Ermanno has been working at the Westlandpeppers webshop for the past year, when he studied in Delft. When we heard of his adventurous plan to discover South America by bike, we wanted to share his story about this extraordinary continent. Via this blog you can follow his journey and adventures!
Where is Ermanno?
Ermanno has been working at the Westlandpeppers webshop for the past year, when he studied in Delft. When we heard of his adventurous plan to discover South America by bike, we wanted to share his story about this extraordinary continent. Via this blog you can follow his journey and adventures!
Today I’m trying to propose something different. Instead of hustling to compress months of experiences into a condensed and readable piece, I’ll take some space for a quick full-immersion into one specific memory of my stay at the Bolivian farm. I do so to switch things up a little and because I sincerely think the story might be worth it. Hope you enjoy the present tense for once!
“At this point I wish nothing more to lay down”. This thought sounds promising as I walk into the barn, looking for my yellow air-mattress. I have spent most of the day digging up rotten Tunas (some kind of cactus appreciated for its red fruits) and I could use some rest. The sun is high in these months and not even my new large hat can keep off the heat. I’m attempting to remove some of the leftover spines from my hands as the other volunteers join the room. They look as wary as me but I hear we have all been invited to the owner’s
We make our way through a junkyard of old cars to enter Don Carlos’ kitchen. The place might best be described as the Bolivian version of a man-cave, where the homeowner was merrily chatting with a friend. Don Carlos stands out in a crowd: strong outlines, gray hair and a whole span taller than the average farmer around. He is making ‘chanclas’ for the upcoming night. We are told these sandals are made out of truck tires and are virtually indestructible. They will allow you to climb mountains, but tonight they are armed with funky little antennas: meant to emphasize your Cumbia dancing skills [Pic 1.].
We are served something to drink and start listening. Don Carlos is a great storyteller andwe all had to admit that his past life might easily earn him a place as a book character. Soldier at first and then student leader in Europe, a decade worth of travels through the African continent and some crazy encounters with desert nomads and local dictators. I slowly tried to steer the conversation towards my eager curiosities about Bolivia. I quickly discovered his keen passion for history and his own past as an indigenous leader. We learned about the main characters of the rebellions against Spanish rule and the yearly traditional fist-fight encounters between local villages.
We had arrived on a special day: the winter solstice was approaching and, that night, people all around the Andes would celebrate the Aymara new year (or Willka Kuti, ‘the return of the sun’). This ceremony marks the end of harvest and the beginning of a new agricultural cycle, by formally asking the Pachamama to benefit from all Earth’s products. Most villagers would continue the preparations all night; in our case, downing our last shot eventually granted us some sleep. Alarms were set at four in the morning: latecomers would have to stay home.
The air was chill enough to reveal our condensating breath against the bright headlights. We silently took place in the back of an old, enormous pick-up truck. Don Carlos proudly explains the vehicle dates back to the last world war, then every attempt to talk is rendered useless by the roaring engine.
We all squish together under a woolen blanket and hold on tight as the mighty truck slowly works its way up a sinuous dirt road. The empty darkness gradually gave place to our first views on the Cochabamba valley. We were told the ride would end at the ruins of an ancient Inca stronghold.
The truck stops and we are suddenly surrounded by parked cars, all reflecting the light of a kindling red dawn. [Pic 2.]. I look around to discover the unreal sight of some hundred indigenous people all gathered on the northern slope of the mountain. Some were still making their way up, but most had celebrated all night: everywhere around tents and bonfires were scattered and small groups gathered to improvise mysterious melodies. In the distance, the Wiphala (the Andes’ native peoples’ flag) danced in the breeze [Pic 3.].
The atmosphere is pervaded by an almost tangible sense of expectation. [Pic 4.].[Pic 5.]. After an unspecified time spent wandering around that fascinating world; an enormous sun appears behind the mountains and the first sunray reaches the flag. Everything happens quickly: hundreds of palms turn towards the light [Pic 6.]. While the preceding silence explodes into a booming crescendo of screams and music. Four alpacas are sacrificed, their entrails lie in the air and the copiousness of the spilling blood is an omen for the rain to come. The local authorities are marked with blood on their cheeks and traditionally crowned for their annual mandate [Pic 7.]. Everyone starts frantically dancing in circles: the jubilant music of drums and flutes rises high above the human voices. I throw myself into the crowd, dust rises following the rhythm of my feet. I feel myself being watched, my blond hair like a flashy lamppost lit by the guilt of intrusion. Soon I lose all fear, I am offered coca leaves, receive the first of many cups of Chicha and, thrilled, I join the dances [Pic 8.]. I let myself be carried away by this flood of people and colors. I feel ready for the year to come.
The weariness of hard times on the Puna was still holding on to me as I reached the border town of La Quiaca. I had run out of cash and had to do some urgent repairs on my bike. The town completely relied on the services of the neighboring Bolivian counterpart so, in an attempt to find a welding machine, I was forced to a first illegal crossing of the border. I had to wade a small stream and then abruptly found myself in another world. To the Western eye everything appears loud and chaotic, life thrives on the streets and people seem to proudly resist the unified looks of globalization with colorful woolen garments and unique facial features. Everywhere around small transactions are made following the unwritten playbook of the informal economy: vendors are screaming, customers approach, a price is negotiated and coins are rapidly exchanged for goods in all colors and forms. I was both fascinated and overwhelmed at the same time, I got hold of some food and headed out following the only existing road.
I was allowed to enjoy the tarmac for just half a day. I then returned to desolate gravel roads, lots of dust and impressive climbs.
My first, extremely talkative, bolivian friend: Eber. We shared a simple room and had long talks. Hint: ask a man about the current situation of its country and be prepared to fish out the interesting bits from a long list of complaints.
A long descent into the Sama Biological Reserve marked the end of the first half of my trip. As a firm believer in slow traveling I felt the need to step off the bike and take some time to stay in a single place for a while. I was able to find a trustworthy babysitter for my bike, then bought a ridiculously cheap backpack and, after accepting a last-minute invitation to a local mass service, took an 18 hour bus headed north.
I learned that Bolivian buses are not really concerned with keeping their passengers warm. After a shivering cold night, I was welcomed by the scorching sun of the Cochabamba valley. It took some rational effort to avoid being overwhelmed by the insane market square of Quillacollo. I navigated the loud stalls and raging current of people until I found the ‘trufi’ (small van) that would get me up the valley. I got out at the last stop and started walking uphill into the fields, asking the occasional farmer for the ‘crazy german lady that plants trees’.
I was welcomed by Noemi: a German professor spending a lifetime in Bolivia. I would get to know her for the bright red overall, heavy rubber boots, brisk-pragmatic ways and a fervent environmental idealism. We got along well.
The picture shows an easy-to-manufacture Johnson bioreactor.
Then started a time I now recall with much affection. I was volunteering in an agroforestry project (which at its core means integrating trees into crop or animal farming systems). Days started early and were marked by long, and almost hypnotizing, hours of work. I would spend most of my time climbing up trees, armed with a small hacksaw, to prune away branches. All of my focus was dedicated to keeping balance and selecting the new branch.
Views from the farm: the immense metropolis of Cochabamba to the East and arid mountains all around.
I was not spending all of my days in the tree crowns. My labor granted me lunch and supper down at Dona Crecencia’s house. Everything was cooked on small fires and we soon found our ways to laugh. At night I would enjoy long talks with Luke, an American traveler wandering about the continent with a horse and two stubborn mules, and the working hours were often spent with other volunteers. For the first time in months I was feeling attached to a place, slowly building up a routine and an interesting makeshift family to share it with.
