put everything into their computer system the guy who first told me that there is absolutley NO way to get the bike into Peru without insurance gave me a very valuable tip: He said if the cops stop us all I should say is “no comprendo” just repeat this for 2 minutes and they will let you go!!! South America’s burocracy is fantastic. We decided not to stay in our cheap hostal and drove instead to the prebooked hotel in Puno. The next days we cought up with Pascal again – our friend from Switzerland and headed towards Cusco – the old capital of Peru. 

Images show Cusco, Machu Picchu and the sacred valley

Images show Cusco, Machu Picchu and the sacred valley

Cusco is on 3,300m altitude and by now we are well used to the lack of oxygen. The Penguin doesn’t seem to have any problems with the lack of oxygen. On our trip we pretty much follow the Andes mountain range and like that we hardly get below 2,500m altitude but get almost daily over 4,000m. After wandering the streets of Cusco and being amazed about the precision the Incas built the walls around town (it might have been alians after all) we decided to head to the Sacred valley of the Incas and to Machu Picchu. It seems in Peru you can’t turn a stone around without it says underneath “Made by Incas” The Inca sites are everywhere and giving the fact that they ruled this area for only 100 years before the Spanish almost wiped them out – this is VERY impressive. We headed up to Aguas Calientes which literally means hot water due to a geothermal hot spring in the town. Aguas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu and as you can imagine it is super touristic. The restaurants are mostly overpriced for what they offer but this is a place where you can get the entrance ticket to the ruins for 150 Peruvian Soles or about 40,- Euros. Machu Picchu itself is full of tourists – no doubt and I was very sceptical to begin with when I saw the amount of people cueing for the busses to get you to the entrance - but it is really worth a visit – I would say it is a must visit when in South America! We thought we will be there for a few hours and ended up until almost sundown. The next day it was time to head back to the sacred valley. Siri decided to take the train back to Ollantaytambo – which is a very scenic train ride. Pascal and me took the bikes back after we walked along the railroad tracks for 12 km to Santa Teresa where we left the bikes. After another night in Ollantaytambo we headed back to Cusco. For Pascal this was the northern turning point on his journey and he headed south again from here. He was a great riding companion and we are looking forward to see him again in the autumn in Thailand. We took the road further north and reached the small town of Tarma. Tarma used to be one of the strong hold of the 1970’s terrorist group “Shining Path”. The Shining Path was a Peruvian revolutionary organization that endorsed Maoism and employed guerrilla tactics and violent terrorism. Its stated goal was to replace the bourgeois democracy with a "New Democracy". With the capture of the founder and leader of the group Abimael Guzman in 1992, activities of the group sharply declined and today it mostly seized to exist. The terror that still exists in Peru today though is the street dogs – especially when traveling on a motorbike! Dogs bit me twice – once I got attacked by a whole group of wild dogs in a sharp turn where I had no chance to speed up, the other time I even stopped to avoid the dog jumping on the bike while driving. The dog decided then it might be a good idea to bite me since we stopped. Luckily my Bike pants are Kevlar reinforced and so the teeth didn’t manage to penetrate my skin. However – dogs in Peru are a real nuisance at best and can be seriously dangerous when on a bike. The other danger in Peru is the drivers! If in other countries around South America drivers might be suicidal but in Peru they are homicidal! The way they overtake is purely criminal and I suppose there are too many male hormones on the loose. The other explanation I have is that the Peruvians are watching too much Fast and Furious movies or think they are all Dakar rally pilots – just not with the same powered vehicles and certainly not the same driving skills. But despite those perils Peru is an amazing beautiful country, which offers some breathtaking and adventurous roads. We met some really friendly and lovely people in Peru and are looking forward to come back already.

The next blog update will be something I promised long time ago – our equipment list. Stay tuned and thank you for reading. Please feel free to share this blog.

Tarma, the all present Llamas, Siri and Pascal above the clouds and some muddy roads  

Tarma, the all present Llamas, Siri and Pascal above the clouds and some muddy roads

 

Bolivia - simply amazing

Dear blog readers! We arrived at the Titicaca Lake after a short but impressive ride through Bolivia. We heard so many bad things about Bolivia before we got here and were a bit anxious of traveling through this beautiful and versatile country. First of all we heard about the most corrupt cops in South America – we haven’t had a single encounter with the local police. Every check point on the road we were just waved through – and most of the time with a smile. We also heard that the Bolivianos are unfriendly – they might not be as outgoing as the Argentinians or the Chilenians but once you get in touch with them they are super sweet, friendly and helpful. They might have a shyness against foreigners but that is kind of cute. About the food in Bolivia – we heard that the food is bad and tasteless but we can’t confirm that at all. All the food we had was delicious and had a lot of character. So Bolivia is a country we certainly want to spend more time next time we come to South America. As I mentioned in our last blog update we started our trip into Bolivia with 4 Irish bikers. We rode the 200km from the border to the salt flats of Uyuni together. We checked in to our hotel – more to that in a minute – and went straight to the saltflats. It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert like, nearly 11,000-sq.-km. landscape of bright-white salt. First we had the impression to drive on a massive ice or snowfield just without being slippery at all. The salt has an amazing grip and goes on for miles and miles. The surface is so smooth that you can actually drive with your eyes closed. We drove to the monument that was raised for the Dakar Rally, which has been hosted in Bolivia a few times now. The entire monument is made out of salt blocks – well and so was our hotel! The “Palacio del Sal” was the first hotel in the world built from salt. The rooms have a roof created out of salt blocks and all pillars are made of salt as well. The service was first-class and the food in the hotel was amazing - I had my first taste of llama and it won’t be my last one! Early the next morning I went with John and Ambrose - 2 of my Irish friends - out to the salt flats for another photo session. The light was just stunning but the temperature dropped to -5 C, which is needless to say not the preferred temperature for riding a motorbike. After a long and full breakfast I needed to get rid of the salt that got stuck all over the bike – it took me almost an hour to get it all off!  With the Penguin (our Yamaha Tenere motorbike) all shiny, clean and greased up we drove to Potosi. 

