Pan America 2011 - 2012

American writers like Kerouac and Miller influenced me a lot when I was in my Twenties. And I heard lots about the West Coast from American travellers, recommending great national parks and the Route 101 that is sort of famous thing to do for cyclists. So I decided to postpone other planned adventures and flew to Vancouver BC, equipped with my good old pushbike, a tent and a  (warm!) sleeping bag.


After fantastic landscapes and forests down South to San Diego I teamed up with Kathrin, a great cycling mate. When we reached the Southern tip of Baja California, we decided to move on together, crossed Mexico into Guatemala and Belize. After living in a rented house on the Lake Atitlan we ventured out for snow capped mountains of South America, crossing the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza and moved up North again, to Machu Picchu. After 11 months and 11000 kilometres I arrived back in Germany, with Kathrin...

CIMG4388Marty, a kind Warmshowers host, lets me stay four nights in his nice appartment in San Diego while I wait for an appointment with some famous researchers. While waiting, I meet Ellie from Seattle again, who just came down with a friend by car. And I meet with Kathrin, a young Swiss cyclist who has already been cycling a few months on her green Bike Friday folding bicycle. We met earlier in California, and share the same destination for the next few weeks: going South on the Baja California. With nowadays drug war in Mexico, security is a concern for both of us. Therefore we decide to ride together for a while. Actually, Kathrin is the one who has the detailed map, speaks Spanish and did a huge portion of route planing. We cross the border at Tijuana, enjoy our first great Mexican street food and manage to survive the first 20 or 30 kilometers to Rosalito in really heavy traffic. My first experience with Mexico. Unlike South-East-Asia, there are mainly cars and trucks on the road. No scooters at all, and the trucks are less overloaded and less noisy. A few dogs stray on the side of the road, but no pigs or naked children...

Markus, the Austrian cyclist who is about two weeks ahead of us, writes us to take a bus from Ensenada to San Quitin to avoid the heavy traffic on the narrow and shoulder-less road on that part. We cycle still to San Tomas, some 30 kilometers South of Ensenada. There we meet Pat, an American on his way down to La Paz with his truck and his boat. He offers us a lift to San Quintin on the next morning. Without much words Pat passes through the dusty bustling town of San Quintin and brings us a few dozen kilometers further to El Rosario, a rather laid-back, neat and charming town. Somehow I leave the handlebar bag on his truck, with the spare tubes and tools and stuff. The desert adventure starts. Fully loaded with gallons of water and food for two days we enter the desert, climbing up the Sierra and countless vados, dry river beds. Headwind, blood sweat and tears, not more than 10 kilometers an hour. Cactus of all sorts and sizes and some dry and thorny bushes are the main vegetation out here. Loneliness, no trace of civilisation for kilometers, not even power lines. The few truck drivers greet the cyclists. The first night we camp in a flat and sandy riverbed beside the road, sharing tortillas and fried beans with tuna on the camp fire under the stars. The following day is already a highlight. We cross great flats covered with big boulders and cactus and enter Catavina, a small village in between. Nearby are some ancient cave paintings, and a neat hidden place to camp between boulders and cactus. After four nights in the wild without running fresh water, we reach Guerrero Negro and really enjoy the comfort of a cheap motel. A hot shower, what a blessing!

More days out in the desert, on endless straight roads in pan-flat areas. Vultures and eagles circle on the cloudless blue sky. San Ignacio, a vivid green date palm oasis between naked brown rocky hills is a real highlight. Not only for its old mission, but for the chilly fresh water lake where we put up our tents, swim and share a great dinner with Mel and Chenoa. Shall we leCIMG4416ave this paradise on a Sunday? A sudden breeze carries my tent into the lake while I'm packing other stuff. And so we stay another night. Big head wind on the way for the first 30 kilometers on the Santa Rosalia, and an incredible ride down the Cuesta Del Infierno to the Sea of Cortez. Next station is Mulege, a neat Oasis town at the entrance of Conception Bay. Beautiful beaches South from Mulege, with crystal clear azure and turquoise water and the unique desert feeling. Young and retired Americans occupy the beaches with their RVs. We have a break. Tortilla-Banana for breakfeast for us, fish for the minutewise into-the-sea-plunging kamikaze pelicans and cormorans. We snorkel and hike arround Playa El Coyote. The water is not quite warm enough for extended snorkeling, nor did we reach the Southern tip of the Baja, and so we move on. The next stop over is the somewhat put-on town of Loreto, with the beatifull red and white striped rocky mountain chain in the west. After passing the beaches South of Loreto we climb up the Sierra Gigantes and camp between amazing mesas. A splendid scenario - quite like a mix between Monument Valley and Sedona, with just a few trucks roaring on the road at night.

A gray cloudy morning, another baja Breakfeast (Tortillas, bananas and Peanut butter resp. Nutella). A big day riding hundred fairly charmless kilometers bring us to Ciudad Constitucion, a young prosepering junction town along the MEX1. From there it is another 200+ Kilometers to La Paz. The first 100 kilometers are a somewhat green, pan-flat agriculturing area, followed by another challenging 100 kilometers through countless vados in the half desert again, with a charming head wind. We did it - cycled in 22 days some 1300 kilometers from San Diego to La Paz.

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Christmas eve in the airport of La Paz, waiting for a delayed flight to Mexico City. Our Christmas diner consists of two cans of beer and a small pack of peanuts in the aeroplane. We arrive in our Hostel just in time for a real Christmas Diner, sponsored by the hostel owner. We spend four nights in the big city, visit the Zocalo and the cathedral, and the slightly distant Teotihuacán. Teotihuacan is an ancient city with a vast area with pyramids and temples, mostly created before 0 AD without metal tools, wheel karts or domestic animals, that was abandoned already before the rise of the Aztecas.

Mexico City is a big buzzing place around Christmas, there seem to be funfairs on every plaza. The streets are crowded with lots of pretty new cars and trucks and still many many VW Beetles and mini vans. Still, it seems way less chaotic than some Asian metropolis. CIMG4880_smallLeaving buzzing Mexico City with very few usefull road signs - we head for lovely little town Amecameca on our way over the Paseo de Cortez. Hiking up the small hill Sacromonte there, we eventually get a great view of the two snow capped volcanos Popocatepetl and Ixtacchihuatl. They are the second and third largest elevations in Mexico. Between the two, we climb up to 3700 metres above sea level on the following two days. Thin air. We arrive at the summit of the pass at noon of New Years Eve in roaring thunderstorms with icy winds and hail showers. Luckily there is shelters and hot coffee, and the sky clears up later in the afternoon for magnificent views to the two volcanoes. Ixta's smoke cloud shines rosy at sunset on unpaved bumpy way down. Kathrin crashes, luckily without injuries. After nightfall, we hitch the remaining 15 or so kilometres to the City Centre of Cholula.
Typical cobblestone streets, the churches around the Zocalo are nicely illuminated with blue shining chambers in the bell towers. New Years Eve with pizza in a Mexican fast food restaurant, a bottle of red wine from a Convenience Store, and a four star hotel room without bath tube. The day after we visit the worlds largest pyramid (by circumference) in town, a pile of rubble covered by grass and shrubs and trees, and topped by a big yellow church. When Cortez marched into Cholula in Medieval, he destroyed all shrines and promised to build a church for each shrine. That is why Cholula is plastered with dozens of churches. Some parts of the ancient pyramid structure have been restored and illustrate temple and palace foundations of a different scale.