“Robbers will be lynched”. Similar puppets of hanging men were spread across the valley. The first one I saw at dawn almost gave me a heart attack. Isolated rural villages often don’t have any police presence, this way the community itself takes policing into their own hands (‘Justicia popular’). This strong concept of honor and justice made me feel very safe during the next months in the Bolivian backcountry.
I would often leave the farm to work on other plots of land or visit the market to get my supplies. As weeks were counting, passers-by continued to follow me with confused stares. I, on the other hand, began getting used to the complex dynamics of towns, the crazy traffic and local manners. Habituation gave me confidence without losing curiosity and I would seize every opportunity for such little excursions.
I once ventured out into Cochabamba as my Visum permits were messed up. I took the chance to visit one of the biggest markets of South America. Entire blocks would be dedicated to certain products while the streets hosted a free-for-all of screaming vendors. As in many situations I now wish to show you, this was no place for a shiny camera …
Most weeks I would go to the much closer market of Quillacollo. I quickly learned that a shopping list does very little and I just wandered around waiting to be tempted by colors and aromas. For the first time on the continent, Spanish wasn’t enough to get by as most people were shouting in Quechua. Even so,with time and smiles I found my ‘caseritas’, female vendors which reward your loyalty (everyone is selling the same so you will have to choose) by giving a ‘yapa’ or ‘yapita’ (small extra amounts of what you are buying).
The aforementioned mountains were calling on me. One in particular, Pico Tunari, so a team was formed and we took our two day hike to the top. The first time above the 5,000m mark!
The only way home from the Altiplano to the Cochabamba valley is a small gravel road which is mainly used by farmers and shepherds to transport their goods to the bigger markets. We got a lift on top of a pile of potato bags. The ride was cold and rough, but made special by surreal scenery!
Tranquil times were over when a bunch of frenchmen joined the volunteers’ house. I gratefully got to spend my birthday with them at the 17th annual vegetable market of the small village we were staying at. What may sound lame, turned out to be a crazy day of dancing and politely refusing ‘chica’ cups (a fermented corn beverage) and marriage proposals. I foolishly chose my sandals as footwear and they didn’t survive 10 hours of dancing Cumbia … Fortunately this man could repair them as it was virtually impossible for me to find my size for a new pair.
Blog 10: Climbs and colorful encounters on the Puna High Plateau (May 21st to June
Those prepping days in Cafayate had one subtle common denominator: an increasingly stringent gut feeling. I had lost the cheerful company of my Belgian friends and with them I also felt deprived from that almighty group feeling. I could boast some experience on remote dirt roads back in Patagonia, but that was nothing compared with what was to come. The plan consisted in dragging my heavy touring setup into the Puna on gravel roads up to 5000 meters of elevation. I was constantly checking the temperatures up there, which fell down to -10°C at night. After some days, the desire to push myself and test both physical and mental limits, finally won over my doubts. I also owe a lot to an encouraging conversation with my friend Guille who had already conquered the pass I wanted to climb.
After stocking up on food, I decided to visit the post office and send a package with heavy unnecessary stuff ahead to the border: it was time to grind!
The first kilometers immediately set the tone: bumpy isolated roads, steep slopes and incredible rock formation all around. In the picture, a sweaty me at the ‘Quebrada de las Flechas’.
The road conditions were getting tougher while temperatures at night started plummeting. I decided to break the wild camping habits for once and enjoy the comforts of a room whenever possible. The vast valley I was following suddenly opened up and offered me my first view on my objective: the white peaks of the ‘Nevado del Acay’. The considerable distance and bright sun greatly lessened the impact of the first encounter.
I suddenly found company on the otherwise remote and rocky road I was heavily toiling on. A dust cloud in the distance slowly took the shape of a young gaucho riding his horse. He curiously approached me and started talking, the communication only being hindered by him chewing on the giant coca leaf ball he was carefully holding under its cheek.
His name was Antonio, 20 years old. He proudly told me his lazy mare was about to take part in the upcoming ‘desfile’ and some fat-burning riding was needed to get her in shape.
We both gladly accepted each other’s company and I got invited to follow him through a ‘shortcut’ that was supposed to quicken my arrival at the next town. He reassured me the road would be practicable by bike but I started having my doubts when he swiftly crossed the big river we were following. I didn’t want to admit the inferiority of my trusty steel companion towards his fleshy counterpart so I followed him with a 50kg load on the back and rushing water up to my knees. Antonio’s vivid laughter showed his approval. We proceeded, four hooves and two wheels leaving heavy marks in the sand. He proudly showed me his knife and revolver, useful against both bandits and the ‘duende malvado’ (a maleficent goblin which, according to local belief, lives in these mountains). We shared more road and a lemonade offered by an old farmer before spitting up again. I once again wondered about how profoundly different human experiences can be, depending on when and where you are born.
A quick exchange!
Interesting encounters were still awaiting for me. The following afternoon an old man, sitting along the roadside, stopped me for a chat. He invited me to visit the spiritual center he was building in a nearby valley. There was some time left before sunset and I was told that his brother would welcome me. At the entrance I saw no human at first but only a curious old white horse. His investigations were just about to become too intrusive when Ismael came to my rescue.
The old man in front of me reminded me of a wizard in some fantasy saga: long white tunic, a gnarled staff in his right hand and a few time-consumed pages of the Bible tied to his hat.
Time went by with long discussion that would reconcile cristian and UFO theories into a vibrating eclectic soup. Hours passed and I was forced to leave to reach the last village before the big climb. I was deeply touched when he insisted on giving me some of the scarce money donated by pilgrims to buy bread. I promised to return one day and to send him a usb stick with a video about Italy as was requested by his endless curiosity.
I noticed he was working on some walls using the Tapial technique. I got intrigued and helped him for a while.
We shared a meditation, him occupying his cave and me sitting in the middle of the seven star circle.
My stay at La Poma was less restful than expected. I got really sick while reaching the village, to the point that I had to be hospitalized in the small rural clinic they fortunately had running. I was given four injections in my right butt-cheek and still decided to depart the following morning. The reason for such a rush was a worrying weather forecast on the Abra mountain pass, my time window was just a day.
I had to register my attempt at the local police office (I admit I wasn’t that sure about how much they could have helped me in case of need) and then departed with full provisions and considerable optimism.
Blue skies and incredible views draw my attention away from my burning legs on the first day of heavy uphill climbing.
I had been told an old lady was living along the road. I found her house and she let me pitch my tent on a sheltered spot, away from the howling wind. I offered her some help and she didn’t hesitate to put me to work, carrying around heavy loads for a good hour. Apparently gringo arms are a scarce commodity up there. All the efforts paid off when she rewarded me with some tea, bread and most importantly, an extra woolen blanket for the night. The temperatures reached -12°C at dawn … all my clothes were barely enough to get me through it.
I was surprised to find two children living there as well. They quickly lost their shyness and started asking about every shiny thing I was carrying. The oldest one, 12 years, told me he didn’t go to school and had only left the place once to visit the nearby town … no wonder they were so curious!
Alpacas are the only form of sustenance at this altitude and the family’s herd was both numerous and extremely intrigued by my tent.
The following morning the old lady decided she was not quite ready to let me go. She told me she needed some help with one of her goats, so I stayed despite the haste to avoid the afternoon winds. She wasn’t really clear but my task was to keep a firm hold on the animal’s legs. A knife was brought and the goat was quickly butchered for the upcoming supper. A few moments later I was back on my saddle, blood stains covering my arms. I took the unexpected experience, so far from my everyday life back at home, as some strange offering: a good omen for my ascend.
Infinite switchback, cliffs and increasingly numerous breaks marked my slow advance.