From the salt flats to the beautiful people of Bolivia

From the salt flats to the beautiful people of Bolivia

Potosi is a mining town on over 4,000m altitude. The roads in Bolivia are pretty good – despite all the horror stories we heard. After spending 2 nights in Potosi and working our bellies through the delicious street food we were off to Sucre. Yes the name of the town is sugar and it is known for its chocolate. But Sucre is also the former capitol of Bolivia and the city center is full of beautiful colonial buildings. We met up with Pascal and Christina who we met already in Santiago and in Jujuy. Christina had to leave the day after to catch her flight back to Switzerland but Pascal joined us for another fantastic day on Bolivian roads. Via Cochabamba and Oruro we arrived in Mallasa – a suburb of La Paz. Once again the scenery was overwhelming. Surrounded by 6,000m snow-covered peaks we drove through a valley that reminded me on Bryce Canyon – just in the middle of town. For this trip we decided not to stay in La Paz and went instead straight to Titicaca lake, which is with 3,800m the world’s highest navigable body of water. The lake is beautiful and it is known as the birthplace of the Inca civilization. To get to Copacabana we needed to ferry the Penguin over the lake. The ferries offering the service are simple vessels that are more or less made out of wood planks nailed together and fitted with a small outboard motor. But at least we can say the Penguin was shipped over the highest shippable lake in the world.

Tomorrow we are off to Peru and off to new adventure so please stay tuned for the next update.

Pascal enjoying the turns and Siri the warm sun at the Titicaca lake

Pascal enjoying the turns and Siri the warm sun at the Titicaca lake

Argentina – Bolivia via the Atacama desert

Dear blog readers, much has happened since the last update – as it always does on this trip. Our first stop after we escaped the civilisation of Cordoba and the meat feasts was the ruines of the Quilmes Indians (yes the most famous Argentinian beer is called Quilmes as well). The Quilmes were a fierce native tribe that defeted the Inka invasions for centuries. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived they managed to fight them off for 130 years but were defeated in the end. Rumour has it that they rather faced extinction than living under Spanish rules. The Quilmes killed all of their own women and children and the few remaining Quilmes were deported to an island close to Buenos Aires where they lived the rest of their days without producing any more offspring. That Island is called Quilmes today and the brewery is located on that island. If the beer is named after the fierce native tribe or after the island remains an unanswered question.

We camped at the bottom of the ruins in the middle of a cactus field and we got attacked by their thorns which ended with 2 totally punctured Therm-a-rest sleeping mats and a rather uncomfortable night on hard ground. We got rewarded though with a visit of 2 llamas in the morning (non spitting ones).

The road ahead took us through winding turns further north and into more and more interesting and ever changing landscapes. One minute we were riding through dry desert climate and before we knew it we got into a lush rain forrest that could have easily been the set for Avatar by James Cameron. Our inital plan was to ride straight up to Bolivia but we decided to make a small detour through Chile and the Atacama desert. First of all we had to visit the colourful mountains of Humahuaca though. The road started as a fairly leveled gravel road but soon winded itself up through countless serpentines. At some stage I thought we must have taken the wrong turn but - no the road took us up to a literally breathtaking 4,350m altitude viewpoint. Nature had one of its creative moments when it formed those mountains – the area is called the mountain of the 7 colours and that is not taking in consideration all the different shades of those 7 colours. Breathtaking in more than one way.

Now I thought 4,350m was high but the day after we had to cross the border into Chile and that was when it got really high – 4,800 meters! The Penguin (our trusted Yamaha motorbike) seemed to have no problem with the altitude but for us every stop took a lot of our strength. We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and again the climate changed radically. Just 3 days earlier we drove through a rain forrest and now we were in the driest desert on the planet. The nights are freezing but the days had pleasant temperatures of around 25 degree. Unfortunetley Gaby’s Fox (her BMW GS650) played up. She found a lot of engine oil beneath the airfilter which would explain why the Fox struggled over the pass. All the info we got of the all knowing internet what could be wrong was not looking good. At least it was enough to worry that Gaby decided to get to the next BMW dealer to check what is wrong with the Fox. Now the next BMW dealer is either 1,500 km. south in Santiago or 1,500 km. north in Lima. Nothing anywhere in Bolivia and so we had to say once again good bye to Gaby and the Fox. We surely meet them again.