A worn out pedal bearing and a broken hard disk on my laptop were certainly not the best news on that New Years Day. However, in the nearby Puebla I get both bicycle andCIMG5073_small laptop fixed. The City Center of Puebla is UNESCO World Heritage. Its old colonial buildings are decorated with fancy colored tiles and there is a great marble and stucco decorated City hall. The Zocalo is crowded with tourists and street vendors and the load Mexican music there reminds me to some German folk music during the rural festivals back home.
Off we go again, heading for Oaxaca. First there is heavy traffic on the narrow roads, but after Tecamachalco there is hardly traffic any more through the sierras. Countless climbs again, crossing a dry half desert with series rocky hills. Splendid views between bordering mountain ranges. Donkeys and goats on the road. After the climbs we enter almost tropical lush valleys with palms, citrus trees, bananas and corn and sugar cane plantations and all sorts of colourful birds. Villagers and truck drivers greet friendly on the road (mostly).  Vicious flies yawn for our blood. Their bites itch for days.
The Zapoteca ruins, located on Monte Alban towering over the planes arround Oaxaca are famous. Between Christi Birth and 800 AD, roughly at the same time as the Aztecas at Teoticatlan, the Zapotecas had their prime time, and similar to the Aztecas, they build pyramids and temples with no iron, just by using flint stone and obsidian tools. Without iron axes and saws, the Zapotecas maintained an sustainable living in their environment. Nowadays, the surroundings mountains are widely deforested, and a vast urban area stretches out in the planes. On the way back down we make friends with some young and old locals who share their thoughts and their weed.

One of many churches in Oaxaca

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Mexican biciAfter a few days in Oaxaca we move on on the Pan-American Highway. We visit the 2000 year old tree of Tule, and the Zapoteca ruins of Yagul on the following morning. After another steep climb and some more off-road kilometres on a hilly ridge, we reach eventually reach Hierve el Agua and camp under the full moon on the ridge. Exceptional view from the ridge over the Sierras, from an azure blue pool filled from hot springs. We are cycling between 1500 and 2500 elevation meters, between lush valleys and pine forests. Our attempt to bypass the Panamerican highway fails in Ayutla. The locals dissuade from that route due to a certain likelihood of armed conflicts. The mountains around Ayutla is home of the Mixes tribe, the people speaking a language that sounds a bit like Chinese.
We catch a truck ride back to Mitla, followed by an incredible 20 kilometre downhill ride full of switchbacks through rugged hills on the Panamerican highway. Two more strenuous but marvellous days of ups and downs through cactee hills, corn fields and mountains with pine forests, crossing the 7000 kilometer mark somewhere in between. Usually we wash in rivers during the day and camp at night, hiding our tent away from the road. Reaching Jalapa, a small town near Tehuantepec late, the one hotel in town is said to be booked out and the Hospedaje is an poor looking shack with no glass in the windows. A young girl advices us to camp on the playing field, away from the noisy main road. Three young lads come by later at night and present me some good weed.

Short on time to reach Palenque and slightly tired of pedalling we take a 300 kilometre bus ride from Tehuantepec to Tuxla Guiterez in the Chiapas District. We just cycle to the nearby Chiapa de Corzo, from where the boats into the spectacular Sumidero Canyon depart. We arrive right in time for the Riders on the Stormparade of an intersting festival - man and boys with masks and blond wigs and colourful stripped black ponchos walk the streets until late at night. They celebrate the self healing of a little boy way back in time with oodles of Micheladas - a mix of beer and lime and chilli powder and Maggie, served in 1 litre mugs. Hmm, too much for us Gringos. The patio of our hotel is filled with young man sleeping on the ground on the following morning, and the boat ride into the canyon starts a little late. First we pass by some crocodiles on the river bank, than perpendicular rocks tower up to 1000 metres over the river that leads to a dam. Breathtaking scenery, incredibly beautiful.
My friend Werner wrote he would be in Palenque on the following day. Surprise surprise! In my bubiscurrent condition, it would probably take five days to get there via the mountains of San Cristobal. Well then, we take another bus ride directly to Palenque on the same night, 6 long and bumpy hours of crazy ups and downs through the thick forest. Nearby the famous Maya ruins in the jungle is some camp grounds with palapas - wooden shelters with palm leave roofs - where we pitch our tent for a few nights. Travellers play guitar here, make jewellery, good vibes. Fireflies and howling monkeys at night. Finally a real rest in a peaceful place. Werner arrives a day later, together we visit the ruins of Palenque - steep pyramids with well conserved temples on top, in the middle of the jungle - fantastic! A lazy day tour by minibus to the Misol-Ha waterfall and the famous Agua Azul. There a river carried ochre-coloured sediment over millenniums that created a long stretch of fantastic turquoise pool cascades, some 60 kilometres South of Palenque. Spectacular contrasts - the vivid green of the jungle, the ochre sediment and the turquoise water.

Sumidero Canyon CIMG5603_small

tikal_smallFrom Palenque, it took us two marvelous days through vivid green jungle and farmland to the border at Frontera Corozal. Turquoise rivers and waterfalls along the road for refreshment and camping - cyclists heaven! A boat brings us over the river to Bethel in Guatemala. Thats the end of paved roads it seems. And the end of good food. Only one place offers microwave rice and beans, with pretty outdated christmas decoration (in February) and little friendly staff. A young fiercly looking guy walks around with a colt in his belt. We cycle out of Bethel on the bumpy road, get our passports stamped and head on towards Flores. Two hours for 20 kilometers of the worst road I ever rode. Nothing but potholes and rocks. I have a break, wait for Kathrin. A bus stops, with Kathrins bicycle on the roof carrier and Werner waving out of the window. In no time my bike is on the roof too. Saved at last! 40 more kilometres of bumpy self torture would have still been ahead of us. However, 5 hours on worn out bus seats render me wrecked and grumpy anyway. We arrive in Santa Elena nearby Flores after nightfall, and only on the next day Werner finds us a reasonable place to stay in Flores. Finally I start to like Guatemala.
60 kilometers to Tikal, a famous ancient Maya city. We spend a night in our tent in a luxury lodge in the humid and hot National Park. Werner meets us the next morning, and together we stroll through the thick jungle to various temples and pyramids until lunch. Between 0 and 900 AD the city was build and prospered, with 200,000 people living here before it was all abandoned and reclaimed by nature. Only a fraction of the ancient buildings has been carved out of the jungle, but what has been restored is breathtaking enough to marvel upon the achievements of the Mayas. The temples, some as high as 65 meters above the ground top the canopies of the tallest trees, and provide a splendid outlook to the other temple tops. A famous Star Wars scene was taken here, and that is how extraterrestrial that place looks like in the morning mist!