Fording little streams became even more complex as everything was frozen solid.
It took me hours to reach the pass. I was out of breath because of scarcening oxygen, the bike was feeling heavier and heavier. Rough winds were blowing dust into my eyes and my energies were plummeting. After some time even pushing the heavy bike wasn’t an option anymore: I strapped a length of rope across my chest, tied it to the bike and started slowly hauling it uphill.
Abra del Acay, 4895 meters above sea level. The winds surpassed the 100Km/h mark: when lifted off the ground, my bike would rise in the wind like a flag. In the picture, an extremely happy me is focusing on staying upright in the currents.
A well-earned rest day was taken in the small mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres. Some 400km of dirt roads on the Puna highlands were still separating me from the border with Bolivia. The collapse came on a cold morning, just 10km from the next town. The wind was fiercely blowing against me, my sweat was forming icy rivulets on my wind jacket and energies were running low. I suddenly realized that this route was not really making me happy in any way and probably wouldn’t do so in the weeks to come. I decided to turn around.
That day, I learned that the ego can be a subtle beast. One should always be able to tell apart pride from the desire for adventure. Once I had reached the pass all motivation and interest in the extreme conditions were gone: the mind can push the body over all kinds of obstacles, but once the determination cracks, you’re done.
Pic 17. 164 Km of beautifully smooth downhill tarmac brought me back to civilization.
Blog 9: First vacation and Northern Argentina (March 31st to May 20th)
I’ve been confronted with a dilemma lately: should the periods “off the bike” be considered in the blog? My goal is to showcase this beautiful continent from a two-wheeled point of view and I am also quite convinced that the Internet is already overflowing with tales of European backpackers. I’ll therefore limit myself to a few pictures of the ‘vacation’ and follow up with my enterprises in the North of Argentina.
The chaos of Buenos Aires was overwhelming compared to the immense vastness of Patagonia. Luckily my friends Silas and Luuk quickly joined me to discover the beauty and nighttime madness of the capital. This dutch duo, good friends from my days at Delft University, had to renounce their travels to Asia and, to my delight, decided to back up into Latin America. After two weeks of intense hostel life and a newly obtained expertise in cheap local wines, the need for tranquility led us to Quebrada del Condorito National Park, Cordoba.
I would love to show the beautiful condors that name the park. Those enormous birds are slowly repopulating the area, but remained stubbornly at an impossible distance for my poor camera. I’ll make it up with some views over the cliffs and into the night sky. This was also the opportunity to discover our new favorite (and healthier) beverage: for the next month. We would make sure to have a warm Mate ready at any occasion.
We left northbound with a new addition to the team: our friend Oscar. We then got hold of a rented car in Salta to truly appreciate the region and decided to pitch the tents and get some bonfires going wherever possible. Going south was probably one of the most beautiful roads I have ever seen: each new bend would provide jaw-dropping glimpses of mountains, cliffs and canyons, all tinted by shades of red.
We started gaining some good altitude (above the 4000m mark) in the Jujuy province. Perfect tarmac, infinite switchbacks and good music made the driving experience almost surreal. This intense freedom culminated upon arriving at Salinas Grandes. We managed to reach the salt flats just before sunset and pitched the tents directly on the impenetrable candid surface. Such vast flatness nullifies distance and left us almost drunk with excitement. A few hours later the temperatures had dropped well below zero: we packed together to share some warmth and gazed into the star-lit sky. Our faces in the rising sunlight are the best testament I can give to the tremendous coldness of the night.
Serranía del Hornocal, Humahuaca (4761 masl). First real encounter with high altitude. We ascended rapidly by car and were heavily confronted with our lungs at the first stroll uphill. Try to imagine being a heavy smoker and breathing in hot and dry air: your lungs inflate without getting the much needed oxygen. The result is a pounding headache and slower reactiveness. I took a mental note to take this issue very seriously on the upcoming Altiplano.
Without being on my bike, I felt I was somehow cheating; the landscape changes at such a speed that I need to focus to avoid losing daily details. I was therefore eager to return to my usual and more manageable rhythm. Another flight brought me back to Patagonia to the city of Neuquen. I was received by my sister and was welcomed into a rare tranquil week of family life. This was also a unique chance to finally repair and substitute all broken gear. Daily intense use had torn apart almost every object I was carrying. Clothes, bike, tent, shoes and sleeping pad got stitched, sawn, glued and taped back into functionality. I also got hold of some new bikepacking bags, rare spares sent from Italy and warmer clothes. I was even able to find someone to modify my three season tent into a warmer home, ready for a winter in the Andes!
Finally back on Ruta 40, just north of Mendoza.
Long stretches of desert finally gave me time for introspection. I realized how much I had missed having some solitude after non-stop companionship.
This new-found peace of mind got quickly interrupted by some exciting news: Brice, Pierre and Etienne, my Belgian friends, were cycling just two days ahead of me! I happily increased my speed and was able to join them in time for a beautiful stretch of road, just past the village of Jachal.
The color red was spreading again into the hills around us. A smooth tarmac road testified for Brice’s first flat tire. He had been bragging about his virgin Schwalbe pneumatics since their start from Ushuaia (just for comparison: I was gifted over 10 punctures over the same stretch) so we all happily agreed on some cosmic justice being restored.
Torrid days and chilly nights marked our slow ascent onto the high plateaus of north Argentina. Autumn had fully caught up by then despite my daring escape towards the Equator. The amazing views and excellent company pushed us up infinite switchbacks and along monotonous straights.
The impressive cliffs of Talampaya and Ischigualasto National Park. A must-see in the region: the unique geology of this desert offers a rare glimpse into fossil records of the Triassic period. In other words: big bones and even bigger cliffs!
The Ruta 40 passed through some villages that gave us the opportunity to better connect to this region and its people. We were first invited to spend a night at a local dairy farm and then bumped into a museum about the history of the Kakanes, pre-Inca peoples that share the common language: Kakan.
The Altiplano’s cultures heavily rely upon the various cameloids that inhabit the high grasslands. Guanacos, Vicunas, Alpacas and the famous Llamas are all kept for their meat and their wool is woven into beautiful fabrics.
A few days later we decided to take a sandy detour to the ancient city of the Quilmes. This antique fortress, called ‘Alto del Rey ́ (High Ground of the King), has witnessed some major revolts until almost all the local tribes were deported to the East by the Spanish conquerors. I got caught in some interesting conversations with the members of the present-day indigenous community. They proudly described their legal land reclamation work in the past century. The result is the current recognition of ethnic and cultural rights. I was happy to hear a story of success after witnessing so many cases of protracted violence I had encountered in the regions I had cycled through so far.
The site envelops the entire slope of the mountain and is characterized by smart vertical planning and brilliant water management.
We finally arrived at Cafayate, a beautiful town well known as wine country. The Belgians and I separated as I was determined to challenge the high grounds of the Puna. I spent some days preparing in the backyard of an old man’s home, cheered by the colorful company of itinerant craftsmen, musicians, drunken fathers and other characters that are open to talk as soon as you take the time to carefully observe the busy fuzz of a plaza.
We treated ourselves with a visit to a local vignard. We arrived too late for the visit so had to kill time until the next one. Four exquisite bottles later and we were in very bad shape for the official tasting. We didn’t learn much about wine that afternoon, but what an amazing goodbye!
