We drove a 150cc motorbike through 5 countries of South America. The only reason to drive this little motorbike with so much luggage and two persons was that Geo had bought the motorbike 2 years prior in Paraguay to explore the continent by himself. But he never did. Now was the chance. And that was what we did.
This small off-road vehicle never let us down, it counts 20.000 kilometer and is still going, in the countryside of Ecuador. I have purposely not chosen any persons nor selfies. My camera is a Fujifilm X-T20 with Fujinon super EBC 18 – 55 mm lens, 1:28 – 4. I use the free Picasa program to lighten up the image and sometimes to add colors, to skies for example. Enjoy the America’s, as we did.
A cat. Am I the typical cat woman? Well, not entirely but this cat has a story to it. When I came to the ranch of Gert and Marilyn for the second time, I did so on a Work Away agreement and got a little house to myself. My neighbors next to the little house was the family of Avelino, Ayoreyo Indians, who worked as a cowboy at the ranch. Apparently he had a cat, but in my innocence, unbeknownst and perhaps arrogance, I was pretty sure I saw a wild beast, a sort of wild cat perhaps, yet anything far removed from the common house-cat. No, what I had seen in the low coverage, between the prickly bushes surrounding Avelino’s house, was a rare, wild species. Not a puma, which roam the countryside of Paraguay’s Chaco, but a no lesser feline sort of wild beast. Oh, how excited it was. I ran behind the white wild animal, trying to chase it in order to find out what species it was. Pretty useless since I could not have seen the difference. Avelino had to laugh with me running, chasing his cat: ‘its just a cat’, he would say.
And it was just his cat, because when he had left the premises, his house stood empty and Geo and I occupied the place. When I was on my own, waiting for Geo to have the Kenton motorbike outfitted with a rack, this cat came from the bushes, begging for food. It sure was just a common cat…
It is difficult to search for ‘a best photo’ since each imagine clings to a feeling and what I personally find beautiful might only be in my very eyes. For starters, it is very difficult to make good photos when in company, as a decent composition takes time, effort and patience. When together, much time goes automatically to the other, therefor I choose this picture as my favorite for Tarija state. Not one which conjures up thoughts of the vastness of the Bolivian high planes, neither an image which makes you salivate, and surely not a representation of the difficulties the Altiplano will serve you with. Bolivia makes every person with a camera in its hands want to capture the open, desolate, harsh beauty. Bolivia has such an array of incredible beauty on offer that you rather focus on the colors, the light and the nuances. And that’s why I choose this image, because it has all Bolivia stands for when you distill its incredibility.
We drove from Tupiza via Atoche to Uyuni and over the salt lake. It was Geo’s wish to see the Salar de Uyuni. Without having expectations, Geo wasn’t disappointed with the Train Cemetery, a little distance away from the salt lake. We decided to stay the night just there. We wanted to avoid touristic Uyuni and chose a structure between the Train Cemetery and the salt lake. Due to the fabulous hard wind, so often at these altitudes, I was unable to pitch my tent. Geo had his tent erected in the little structure although we both dislike using other people’s properties without asking.
Now, I have no issue with abandoned buildings, but this tiny structure was clearly in the process of being finished. A structure so small and so out of logic, we both could not fathom who would built it and for what reason. Yet, there was visible a lay-out for more illogical little sheds, as the bottle embracing the iron rod indicated. We thought it better to keep our profile low, I crawled in Geo his tent and we slept a wonderful night, in an illogical shed, the wind howling hard, a storm possibly approaching, but we had a secure building embracing us, just like the iron rod behind the little stone hut was embraced by a liqueur bottle.
This state was the absolute highlight to us. Off road, on often very sandy tracks not shown on maps, we had to navigate back and forth, in order to avoid road blocks which were set up as a protest against president Evo Morales. Salar de Coípasa was overthrowing the commercialized crowds of Salar de Uyuni and the route around this salar was a hardship I managed to capture, if only in my remembrance. Bleak endless stretches of nothingness but for sand and clouds. A storm brewing reminding me of a boil ready to burst, its yellow pulsating skin visibly under pressure.