Pooring rain on the way out of Tikal, a night in a bungalow in El Remate. On the next day we make it all the way to Belize. Rain after we cross the border. We reach San Ignacio and get pretty surprised by the price level for accomodation and food. Everything seems to be at least twice as much as Guatemala for no better quality or service. Cycling in Belize is great. There is hardly any traffic on the road through the farmland to Belmopan. Rain. Cycling on the Hummingbird Highway South towards Dangriga through jungle mountains and many citrus plantations. The few trucks that we meet out here are loaded with tons of oranges on their trailers, the best smelling trucks I've ever experienced. In a Amish-run bakery in a little village we meet an Canadian woman who recommends us to visit Hopkins instead of Dangriga on the way to Placencia.
carribean_smallYeeha, we finally stay on the Carribean shore! Never mind that the water is brown from all the rain from the last couple of days. After three nights, we ride on to Placencia to meet Werner. He finds us a great spot on the beach a little off the touristy town, where a family lets us camp for little money between the trees on their piece of beach. Urs and Jean join us a day later. Belize beach holidays at its best: snorkeling, kanooing and fishing for free for a few days. Campfires and BBQ and fireflies in the fullmoon nights. One day we spoil us with a great snorkeling trip out to Silk Cayes, seeing corals and colorful fish and turtles and rays and so on. Afterwards we dance on a Reggea party till 1 AM. Time to say good bye, or rather 'See you in Guatemala'. Urs, Jean and Werner hitch to Lake Attitlan, where Kathrin and I hope to meet them again. The two of us cycle down to Punta Gorda, camp a night in the Tranquility Lodge and take a boat over to Livingston, Guatemala on the following morning.
On the same afternoon we arrived in Livingston, we catch a great scenic boat ride through a gorge up the river to Rio Dulce. Somewhere in between, there is a hot spring that runs directly into the river. The shoreline is forested, jungle everywhere. Plenty of sailboats anchor in El Golfete, which is a famous hurricane shelter as we learn later while talking to a skipper in our hotel in Rio Dulce. Sailing down to Panama, or even further - that would be great!

Early practice!Kathrin and I spend a few days in tropical Rio Dulce. We visit the old Spanish Castle that used to protect the area from the pirates, and Agua Caliente, a small but hot(!) waterfall into a cool jungle creek 20 kilometers outside Rio Dulce. Holes in the yellow rocks on the waterfall smell like the door to hell - a really impressive scenario. On this day I break the 8000 kilometers mark. Never traveled so far on my bicycle! In the evenings we marvel upon the anchored sail boats on the lake and the possibility to sail ourself. Joey, an American rasta guy is actually selling his Yacht. Lots of beers and talking and hot heads at night.

We rest our bicycles at the hotel and hitchhike on a side route to lake Atitlan where Urs, Werner and Jean are waiting for us. What a change of pace! It feels funny to carry our sea bags on our heads or shoulders rather then having them on the carrier of our bikes. In El Estor we get a ride on a Cardamom truck. A minute later a group of 7 young chaotic Americans dressed entirely in rags joins us on the truck bed. What a great smell! There is no pavement on the road anymore, and we eat a lot of dust during the bumpy ride. Just before La Tinta we (respectively Kathrin who speak proper Spanish) haggle for a reasonable fare with the armed co-driver of the truck. La Tinta is little appealing to us, and it is geting late. Therefore the two of us take a Collectivo for the remaining 30 something kilometers on a unpaved and bumpy road to Tactic near Coban. It is a long ride up the steep hills, ascending some 1500 meters...

On the following day we get a lot of rides with police cars, farmers, collectivos and merchants through a very hilly country on really lonesome and rough roads. For the last stretch to Santa Cruz del Quiche we take another Collectivo and once again congratulate ourselfes for hitchhiking rather than cycling. How many steep mountain passes did we cross today?

One more day to Lake Atitlan. We take roaring ride in a cramped bus up and down some steep narrow valleys on roads apparently not made for ordinary cars. According to noise level and fierce acceleration of the bus, it must be powered by giant WWII bomber engines or similar. In Solola we marvel upon the colorful traditional dresses of man and women. They wear thick wollen blankets and kind of pillows above their neatly embroidered trousers around their waists. Pillows for man, that's fun for me who's somewhat used to the look of pillows in the back of Japanese women. In Solala we catch a first glimpse of the lake and the volcanos behind. Panajachel is a touristy town some 500 metres below Solola, from where boats go to San Pedro la Laguna on the other side of the lake. We wait for half an hour for more passengers before the boat sets out to a pretty scenic 40 minute ride over the wavy lake. The spirit of San Pedro welcomes us with a nice view over the colorful lakeside hotels and restaurants, and the village itself with the big white church building on the hill. Behind that, the San Pedro Volcano is towering, and further behind the Atitlan Vulacano. San Pedro is somewhat touristy along the lakeside, yet feels authentical further up the hill arround the market, where tiny old cottages neighbor new two or three storey houses. Progress everywhere. We meet our friends again and spend a few days recovering from the bumpy dusty roads that led us here. It is comfortably warm during the day, good for swimming and kajaking, and refreshingly cool at night. Not much mosquitos, what a blessing! San Pedro is known not only for hiking and kajaking and coffee but as well for affordable Spanish classes. After some investigations Kathin and I agree to have found a nice place to hang out for a few weeks soon.

But first we join our friends on another bus ride to Xena. The grey and brown and green highlands with the distant volcanos and the trucks thundering on the Panamericana give a very special scenery. Urs and Jean investigated about a climbing spot nearby the city. Werner finds us the oldest cab in town, a rusty yellow Japanese something. It takes a bumpy 20 minutes ride uphill and we find ourselfes in one of the most amazing places I've ever been to. In the steep gravel and lava fields of an IMG_8731exploded volcano are small leveled areas where local man and women of all ages gather daily arround their preachers or healers and spend hours praying and singing and whining between the rocks. Each of them seems to carry a bunch of flowers that is left somewhere on the caldera. A fresh breeze that blows scraps of clouds over the lava field with the screaming prayers in their colorful clothes, the distant cones of two more volcanos and a dozen more details manifest a moon-like scenario. What a blessing to spend three days out here, climbing, reading, marveling, being... Then our time is up - Urs, Jean and Werner have to go back to Mexico.