Blog 8: Northern Patagonia (11 March to 30 March 2022)
Loud monkeys and parrots of all kinds do their best to distract me while I am writing on a wooden deck in the Brazilian jungle. I’m trying to set my mind on Patagonia´s memories, both distant in time and space (half a continent and almost half a year back to be honest) . I will be volunteering for a month in this beautiful place so there are no more excuses to postpone those past stories that I feel I owe to the readers that are still waiting for updates. I sincerely hope that once this burden has fallen off my shoulders, I’ll regain the enthusiasm to keep you updated in real time! Fortunately, I won’t have to rely on my precarious memory to take you on this dive into the past. I might be a sloppy blogger, but all the information I need is neatly recorded in my diary. I had no idea that crossing the border with Argentina would put an end to the relative loneliness of the past months. I met Etienne, Brice and Pierre, three adventurous Belgians on their way to Bolivia, on a dusty road in the afternoon heat. Several hours and several beers later we were all gathered around the dying ashes of our barbecue, slowly falling asleep to the combined effects of good music and sore muscles. The nostalgia for Chile had already been replaced by excitement for the road to come.
Entering Los Alerces National Park after we had temporarily lost Etienne due to a broken spoke.
The Park is famous for centuries-old native trees and pristine lakes. Once again I couldn’t help but notice the devastating effects of immense fires in the valley. It seems like a shared faith for most natural reserves I have passed through.
We spent some days together, enough to remind me how everything suddenly appears easier and more fun when you have company around. It made me reflect, with a pinch of envy, about my decision to embark on this journey on my own. I happily concluded that solitude, generally speaking, makes for harder times but greater lessons and emotions. Nonetheless, I´ll always be happy to share the road when the opportunity arises.
Apple compote lunch in the making.
I arrived alone to El Bolson, a small town and famous starting point for numerous hikes. I thus procured myself a map of the trails and started looking at the immense valleys ahead in trepidation. I suddenly got a reply from a Warmshowers contact and half an hour later two strangers were helping me drag my bike uphill into the thick of the surrounding forests. I arrived at a chakra (small farm) where Mauri, a former bike traveler, welcomed me with open arms. I was told this was an ´ocupa´ (pacific occupation of unused land) where two families were living: around me naked children were running between permaculture gardens and natural construction sites. Later that night I shared a table with Mauri, his toddler son and a young Argentinian traveler called Henri. We spent hours uncovering and discussing some of Latin America’s open wounds. I recall some disagreements with the last: ironically we both shared common ideals but where we were born and raised had a dramatic influence over our vision and methods. Once the candles died, I gratefully exchanged the cold flysheet of my tent for the warm wooden floor of the cabin. I fell asleep asking myself how many of my ideas and thoughts were passively absorbed by growing up in Western Europe.
Details of the adobe and timber house.
I slowly woke up the following morning, on my side laid the map I had previously picked up, full of trails I wouldn’t walk. I had seen enough mountains for the moment, it was time to embrace this human experience. I spent the day helping out on the foundations of a dome with Henri and Dami. While working I got invited to celebrate the new moon with a Rapé ceremony. This is how I ended up getting tobacco and ashes blown into my nostrils while dancing and singing around a fire in honor of Pachamama. I stared at the moon with my bare feet in the remaining ashes until the last branch was consumed by the flames. Only then we were forced inside by the frigid cold. This cult for ´Mother Earth´ has been and still is fundamental for most cultures and peoples across the continent. I´m always impressed by the profound respect and reverence shown equally by both old and young.
Henri, Dami and myself in front of the foundations of a soon-to-be new dome.
I left the farm deeply moved by the amazing hospitality and acceptance, ready to fulfill my promise to return again in the future. I would have loved to stay longer but someone very special was waiting up North. Dear-ones visiting results in an unforeseen consequence: on one side the happiness of reunion, on the other the loss of freedom as it states a place in time and space you should be at.
I had to hurry up the beautiful mountains of Nahuel Huapi National Park. It was increasingly more difficult to find camping spots at night: I was warned by the police of violent truckers and was repeatedly driven away by barking dogs. I finally opted to set up the tent behind an abandoned house where I even found an apple tree: good sleep and free breakfast!
Bariloche is one of the major tourist attractions of northern Patagonia. The city will surprise you with Swiss style looks and terrify you with very Swiss prices. I had been there five years ago on a legendary school trip with my senior Chilean class. I realized with a smug grin that I could recall foggy late night memories of numerous parties but had a hard time recognising streets in daylight. Times had changed and on this occasion all I could wish for was a hot shower and proper meal. Luckily, I had had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful couple during a distant rainy afternoon on the shores of Lake Buenos Aires. Giuliano, a physicist with Italian roots, and his wife Regina offered me to stay at their place until I had recovered my energies. We had long dinners together talking about life in the Old and New World. I´m profoundly grateful for their hospitality: it’s incredible how many people are ready to make you feel at home when you are far from your own.
Big smiles and beautiful views exploring the vast mountain ranges that surround the city. I had to limit myself to a quick trip to Refugio Frey and Cerro Catedral. I love the freedom of a light day-pack and fast pace!
North of the city starts a road whose name alone seduces riders from all over: Ruta de los 7 Lagos. Stretching a little beyond 100 km, this spectacular route connects seven crystal blue lakes in a breathtaking succession. I spent some incredible nights under the stars, both lit in the faraway sky and reflected by still dark waters. I could only start my days when the sun rays finally hit my tent, wrapped into all of my clothes and both my sleeping bags. Autumn was just starting and my equipment proved to be by far insufficient … Nonetheless, the day would eventually start with the mechanical repetition of movements that will neatly arrange all my camp into the panniers. This daily ritual has by now acquired a dance-like rhythm to it, a constant play on an ever changing stage.
Descending towards the first lake after fierce headwinds
An abundance of blue
I finally arrived in San Martin de los Andes. Opposing feelings were battling in me: I knew the time of my first break from cycling had arrived. My little sister (temporarily living in Argentina for an exchange) came to visit with her lovely host family. It was wonderful to see her after so much time in such a remote place. I enjoyed their company and handed them my bike. I was left with a small backpack containing the essentials and a plane ticket to Buenos Aires.
I spent some days sleeping in the garden of an old lady while waiting for my sister. All basic commodities were inside her house so I found myself spending long evenings watching Mexican telenovelas with ´la señora Pato´. She definitely had a unique character which made those lazy rainy hours lapse like some strange dream. It’s almost unreal how she became one of numerous improvised families I encountered on my journey. The picture shows me adapting to an Argentinian-sized house to wash the dishes.
The route, around 5800 km cycled since I left home.
The first views on lake Buenos Aires were hinting to me about what was to come. The second biggest lake of South America is surrounded by long mountain ranges on both sides while suppressing clouds were hiding the view of the Chilean shores. I crossed the border in Paso Jeinimeni and immediately recognized the familiar accent. Somehow, I was feeling home. I just had to make sure to quickly forget all the Argentinian slang I had picked up!
There are two ways to cross the remaining section of the lake that changes its name to General Carrera on the Chilean side of the border. The first is to take a convenient ferry, the second follows the steep mountain slopes on a single lane gravel road. You can easily guess where I ended up complaining about my life choices. At least the heat, dust, horrific climbs and terrible conditions of the road surface were compensated for by the wild beauty of the landscape.
Impressive rock formations, solitude and loads of dust welcomed me back to Chile!
Steep gravel climbs are unfriendly to my heavy touring setup … I often had no choice but to push by foot! The constant dance between mountains and lake was mesmerizing!
The night sky’s company is the undisputed reward in isolated and dry regions. Every night, I was slowly learning to recognize those new foreign constellations!
The Ruta 7, better known as Carretera Austral, is another one of those legendary names that are intertwined with Patagonia. The complex construction of the road began in 1976 as the military regime wished to reinforce Chilean sovereignty on the remote region during territorial disputes with Argentina. The result is a 1240 km long twisty connection between Puerto Montt and Villa O’Higgins, the perfect playground for adventures!