The next day we set off to the Bolivian border. Through small salt flats and active volcanoes we reached the (almost) ghost town of Ollague. Most of the houses are abondoned and the entire town is dominated by the big freight trains. The town feels like the scene of a western movie and one kind of expect Clint Eastwood walking around the corner with his poncho hanging of his shoulders and his guns still smoking anytime. Instead of Clint Eastwood we met 4 Irish bikers though and decided to take the ride into Bolivia together. But that is material for the next blog update – so stay tuned.

Buenos Aires & Cordoba - Meeting old friends and making new ones

By now we left Buenos Aires and Cordoba behind us to satisfy our needs for more adventerous roads. We did spend a week in Buenos Aires – the first “real” city to our standards on this trip. After riding straight across the continent from Mendoza to the capitol of Argentina, the city greeted us with 8-lane highways and its big avenues that go straight through the center. We settled in a beautiful apartment for a week with nearly 5m ceiling height in the commercial part of town. Great place to explore the city and more important – meeting up with old friend (for Siri) and making new one (for me) – Ludmila! Siri and Ludmila studied together in Vancouver 15 years ago. First of all she is of course an amazing friend(now to both of us) but also gave us great insides of the day to day life and the political situation in the country. Together we visited La Boca, Siri and I even tried a few steps of Tango but decided to leave it to the pros – for obvious reasons. 

upper left: Ludmila, upper middle: the Pros, lower left: us with Matias, Don Pedro and Alma

upper left: Ludmila, upper middle: the Pros, lower left: us with Matias, Don Pedro and Alma

After a rather lazy week in Buenos Aires we turned north west again and the next stop on our route was Cordoba. As we walked around Corboba – looking for a place to have lunch – we bumped into Franco. Franco is mostly a carpenter but also owns a small cafe in the center of Cordoba. He asked us how we travel around and when we replied by motorbike, he insisted to sit down with him so that he can draw up a map for us of sites we have to visit on the way up north. Needless to say that he rides a bike as well. We are traveling by his map now! The friendliness, helpfulness and openess of the people in South America is really unique. We met Franco a few more times while we stayed in Cordoba and will for sure visit him again the next time we are in South America.

Matias is another friend who Siri studied with in Vancouver 15 years ago and obviously we had to visit! Matias is by now married to Roxy and they have a beautiful boy who I like to call “Don Pedro”. Don might be a bit much since he is just 4 years old but it just sounds cool. Matias has a heart of gold and is a family man through and through. His BMW GS1200 is parked inside the house (next to the kitchen) and he insisted that the Penguin has to park next to it. What I didn’t realise is that next to the bikes is their huge and build into the wall “asado” set up. Asado is the Argentinian version of bbq – just bigger and all conducted on wood – no gas. Argentinian beef is second to none – I have no idea what they do with the beef but it is some of the most tender beef I ever had (ok – maybe Kobi beef from Japan is similar). I learned that any man in Argentina aged 21 to 55 has approx. 2 kilos of undigested meat in their bellies – according to that I must have turned Argentinian after what Matias fed us over our 4-day stay with them. He is a brilliant host and really made us feel home in his home. Needless to say – saying good bye was emotional and we can’t wait to come back. But the road called and we needed to follow. Just 2 days out of Cordoba we reunited with Gaby and her Fox - now it is off to new adventures so stay tuned :)

the first 10,000 km in South America

Dear blog readers – it has been a while. The reason for this is not that we didn’t travel but it was compare to the journey further south not as eventful.  Last week we finished the first 10,000 km in south America and reached Buenos Aires. We needed to get a yellow fever vaccination before we travel further north and Siri had to get a visa for Bolivia. We passed some amazing places on the way here though. Our first stop after the last blog update was Bariloche and the Rio Negro province of Argentina. It felt a bit like getting thrown into Switzerland with its mountains and the wooden cottages. The only thing missing was the grassing purple Milka cow – we made up for that though by eating loads of chocolate, which is a speciality of the area. We camped for a few nights at Nahuel Huapi Lake and had another taste of the incredible friendliness of the Argentinian people. Next to our spot was a group of taxi drivers from Buenos Aires and before we could say no we were invited to a classic Argentinian “Asado” – the local version of barbeque. We took the bike for a spin around the lakes with its many turns. One of our stops led us to a small restaurant called Punto Panoramico. The owner, Claudio is a biker himself and next to the amazing view we got one of the best “Spaetzle” this side of the globe. 

 We met up with 2 fellow bikers – Andres and Vasilisa who we met further south on the Carretera Austral. Andres knows South America like no one else and we got some very valuable tips. Luckily he also discovered that the crank set we got in Punta Arenas wasn’t the best material and needed to be exchanged – along with the chain – AGAIN!