Kathrin and I take a bus to Antigua. Being once the glory capital of the Spaniard Guatemala, the town is now famous for the ruins of monasteries and cathedrals that a giant earthquake left. Just when we arrive an Easter procession takes place. From Antigua we head back to Rio Dulce, back to our sail boat dream. We spend a rainy afternoon on sailing boat with Greg, a retired American Hippie who teaches us some sailing basics. The day after Joey invites us to a marvelous two day sailing trip on his boat, which is fully equipped with 4 stoves, an oven and a french coffee press. We anchor at Agua Caliente and spend the night on the boat. On our way back we speed up to 6 knots, hard on the wind, the boat sloping some 45 degrees over the waves. What a feeling! We didn't want to leave the boat - thanks god it was sold already.

Two rainy days, a scorpion in our room and little Coral snake outside the door. We take a bus to Guatemala rather than to cycle. As I watch the various hills on the narrow road and the heavy traffic, I'm getting more and more happy about that decision. The way out of Guatemala City to Chimaltenango is rough enough. Seamless after the city centre with the crazy and dense traffic we face an 20 kilometre ascend and breathe little oxygen and stay overnight in a noise pink hotel just before Chimaltenango. Self brewed coffee on the rooftop, with a bright and almost full moon that illuminates the nearby forested hills and distant volcanoes. On the following day we ride on the old Panamericana, a scenic hilly side track to Panajachel with hardly any traffic. The last ascend up to the caldera is incredibly steep, even pushing our loaded bikes is painful. Kathrins smile secures herself (and a little later me too) a lift in a pickup for the last three steep kilometres uphill. The succeeding ride down to Panajachel with the fantastic views over the lake is well worth the effort. After a good night of sleep we take a boat to San Marcos to check oportunities for house rental and Spanish lessons but can't find what we were locking for. A Tuktuk ride to San Pedro, and we find what we've been looking for.

One day later we arrive with all our stuff by boat in San Pedro, ready to move into our rental house nearby the market. A somewhat familiar touring bike with paneers leans on a wall of a cafe. It belongs to Markus, the Austrian fellow I have met in California months ago. What a great coincidence! We share our house with him for a few days and talk a lot about our adventures. Kathrin and I will stay for a month here before cycling on. We both really like our house in that little lane in the middle of the colourful painted village. From the veranda we don't see the lake nor the volcanoes but a wild mess of conquest roofs and building sites for new three storey houses. Music plays all day from the playground or the church or elsewhere. We spend our days with visits to the market, reading, cooking and eating. On five days a week I take private Spanish classes with Fransisco, an experienced 32 year old teacher who runs a One-Man business. Even though my head is buzzing after the lessons, I enjoy the progress in understanding that language.

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Viewing the Andes from Santiago, ChileLong time no write. More than 8 months I am on the road now, and almost 6 with Kathrin. We spent March and April resting our legs and bum from the pedaling, travelling by bus with friends. And for 5 weeks we rented us a house in San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I studied Spanish with a great private teacher that really got me into the language and the grammar, so that I felt much more confident talking with the locals. If you ever come by San Pedro, pay Fransisco a visit: www.spanishstepbystep.org. We hosted some travelling cyclists for a few nights and shared laughs, experiences and great food from our own kitchen. As well, we thought about how to continue our journey. Since we haven´t heard much good about the other parts of Central America, we decided to fly to Chile next, and cycle from there towards Peru, towards Machu Pichu.

Golden autumn leaves on the trees, dry meadows and a cold sunshine welcome us in Santiago de Chile. Fierce bus drivers in the city scared me more than anywhere else I rode so far. The Curves of Paso de LiberadoresIn the distance we could see the white peaks of the Andes already from Cerro Santa Lucia, and the prices are way on European level. Kathrin and I leave the city, and within two days riding through wineries and dry farm land we find ourselves in the Andes, heading for the Paseo de Liberadores. Cactuses and shrubs are the main vegetation out here in between the rocks, framed by snow capped peaks. Around and in the villages in the river valleys are cottonwood and willow trees planted. A train used to go from Santiago to Mendoza once, and its old railroad tracks lay on the other side of the valley. Another day of ascending the pass road, we reach the thirty something serpentines climbing up a steep hillside. Somewhere in between, a construction worker picks us up and brings us a few kilometers further up, having mercy on us with the snow to come soon enough. A few more kilometers, and we reach the tunnel Christo Redentor at about 3200 meters. The Chilenean police maintain a service for cyclists to bring them to the other side in a pickup truck. We go for it since the pass road is closed already, and the icy wind chilled our enthusiasm already a lot. A few kilometers past the tunnel we can spot Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. The abandoned rails with its demolished snow shelters still run parallel to the road. We spend an expensive but warm night in a hotel at Puente del Inca, and visit the famous natural bridge with the colorful sediments from a hot spring on the next morning. It is a long way down to Uspallata. We enjoy magnificent views in a wide valley framed by steep colorful mountains but suffer constant face wind and many little ascends on those 70 kilometers. During that day we get a glimpse what is ahead of us - long stretches without settlements and shops for supplies and hardly traffic, which is good. We see the town from the distance in the evening sun, a big yellow colored cottonwood carpet between the dry rocky mountains. Finally we reach an ATM (with a big queue in front of it), and finally we find some shops with vegetables after eating mainly meat for two days. And we get some other glimpses of Argentine: the dialect is very tough for me to understand, and the vehicles are a wide spectrum ranging from 30 some year old Renaults, Fords and Fiat to the latest SUV models.

Puente del IncaIt takes us two more days to get to Mendoza. On the way my helmet and my drinking bottle were removed from a lonely junction where I left them as a sign for Kathrin for half an hour or so. I hope someone needed them more urgent than I. Mendoza is a big city in an area famous for its wine at the footsteps of the Andes. We are happy to be out of the cold, and less than 1000 metres above sea level. After a noisy night in a hostel I am eager to leave town, to get further North. On our way out we pass some rather desolate stretches of garbage and poor looking huts. After 55 kilometers I rest to wait for Kathrin, do some Yoga on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. When Kathrin arrives, we talk about cycling on for another hour before pitching out tent somewhere. Suddenly two young men ran over the street, yell "Plata, plata" at us. One of them waves with a silver revolver at me, the other stays at Kathrins side. Kathrin tells them she would give them the money, holds her wallet already in her hand, when the guy with the pistol decides to take my backpack instead. Both disappear in the shrubs on the other side of the road, the whole scene took place in less than a minute. We stop a car to call the police immediately. The police men interview us and search the area with horsemen, yet without any trace of the gangsters. After what seems ages on the side of the road and in a police office, we were brought back to Mendoza.

