Wha' happen?

Posts tagged ‘Arequipa’

Loooong Chile

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Loooong Chile

Mendoza, 15-Feb-2010

Kilometer 4,923, Arequipa, 28-Jan-10 @ 10:00:  It’s been a while and I was eager to ride again.  The road to Tacna and then Arica in Chile was again through deserts: rocks, gravel and dirt.  The desert even climbs up to 1,300meters.  It makes for some very special twisties: rock walls on one side, cliff drops on the other and leaning into turns with my helmet skirting the rock facades; What a rush!  The border crossing into Chile is typical “a la South America”.  How should I know that I need to buy a border forms in Tacna… 20Km before the borders?!   I didn’t want to ride back and look for this form so I waited around until a couple had an extra one which they gladly gave me.

As soon as you are in Chile the local time jumps +2hours compared to Peru.  Hey, I don’t mind sunsets at 21:00 :).  Kilometer 5,364, Arica, 28-Jan-10 @ 20:30: Arica is most famous for the war of the Pacific, when Chile conquered this land from Bolivia and Peru back in the 1880’s during the nitrate mining golden era.  Also, there are a couple of Eiffel buildings near the main square, with the St. Mark Cathedral being the most impressive.

On the road again,  this time heading to Iquique, Kilometer 5,753, Iquique, 30-Jan-10 @ 17:20 and the many geoglyphs that dot the desert landscape.  Some of them are hard to locate and one of them took me a good 30min driving on dirt roads prior to finding it, but it was worth it.  No one can really explain the meaning of these geoglyphs although there are no shortages of interpretation including the obvious alien version (hey, they even made a visit when I was there; check the pic of the alien in the red helmet).  Somehow, I can’t help thinking that more than anything else, these guys just created their art and “sculptures/paintings” on these hills, nothing more.  More interesting sites lie next to Iquique like the remains of a couple of ghost towns from the old Nitrate boom, with Humberstone being the most fabulous one to see.  When the Germans invented the synthetic ammonia in 1929, the town’s importance and richness declined and eventually death was inevitable.   In a few year, what were the richest cities in South America turned to… nothing.  Can’t help but think how wonderful it will be if history repeat itself but this time for the oil industries (sorry Jay ;).   Back to Humberstone, because of the dry weather and almost no rain, the city has been extremely well preserved, including the saltpeter and factories.  In this ghost city you can enter the homes, church, theater, shopping store and even the public pool.  Feels likes I was thrown in a western movie.

In Iquique, I hooked up with a couple of very cool and funny Argentinean guys: Hernan and Augustin who also happened to be going to the same places I was.  From the beaches of Iquique we headed to San Pedro de Atacama (them by bus).  Kilometer 6,490, San Pedro, 2-Feb-10 @ 20:30, San Pedro is nice little town of 2,000 people and maybe 10,000 tourists… and it sure feels that way.  It’s a desert town build around an oasis surrounded by valleys, mountains, volcanoes, altiplanos, salt lakes,… making it a perfect center to visit them all.  From the absolutely gorgeous landscape of Valle de la Luna (the name fits perfectly, especially at sunset), to the heat of Valle de la Muerte where we sandboard, to the altiplano lakes (some of them frozen!) rich in mineral where thousands of flamencos live and are currently breading or nursing their young, to swimming in the salt lakes (which have higher concentration of salt then the Dead Sea), to witnessing the amazing contrast of color during the sunset while walking on salt plains, to observing the sunrise upon the geysers fields, 4,500m high.   You got to spend 5 days here, although it will cost you an arm and a leg.  This place will break your budget for a month… a lot of other tourists suggest I could have done the same activities in Bolivia for half the price.  I say let’s do it twice 🙂

Back on the road and now I am driving desert upon desert and accumulating kilometers… and it’s boring like hell.  There were practically no cars; I was just sharing these deserts with hundreds of funnel sand storms which roam the area like drunken men.