We drove tactically through the incredible wide landscape of salty hard mud, slippery mossy grass and grazing llama’s, some freshly born and wobbly on tilting legs. The vastness on top of the Andes here had no paths anymore, we bumped and stuttered over tracks broad as a single tire measures. There is nothing but desert surrounding us. And floating images at the horizon, distorted pictures. As if there are trees. It are round shaped huts, shepherd settlements, mostly llama’s, some sheep. Sitting at the back, overlooking the pampas, the images floating in the distance remind me somehow of ballet dancers on a mirror.
My absolute favorite photo of the entire trip. Although the stunning national parks, the battles with altitude and its possible sickness, running out of gas and the tug of wanting to stay at 4000 meter altitude. The lagunas, the wondrous flow of synchronous running vicuñas, the harsh heart-eating beauty up there. That and more won, by far, over the beauty of where this particular photo is taken. Other beauties such as the bright colors, the crystal skies with sulfur smells, the wonderment provided through nature, like the snow capped crowns of volcanoes, the sharp-as-needle pampa grass and the stark whitewashed churches against the bright blues of high altitudes. This part of Chile was high on my list, and I could have stayed a whole lot of time longer. But Geo not.
Geo wanted to get down as soon as possible and that was what we did, and down there he felt again inflated with air, energetic and alive. We chose this camp spot because I wanted to have Geo experience the great magic of the Atacama desert. Although it was just the very first slice of Atacama desert, the back light is coming from Arica, it felt good to be here once more. Geo was less impressed but I guess my opinion is shared by feelings linked to many weeks of cycling through this driest desert on earth.
Beyond any doubt this photo shows the best camp spot along the Peruvian coast. The coast line of Peru keeps stretching its existence and there are gems of beauty among them. However, much of the coastline is sucked dry by heavy mining, leaving the outcrops of the Andes look brittle. Somewhere near this very location was where I camped while cycling and I wanted to get back.
We are enjoying a full moon, a balmy night and our two tents so close perched by each other makes for a romantic picture. I like the fact that we can leave our cover off so that the frame of the tent is visible. Without wind nor heat nor cold it was one of these perfect camping experiences where everything just falls in place, a rare occurrence.
The next day we were admiring the rocky stones in front of the shore, its sharp shells where lizards would run back and forth and where all sorts of ocean growth colorfully flowered. Suddenly a wave came smashing down, took Geo from his slippery Bolivian flip flops and had me telescoping my body, gaining an imaginary meter so I could protect my new Fujifilm camera. I succeeded, Geo not. With burning galls gushing blood, we continued towards the next state…
Its never wise to come back to a spot earlier experienced as pure bliss, as most likely it won’t be so again. A feeling can deepen but never be lived over again. And this very spot is where I had a blast of a Christmas, a few years ago. I wanted to camp here with Geo, built a fire and spend endlessly long in the shadow of a cacti. As we arrived at this very spot a few hours after leaving our previous camp spot, Geo wasn’t so enthusiastic for erecting a camp in the middle of the day.
So, while Geo waited for me along the roadside, I went back and relived memories on my own. The truth is, Geo was not zealous about the Peruvian coast so far. Where he saw dirt, mining evidence, factories and ridiculous many shacks built from scratch. He was just not so into desert in the first place. Coming from the Andes with our 150cc motorbike, pulled ourselves painstakingly slow over 4000 meter altitude, we were always worried the motorbike would fail. That, and the discomfort the altitude brought was reason enough for Geo to choose the coast over the mountains.
We find a remarkable camp spot a bit away from the popular destination of Paracas. It would cost more than a fancy hotel would charge us, would we want to camp in the desert of Paracas, a protected national park. We thanked for the offer and erected our tents 10 kilometer further, in front of a refinery, next to a secondary road and in front of the ocean, on a spoiled stony beach. Because I woke up at the fine hour of 6 AM, I had ample time to make myself comfortable and known so that the birds of the ocean got used to my presence. This always works.