The backpack contained not much money, but the passport, the wallet with the credit cards, my diary of the last 4 months on the road, my cheapish camera and my old laptop. These wrenches basically took a lot of stuff without much monetary value. Thus we hoped they might have dumped it somewhere nearby, and went out to search for it on our own the following day in a rental car. Yet without luck, we could not find any trace of the backpack nor the diaries. Luckily I could block the credit cards before they were used.

What to do? Terminate the trip or keep going? Evaluating the situation on the following days, we found that I could order a new passport at the German consulate in Mendoza, and have it sent to Salta within two weeks. To see how much we were still eager to travel Argentina after the raid, we decided to go on a road trip in a rental car, and visit some nearby National parks. But that’s for the next chapter…

IMG_9510 endless roads
Aconcagua, highest elevation in South America

down the Rio Uspallata

Warming up at lunch

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The Birth of a Mountain Sundown over the Andes in Uspallata

El Condor pasa

IMG_9659After a few days digesting what happened in Mendoza we parked our bicycles in the office of a car rental, loaded the car with our camping gear and left. Once again we passed the spot of the raid. Once again I went very emotional on it. We left a dozen flyers at gas stations and power poles indicating a finder´s reward for the lost items, still hoping to get at least the diary and passport back. Meanwhile Kathrin paid all my bills and even bought me a new harmonica. Near Villa San Agustin we find an empty campground next to a farm at dusk, and finally camped under a marvelous open sky again, cooking our food and singing along under the bright shining moon. On the next day we visit the Ischigualasto National Park. With a group of other cars, led by a guide we drive the 40 some kilometers circuit on gravel that is not allowed by feet or bicycle. At the various stops our guide explains the archeological events that shaped the moon-like area with its multicolored layers of soft round shaped rock formations and the steep red cliffs behind within hundreds of millions of years. At some places, petrified plants were clearly visible, and apparently there were certain types of saurian in the area too. Just as we are on our way out, a bright big full moon rises behind the red rocks. We spent a cold and windy night at the campground, and went to see the nearby Tamalpaya National Park on the next day.

For today, we go on a two hour bus tour. Petroglyphes at the entrance of the Quebrada (a canyon), vertical towering red rock walls reaching some hundred meters frame the sandy river bed. The green of thorny shrubs and low trees of a few hundred years of age display a splendid contrast to the red rocks and red sands. We spend the night in an inexpensive cabaña in Villa Union, and another day in the National Park. Tired of sitting in a car we go on a guided hike this time that brings us much closer to the beauty of the area. Stunning rock creations and an incredible view where the canyon opens into a distant wide plain and the sun shines at the rock walls at the very gate are the reward for following our private guide.

Tamalpaya NPThe drive to Rodeo seems to go forever through very boring plains of shrubs again before reaching a small town that is locked up for the siesta. Commonly, most of the shops are closed between noon and 5pm  in Argentina, and therefore settlements often look a little like ghost towns. After the brief visit we drive for hours through a stunning black and grey rocky canyon, eventually leading to a reservoir under blue skies. As usual out here, the town is indicated by the yellow autumn leaves of cottonwood plantations. We can pitch our tent in the shelter of some Police campground. On the next day we warm ourselves thoroughly in the inexpensive hot tubs of the nearby hot springs before moving on towards Barreal. Again we cross flat plains with nothing but stones and shrubs for hours before hitting the next hill range in these endless lonesome highlands. It seems fairly difficult to estimate the distances in these open plains - what appears as 5 or 10 kilometers often turns out to be three or four times more. We often wonder how much water and food cyclists would have to carry out here.

The Leoncito National Park, famous for its two world-class observatories out in the high lands is a great spot. There is unguided hiking through alleys of cottonwood, small foot paths through rocky hills to a little waterfall, and splendid picnic areas with views to snow capped mountains. Autumn colors at its best. A long ride back to Mendoza on the same day, finishing the loop, seeing the road from Uspallata to Mendoza for the second time, in quick motion this time…

IMG_9665 Leoncito NP

Me amigo Che on every wallHalf asleep we drop out of the night bus from Mendoza at the bus station way outside La Rioja early in the morning of May, 13th. After two coffees and breadies from a lonesome street merchant we load our bikes and head North on lonesome roads, heading for Salta. At some reservoir between the rocky mountains I chat with some Colombians, a little later, again on lonesome roads two young guys wave me down for some tools for their broken motorbike. I don't feel well stopping, but I do at the second chance. Kathrin and I move up into the mountains again, on what seems to be endless straight roads. Eventually we find an abandoned camp ground in Agua Blanca at dusk. Two days cycling through the pampas - on straight roads through plains of shrubs and dry sands for hours. At times we disturb the Condors eating their meals of hit rabbits or foxes on the road. The days are warm and sunny, the nights are almost freezing. When we reach Londres fairly exhausted in the afternoon we struggle to find a hostel. Locals ask us to knock on some doors without signs on it. I'm still puzzled by the amount of advertisement done in this village. Eventually we find some hut just on the way out to Belen.

The landscape on the first part from Belen to Hualfin is pretty picturesque, with some hot caves in the canyons. We run into Martha, a cyclist from Poland on her way to Ushuaya. A dozen kilometres before Hualfin the pavement ends, and a dirt track leads on a ridge between two valleys to Hualfin. A sandstorm on the gravel road out of town on the next morning, face wind gusts of probably 40 or 50 kilometers an hour make cycling impossible for us. We hitch for some 30 kilometres on Ruta 40, and cycle on without wind. Plain pampa again, not even a bend for ages. Just some guanacos, maras and a few donkeys for two more days to Amaicha de Valle. We stay in a nice hostel, but cannot find any open restaurants on that Sunday night.

Nor was it easy to find the way out of town the following day, due to the lack of road signs and some locals we asked the wrong type of question. They sent us uphill out of town on a gravel road, rather then the easy way on pavement. Some funny roadsigns indicating the ruins of Quilmes send us again on the wrong dirt road. Barely amused we reach the spot a few kilometres off the highway. A set of walls indicate previous houses or temples running up a hill between two kind of framing rocks with watchtower like castles. The Quilmes tribe resisted the Incas here, but was conquered and eventually deported by the Spanish conquistadors later.
LorosSwarms of green Loro parrots fly around the fields and gather screaming on power lines. Finally we reach Cafayate, a small town in the Salta district which is famous for some of the highest and finest vine yards of the world. Blue sky, a good pizza and a nice bottle of local red wine for lunch perfect the moment and make us feel home instantly. Instead of visiting the Bodegas (wine yards) around Cafayate, we go for a hike to the waterfalls of the Rio Colorado, a few kilometers west of town, talk us out of the local guides. A Western movie like scenario of a small red rock canyon with a vivid creek and yellow leave cottonwood trees welcomes us. For about two hours we are path-finding, rock-jumping (or wading) over the Rio Colorado up the canyon. We turn around, out of food. Certainly we underestimated that hike, in both beauty and length. Then we spend a splendid sunset on the rooftop from our hostel, with two french girls and Nahuel from the hostel who plays guitar. The first attempt to leave this charming town ends with a load BANG after just a few kilometres. Kathrins tire (Schwalbe Marathon Plus) exploded, ripped along the rim, irreparable. We get a lift back to town, and a new tire next morning. 