So plans changed and instead going from Lago Alumine to Buenos Aires we took a detour to Santiago to get spare parts – which are much cheaper than in Argentina. While we were at it we also got an oil change done and a new front tire. Now The Penguin is ready for the next big adventure. When we set course to Buenos Aires we needed to cross the Andes. We looked at the distance and thought that 240km plus border crossing is no big deal. We forgot the Andes! Our border crossing took us up to 3,700m altitude (we started at sea level the same day!) and countless turns. At the end we got greeted in Argentina with a thunderstorm and hailstones big as golf balls! Needless to say the first hotel was ours. The day after we started our 1,000 km long journey to Buenos Aires through the Pampas. 1,000 km with not a single noticeable turn. Now we are looking forward to new adventures further north. Stay tuned for the next update

some impressions from the road 

some impressions from the road 

Carretera Austral - the wild route through Patagonia

After a while I finally manage to write another blog update from our adventures in South America. We are back in Puerto Montt now where pretty exactly 2 month’s ago our Patagonia adventure started. We just finished the famous Carretera Austral – or the No.7 as it is called as well. The Carretera Austral is a true gem of road in this part of the world. From mountain passes to tracks through rain forrest – the Carretera Austral has it all. But let me start at the beginning: We crossed from Argentina into Chile Chico and decided to push on towards to Puerto Rio Tranquillo. On the map it is just 160 km and we thought that shouldn’t be a big problem. “Only” 160 km turned out to be gravel and some of it rather challenging with a heavy loaded bike and 2 people. The landscape is changing dramatically as soon as we crossed into Chile. The flatness of Argentina made way to mountains and deep valleys – stunning and specatacular would be the words that come to mind. We managed to get about 70 km into the Carretera Austral when our journey came to a quick and unpleasant stop. While our trusty Yamaha battled up one of the small passes, through deep and loose gravel and against wind gusts of 140km/h, the chain decided to give up on us (never save money on a chain!!!!). Now a broken chain alone would have been bad enough but the chain got so badly jammed that it blocked the back wheel. Instead of getting the power I expected to get through that passage the back wheel blocked totally. And as this happened in a slight turn as well there was no way to keep the bike upright. Before we knew what happened we were lying in the dirt and the bike on top of us! The ankles (both Siri’s and my left ankle) started to hurt instantly as the tendons got violently over stretched. Luckily the boxes on the bike and the engine guard took most of the fall and we got away with “just” 2 sprained ankles. What happend afterwards though is a true sign of the amazing kind and helpful people here in South America. 2 cars stopped right away, helping us to get the luggages of the bike and getting it out of the track. There was obviously not a chance to keep on riding the bike. The 2 families that stopped to help us, quickly loaded the luggage into their cars and offered us a lift back to Chile Chico. While we were securing the bike on the side of the road (to get it the next day or so) another pick up truck stopped, before we knew it the bike was loaded on the back of a brand new Volkswagen Amarok truck and we drove back to Chile Chico – including the bike! We spent a week in Chile Chico in a fantastic little hostel called Patagonia Basecamp or Nandu Camp (http://www.nanducamp.com). The owners, Juan and Kathy were super helpful in organising stuff for us to fix the bike. Over several evening’s with Siri’s delicious Thai food, Juan’s bbq and red wine we became good friends and we can’t wait to visit them again soon. About a week after the accident we felt confident enough to ride the bike. In the meantime we did some improvements with our luggage arrangments and so we took off towards Puerto Rio Tranquillo. It took a couple of days to get the full confidence again – but I guess that is normal.

impressions from the road and the marble caves

impressions from the road and the marble caves

In Puerto Rio Tranquillo we took a boat ride to the Marble caves – the colours of the limestone is like an artwork and certainly a must see when in this area. Over more gravel road we reached the capital of the region – Coyhaique. The gravel gave way to perfect asphalt and for about 100km we enjoyed the curves. The joy was short though, for the rest of the “7” it was mainly back to gravel road. The landscape however is worth it. Every corner suprised us with new “Wow” moments. Further north we got into the Patagonian rain forest. We camped for a couple of nights in perfectly calm weather and even got blessed with a solar eclipse – of which we had no idea it would occur. At the end of the Carretera Austral we needed to take 3 ferries between the fjords – a calm and peaceful way to end to our adventure in this part of Chile. Next we are off to Bariloche in Argentina – stay tuned for more adventures from our South America trip....