My official start on the Carretera, just after Puerto Guadal.
I happily exchanged my bike for a raft to visit the famous Catedrales de Marmor. Those impressive marble structures are formed due to slow carsic erosion by the lake’s water. It was fun to change perspective: mountains and lake had swapped places for a while!
The road´s conditions were making for rough times. I recall spending some days in a row constantly complaining about stuff. Bike touring is not always a vacation and I was feeling the fatigue building up. The situation required a change of mentality: I reminded myself for how long I had craved being there and started focussing less on my aching leg muscles and more on the beautiful surroundings. Somehow it worked and soon I was cycling again with a smile.
The landscape suddenly changed as I crossed to the Western side of the Andes. The bike’s pace is slow enough to notice details, but also fast enough to cover significant distances: this allows one to notice how the climate itself is influenced by the region´s morphology. The Cordillera is blocking all the humidity coming from the Pacific. Big clouds constantly condensate and precipitate on the Chilean side of the mountain range, leaving Argentinian Patagonia almost completely dry. The consequent difference in flora and fauna is astonishing considering the relative proximity!
I reached Villa Cerro Castillo under a rare clear sky. I was even able to shave down the last kilometres by getting offered a ride by two brothers who I had already seen on previous occasions on the road. Their kind offer was stronger than my ego to ride out the last bit of road to the very end. The town’s campground welcomed me with a beautiful dome where I could wait out the terrible weather conditions before starting for the hike to the top of Cerro Castillo. I can confidently state that I met more people under that sheet of plastic than in the previous three weeks!
Chilly campsite under the imposing presence of Cerro Castillo, my coldest night so far: -4°C! My sleeping bag was not warm enough… I reminded myself of the necessity of doing some shopping before the upcoming winter.
Luciano, my new friend and spontaneous companion for this hike. The summit you see in the background gives the name to the whole area: Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo. This immense national park is part of the millions of hectares that have been donated by the Tompkins Conservation foundation. The story of Douglas Tompkins is a wild and amazing one, I will just highly recommend you to watch the following video to get started:
Big smiles despite the freezing winds!
I had promised myself to rest a bit and was finally able to do so upon my arrival in Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region. I have to thank Claudia, whom I had previously met on the lake’s shores, for her amazing hospitality. I spent my first night in a bed in months. I had almost forgotten how comfortable that actually is!
My legs felt strong and my spirits were high as I followed the Simpson River downstream, well-knowing that the forecast was calling for a ten-day shower. This time, unfortunately, it didn’t lie: long days of humidity and pouring rain followed. The downfall complicates everything, from cycling itself to finding adequate break or camp spots. Even the persistent, low-hanging clouds didn’t bother me: an old lady told me that was the real Patagonia and I had all the intention to fully experience it.
Moody misty roads and fine rain. I recall those cold days of solitude as a serene immersion into the surrounding nature. The gentle patter of drops and the rhythmic pace of my cranks had finally silenced all thoughts. One quiet night in the woods I had a close encounter with two grey foxes while I was completing my stretching routine. The couple froze as they saw me in my bright yellow outfit, they looked confused. It took them a long minute to assess the situation before disappearing again in the bushes, I would have loved to know their thoughts.
My reward after conquering the Queulat pass on mud-flushing slopes: the spectacle of the Ventisquero Colgante or ´hanging glacier´.
I found a peculiar shelter in Puyuhuapi where a lady was offering a house under construction for protection. I wasn’t the only smelly humid traveller and found a lot of interesting company while I waited out a particularly intense stormy day. Everyone had his own reason to end up in such remote regions, most are attracted by the mystery and genuine sense of adventure. I recall an intense conversation with a young man from Israel. It was ten in the morning and he offered me some of his second bottle of red wine, his way to deal with the pouring clouds. He was just two years older than me but had spent all his adult life fighting in the Israeli army. I couldn’t help but think about my own path, so different from the violence and discipline I was hearing about. I later hoped that the rain could extinguish some of the fire in his memories.
Quiet night on the shores of Yelcho Lake. I had to abandon the Carretera on a small gravel road to reach the only border crossing that still remained open. I gratefully recalled the past weeks in front of a sparkling fire.
I crossed the border in Futaleufu with a heavy heart. Returning to Chile had been my dream for the last five years. I sadly realized that I had no idea when my next visit would be, painfully conscious that the next big trip will probably be outside of Latin America. Nonetheless, I crossed with a smile, breaking the silence on the notes of some improvised song.
I was able to have one last puncture 10km before the border. Luckily, I got picked up by a van: I was given good company and craft beers for my last night in Chile!
I had to cheat a little to get to Punta Arenas. The Southern hemisphere’s summer was slowly approaching its end and I couldn’t afford to lose precious time arriving by bike. The flight itself was disrupted by a myriad of turbulent thoughts: I chose a seat by the window and didn’t lose sight of the Andes until the sun was long gone under the horizon. A couple of hours later and my bike was finally back to its shape and ready to go. I could hear the rain pouring in the dark and my phone was warning for sub-zero temperatures. The hallways of the airport were deserted until I got approached by the night guard, the first of many saviors I would encounter. I ended up laying under a bench in the airport’s small chapel and sleep came late and didn’t last long. My buzzing mind couldn’t stop thinking: now it’s for real!
My first (warm) sleeping spot!
I departed early in the morning, eager to make progress, as someone would be waiting for me at a small outpost 90 km to the north. I am lucky enough to have an old friend in the region and he offered to pick me up, quite a luxurious start! It was amazing to see him again in the middle of the steppe and I was warmly welcomed in Puerto Natales. Something happened over there: I was supposed to stay for a few days and ended up growing roots for almost two weeks. The area is well known for the Torres del Paine National Park and attracts adventurers from all over the world. I had been dreaming for a long time to walk one of the trekking circuits but found them all overbooked. We ended up going to the park for five nights during two different expeditions. I was by no means disappointed: your eyes will bounce from the massive granite peaks to glaciers, rivers and pristine lakes. We were blessed with excellent weather and good company, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!
Quiet roads in Puerto Natales are always framed by unbelievable mountains in the
Approaching the massif
Base Torres viewpoint with my friends Ronnie and Dani
We used the bike to travel to different sections of the park. My tire didn’t survive the
bumpy roads … a few moments later and I found myself in the back seat of a police truck.
What would normally mean big troubles was in this case just a very welcomed ride home!
The park has suffered several devastating fires in the last years, all caused by clumsy
tourists. Therefore visitors nowadays are only allowed to stay at official campsites, the photo
shows Ronnie’s afternoon stretch at our beautiful spot on Lake Pehoe.
A little sun and the park discloses all its colors.
The real cause of my longer stay was the rather incredible hospitality of Ronnie and his family. I accepted an invitation to join them on a weekend trip to visit some friends in Punta Arenas: having and, if necessary, taking the time to really experience alternative realities is one of the reasons I travel. It allowed me to go beyond just being a tourist and beginning to know, appreciate and tune into the rhythm of life at those extreme latitudes. I’ll need the aid of several photos to take you on a journey to the Chilean definition of ‘vida de campo’. Many people in the city will still be connected to the rural surroundings and own a small piece of land with a ´quincho’, which is a simple, but covered structure where folks prepare their ‘asado’. The house is dominated by the presence of the ‘estufa Magallanica’, a heavy duty iron stove which serves as the beating heart of the house. We spent our days gathered around the fire, patiently waiting for the ‘cordero’ to cook. Hours passed alternating long silences and heavy laughter. The elders would usually make questions about Italy first, and later just continuously refill my wine glass with a conspiratorial grin. This drinking and feasting cycle repeated for several days until the mirror started showing signs of my growing belly fat. Family and friends would worry and ask about my condition, imagining I was suffering food-deprivation in the steppes … the irony of the situation convinced me to gratefully say goodbye to the family and start pedaling with my strategically acquired energy reserves!