The famous Quebrada de las Conchas starts about 20 kilometres North of Cafayate, as a wide canyon of red and white and green striped beautiful rock formations beside the river. Colors of the rainbows, these rocks have them all! We pass through the first part in the late afternoon in perfect light conditions, and eventually reach Santa Barbara after fighting heavy headwind just after sundown. Daniel, a indigenous local with feather adornments on his forehead, allows us to pitch our tent beside the school. On the next morning we move on, enjoy splendid views and visit fantastic rock formations like the Anfiteatro, or the Garganta del Diablo on our way through the wonderful, colorful quebrada. Some 70 kilometers after we left Cafayate we are really happy to find a little farm that sells tasty empanadas and goat cheese. Kathrin celebrates her 10000 kilometres milestone on this journey. Later we pass by Alemania, a little sleepy village with no much supplies. We have to cycle on until La Viña, where we can camp on the soccer field. Not for the first time we are attacked by those tiny flesh eating flies the US-Americans call "No see em's", whose bites itch for days.

The countryside changes, instead of dry pampa and rocky canyons we enjoy cycling small country roads framed by high yellow flowers and tobacco fields into the suburbs of Salta. Almost 700 kilometres we cycled again, touch wood! On the consulate I can finally receive my new passport, yeah! As well, I hear about the drug problems and the connected crimes here in the city. Still waiting for the replacement credit card to arrive at the post office and eager to reach some higher goals, Kathrin and I develop a new plan: to cycle up Abra el Acay, with almost 5000 metres the highest pass in Argentina...

In Cafayate Quebrada de Rio Colorado

Great Support CrewSporting time: 9 AM on International Children's Day - I hop on the bike, cycle out of Salta. Clouds cover the sky, but there is a blue hole in the west, where I'm heading. I pass by farms and trees and small villages on the first 30 kilometers, then enter the first stretch of unpaved road along the Rio ... near the train line. The destination is set for San Antonio de las Cobres, and perhaps Abra del Acay, with almost 5000m the highest pass in Argentina. Soon the area deserts, less trees, more colorful rocks, every once in a while a metal train bridge for what is nowadays the tourist attraction "Tren de las nubes", the train to the clouds. Kathrin follows me in a rental car. She reaches me after lunch at Ing. Maury, a little police station in the valley where I waited, almost scared without having money with me, having finished my few cookies already. Still, from time to time I pass by small settlements with yellow leaved cottonwood trees in the otherwise rather dry valley, pass by some goats or sheep or horses.

The first night we spend at Alfarcito, a little village not mentioned in any map, after 90k and 1600 elevation meters. There is a small hospedaje just opposite of the new little church that accommodates us, where we can use the rustic kitchen to cook our diner after hiking up the adventurous narrow local Via Dolorosa to the cactus on the hills. The next day is a long way up to Abra Blanca on 4100 metres. A steep climb, another village, a short break. While cycling I chew some Coca leaves to cope with the height and gain some minerals and vitamins. The bitter taste distracts the mind from brooding too much, and eases the pain. Just before lunch I reach a long softly ascending plain with a magnificent view to the white headed peaks of Mount Acay. Looking at the speedometer, I should be up at the pass already. Kathrin and the red rental car are no where to see. So I'm not on top yet and I roll on into a small valley with dry grass and a half frozen creek. The blood seems to cook in my head, I must be almost at 4000 metres. All of a sudden I'm surrounded by a bunch of mad barking dogs in the middle of no where. I stop, and one of them licks my salty gloves. The others keep barking at me, and an old woman appears and sort of talks the dogs away with her husky voice. Freaky...

IMG_0937A few more serpentines and I am at the pass. Kathrin waits for me with hot tea and snacks. What a feeling, and what a view onto the other side! The remaining 30 kilometres until San Antonio de las Cobres are unpaved washboard road. With the chilling head wind it is not much fun to cycle, not even with the soft decline. San Antonio de las Cobres is a mining town with clusters of stereotype small one storey houses. We get all sorts of information whether or not the road over the pass to Cachi is doable with our small rental car. Some say yes, others say not at all. What to do? We stay in a somewhat comfortable but cold guesthouse, talk with an American and a Swiss traveler.

The big day starts with a Yoga session despite the cold. The 13 kilometres back to the diversion to the Abra Acay roll more easy today, but after the diversion the road is sandy for the first 10 kilometres ascending a long plain. My spirits fight the fierce head winds. I have to push the bike a lot already at the easy part. But the sun is shining bright, and finally I reach that long awaited bend, the wind slows down, and Kathrin waits for me with hot tea, and bananas and bread and Nutella. Well motivated I move on after the break. More or less loose gravel and sand take their turns on the narrow road uphill, at times with the wind in my back, at times in my face. Curve by curve, kilometer by kilometer I climb up, looking down the long ascent every once in a while. Kathrin takes pictures of flocks of Vicuñas, strange rabbits with long curly tails, called Vizcachas and a stupid donkey called Sven (without luggage).

Time is running, unsure whether we could drive the road down to Cachi we wanted to be on top of the pass by 2, then by 3 PM. Not a single car passed us, no one to ask for the road conditions. And still some 15 kilometers to go, according to my speedometer. Kathrin drives ahead, I see the red car climbing up bend by bend, keep moving my feet step by step. Breath by breath...

Abra Acay, 5000m...My spirits crumble in the cold afternoon breeze, I'm ready to give up on the eager project. After what seems ages Kathrin returns, smiling - just 2.5 kilometers left to climb to the top, she says, gushing about the view from there. Wow, yes, I can do that, and I fight again! About 20 minutes later we celebrate what is my highest elevation ever reached, and reached by bicycle! We sip our tea, have some cookies, and store the bike in the boot of the car. Splendid afternoon light for the snow capped peaks above and the colorful rocks below us, and pretty loose gravel on the very narrow road down. 50 kilometers on gravel to go to La Poma. Beautiful peerless scenery. Kathrin masters a number of dangerous river crossings without bridges, and our brave little car serves us well. We've had lots of good luck on that stretch, and I'm pretty happy I'm sitting beside Kathrin in the car. The 50 more kilometers from La Poma to Cachi were full of unexpected sharp turns and arroyas, and wouldn't have been a piece of cake on the bicycle either. Bright shines the moon over the Calchaqua valley We reach Cachi late at night, find us a hostel and share a really great pizza, hot soups and dark beer. Now we know why that stretch of road is assigned for 4WD only!