the ferries and our "surprise" solar eclipse

the ferries and our "surprise" solar eclipse

Ruta 40 - heading north through Patagonia

After we left Torres del Paine we headed straight back into Argentina. The border formalaties took longer then usual this time because the Chilenian border guy never saw a Thai passport in his life and did not know what to do with it – but of course in the end it was just the usual exit stamp. Once we crossed the border the scenery changed again dramatically and leveled out to be rather flat. We headed up north on Ruta 40 through Argentina. Just 50 km from the border was a 60 km shortcut – well that is what we thought!. It ended up being the worst gravel road I ever drove on a bike and the torrential rain didn’t really help. The road turned into a wild river after just 20 km and by the time we reached the asphalt again we were wet to the bone. Luckily we had a hotel booked for that night to warm up and get dry again. The day after we headed out to the Moreno Glacier. I have seen a fair amount of glaciers in my life but the Moreno glacier is truly breathtaking! The blue is so clear and the constant cracking and shifting of the glacier makes you feel small. We spend the whole afternoon at the glacier and every time I looked back at it I wanted to take more pictures – what a fantastic place. After a second night in El Calafate we headed further on to El Chalten – the mountaineering capital of Argentina. On the way towards El Chalten the Fitz Roy group and Cerro Torre were totally clear. Sadly that was the only time we saw the mountains without clouds. After this the next 6 days the mountain never peeked out of the clouds. We did go on some nice hikes around the national park though and camped in the mounatins for a night. After El Chalten the Ruta 40 called again. We managed to get easy through another 60km stretch of gravel. By now the strong winds of Patagonia are normal to us and even the 100km/h side winds don’t bother us too much anymore. We are heading back to Chile and towards the Carretera Austral now ....

Stay tuned for the next update....

some memories from the road 

some memories from the road 

Torres del Paine – the blue towers of Patagonia

After loads of dusty roads and stong winds on “El Pinguino” we decided it is time for a different kind of travel – hiking! Our plan was to go hiking in the Torres del Paine (which means the blue towers in the ancient Indian language – has nothing to do with pain). The initial idea was to hike the “W” trail but if you don’t book this one 2 months ahead of time there is no chance to get any places at the refugios’s – not even for a camping spot. There are plenty of campsites inside the national park which you don’t have to book and that gives opportunities for plenty of dayhikes inside the park. The campsites are well maintained and have hot showers. The night sets you back though by 15,- Euros per person – not cheap! On top of that is the entrance to the park with about 30,- Euros per person that gives you access to the park for 3 days (or you stay inside the park for as long as you like). It is money well spend though. The park is beautiful and the hikes are spectacular. Since we couldn’t do the “W” we decided to spend one night in a refugio on the way to the most iconic landmark – the tres torres. Once again – not cheap! We paid about 80,- Euros per person which though includes 3 meals and we got a tent from the refugio. The hike itself winds gently through a forest until we reached the treeline. It became more rigged and rocky as we got higher up and we even got some snow flakes dancing around us. But when we arrived at the top the sky cleared up very briefly and we could get a glimpse on the 3 towers. The good weather didn’t last long though and after 30 minutes everything was back in the clouds. We made our way down to the valley again and back to one of the camps in the park. From our campsite we had a specatacular view on to the mountain range which got even better in the morning light.

impressions from Torres del Paine

impressions from Torres del Paine

The wildlife in the park hasn’t figured out what humans can do and are therefor not shy at all. One of the most comon animals are the Guanaco’s which we found everywhere in the park. The most fun ones though are the Caracara Bird – a bird of prey that is slightly taller then a falcon. One of those birds woke us up by making loads of noise. He throned on the windshield of our bike and tried to pick out the eyes from our Penguin mascot (a cuddly toy that sits behind the windscreen). I got out of the tent and tried to get the bird away from our mascot. Standing in my underpants in front of him and waving my arms didn’t impress him at all. He just kept attacking the poor penguin. I used the chance and took out the Nikon to take some pictures of the Caracara. The picture below is not taken with a long tele lens, it was actually taken on a 70 mm portrait lens! Finally the Caracara though gave up on attacking our penguin and took off. The penguin slept forth on safely with us in the tent. After Torres del Paine we took off towards the Argentinan side of Patagonia again. Stay tuned for the next update about the Moreno Glacier and hiking around Cerro Torre. If you wish to get an email about this blog please sign the newsletter form at the bottom of this page ... so long

Tierra del Fuego - the end of the world

After being out of Internet reach for a few days while we were hiking at Torrs del Paine I am now back in touch with the world and can finally post the blog about our trip around Tierra del Fuego. You all have seen already what happened to the Penguin on the way back but now I would like to tell you a bit more about the beauty and the wildness of this island.

some impressions from the road

some impressions from the road

We (that is Siri, Gaby and her Fox and me) took the ferry from Punta Arenas to Povernir. It took about 3 hours and as soon as we arrived the asphalt ended and the gravel road started. There was no trees and no shelter from the wind and with windspeeds up to 110km/h it can be a challenge to drive in a straight line. After 2 day’s we managed to get to Ushuaia and the last 70km before we got into Ushuaia was pure fun. We drove through forrests (which sheltered us from the ever beating winds) and had amazing views on lakes and lush valleys. In Ushuaia I had my “at-the-end-of-the-world-haircut” (that was on my bucket list) and resupplied before we took on the 95km road along the Beagle chanal. The road – ofically just marked as road “J” is the most most southern road on the island and therefor also the most southern road in the world. Of course we had to go on it and drive to the end of the world. It is a 95 km gravel road and the scenery is just spectacular. We were blessed with amazing evening light and wildlife that hasn’t figuered out yet that humans can be a threat to them. We camped 2 more nights in the area with romantic campfires and then started to make our way back to the mainland. In my last blog update you already knew what happened on the way. Gaby didn’t want to wait with us in Rio Grande (which is VERY understandable) and decided to go further north. We traveled with Gaby for 2 weeks and it was an absolute pleasure to share the road with her. I am sure we will meet her again at some stage of our journey through South America and if not on this continent then it will be somewhere else in the world. For now we are back in Puerto Natales and took on the Torres del Paine nationalpark. More about that in the next blog update – so much for now – Patagonia is amazing with its scenery and the wildlife. Stay tuned for the next update... Ps: if you would like to get notifications about this blog just fill in your email address at the bottom of the page. Check your junk mail folder though since it sometimes ends up in the junk mail – depending on your settings.

