Feel the world on a bicycle, in a truck and on a motorbike
I choose to cycle in South America to be alone, to experience solitude. I wanted to be surrounded by nature, and not so much by people.
I have a Nikon D90 with a Tamron lens 18 – 270 mm. I use the free Picasa 3 program for lighting and color fixes and the free PicsArt program for a slight HDR effect.
Hope you will enjoy the post
I landed in Sao Paulo, had an uneventful ride until I crossed the border at Ponta Pora. I could have chosen the burrowing owl up close, its deep black irises round as marbles, floating in a pool of yellow. I could have chosen the truck driver who recognized me from many kilometers back, transporting sugarcane with a double load capacity. He halted me and posed for me, with the endlessness of the Brazilian agricultural landscape behind him. I could have picked his friendly portrait, instead I chose a photo from the state Matt Grosso do Sul, where I had a hard time finding a place to camp. Much of the land is used for sugar cane, cattle and corn, therefore much is fenced off. While it was difficult for me, the vultures quite liked it, I imagine, because of the vanishing of jungle. The wild animals have to cross roads to roam farther, and cars -inevitably sooner or later- might hit them which leaves a juice meal behind for these big birds.
Entering the country at Pedro Juan Caballero, I left it at Mayor Infante Rivarola. This image captures South America least touristic country best in my opinion. To me, Paraguay’s predominant impression is simplicity, unnoticeable highlights, Milanesa (flattened cow meat) and the absence of tourism. The cow and its pastures, the diet of the Paraguayans, the fences to keep the cows in and sand roads wedged between those fences, that’s Paraguay. The remains of this cow was lying in a pit where more bones, skulls and hides were collected. I was staying a week-long at a military camp just before the Bolivian border. I could not wander around much as I was told there were wild animals, such as bores, tapirs and the puma the only one to be worried about. I walked a bit around the premises, played with two piglet and lingered in Paraguay, a country I did not want to leave yet.
Entering the country in Ibibobo, I left at it Villazon. It was here that I first felt the absolute beauty of the Andes, although still relatively low. I was enthralled that I managed to haul my heavy load (close to 30 kilo) up the steep tracks of this part of Bolivia, Cordillera of Sama Biological Reserve, in the South. While I stopped to overlook the bobbing sea of hills in front of me, I saw a man sitting and waiting for transport to take him further. He was chewing coca leaves and seemed quite heavily influenced by the power of these juicy leaves, green saliva dripping out of one corner of his mouthful. I talked to him in my non-existent Spanish and when he stood there, pondering over the words I uttered how beautiful the views were and what he was doing out here, I took this shot. He chuckled and seemed sort of shy with my unfamiliar sort of approach, though he was happy to pose for me earlier on.
First entry in Jujuy province. The grand openness of this country shot at me at once as soon as I entered. The grandeur of nature, the colors splashing at me, the sheer nothingness, it all impressed me big time! I was planning to cycle the ruta 40 as soon as I entered the country, but since actual planning isn’t part of my plan, I missed the chance. The landscape I was cycling through on the photo is a famous area and it was only when I looked back from a distance that I could see the beauty of it. While I was cycling through I found it nice but not spectacular, as I had to share the road with other vehicles and being it a road in progress, it was dusty and more crowded. Often, from afar and especially looking back over your shoulder, expanses changes.
While I was cycling in Argentina at the lower slopes of the Andes, on a famous route -out the top of my head Ruta 40- I wanted something else. As happens more often, I can have enough of where I am and want to go there where the grass is greener. I don’t know what I would have done would an old friend not have decided to come to Peru and meet me? I went to meet my friend, and thought it nice to cover a huge distance very fast and be near the Atacama desert, which was very high on my wish list. So I opted for a bus. The luxury coach was an experience with such an impact that I decided to assemble my bicycle and ride a bit as soon as the bus came to a halt. The ride between Arica and Tacna was not long, 60 kilometers, and I did not make many photo’s, except for this one. I slept in the desert where landmines where still present, according the signboards. I figured if I stayed near the road and in front of where the electricity poles were planted, I’d be fine.
Cycling along the coastline of Peru was an unexpected turn after being on the Ruta 40 in the north of Argentina. I’d taken a coach and transported myself and the bicycle to the capital of Peru where after I continued to Chile. I was in desperate need of the desert and as soon as I was fully in it, I was blissfully happy. On this photo I had just climbed a hill, and with a capacity of 10 liter water this wasn’t all too easy. It was near to this photo that I came to a rest. From where I was standing I peeked over the ridge and saw the vista which you now see on the photo! I then immediately mounted the bicycle and sped over to set up camp. It was Christmas and realized this was one of the best places to not celebrate it. My happiness and contentment was soaring at this particular spot!