Kilometer 6,845, Antafagosta, 6-Feb -10 @ 13:50
Kilometer 7,368, Caldera, 6-Feb -10 @ 21:30
Kilometer 7,799, La Serena, 7-Feb -10 @ 15:40
Kilometer 8,290, Los Andes, 7-Feb-10 @ 21:00

1,500+ Km of nothing, barely a few gas station (twice I nearly ran out of gas, was running on fume (seriously!)).  Otherwise, thank god I have my MP3 player (and thanks to all who gave me music ;).  On my 3rd day of riding, I decided to completely skip Santiago (I visited the city a couple of years ago) and I directly head to Mendoza (Argentina).  Northern Chile is not my favorite place and actually in Chile I don’t even feel l am in South America, rather like in an eastern Montreal suburb.  It’s a very clean country, friendly people, great seafood and drivers here are extremely courteous to others, to riders and to pedestrian (bordering the ridiculous actually), but after visiting Peru and Ecuador the standard to meet is now high.  Having been to Santiago before, I really didn’t mind just turning east and start climbing the Andes:  not only the “caracoles” is an amazing road, zigzagging 1,500m (vertical) on a mountain side to reach the border pass at 3,200m but Mendoza is also the place where I want to accomplish my next dream expedition and I was eager to get there.  On the way I hooked up with an Australian lad on a KLR 650 who came up from Ushuaia and now heading to BA to ship his bike to England, which made the road more fun to ride.  At the border, I experienced firsthand the rivalry between Argentina and Chile.  Here, Argentinean and Chilean border guards sit together which makes it even more fun to joke with them:  The Argentinean agent throws a jab against the mediocre Chilean wine and bad food to which the Chilean agent responds:  “Well in fact, Argentina is not that great, they have only 2 good things: “carne y mujeres” to which I had to answer: “Aren’t they the same?” ;))))  …  (I can just see the grin on all the guys’ faces and the girls wanting to kill me ;)).   They didn’t stop here, the Chilean agent turns abruptly towards me and with a serious look tells me: “Do you have marijuana?”… very confused, I immediately responded: “No”. He smiled and responded: “Then probably he (pointing at the Argentinean agent) won’t let you in… you see, this is the tip you need to give them to enter the country” :).

Kilometer 8,596, Mendoza, 8-Feb-10 @ 19:20 Mendosa is a gorgeous city, lots of trees and parks, great parillada, excellent wines, delicious ice creams and where water canals run parallel to its shaded streets (to the danger of tourists: a British girl in our hostel broke her leg when she left a club at 5:00AM and “fell” in one of these canals).  AnywayZ, in the first part of my 5 days stay here, I just went around (and waited a lot) to fix the huge problems I was facing organizing my expedition.  Long story, I will tell you later, but from almost hell to finally everything falling into place and we’re good to go in a few hours (it’s Monday 15-Feb at 5:00AM).

Wish me luck, I really need it and I will tell you all about it in 20days.  In the mean time, I will be cut off from the world.

Take care

Ride up!


Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.

First Down Then Up

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

First Down Then Up

Arequipa, 27-Jan-2010

Kilometer 4,918, Arequipa, 20-Jan-10 @ 17:50: I took a day to just chill in the city.  With Javier, the hotel owner, we toured around checking some motorcycle places.  I also took my bike for a spin through the city, dropping by the Suzuki dealer for a chat.  There I met Raphael, the motorcycle division manager, a great guy and also a rider and we hit it immediately.  He helped me get the mechanics to check the bike, give it a nice wash and especially adjust my skid-plate.   I touched so many bumps and rocks on the way to the jungle that the skid plate was bent and now touching my exhaust pipe, vibrating the whole bike when I hit upwards of 6,000RPMs.  The exhaust pipe actually melted the aluminum skid plate! Made a circle around a millimeter deep…  Now that’s hot, we’re talking 650oC+.