I was not overly enthusiastic by driving the coastal route, rather wanted up the Andes. But the power of the motorbike was limited. Still, I knew Geo would sooner than later come to loath the Peruvian coast line too. Especially after Camaná it becomes a burden. I knew we would get in to the Andes, and here we took the turn, at Lima. Lima is the crumbly cookie on which one chokes. Lima is at once fantastic, frantic and sad, sorrowful. Lima grows by the hour, mansions with glass fronts are built for the rich and nothing is built for the poor, as they can haul a molded board from somewhere and attach it somehow to the outcrops of the Andes. With some luck the poor creates a nook for himself who’s with hope. The one with less hope goes on top of the hills, with the Andes as view.
Geo and I get out for a walk around town. To avoid the city itself we raise ourselves above it. We find a heap of rubble to start from, having tried a few exits in very shady parts of town where illegal houses grow as far as possible into the rock. These hills are part of the historic heritage, but all we see, when we crawled on top of them, over barbwire and fences, is dog poop, brittleness from mining and a desolate atmosphere where lawlessness is palpable.
Standing on top of the mountain was getting an idea how heavily disturbed a crazy mind might work. Its a constant ongoing of sound, lifted up to higher ground, mixed into a soup of troubles. Not a single moment, not a speck of a second there is silence. Its madness. A human anthill gone berserk.
When I cycled I looked down on motorbike drivers. I thought nothing adventurous of them, just sitting and driving is all they really do. I thought the sound of their motorbike annoying and their attitude often as well. I could not have been farther from the truth. Some things we only find out when we do them ourselves. Motorbike driving might be even harder than cycling, and the reason is exactly because of it being a machine that does all the work for you. I often felt I was not really in the surrounding, merely passing through. I often felt I could not touch where I was, as I had no contact with where we drove through. The journey went too fast and simply became a travel, not a close battle with where I happened to be.
Although it surely was a battle, that of saddle pain, discomfort, cold limbs, the feeling of frozen fingers, dehydration, headache, too fast ascents, too little time to get off the saddle and search for the ultimate composition to make a photo. Motorbike travel is often about getting somewhere and bite through the discomforts, to enjoy them afterwards. Since the machine can take you for far more lengthy distances, one is prone to overdo the daily distance, although we did not had to worry much for this, on a 150cc overloaded motorbike.
For this sort of photo the Fujifilm is excellent, as it has a collapsible screen. And since the sloth has bad eyesight, I was able to kneel down in front of him and click happily away. This animal was the absolute highlight of the rather dull roads plying scarcely in the north of the jungle. This asphalted road really is only to get from one big town to another more easily as all villages and settlements are far away from this ‘strip of improvement’. This sloth made it to the other side, where the grass must be greener, and I felt exalted to have been a witness.
Peru San Martin
Although this is in no way a creative nor artful composition, I did let the flat, blunt reality speak for itself and I find it utterly perfect. We were searching for glue to fix punctures. We came to this shop where a blond man behind the counter told us he was not aware whether he might be from German descendants. He was big, rough and resembled a Mennonite such as the bighearted shy men we’ve stayed with in Paraguay. I assume this was his wife and their child, sitting in their shop versus living room. I love the absence of what a human really can do without (except for the television).
The Amazon was the highlight of discomfort and had us harbor the desire to be away from it. I think we did it all wrong, should have gone deep in to the jungle, meet with the locals and just be social on a level we both can not handle. All the time we tried searching for quietness and beauty and could never find it. The roads in this state are few and therefor plied to the maximum. There are always people, there is always traffic. Nature is so dense that there are hardly any views further than a machete could reach.
Not this particular camp spot, which hit me like a hammer. The sheer beauty, the pointy mountain top towering in front of us, my lens could not fathom it. It seems the Amazon needs to be seen from a distance, like a tiny person sitting in the cockpit of a drone, wavering high above the canyon roads. Geo and I had to make an escape from the main road would we be able to find a more quiet place to camp. There are very few paths going off the main route but here was one. We drove up, perhaps 7 kilometer and placed ourselves next to the path, overlooking a pretty impressive picture. It was not void of traffic and it was not quiet, but well, one can not have everything.