First entry was in Arica. The Atacama desert was one of the very few places I very much wanted to cycle through. This was why I took a coach from Argentina to Peru, to be closer to the Atacama desert. And here I was. More than a 2000 kilometer stretch, one photo to choose from. For me, the Atacama ride was one big blast and perhaps this photo does not immediately shows why (click this link to see more of the landscapes) but it has a lot to tell. I found these shoes on a graveyard dating back to 1920. ‘In 1900, mining settled in the areas and led to the arrival of large numbers of people seeking to make money in this sector. When the bubonic plague was brought from San Francisco, it made landfall in Iquique and Valparaiso. Its entry into the country meant the beginning of twenty years marked by thousands of deaths. Not only because of the bubonic plague but also of smallpox, yellow fever, typhus, measles, pneumonia and tuberculosis.’ My thoughts brought me to how inventive the indigenous Indians were with natural sources, something the non-native Americans could never parallel, simply because they never had to learn how to survive in such desolate surroundings. Yet the non-native Americans who came over were sophisticated and could live out here because of their mechanical and know-how knowledge. These shoes are a reminder of such times. The difference between indigenous and non-natives had an ongoing questioning in my head.
My dad came over to meet me and we made a 4-week road trip. I could have chosen a photo from Salar de Uyuni, which is always a hit. Peru had an interesting double portrait of dad and a same aged Peruvian man, seen from the side they looked identical. But I chose the arid landscape somewhere very near a national park in San Pedro de Atacama, Atacama desert, Chile. My dad found the whole of the trip rather boring with the Atacama a highlight of dullness. I am not sure whether my dad, who suffered depression, knew what was popping up behind his back? The national park was closed and I must agree with dad that the desert can be boring indeed: when one does so by driving through with a coach. But on a bicycle it is a whole different experience, and of an incomparable beauty.
Second entry in Mendoza Province, coming from Cristo Redentor de los Andes pass. When choosing only one photo of a ride with many unforgettable impressions, it simply happens that one memory sticks out. Perhaps everything was simply pleasant, perhaps the wind was in my favor, or the road was rough but nicely so. Possibly I had plenty of food and water and I was able to make fires. Probably all my needs were met. Even more so, I found the route I was on, the Ruta 40 of an amazing beauty which I could enjoy better now I had the Atacama behind me. Add the fact that I wanted to overcome my shyness about talking to a gaucho (I mean, speaking in a less than half-bake style Spanish to show my admiration for something the gaucho probably sees as the most average, if not dull job, is not easy to convey.) When I am pedaling quietly along, I see a gaucho on a horse having a faul attached on a rope. I speed up, pass him, say ‘buenos diaz’, notice he’s blond and prepare for a photo after I hand signaled whether he’s okay with this. In my utter surprise about a blond gaucho with fancy sunglasses, speaking English, I quickly learn that he’s from Paris. He was traveling by horse, the whole length of the Andes up to the end of Patagonia, and that his foal is a grown-up Peruvian horse, the strongest of the pack.