The stove is used to cook and heat the house. A big pan of water is always kept on it
when the freezing temperatures will otherwise turn everything into ice. In the mornings I
would sit right next to it and patiently wait for a warm piece of ‘churrasca’, a soft bread which
is directly cooked on the iron surface.
The fire has been going for a while and the ‘cordero’ is receiving its salt bath
Deeply questioning myself about a refill
Puerto Natales offers an easy crossing to Argentina. Unfortunately Covid is still a thing and I had to embark on a 340 km long detour to reach the only accessible border crossing in Monte Aymond. I couldn’t complain on my first day though: I was pushed by crazy tailwinds that drove me down to the end of the scenic ‘Ruta del fin del mundo’. I couldn’t get rid of an enormous smile on my face while racing the cloud’s shadows and enjoying the changing colors in the landscape.
The ‘end of the world’ route, quite a promising name!
Riding along the Strait of Magellan. Growing up, I associated this place with
adventurer’s diaries, antique maps and wild storms … It looks a lot friendlier on a sunny day!
Murphy’s law: “Any wind that can blow against you, will blow against you”
Once in Argentina, I entered the small city of Rio Gallegos. I was observing every detail with a child’s curiosity. Do you remember that game where you had to find the differences between two apparently identical images? I was doing the same comparing these unknown streets and their inhabitants with my more familiar understanding of Chile. I proceeded to stockpile food and water for four days: a conservative estimate for the 303 km of absolute nothing I would need to cross. A few hours later on the saddle and a lonely car pulled over, a window was opened and I was served my first Mate by a group of smiling students. This beverage is obtained by the repeated infusion of bitter herbs and is sipped with a metal pierced straw. The country probably wouldn’t function without it and the beverage is ever present in all social interactions.
Argentinians profess a deep faith for their saints. Small chapels and shrines are a
common sight alongside roads. Two figures of popular myths are Difunta Correa and
Gauchito Gil. I highly invite you to search up their fascinating stories! The image shows my
first refuge in the steppes, the candles offered great comfort during the freezing night.
I met someone to fight the loneliness of the steppes. Guille is on a mission exploring
the vast sceneries of Argentina on his bike. We quickly got along and shared a week of
cycling. I was grateful for the amazing adventures and for having a local guide in front (he
was way faster than me…).
Angry clouds on the southern tongue of the Perito Moreno glacier.
The road I was following has almost a legendary status: the Ruta 40 spans the entire country on a 5000 km long cocktail of dirt roads, tarmac and immense scenery in the most different climates. I crossed the entire section of the Santa Cruz region going North. Many travelers had warned me that the famous Patagonian winds mostly blow southward, but I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I must admit I struggle to describe my lonely crossing of the steppes. Those weeks were dominated by the constant action of the wind and I spent long days slowly grinding those immense distances. My mood would jump from moments of extreme ecstasy and freedom to long and tortuous thoughts. My sight enthusiastically followed distant mountains and the high flight of condors, and at times just fell into obsessively staring at the front wheel in search of some aerodynamicity. Those days are already fading into a dream-like state, I’ll let some pictures compensate for my fuzzy writing.
‘Los 73 malditos’ is an iconic stretch of gravel road between Tres lagos and
Gobernador Gregores. I had never felt so far away from everything else! I was rewarded with
an incredible view of the ascending moon while setting up camp.
This time I couldn’t make it to the next refuge and was forced to take shelter by a
culvert under the road. It was the only spot which offered a small protection from the wind.
One animal thrives in the vast steppes: small herds of elusive Guanacos would keep
Those intense colors in the Parque Nacional Patagonia originated from the explosive
volcanism that separated Latin America from the ancient continent Gondwana.
I thought it might be nice to show the route on a map, just to get a sense of the
distances and terrain. I’m sorry for the poor quality and visualization: this is all I can do from
this old library’s desktop! This blog ends on the shores of Lago Buenos Aires as I try to
obtain my PCR test to enter Chile. I hope the upcoming Carretera Austral will gift me
with the presence of some green trees (I really missed having those around) and the
I took a look at my travel itinerary: only 37 hours should separate my hometown in Italy from the final destination. It must have been lying: the regular passage of time completely lost its sense as I dragged myself through customs in my last connecting airport. An intercontinental flight on a budget is an experience on its own, a simple but beautiful neologism perfectly describes it: airports are nonplaces. An uncomfortable seat, crowded corridors, infinite successions of gates and anonymous bathrooms; all of those places do not really exist. Not in the sense that your grandparents’ house or your favorite beach exist. I was just transiting, following one signboard after the other, in constant reminder that slipping on a detail could cost you the next connection or arouse suspicion in a grumpy officer.
By now you can imagine how I felt when I set foot on the streets of Santiago de Chile. I was able to arrive at the Airbnb with my bike and immediately went on a quest for some food. The city just hit me. A South American metropolis could scare a foreign visitor at first. It is chaotic and crowded, a cacophony of voices,cars and music stuns you for a while and then invites you to explore the old ‘avenidas’. My looks and cycling outfit convicted me as a ´gringo´, I was an outsider like never before. This feeling slowly drifted away as I started recognizing the traits of the country I had previously been living in for a year. The physiognomy of faces, brands of sweets and grocery stores, small and fearless buses called ´micro` … My memories were slowly realigning with what I was seeing.
First picture in my room before falling into a 14 hour sleep at the arrival.
My thoughts really started to get overflown by excitement as I left Santiago on a bus that was clearly not designed for the road and speed it was traveling at. My bike was still safely packed, I wanted to reach Valdivia as soon as possible. The landscape slowly changed as we headed south: the arid peaks of the Precordillera gave place to fertile valleys at first and greaner forests at last. I knew I was approaching home as I started recognizing trees and road signs. There is something very special about returning to the place where you lived such meaningful experiences as during a student exchange. It has been over four years; everything feels alien and familiar at the same time. The first days were ruled by the strong emotion of reuniting with my host family and catching up with the city. A lot has happened to this country since I left. A series of massive protests, referred to as the ´Estadillo Social´ took place in October 2019 as a response to rising inequality, living costs and corruption. Stuff like this, exacerbated by the pandemic, really obliges individuals to take a position in their society. It also leaves physical traces for the observant eye: streets, walls and fences tell their silent stories.
A view on Valdivia’s riverside, generally referred to in Chile as ’Costanera’
Chile is one of those countries that I believe one should definitely visit at some point. Take a closer look at a map of South America and you will understand why. This strip of land, trapped between the high peaks of the Andes and the vastness of the Pacific ocean, stretches more than 4000 Km from North to South. It’s as if it pretends to bridge the Equator and Antarctica! I’ll try my best to share my love for its scenery and people. I have been lucky enough to already discover the Northern plateaus during a backpacking trip to the Atacama desert. It was now time to truly appreciate the region around the city of Valdivia. Fernando, an old friend from the ‘colegio’, took me to the beach of Mehuin. This place is infamous for being the epicenter of the earthquake that devastated the region in 1960, a 9.6 on the Richter scale … the highest ever to be recorded. Luckily it is also known for its beautiful waves and I spotted some Toninas (a kind of dolphin) from the surfboard!