scenery and wildlife in Patagonia

scenery and wildlife in Patagonia

Quick update – the “Penguin” spit out his old and worn chain

Yesterday (Saturday) we made good headwind to get off Tierra del Fuego (update about the end of the world with loads of images in a few days). But just 20km after passing Rio Grande the chain decided that it had it and “El Pinguino” (the nick name for our steardy Yamaha Tenere) spit it out like a rotten fish. Now the problem is that the crank set took a beating in the process and needs replacement as well. For people who don't speak motorbike – one should exchange the chain and crankset every 10.000 miles or so and I think we took the few extra miles out of it to the very last yards. So that the chain went is not the end of the world – though it happened at the end of the world. Luckily Gaby was still with us and managed to find the most friendly and superb bike mechanic on this island! We waited for maybe an hour at the side of the road until Facundo pulled up with his pick up truck. The Penguin was quickly loaded on the back and in no time we reached his workshop. Next to coffee we were invited to share “Mate” with them. Now mate is not a marhriuana pipe (even though it looks a bit like that) but a green tea that everybody in this part of the world is drinking all day long – and it is tasty!!!! It took some effort to get the crank set of but in the end all came undone that needed to get undone and now we just need to get the spare parts on Monday and we are good to go again. Once again – if you are traveling with a motorbike in this part of the world and you get into any mecahnical problems – talk to Facundo at Albatros Service – he is great!

Now stay tuned for the next update about Tierra del Fuego – the end of the world. I will reveal if the earth is actually flat or if it is round...

inside Facundo's workshop

inside Facundo's workshop

Puerto Natales - going south towards the end of the world

We boarded the Navimag Ferry Evangelistas in Puerto Montt for a 4 day cruise through the Patagonian fjords. The landscape down there is fantastic and puts the navigation skills of the capatain to the test. At some places the ferry had to navigate through 80m wide gaps. Giving the fact that the ferry itself is 21m wide and 115m long this is pretty tight. We saw orca’s, sealions, seaotters. A ton of birds (of which I can’t remember all the names) and even a blue whale in the distance! Most impressive bird being a Condor with a wing span of about 4 meters! While most of the journey was very calm we still needed to pass a bit of the open pacific with waves up to 4 meters. The dinning room stayed pretty empty on that evening. Luckily this didn’t last more then 12 hours before we were back in the calm waters of the fjords. We passed a ship wreck that was delibertly stranded in the late 60’s. The captain was hoping for a large sum from the insurance company but found the one spot in the fjord that was shallow. Ever since that time the boat sits on that rock and neither bad weather nor target practice from the Chilenian navy can change that.

All the time our trustet Tenere, which gained by now the name “El Pinguino” waited paticently and tight down on the car deck. On the ferry we met another motorbike traveller - Gaby and her “Fox” (a BMW G650gs). Gaby travels on her own all through out South America – inspiring, brave and fun are just a few words to describe her.

some impressions from our ferry ride with Navimag

some impressions from our ferry ride with Navimag

Once we arrived Puerto Natales it was time to give “El Pinguino” some love and care. Due to high speed driving on knobbly tyres and fully loaded the back wheel bearing had a tiny play and since we had the spareparts I decided to get it changed. Sebastian – a friend and motocross champion from our hostel owner helped me on this and in less than an hour we were ready for the road again. The winds down in Patagonia are everything but a gentle breeze! We tried to get to Torres del Paine for a daytour but with side winds of almost 100 km/h we decided that a day in the hostel is the better option. We are going back through Puerto Natales anyway and will do our hiking trip in Torres del Paine on the way north. The day after we set out to drive further south towards Punta Arenas and finally to Tierra del Fuego – the end of the world...

Stay tuned for our adventures at the end of the world in the next update 

Pucon the way into Patagonia

We left Santiago behind and made our way down south into Patagonia! Via the National highway 5 – better known as the Pan American highway, we reached the Chilenian Lake District and the small town of Pucon at the edges of the volcano Villarrica. The volcano is active and on clear days you can see thin smoke coming out of this beautiful stratos volcano. The weather made its reputation all honors and changes about 10 times a day – except for the first day we put up our tent – it didn’t stop raining for solid 20 hours. After listening all night long to the rain inside our tent (which kept us well dry) we decided not to spend the whole day in the tent as well and settled instead for a cozy, warm and dry hotel room in Pucon. The running out of wine and food played another vital part in our decision.  The day after we were blessed though with blazing sunshine and nice warm weather. We returned to our camp and enjoyed the first day of 2017 at a small lake with icecold beer and fabolus views. On the road to our campside we needed to test the off road skills of the bike for the first time. From rough gravel road we soon found ourselfes on a single track – well can’t really call it road anymore. Going up that track with the 2 of us on the bike and full luggage was a bit of a challenge – the view and the tranquility of the lake made it all worth while though. After 3 nighhts in Pucon at the footend of the Villarrica volcano we got back on the No. 5 road and via Furtilla we reached Puerto Montt to board of the Navimag Ferry that will take us down to Puerto Natales...Stay tuned for the next update