For the following day I booked a 3 day hike tour through Colca Canyon.  It’s the 2nd deepest canyon in the world (its neighbor, Cotahuasi Canyon is slightly deeper).  Both are almost 2x deeper than Grand Canyon.  Through Colca Canyon, you pass lush valleys, agriculture terraces, rocky cliffs… and although it’s deep and impressive, leaving aside the numbers, Grand Canyon has nothing to fear as it offers way more spectacular scenery and views.

We had a great guide for our trek: Jenny.  During our 1,100 meter descent, she explained to us all about the plants, fruits and herbs that grow in the canyon and about the first inhabitant that settled in the valley.  We even started picking fruits and herbs along the road to eat once we arrived at our huts.  We picked: Lemon, Tuna (“sobber” in Arabic :), Grenadine, Locuma, Avocado,… delicious.  For the night, we stayed in rustic villages with the minimal needs provided. Anything extra, expect to pay double the regular price; imagine the mules that have to carry the bottles of beer all the way down :).  On our second day we hiked in the canyon to an oasis surrounded by palm trees and a natural spring feeding a pool, which offered a great place to chill, swim and have fun with the group.

The hike through Colca Canyon was a preparation to see how my knee will hold up for in a tougher climb.  Once back in Arequipa I hooked up with Ashley and Roger, 2 Australian lads who were also hiking Colca, to climb the nevado Chachani.  It’s a 6,075 meter high mountain although rated as “easy” on the mountaineering scale.  However, as with any climb, the major problem is acclimatization and with Arequipa at only 2,400 meter it was more difficult.   The climb is not directly to Chachani summit (see our guide’s Roy route drawing):  First, a 3 hours bumpy 4×4 ride took us to Angel volcano, which is a very wide mountain.  We then climbed to 5,400m to reach our base camp and acclimatize to the altitude.  This hike was easy but it started snowing on us making it very cold and difficult to set up camp.  After lunch, we spent most of the time in the tents, just resting and trying to sleep.  It’s difficult to sleep at high altitude due to the lower pressure and lack of oxygen (I would have thought the opposite).  We woke up the next day at 1:30AM, had a quick snack and a mate de coca before starting our journey.  The reason to wake up early is to reach the mountain top at dawn before the strong winds that storm the summit picks up once the suns heats up the mountains.  But most importantly, so we don’t walk on slushy wet snow which could accumulate under our crampons rendering them ineffective.  We hiked up to 5,600meter then started a long descent through a narrow path to get around Angel mountain.  The passage was on a steep, loose rock façade intersected by rock cliffs which we had to climb and cross.   The snow and ice from yesterday evening made these rocks very slippery and 3 other people (from another group) who started the climb with us actually gave up during the crossing and returned to base camp.  2 ½ hours later, by 4:30AM, we made it through but by now we had descended back to 5,400meter at nevado Fatima’s base.  Here, we left our crampons as both Fatima and Chachani mountains had clear tracks ahead and we started our 2+ hours climb up to 5,900meters, almost the top of nevado Fatima.  At that point we contoured Fatima and descended around 50 meters to the base of Chachani.   Another 175m (vertical) were left to reach the summit and we got encouragement and support from the rising sun warming us and giving us much needed extra energy.

The hike and altitude was already affecting the boys.  Ashley was suffering from a strong headache, Roger was coughing heavily and Christian was trailing very slowly behind.  At Chachani base Roy gave us the all clear for each to go at his own rhythm during the final 200 meters ascent.   I headed out first as I prefer to keep walking thus maintaining my momentum during the ascent.  It was a grueling & steep hike but we were all determined to make it to the top.  The toughest part was each time I thought the peak is near I discovered that there’s another 50meter mound hiding behind which I still needed to climb… it happened 3 times!