The roughed Pacific coast
A safer beach for a surf newbie like me
My second adventure was offered by another friend I couldn’t wait to meet again. I followed Fabian to Playa Colun, located South of the city. Arriving isn’t easy, it took us a bus, a ferry, a pickup truck and a three hour hike to reach our spot. You really feel the distance from everything else in such an isolated place. We spent three days exploring the forest, sand dunes and infinite coastline!
From this point you either take a horse or walk
You can guess what my budget allowed for …
The beach is famous for its massive dunes
Standing on the border between sand and jungle gives the impression that reality is
just glitching and mixing up landscapes in front of your eyes!
Chile’s low population density implies that it only takes a few kilometers from the
main square to find yourself on beautiful roads.
An old fisherman gifted me some kind of crab after helping him with his boat. I ate
what I coud and left the remains nearby on the sandy beach. I didn’t have to wait long with
my camera to snap a picture of this ’Gaviota Cahuil’!
As Christmas approached, I found myself to be grateful for how my time planning had come along. According to my initial plan I should have been somewhere in Patagonia at that moment. I don’t feel particularly attached to the 25th. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help having mixed feelings about a warm Christmas. I felt very lucky to spend the day with my host family and took some time to catch up with my people at home.
Every excuse is good to eat a ’cordero’ (lamb) in Chile. The ’parrillero’ will
patiently turn the meat for up to four hours.
The start of 2022 broke the bubble I was happily living in and brought some restlessness to my thoughts. I was feeling as if I was just standing on a trampoline without really making the jump I had dreamt off for so long. I realized that proceeding southwards by bike from Valdivia would result in losing the small window of summer in Patagonia. The best option was to take a flight, I hope it will be the last one for a while. It’s time for packing and some difficult goodbyes, I’ll land in Punta Arenas next week … The journey can now start for real!
I started my Camino de Santiago just over the border with France, in the city of Irun. I enjoyed a beautiful night discovering the city while being hosted by a generous Warmshower. I decided to follow the northern route as I heard wonders about the beauty of its landscapes. I soon realized I wasn’t going to be disappointed: the Basque country unfolded between green mountains and the constant presence of the blue ocean. I was fascinated by the Basque language (called Euskera, good luck trying to make sense of it!) and its people.
Basque country´s mysterious landscapes
A bike has its limits, sometimes a little help is needed
It took me a few days to reach the Cantabria region. It felt like a lot more as I was stubbornly following the pilgrimage route´s track, regularly having to turn around on inaccessible hiking paths. The end of October was approaching and I didn’t meet a single other pilgrim on the road. This solitary condition suddenly changed as I met Sebastian, a french traveler, who was biking south from his hometown near Paris. We immediately got along and shared an amazing camp spot by the coast, just west of Bilbao.
Conquering hills in good company: the ocean´s view offers constant rewards!
Entering Galicia, we met with another bike traveler. With the addition of Tarkan, our new German friend, the team was complete. This marked the start of a beautiful week. The truth is that sharing the road makes everything easier and funnier. We suddenly had three fire pits at our disposal, allowing us to finally increase the complexity of some meals! I was glad to leave the instant noodles for a while. The weather was on our side, causing a drop in our daily cycling average to around 30 km as we were spending more and more time on sandy beaches. The great thing about meeting other cyclists is the opportunity to share travel hacks. Every one of us had something to teach and a lot to learn. Overall I recall those long days as happy and carefree, I´ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
We took care in choosing nice spots each night
Sharing the road
Sleeping under the stars
More amazing camp spots
We said goodbye to Tarkan as he was heading South and followed the sun into Galicia. The coast continued to abruptly drop into the ocean, creating spectacular cliffs. We decided to take a day off on a particularly beautiful peninsula and spent the last days on the coast before parting from the ocean into the mainland.
A day off on the cliffs
We immediately faced some tough hills and colder weather. It looked like we had to pay for all the gifted sunshine with a last day of pouring rain. We decided to split and sprint for the last 100 Km. I arrived in front of Santiago´s cathedral at the end of the evening, drenched to the bone. Maybe all that rain had its purpose as it allowed me to enjoy the pilgrimage site in relative tranquility.
Santiago de Compostela Archcathedral Basilica, burial place of Saint James the Great
The following days offered a rare occasion for resting, as an intimidating sky was dissuading every cycling attempt. I found myself enjoying the luxuries of a hostel, the city and all the amazing people that I met there. Santiago will remain in my memories as a crazy encounter between locals going about their lives and ecstatic pilgrims that finally reached their finish line after so much walking. It makes for some interesting situations throughout the city. I finally left the home-feeling hostel, equipped with a list of cities and road names as my phone had sadly decided to take a fatal shower under the rain. I was somehow intrigued by the idea of traveling without being connected at all times. Those days made me realize how reliant I am on all the information that little piece of technology can provide. I ended up on a variety of roads I was definitely not supposed to ride and was relieved to finally encounter the Portuguese coast, as I could easily follow it until my final destination.
It’s impossible not to smile on a border crossing
I met up again with Sebastian while entering Porto. I fell in love with the city during the following days while being hosted by an amazing Warmshower. We were spending our days sitting on the side of busy streets while enjoying the views and local cuisine. On the last day, we decided to follow the Douro river upstream by bike until reaching the first mountains of the region.
A view on the Douro
Lazy afternoons in Porto
Hiking in good company
I was finally approaching the end of this part of the trip. I managed to pack my bike in the courtyard of a cheap hostel in Lisbon and somehow got to the airport. I was feeling a bit guilty about returning by plane but I knew there was no time. I had just under two weeks to prepare everything for the imminent departure to Chile, take a quick look at my future University and say goodbye to some good friends in The Netherlands. Busy schedule. I took some time reading in my journal about my pre-departure fears. Seven weeks, four countries and almost 3000 km later I could recognize their irony. I was scared of feeling lonely, and had spent hardly any time alone, as I continually encountered travel companions. I was worried about sleeping outside in unknown places and found myself repeatedly sleeping the longest and most tranquil nights in recent years! On the plane I realized I had just kind of won the home game: the next match would be in Latin America!
I’m currently home in Italy, the European part of the journey is completed and just under 3000 kilometers have disappeared under my wheels. I must admit that I ran out of decent reasons to procrastinate the necessary writing to update this blog. At least I feel like I have some good excuses: my days were spent having a good time and I didn’t feel the need to write down what was still being experienced. This accumulated for some weeks until I just gave up and postponed my duties to a future, home-based, version of myself. I’m now eager to take my time to tell some stories.
Heading to the mountains Apparently some centuries ago, the French decided it was a good idea to let a few thousand people dig for years until sea and ocean were connected: they call the resulting channel Canal du Midi. I followed it for a few days as it was easy riding with some beautiful views on old towns and vineyards. It was once a strategic commercial route, which allowed for transport of heavy goods through the countryside; nowadays it’s mainly used by waving sweet-water yachters which really seem to enjoy themselves.
Canal du Midi
I had some easy rides in the hills as I headed south-west: not every day will grant you breathtaking views so I spent a lot of time listening to history podcasts and watching ruminant cows in the fields. These were also the moments I realized I was really getting used to living on the road. I was sleeping long hours every night and enjoying the subtle flavor differences of a variety of canned food. I will comment a bit about personal finances on the road as I would really like to send the message out that this lifestyle is feasible for most. You don’t need a lot of money while cycling. I found out that I could comfortably live with under 10 euros per day. That’s more than enough to eat a lot of fresh food when cooking and camping outside. When on a tight budget, stay in natural and rural areas: cities and hostels are money traps in the long run.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t sharing my optimistic worldview and continued pouring water on me. I remembered some old advice and decided to give Warmshowers a go: an app that links smelly cycle tourers to generous people willing to share their roof. It’s really amazing how this community can open their houses to complete strangers. I got to meet some amazing people and gratefully reloaded with warm food and comfy nights. Both were quite necessary as I was definitely leaving behind Mediterranean temperatures.