 

Pucon and the way south 

Pucon and the way south 

Entry to Chile: Valparaiso & Santiago

We finally made it to Chile and got reunited with our adventure hungry Yamaha motorbike. It arrived in Valparaiso by container freight from Hamburg. The smooth handling of the shipping is thanks to Olaf Kleinknecht from InTime courier in Germany. I can not more but highly recommend this guy. Super smooth and really helpful. If you ever need to ship your bike to South America talk to him! We delivered the bike to the warehouse near Hamburg and then picked it up in Valparaiso. Alternatively Olaf offered as well to pick up the bike from anywhere in Europe but we decided to start our adventure already when we picked up the bike in the UK. The entire custom procedure in Chile took about 3 hours and that was including the siesta of the custom officer - which was about 2 hours.  Once we had the bike back I decided that a new back tyre is a good idea - the old one had maybe another 2000 km on the rubber and I wasn't sure how much chances we got to buy a new tyre once we are in the remote south. So I contacted Tomas from Ride Chile in Santiago. He sorted us out with a new tyre (50/50 off road/on road). Ride Chile is renting out BMW's and is organising trips but are also helping out people who come on their own bikes. Tomas is super friendly and helpful and a biker by heart himself. If you have limited time and still want to ride a bike in Chile you should check them out. We packed and repacked and shifted our gear around the bike but after a few days we found the right way to store all our luggage on the bike. It is not easy finding space for 2 people on a bike plus camping gear and camera equipment and still have a bike that handle's ok on gravel roads. Sometime later I will publish a gear list of what we are taking along on this trip. Please keep on reading below...

the first days with the bike ...

the first days with the bike ...

So as I mentioned above the bike arrived in Valparaiso, a harbour town about 100km west of Santiago. We both loved Valparaiso with it's colourful artworks, steep roads and last but not least all the friendly and helpful people we met. The entire town is covered in graffiti and it feels like you are walking through a huge open air art gallery. No wonder that the UNESCO has declared it as a world heritage site. Now the people who know me also know that I lived in Iceland and Valparaiso reminded me very much of the down town area of Reykjavik. Most of the houses are clad with corrugated iron and painted in all kinds of colours. Unfortunately Valparaiso witnessed some devastating catastrophe's in the past. Just in the last few days a wildfire ruined over 400 homes. Luckily nobody got killed. In 2014 a wildfire destroyed 2.800 homes and killed 16 people. On August 16th 1906 a earthquake devastated the town and over 3.000 people died. Until then Valparaiso was the economic centre of Chile which was last but not least because of the harbour. Today Valparaiso is still the main base of the Chilean navy and  a busy port for goods shipped to and from Chile. Please read more below about Santiago...

Valparaiso  

Valparaiso

 

Santiago is the capitol of Chile. We stayed in the centre of the city which is super safe. We walked around at night (after seeing the new Star Wars movie) and never felt unsafe for a minute. The climate is pleasant with temperatures during the day of about 28 degrees. The evenings are somehow a bit more chill and a fleece or a jacket is not a bad idea. The town is full of street performers and museums. It is a cultural thriving metropole set at the edge of the Andes. Santiago is also the place where our motorbike adventure starts - stay tuned for the next update. Also if you like this blog don't forget to sign up for the newsletter at he bottom of the page. 

Santiago

Santiago

Iguazu waterfalls

Here is the last blog for 2016 and with this I would like to wish all of you a great 2017 - lets make it a good one. This story is a bit older as well. Just before we left Brazil we visited the waterfalls of Iguazu. The waterfalls are between Brazil and Argentina. The Brazilian side is great to get a good over view but to get up, close and personal you have to visit the Argentinian side. We did this with Nestor - a tour guide recommended by our guesthouse. I would highly recommend this. Not only does it make the transportation way easier but he also keeps the groups to a maximum of 5 people which makes it more flexible and you don't have to fight for your place to see the falls (which you have to when going with a tourbus with 50+ passengers). He takes pretty much care of everything including the entrance fees and getting you over the border and back into Brazil. Message me if you want his contact details. 

On our tour we were joined by a couple from Ecuador and Silvestri - a Spanish guy who stayed in Brazil just over 6 months. He was a really fun guy and a very dedicated model. He joined us on a speedboat ride that takes you straight underneath the falls - and experience that you shouldn't miss. Don't expect to stay dry though. The operator supplies you with dry bags for your electronics, phones or whatever you carry that shouldn't get wet, believe me it is absolutely necessary. We got wet to the bones but the experience was fantastic. Just to feel the power of the water is a one in a lifetime experience. The waterfalls are hard to describe. It is not the highest falls 9just up to 80meters) in the world but certainly the one with most water. The falls are falling over a few cascades and the most impressive area is the devils throat at the top of the falls. Certainly worth a visit!