But once on top and I could finally lift my head to look around, I became mesmerized by the rush of feelings mixed with the altitude drunkenness.  What is more astonishing you ask?  The views?  They are gorgeous; standing high and looking down on nearby volcano craters and the surrounding mountains or gazing at the unlimited views our beautiful sunny day offer.  But no, that’s not it.  The accomplishment/rush of reaching the top? Definitely, I mean, I just climbed to 6,075 meter!  But again, no.  It’s the silence!  Absolute silence.  I was standing higher than anything else around, surrounded by the mountain ranges and valleys… yet not a single whisper: no animals, no wind, not a movement, not a sound.  I sat down, not wanting to move a muscle, instinctively holding my breath and listening to the sound of silence.  I never “heard it” before.  AnywayZ, 15 minutes later, Roger showed up followed by Ashley, Roy and finally Christian.  And the celebration began.  It was Australia day on 26-Jan so the lads planted an Oz flag and cracked open a couple of beers to share around.  We stayed there ~1 hour then it was time to head down.  The boys were slowly trailing behind but I was fine… until the traverse back up through Angel.  I was drained.  Still ahead of the boys but I could feel every single muscle screaming to stop.  It took all of us longer than anticipated to make it back to base camp, but we eventually did… only to have to keep working and pack all our gear, fold the tents and continue the hike down to where the Land Cruiser was waiting for us.  That was just the last straw.  Once back at my hotel by around 17:00, I had this crazy vertigo as if I was navigating a stormy sea.  I somehow managed to stumble to a nearby restaurant and grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to take a shower and crashed on my bed.

Next morning, I realized that I was actually suffering from severe de-hydration.  During the day I drank 6+liter of water (seriously!).  But my vertigo was as strong as the night before; it just did not want to subside.  Otherwise I felt fine, I even went to visit the city and other places but everything (actually me 🙂 was moving around me.  I visited Santury’s museum where the mummies of the sacrificed girls the Incas used to offer to the mountain gods are preserved (they were found on top of Nevado Ampato @ 6,320meter).  Then on to Casa Del Moral, a beautiful colonial mansion followed by a visit to the huge Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a gorgeous Dominican monastery, amazingly preserved and a photographer’s paradise.  I tried to take good pics with my pocket camera but imagine what a good SLR can do.  I know a few of you “photographers” out there would love to be here :).  In the evening I met up again with Roy (my guide) and his friend David for a drink.  Roy and I became friends during the hike and we both shared a huge passion for Andenismo.  We will be climbing other peaks soon.

Tomorrow, I’ll be crossing into Chile.

Ride up!


Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.

Changes For The Better

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Changes For The Better

Arequipa, 20-Jan-2010

Having stopped in Barranca the night before because of, in between others, all the cops’ delays, I took the opportunity to go visit Caral in the morning (Kilometer 3,592, Caral, 14-Jan-10 @9:15).  Caral is the site and name of the oldest known civilization in the Americas, dating back to ~2,500BC.  To put it in perspective, that’s the same time as the Mesopotamian and early Egyptian cultures.   It is suspected that Caral was a “peaceful” society of around 3,000 people built around religion as no weapons, no violent destructions or wars and no sacrifice rituals were found (only one child body).

It was a very interesting and beautiful visit and I only made it back to Barranca in early afternoon where I quickly saddled up and hit the road to Lima (Kilometer 3,634, Barranca, 14-Jan-10 @ 14:25).  What started as being a little funny is now putting a chill on my trip.  The Peruvian police are just too much.  Now that I am riding solo, I am getting stopped left, right and center. .. and for whatever reasons.   Once I got stopped because I went through the green light at the toll, while bikes should go through the red “X” closed lane… don’t even ask.  Another time was because I have daylight running lights on my bike!! What gives?  The police just take your paper and ask for $$.  One guy asked for a $100 USD otherwise he will keep my passport! (the first and only time I gave my passport.  From that moment on my passport does not leave my pouch and I made color photocopy + plasticized all my other documents to look like original.  The cops (a.k.a. “guzanos” can keeps them as souvenir :)).  AnywayZ, with the police I always act as if I do not know a single word of Spanish.  But I have to keep a straight face and try hard not to laugh when I hear them talking between them figuring out a way to make me understand they want money.  Well, I am out of chickens 🙂  Remember the Louisiana man? “No more chicken?!? What do you mean no more chicken!??  Aaaaahhh, you mean you RAN out of chicken!” 🙂 .  Well, I let them tire themselves trying to explain and in the end, most of the time they let me through.  But it’s just delaying my trip by couple of hours every day.