We spend a resting day in Cachi, drinking some more dark beers in Olivers Wine Bar. 9 AM next morning, ready for the last part of the circuit, one more pass to climb. Long straight stretches of roads through cacti plains in the Parque de las Cordones. The climb is fierce because of the soft head wind and the cold. Finally - Piedra del Molino, at 3400 metres, which is followed by an incredible ride down the serpentines of the Cuesta de Obispo. What a joy for a cyclist! After 30 kilometres we are back in vivid green lush forests, find us a great camping spot on a river. Time to celebrate! What a ride that was, enabled due to the great support from Kathrin in the rental car! 4 days, 300km, 5500 elevation metres on the bike...

There is ice on the tent on the next morning. A cold front has arrived according to the weather forecasts. We decide to put the bicycle in the car again and drive "home", back to Salta, back to our double room in the Siete Rayos hostal with the window directly facing the road and the bus stop. And a letter with my new credit card waits for me at the main post - yeeha!

 

In the JungleWe leave Salta on our way to the Bolivian border on a gray and chilly morning that should have been sunny according to the meteorologists. After some more or less inviting suburbs we are in the countryside again. Misty grassland and small trees for ages it seems. We are half frozen when we reach La Caldera, a small touristy village with old roots. The waiter in the only open restaurant mocks a bit for us wearing thick clothes within the place. Yet the place near the electric heater is occupied by someone else. Our search for a heated room for the rest of the day fails, for either the staff not wanting to host us or the place being as expensive as room in St. Moritz. Grumpy we move on through the farm land, climb up a little pass and suddenly find ourselves in thick rain forest. Our spirits rise instantly and we enjoy the long ride down the bends between mighty old trees with moss covered trunks. Later we reach a reservoir that looks like a hand with five fingers from above, climb the hills between the fingers and eventually spend the night in El Carmen. We reach Jujuy early enough on the following day and spoil us with hand made pasta and red wine for lunch. We still have enough time to do some sightseeing. So we stroll the lonesome shopping streets during the siesta hours, and visit some of the old churches and the plaza. When I go out to buy some food later in the evening, the same streets are incredibly crowded. Countless cars with speakers to the max roar through the alleys until dawn. Saturday Night Fever in Jujuy...

Colors of the rocks and the market in Pumamarca Maymara

Somewhat querulous we leave Jujuy, heading into the Quebrada de Humahuaca, UNESCO World Heritage. After a few kilometers through suburbs and farmland the wide highway in construction narrows down to a regular road and climbs some hundred elevation meters up a hill with a few serpentines. Up here in the wide canyon the rocks are very colorful again, displaying all shades of white, yellow, red, green and purple. A few lamas and goats roam the scanty grass, some villages live either from mining or tourism. Just before sundown I arrive in scenic Pumamarca beside the famous Cerro de Siete Colores, the mountain of the seven colors. Kathrin awaits me at the colorful tourist market at the plaza, where mostly indigenous man and women sell all sorts of neon-colored fabric and souvenirs. Cobblestone alleys and rustic clay houses dominate the view of the village. Beside a small church is a great old tree said to be more than 700 years old. Suddenly I fell a little like in Central America again, with friendly smiles everywhere. The locals certainly did well to maintain this sort of old-fashioned character of the place. Having achieved my personal 10000k's on this trip, we celebrate the event with delicious lama steaks at Mama Cocas. A somewhat indigenous and slightly drunk artist from Buenos Aires is nice enough to explain a few of the Inca symbols on the cards he sells. That night in the hostal with the cacti funiture near the old tree is so tranquil and relaxing after all the fuzz in the cities...

We start the following day with a great breakfast and a decent hike through the spectacular colored rocky hills around the village. The green and white and purple stone seems to emit beams of energy, the hills almost glow in the morning sun. Then we mount our panniers on the carriers again and cycle the hilly 25ks to Tilcara, passing by Maymara with the paintbox rocks on the way. Still below 3000 metres we dare to pitch our tent nearby the river for two days, and find us a playful four-legged friend instantly. Tilcara is certainly bigger than Pumamarca, surrounded by rocks as well. It has a vivid green plaza and a anthropology museum and is famous for its ancient Inca settlements on a hill nearby, watching over the entire valley. Some of the stone houses and walls on that hill have been skillfully refurbished to illustrate how live might have been before the Spaniards came.

Random friends at a gas stationOne more day cycling through the Quebrada to Humahuaca, passing by an ancient little church in Uquia and some more bizarre rock formations. Vincenz, a Swiss cyclist meets me while I'm waiting for Kathrin at the Plaza. The route over Paso de Sico which he did between Chile and Argentina is one of the most challenging ones out here. Almost only gravel, four passes of almost 5000 meters, almost no infrastructure. Yet it is encouraging to see someone with more than 60 years doing such crazy stuff!

Here in Humahuaca colonial buildings dominate the town with its cobblestone streets at almost 3000 meters above sea level. At the plaza indigeneous women with colorfull clothes and the typical round shaped hats sell snacks and souvenirs. In the afternoon sun it fells warm and cosy, but as soon as the sun is down temperature drops way below comfort level. It is difficult to find a place with heating and working internet. What to do? Shall we visit Iruya, the nearby mountain village? Or keep going North, out of Argentina? It won't be warmer anywhere we could go in the next couple of days up here in the Altiplano. More and more travel weary we are, and with little motivation where to go after Peru we decide to find us a flight back before summer ends at home. We leave Humahuaca a little easier. Kathrin takes a bus to Abra Pampa, I cycle some fresh 80 kilometers with soft headwind beside abandoned railroad tracks on washed out bridges through a scanty dry landscape of colorful rocks and distant snow capped peaks. Just after some 3700m pass I spot a rocket-like cyclist in the opposite direction on a recumbent bicycle, his face fully covered with sunglasses and sun protectors. After a while he is overtaking me, starting a chat. Ralph is his name, and he is the director of the hospital in Abra Pampa. If we'd meet in the Rincon Suiza Hotel? Walter, the head of the hotel and Ralph are good friends it seems, and we have a good chat that afternoon. Later Kathrin and I watch an interesting ceremony – man and women swinging goat halves in a kind of dance to the rhythm of drumming in front of the church. Baby llamaUnfortunately, no one would give us a reasonable explanation what this is all about. Anyway, we visit Ralph in his brand new hospital after the freak show, who gives us some insight in the Argentine social system and his projects. Walter would tell us a lot about his business and his view of the country too. I am both fascinated by the recent encounters, and puzzled by its timing. On the next day we take the bus to La Quiaca on the border to Bolivia. The Argentine border patrol examines my new preliminary passport without the appropriate entry stamp for some 15 minutes, and finally waves me through. Huuuhhh. After almost 7 weeks in Argentina - time to say good bye...