In our next update we are telling you about Chile and the first days on the bike - so stay tuned or sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page :)

good times on the Argentinian side with Silvestri

good times on the Argentinian side with Silvestri

pretty impressive!

pretty impressive!

Paraty - Brazil

Due to bad internet this update comes a bit late. We are working hard on keeping the blog in time but we are struggeling a bit simce there are so many things happening all the time on this trip. Anyway – A couple of weeks ago we visited Paraty – a small town between Rio de Janero and Sao Paulo. It was founded in 1597 as a Portugese colonie in a region that was populated by the Guaianas Indians. In 1696 gold was discovered in the mountains behind Paraty and it became a important harbour to transport the gold from here to Rio. The gold rush ended when the mine ran out of gold in the late 18th century and with that Paraty declined as well. Today Paraty is a town living mostly of tourism. The 17th century charm is still pretty much in tact and the old town is filled with good restaurants and cozy cafe’s. Walking around town is an adventure by itself since the copple stone walkways demand a certain amount of concentration of where to place your feet. In the evenings the streets are filled with musicians and other street performers. It is small but very lively with a flourishing art scene.

 

From Party we left for Sao Paulo, where we just spend one night before we got on the 17hour bus ride to the Iguazu waterfalls – the biggest waterfalls in the world.

Stay tuned – more soon J

some impressions from Paraty

some impressions from Paraty

Ilha Grande in Brazil - paradise on earth

We spend about a week on Ilha Grande or the "Big Island". Wondering around the many hiking tracks on the island, visiting the pristine clean beaches, or taking a boat ride the word "paradise" and the name "Robinson Crusoe" come to mind. It is peaceful for the most of it - which is last not least due to the lack of cars on the island. Life seems to take place on the slow lane and is very lay back. Compare to Rio or Sao Paulo it is super safe and far from being "touristy". If you go to Brazil - put Ilha Grande on your list! 

We stayed at a small Guesthouse called "Pousada Cruzoe". It is run by an Argentinian couple who decided to make it a vegan place. Now Siri and I are not vegetarians and certainly not vegan's but the food we got was outstanding and the service and friendliness was second to none. We came as guests and left as friends. After 3 days we went to the other side of the island and stayed in the "main" town which is a little bit busier. On our list was to go diving in Brazil and we found a small dive centre which took us to 2 dive spots around the island. The water is clean but not as warm as Thailand so the 5mm wetsuit was a very welcome piece of gear. I saw my first sea-turtle and loads of other fish I can not remember the names (colourful, tropical and some rather funny looking creatures).

It didn't took us long to get into the island rhythm of life and we got used to our siesta's and the one and one "Caipirinha" (Brazilian version of Mojito) in the middle of the day. After a relaxing week on the island we headed to Paraty - an old pirate town with a vibrant art scene. More about that in the next blog update - as usual - stay tuned.

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Ilha Grande impressions....

Ilha Grande impressions....

some shots of the dive - taken on an Olympus underwater camera

some shots of the dive - taken on an Olympus underwater camera

Rio de Janiero - our entry to South America

We just spend a week on Ilha Grande with hardly any internet but now we are back on the mainland and so we are back to some proper Internet and I can finally post about our time in Rio.

Arriving in South America was easy as visiting an old friend. Border controls in Brazil are one of the fastest and friendliest I have ever seen. We settled in to our cozy hostel in Botafogo which turned out to be the perfect location to explore Rio. First of all we needed to check out the Copacabana of course. An evening walk along 4km long beach left us amazed about how clean it is.  Santa Teresa was on the schedule for the next day. It is most famous for the "Escadaria Selaron" stairs. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claimed it as "my tribute to the Brazilian people".  On the weekends it is very crowded and so we decided to go back for a proper photo shoot in the week which worked out just fine. Otherwise Santa Teresa is one of the poorer area's of Rio and walking around with the Nikon didn't always felt super safe - especially when the locals tell you to hide the camera and don't go into certain areas. In the end it was all good though and Santa Teresa is in my memories the most interesting place we saw in Rio. 

Obviously when you are in Rio you have to visit the sugar loaf mountain and the Christ statue. The views from above are certainly worth the trip but bring an extra layer. It does get breezy up there. Over all the people we met in Rio were all super friendly and the city is vibrant and lively (even without the carnival season). The street musicians playing at the beaches are one of the best I have seen and it seems the streets turn into music and art venues during the evenings. 

For the last day in Rio we went back to Santa Teresa and checked out a restaurant recommendation from a friend. Walking up the steep cobble stone roads and passing some rather dodgy neighbourhoods we arrived at the "Aprazivel" restaurant. If it wouldn't be for the amazing food - the view alone would do it! 

We spend all in all a week in Rio and I am sure there would be more to explore and see - but we  wanted more nature and so we were off to Ilha Grande.... more about that in the next update :)

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Copacabana and the stairs at Santa Teresa

Copacabana and the stairs at Santa Teresa

the sugarloaf mountain and the top of the Christ statue

the sugarloaf mountain and the top of the Christ statue