Kilometer 3,853, Miraflores, 14-Jan-10 @ 17:50:  My highlight of Lima was receiving a Skype call from Yasmina who played me a mini-concert of 3 songs on her violin :).  Pretty impressive, even drew a few on-lookers in my hostel.  Bon, back to Lima, well it changed for the better.  Still not my favorite city but it’s a little bit more secure, cleaner and the preservation & maintenance efforts of the historical monuments are yielding great results.  I spent 5 nights there.  First few days I just chilled and partied around Miraflores and Baranco (it was Friday and Saturday and I needed to move some other body muscles ;).  On Sunday, it was Lima’s day, celebrating its 475 years.  I went to the Plaza de Armas where all the festivities were happening.  They had a parade were every city of Peru had a “show” to celebrate Lima.  I saw kings from Lambayeque, Inca’s from the imperial city of Cuzco, tribes from the jungles,… un spectacle vraimment haut en couleur.  I managed to squeeze some time to visit a few of the downtown attractions.  I even got lucky to see the change of the guard in front of the presidential palace where 30 or so soldiers were marching and juggling with their rifles for a good 15 minutes.  Imagine 30 Peruvian Michael Jacksons ;).  Finally on Monday, I actually did my tourist part and visited a couple of museums.  If you are in Lima check out Museo Larco, displaying a fine collection of ceramics and jewelry from the many cultures that inhabited Peru.  The best part is you can see the evolution of art, metallurgy, ceramic,… spanning from 1,000BC, through the many pre-Colombian cultures up-to and including the first years of the conquista.

Tuesday: time to hit the road again.  I stopped in the morning by Kelly’s place, a friend from Canada and one of Alisson’s best friends.  Kelly also decided to move back to her country Peru and she was just settling in (Kilometer 3,898, “Kelly’s beach house”, 19-Jan-10 @ 11:00).  A short visit though as by 13:00 I was on the road again.  There was a bus strike in Peru a nightmare for all tourists but for me it was great to ride without all these crazy bus drivers.  The road to Nazca (and then to Arequipa) passes through Peru’s different deserts: rock and stones desert, red dirt desert, golden sand deserts,…  you name it.  While riding, every once in a while, like a mirage in the horizon, a village starts materializing.  As I get closer and the village grows ever so bigger, the wavy view soon clears up to reveal a lush valley dissected by a river where trees abound and green field lines the river shores.  People here live out of agriculture and farming.  I enter this green paradise, pass through it in few seconds only to see it disappear in my rearview mirror as I ride away and find myself driving again through a dusty and windy, arid and desolate land.

Kilometer 4,323, Nazca, 19-Jan-10 @ 18:15:  I passed through Ica, Pisco and only stayed 1 night in Nazca as I’ve been here before and visited the Nazca cemetery, aqueduct and flew above the famous Nazca lines.  And since the prices skyrocketed I just didn’t feel like flying over the lines again even if I would have liked too.  The following morning I continued to Arequipa:  Thank god, no cops.  Actually there was barely anyone on the road.  But the winds were ever so ferocious blowing sand onto the highway nearly blocking the Panamericana at a certain point.  It took some careful, strong and “tilted” driving 🙂 to face the wind and getting through this.  Kilometer 4,918, Arequipa, 20-Jan-10 @ 17:50, Arequipa is the 2nd biggest city in Peru and somehow I ended deep inside it’s suburb, not at all an inviting place.  Arriving late, in traffic, no street signs, I was just like a blind man there.  So I paid a Taxi 4$ to take me to the Plaza de Armas where I checked-in into a perfectly located hotel with secure parking.

I ended up staying 7 days in and around Arequipa.  It’s a beautiful city and a perfect hub for many activities.  I managed to do some amazing and extreme things, you got to hear about it… so check out my next e-mail 🙂

Ride up!


Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.