Right behind the border starts the buzzing town of Villazon. The shops burst from a wide range of quality cameras and computers for fair prices. The towns spirit seems to be much more progressive than the towns on the other side of the border. Argentinians come here in quantities to shop the goodies they can't get back home. They can pay in Argentine Peso, but with a very low exchange rate. I dump our remaining Pesos on a new pocket camera with 10x zoom before we take the night train to Uyuni, where we arrive at 1AM and sleep in a cheap hospedaje with 0 degrees...

Ralph Shaking goat corpses
Camera test in Villazon The first functional train I see in South America

on the train

the Centro Amercian spirit has widely vanished from my point of view.

Argentina V:

We leave Salta on our way to the Bolivian border on a gray and chilly morning that should have been sunny according to the meteorologists. After some more or less inviting suburbs we are in the countryside again. Misty grassland and small trees for ages it seems. We are half frozen when we reach La Caldera, a small touristy village with old roots. The waiter in the only open restaurant mocks a bit for us wearing thick clothes within the place. Yet the place near the electric heater is occupied by someone else. Our search for a heated room for the rest of the day fails, for either the staff not wanting to host us or the place being as expensive as room in St. Moritz. Grumpy we move on through the farm land, climb up a little pass and suddenly find ourselves in thick rain forest. Our spirits rise instantly and we enjoy the long ride down the bends between mighty old trees with moss covered trunks. Later we reach a reservoir that looks like a hand with five fingers from above, climb the hills between the fingers and eventually spend the night in El Carmen. We reach Jujuy early enough on the following day and spoil us with hand made pasta and red wine for lunch. We still have enough time to do some sightseeing. So we stroll the lonesome shopping streets during the siesta hours, and visit some of the old churches and the plaza. When I go out to buy some food later in the evening, the same streets are incredibly crowded. Countless cars with speakers to the max roar through the alleys until dawn. Saturday Night Fever in Jujuy...

Somewhat querulous we leave Jujuy, heading into the Quebrada de Humahuaca, UNESCO World Heritage. After a few kilometers through suburbs and farmland the wide highway in construction narrows down to a regular road and climbs some hundred elevation meters up a hill with a few serpentines. Up here in the wide canyon the rocks are very colorful again, displaying all shades of white, yellow, red, green and purple. A few lamas and goats roam the scanty grass, some villages live either from mining or tourism. Just before sundown I arrive in scenic Pumamarca beside the famous Cerro de Siete Colores, the mountain of the seven colors. Kathrin awaits me at the colorful tourist market at the plaza, where mostly indigenous man and women sell all sorts of neon-colored fabric and souvenirs. Cobblestone alleys and rustic clay houses dominate the view of the village. Beside a small church is a great old tree said to be more than 700 years old. Suddenly I fell a little like in Central America again, with friendly smiles everywhere. The locals certainly did well to maintain this sort of old-fashioned character of the place. Having achieved my personal 10000k's on this trip, we celebrate the event with delicious lama steaks at Mama Cocas. A somewhat indigenous and slightly drunk artist from Buenos Aires is nice enough to explain a few of the Inca symbols on the cards he sells. That night in the hostal with the cacti funiture near the old tree is so tranquil and relaxing after all the fuzz in the cities...

We start the following day with a great breakfast and a decent hike through the spectacular colored rocky hills around the village. The green and white and purple stone seems to emit beams of energy, the hills almost glow in the morning sun. Then we mount our panniers on the carriers again and cycle the hilly 25ks to Tilcara, passing by Maymara with the paintbox rocks on the way. Still below 3000 metres we dare to pitch our tent nearby the river for two days, and find us a playful four-legged friend instantly. Tilcara is certainly bigger than Pumamarca, surrounded by rocks as well. It has a vivid green plaza and a anthropology museum and is famous for its ancient Inca settlements on a hill nearby, watching over the entire valley. Some of the stone houses and walls on that hill have been skillfully refurbished to illustrate how live might have been before the Spaniards came.

One more day cycling through the Quebrada to Humahuaca, passing by an ancient little church in Uquia and some more bizarre rock formations. Vincenz, a Swiss cyclist meets me while I'm waiting for Kathrin at the Plaza. The route over Paso de Sico which he did between Chile and Argentina is one of the most challenging ones out here. Almost only gravel, four passes of almost 5000 meters, almost no infrastructure. Yet it is encouraging to see someone with more than 60 years doing such crazy stuff!

Here in Humahuaca colonial buildings dominate the town with its cobblestone streets at almost 3000 meters above sea level. At the plaza indigeneous women with colorfull clothes and the typical round shaped hats sell snacks and souvenirs. In the afternoon sun it fells warm and cosy, but as soon as the sun is down temperature drops way below comfort level. It is difficult to find a place with heating and working internet. What to do? Shall we visit Iruya, the nearby mountain village? Or keep going North, out of Argentina? It won't be warmer anywhere we could go in the next couple of days up here in the Altiplano. More and more travel weary we are, and with little motivation where to go after Peru we decide to find us a flight back before summer ends at home. We leave Humahuaca a little easier. Kathrin takes a bus to Abra Pampa, I cycle some fresh 80 kilometers with soft headwind beside abandoned railroad tracks on washed out bridges through a scanty dry landscape of colorful rocks and distant snow capped peaks. Just after some 3700m pass I spot a rocket-like cyclist in the opposite direction on a recumbent bicycle, his face fully covered with sunglasses and sun protectors. After a while he is overtaking me, starting a chat. Ralph is his name, and he is the director of the hospital in Abra Pampa. If we'd meet in the Rincon Suiza Hotel? Walter, the head of the hotel and Ralph are good friends it seems, and we have a good chat that afternoon. Later Kathrin and I watch an interesting ceremony – man and women swinging goat halves in a kind of dance to the rhythm of drumming in front of the church. Unfortunately, no one would give us a reasonable explanation what this is all about. Anyway, we visit Ralph in his brand new hospital after the freak show, who gives us some insight in the Argentine social system and his projects. Walter would tell us a lot about his business and his view of the country too. I am both fascinated by the recent encounters, and puzzled by its timing. On the next day we take the bus to La Quiaca on the border to Bolivia. The Argentine border patrol examines my new preliminary passport without the appropriate entry stamp for some 15 minutes, and finally waves me through. Huuuhhh. After almost 7 weeks in Argentina - time to say good bye...

Right behind the border starts the buzzing town of Villazon. The shops burst from a wide range of quality cameras and computers for fair prices. The towns spirit seems to be much more progressive than the towns on the other side of the border. Argentinians come here in quantities to shop the goodies they can't get back home. They can pay in Argentine Peso, but with a very low exchange rate. I dump our remaining Pesos on a new pocket camera with 10x zoom before we take the night train to Uyuni, where we arrive at 1AM and sleep in a cheap hospedaje with 0 degrees...