Lots of fields
The Pyrenees The conditions appeared to be favorable for my first real climb as I approached the Pyrénées National Park. I stubbornly pushed on the cranks until my 50 kg companion and I had conquered the Col du Tourmalet (2115m). It took some time. After a quick rest I locked my bike and switched to hiking boots. In two more hours I reached the top of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (2877m). I was definitely feeling my legs by that time but the view made it worth it. Fortunately, on the way down, I met a French bikepacker: chatting helped me maintain focus during the spectacular descent and we shared camp during the night. The following day, he gave me a call explaining the conditions of the road I was supposed to follow. They were bad: an entire section was blocked and too dangerous to pass through. I spent a whole afternoon at the Cirque de Gavarnie dwelling on the idea of attempting to cross, there was no other way around on the valley’s steep slopes. I just really didn’t want to ascend the Col again. My mood only got better when I remembered it was Sunday, all shops were closed and I had no food left. I probably looked as I felt, generating enough pity for a generous couple to pick me from the street and host me for the night. We had dinner together, communicating the best we could with a little help by Google Translate. I fell asleep feeling amazed by this kind of hospitality that I didn’t expect to find so close to home. I wonder how many people would be ready to open their houses back in Italy, I like to think they would. I left in the morning, as early as the cold would allow, and rode all the way up the Col du Tourmalet again.
Pic du Midi Bigorre (2877m)
Cirque de Gavarnie
Col de Tourmalet
Encountering the Atlantic I finally felt that gravity was being nice to me as I quickly left the mountains behind. I had a stop in the city of Lourdes, a famous pilgrimage site after some Marian apparitions. I enjoyed the busy sanctuary and later found some peace in the beautiful forests behind the site, where I spent the night. The remaining days in France were spent following the river Gaves. I took a day off in Biarritz to enjoy the Atlantic and took my time to plan the crossing into Spain.
The wind makes the flysheet of my tend going crazy as I try to focus on the small keyboard of my smartphone. At least my body feels relaxed: I just spent my first rest day on a white beach near Montpellier. After crossing the Alps, the encounter with the sea was abrupt: suddenly my sight could wander freely and for once it felt like I had nowhere else to go.
Reaching this milestone indicates the proper moment to catch up with some writing and
show some places!
First day’s on the road
I left my parents’ house alone as everyone was gone that morning. Maybe it was for the best as it gave me the time to really appreciate the moment. Unfortunately it also gave me the time to build up some nervosism: I had been preparing for over a year but I realized I had no idea of what was coming. Would I even like cycling that much? Up to that moment I had never gone further than some 40 kilometers … This feeling obsessed me for the first 120 km until I finally found a good camping spot near the Certosa di Pavia. It was a troublesome night as my imagination played around with every noise I heard in the distance.
Certosa di Pavia
Pavia, Ponte Coperto
I spent the second day following the Po river. It was hard to notice any progress: farms,
grainfields and villages looped through my eyes without much distinction. The scenery finally changed as I reached the hills of Monferrato! I slowly tackled the first ascends and rewarded myself with all the grapes and other fruit that late September still had to offer. After a moral trial, headed by myself as the only judge, I decided that I feel ethically entitled to “try” all
growing food I can find along my way.
Vineyards and castles
Luckily I had a good old friend waiting in Torino, I spent some days in the Susa valley at her place and also met again my Chilean host brother who happened to be nearby!
Crossing the Alpes
Happy and grateful, I thought I was ready to conquer my first mountain range. I lost some animo when I found my path blocked by the military: I wasn’t allowed to proceed and got no explanation whatsoever … lost some good hours trying to find another way. Luckily I ran into some good company on my way to Montgenevre! I saw another cycling tourer and we decided to share some of the road. His name is Andi, from Bavaria, he left his job and apartment at home and is now cycling Europe for a year!
Andi and his kart descending into France
Morning views in the Hautes-Alpes
The following days were amazing. As we travelled togheter through the Hautes-Alpes, Andi tough me to take some time off the bike. We woke up for early for a sunrise on the Lac de Serre-Ponçon and shared some good beers at night. Those same nights became pretty cold as I was only carrying a three-season sleeping bag … Fortunately Decathlon seems to exist in every corner of France, therefore I currently spend my nights imbedded in a double-sleeping bag cacoon. Works fine until you have to pee at night …
Sunrise at Serre-Ponçon
Andi and I separated entering the Provence region. I missed his company but was also happy to be on my own again. I was splitting my time between the necessary cycling, stopping at every boulangerie for a pain ou chocolat and reading Harari’s Homo Deus. I’ve always loved reading but university had kept me for too long on the boring stuff. I finally have the time to read, understand and develop my own thoughts and arguments. Quick tip: an e-reader is the most amazing thing ever.
The last couple days I was confronted with many empty costal villages. As most tourist leave those places start acquiring some spooky traits. I was very happy when I finally reached the immense beach of Espiguette. Nothing but sand, dunes and some nudist for miles. I took my time to load up again, store some heat in my bones and got all my gear full of sand as a lovely bonus. Can’t wait to reach the Pyrenees, till then!
My name is Ermanno, I’m 22 years old and have dedicated a good portion of the past three years fantasizing about this journey. I have had the luck of being borned and raised in what I consider a beautiful corner of Italy, just in between the Po valley and the Orobie mountains. Those have been the playground of many hiking trips and taught me to love the great outdoors. When I turned 17, I got the chance to spend a year in the south of Chile as an exchange student. The people I met and the landscapes I got to enjoy left me obsessed with Latin America. That obsession grew even larger during my time at university in the Netherlands: I was constantly trying to figure out when and how to return. I was dreaming of hiking the continent or even following the steps of the “Che” and his motorbike. At last I was introduced to bike touring and fell in love with the idea of being self sufficient while moving with muscle-power alone. As three years of engineering had told me, I started searching for answers on YouTube. I grew confident of the feasibility and began planning.
I’m glad for the chance of teaming up with Westlandpeppers to provide this travel blog. I’m definitely no Shakespere but I am excited to bring you alongside my two-wheeled journey! I sincerely hope this will help people at home to discover something new about the continent I love and maybe get inspired to take off on your own adventure. This will be the story of a bike tourer without any previous bike experience: I’m basically a nooby with very optimistic world views.
So what’s the plan? I want to finally return to Chile, get down to Patagonia and then follow the Andes to the North. I hope to reach Ecuador or even Colombia but time will tell how far I can get. My main focuses are the journey and lifestyle: I want to allow myself to have the time to spend where I feel I could learn something and not just endlessly grind kilometers on my saddle. I hereby introduce you to my lovely companion on this journey: a Fuji Touring Disk LTD.
Unfortunately the current pandemic isn’t very friendly to intercontinental trips. Chile’s borders are still closed and I had to quickly reinvent myself. As my flight to Santiago de Chile is rescheduled to late November, I will take you along my journey to the Atlantic ocean. I hope to enjoy the last shy remains of the European summer while cycling to Portugal. Updates will follow soon! It’s finally time to depart.
De verse Madame Jeanette / Lemon Habanero pepers uitvoorraad op onze webshop? Geen probleem, want in deze blog lees je over de verschillende manieren om een Madame Jeanette peper te vervangen in een gerecht.
Elk jaar hebben we een teeltwisseling, wat betekent dat de oude planten worden verwijderd en in december nieuwe kleine planten worden geplant. Bekijk hier een drone video van de kassen met de kleine planten.