A very difficult photo selection took place, between the hands of local Don Arthur with his home-grown cacao beans or Geo in a rainy camp spot, focused on wet plates and gray drab, or the stunning beauty of the lushness around Vilcabamba?
It became this photo, which says very little. I think I have started to like photos which are not obvious beautiful by itself, perhaps because I have few chances to make excellent compoby sitions, or because a jungle is hard to capture, it may be the otherwise uninteresting spot one would simply pass by. But this photo stands out because of the colors, that what conjures up Ecuador to me. It are not the beautiful dressed indigenous among their pot and pans, light diffused by smoke from a firepit, through the leafy roof of their huts, faces painted with red and bright feathers popping up from behind their shiny, blue hued hair. I wish I could have captured that…
Ecuador Zamora Chinchipe
I see beauty in many things. My eyes work like a wide angle absorbent. It is no surprise that a motorbike therefor does not do me much favors. It was when the angle became so steep that Geo told me the anticipated words: ‘Its time to get off’. While Geo turned the motorbike around and made some difficult to gain speed at the high altitude, I started walking. But not after I placed the macro lens on my Fujifilm and zoomed in at the beauty in plain view (if one is slow enough to notice it).
To be a pillion-rider is hard. It is challenging, for a once avid cyclist. I have no say in the way we drive, many movements comes unpredictably. Sudden turns can rise my adrenaline level in an instant. Sometimes danger of being on a motorbike becomes evident, and most obvious, I can not stop where I want to. Compositions form in front of my very eyes, it takes a fraction of a second for the brain to compose a perfect pattern. But then, we can not stop when or where I want, since I am not in the driving seat. Geo will stop when I ask him to, but then there must be space to park the motorbike safely. Or we stop far after I’d seen the perfect composition. Or I simply get tired of halting, and going through the procedure of peeling off helmet and sunglasses, mounting the saddle and makeshift bum-saver and preparing for a photo.
But sometimes, views are sheer spectacular and when the road is rather challenging, its easy to stop when we speed with 20 kilometers an hour.
Often I try to capture the beauty and when traveling I try to seize the feeling. Traveling can make you tired and sometimes, when in company, I need to release from too much incoming accumulation. To release the pressure music can help, besides alone time with embroidery and chai. Total silence is a relief too. And animals, they have the ability to empty the mind at once. Animals alter the human state to one without thoughts, just floating with childlike happiness.
This one came to us while seeking refuge from rain, drizzle and thick clouds going down from the high Andes to Guayaquil. It happens to be my favorite dog, a Border Collie.
Walking around in a walled compound for better-off citizens in Guayaquil we came upon the smelling backwaters. Mosquitoes and large reptiles were the only welcome change where otherwise large mansions and hideous dreams had become reality. We stayed at a Mexican engineer his Airbnb place and felt imprisoned in this part of the city where its wealthy people tried to copy the USA. That also meant incredible soppy limp pizza’s along the main road.
This photo still makes me smile, it stands for the USA. Though each state might be more of a separate country, Florida on this photo promises sunshine, a hearty meal, friendly people and artificially yet colorful, pleasant compositions only the USA is able to provide.
We had a sleepless night in the Greyhound coach from Atlanta to Jacksonville. We ended up near an industrial park where we kicked through the darkness towards a patch of wood, at the edge of this big sprawling town. It was around 6 AM and much of the fast-food chains were still closed. Not this one. Could there be a more warming welcome after cold, rain and a long bus ride?
We didn’t come to Florida accidentally, we were not attracted by the countryside nor by the few national parks. We ended up here solely for its proximity and the sunshine. That we ended up in a patch of forest was unforeseen, but both my ankles got inflamed and so we had to rest.
Our stay in the sunshine state of Florida could not have been much better. With wandering deer through a leafy forest, a stash of embroidery threads to quench my creativity, each other in relative good health and plenty of delicious food, I most of all discovered how there is so much life going on in a seemingly dull patch of forest. And that all in the midst of Corona, made this an experience never to forget. No, it wasn’t wished for but pleasant nevertheless.
One best photo of each country in Africa while cycling
One best photo of each country in Europe while cycling
One best photo of each country in South America while cycling