Second entry at Pino Hachado pass in Arauncania. It had to be an Araucanian tree -the Monkey Puzzle tree-. Another cyclist, whom I met a bit higher up in Argentina, had told me about it and I got curious. As I cycle without a plan I decided to keep going until I wanted to turn, and so I met with these very beautiful trees. When I saw the first one I was jumping out of happiness. The photo shows heavy snowfall, early in the year. The winter of 2017 in Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia was be one not seen since 1972, I was told. Municipalities were not able to cope with the snowfall and ice. Supply and commerce came to a halt. Military forces and discarded war vehicles were needed to rescue people stuck in snow. I made it to the top of the border crossing where several passengers in cars were not able to move on until the road would be cleared. Together with another cyclist, I was invited to stay the night, while the stranded car passengers were ushered to travel back. Mind you, this is not a black and white photo
Third entry at Pino Hachado pass in Arauncania I was now in famous Patagonia and I disliked about every inch of it. I can’t even choose the prettiest photo among the many pretty. Every photo has a negative thought to it. It was cold, icy, cloudy, misty, rainy. I was depressed, I felt alone. I can’t even remember, perhaps I don’t want to, where I was? Was it the famous Careterra Austral, the lake distric? All I know and remember vividly was that I loathed it! This photo is made after I bolted in the middle of the night out of a forest where snow heaved trees were collapsing around me. I was directed to a police station by pot smoking youth, then, with aversion accompanied by a police to the voluntary firefighters, all at 4 o’clock in the night. I stayed a couple of nights in the fire department but got bored as there was nothing in the village to do for me, it was cold in the big hall I slept in and other than this dog, there was not much going on. The firefighters told me that all the roads were blocked by snow and I better stayed until this unusual wintry weather approved. I didn’t. I was eager to move deeper into Patagonia and the snow somehow appealed to me. How naive…
Third entry at Futaleufú in Los Lagos region. First, cold means not being able to make photographs, comfort sits in the sun, and happiness flows forth from it. I insisted to camp every night and with 6 weeks of almost a continuous rain, my mood plummeted. Secondly, my lack of Spanish, my tiredness and my need to be alone secluded me, made it impossible for me to be social. I created my own little pool of unhappiness in a place where cold, wetness and discomfort can only be lifted by fire or company who has a fire going. Thirdly, I was on the Careterra Austral, and did not find it as beautiful as people claim it to be. It’s mostly forests lined by fences. Add the cold, rain, mist and low hanging clouds and you understand why all cyclist choose to cycle this region in summer. I wanted to get away from this misery as soon as I could, and so when Coyhaique came into reach, I turned. This photo shows me being above Coyhaique, pedaling towards a higher altitude in Argentina. It shows what I leave behind: a depressing (unravel the word and you got the literal meaning) soup!
Fourth entry at Paso Huemules in Chubut Province. As soon as I reached the border from Chile into Argentinean Patagonia, everything changed for the better. A bit higher in altitude meant dry weather. I felt rescued from depression; no snow heaved trees, no darkness, no damp, no drop, no cloud, no congestion in nature could no longer press me down. This fourth stay was a long stay where I cycled westwards from the cold Patagonian part to the chilly seaside, from where I took a 3 day ride in a warm truck and cycled further into a balmy spring to the border with Uruguay. This photo must have been on the long endless, windy stretches westwards to the coast. It was still cold (minus 10 at night) and sometimes I had no other place to sleep than in front of a concrete water-pipe. My air mattress was broken and it felt I lay on the icy earth, hurting my hip bones with every move I made. Fences kept being part of the landscape, the pampa had nothing of beauty to offer and the villages I rode through offered me the same tasteless fare as ever. Yet, the openness of the land and the bright shining sun always kept my mind free from negativity. This photo might not be the best image showing off the countryside, still it shows much about how this part of Argentina is.
Uruguay was utterly dull to me. Perhaps because I had looked too long forward to be here, maybe I had idealized it without knowing any facts about the country. I entered at Fray Bentos and with going inland, around and away by truck, I left the country at Bella Union. Surely it did not help that I took the unconventional route, and avoided the coast. By cutting through the country via the smallest unpaved routes, I did not see anything else than agriculture. To me, Uruguay is about pastures for cows and sheep and eucalyptus forests for wood. I decided to look at it from a different angle otherwise I would simply not enjoy a single day. Then, I could see beauty in the absence of natural occurences.These three horses helped me to enhance the image of the linear surrounding.
Second entry in Barra do Quaraí, I cycled only a corner to get from Uruguay to Argentina. It took me two days, where I saw very little of interest. I hoped Argentina on the other side of the river would be better, but it wasn’t. It was equally boring in landscape as Brazil. The only thing I saw was agriculture and fences. The fences in this part of Brazil had even electric wires, and I got electrocuted. Yet, a better fate than this creature in front of my wheels. It shocked me to realize that I am actually sleeping among these big reptiles, divided only by a thin synthetic tent sheet. Times like these are the only chances to see such an animal very close up. A shame, as there is not much traffic.
Argentina’s fifth entry at Paso de los Libres. I cycled through the states of Corrientes and Misiones to get to Paraguay. It was comparatively a short ride and very dull again. It was a continuation of Uruguay’s eucalyptus forests and since there was only one route to choose from I had not much choice, except for the very beginning just after the border. I choose a track leading to the sealed main road and came upon a gaucho in full action. This time I did not hesitate and wriggled myself through the fence to be an uninvited spectator of the live show. I gestured whether it was okay to make photographs and later on I came into contact with the gaucho’s two sisters who entered the field in their 4-wheel drive. The 4 authentically dressed gaucho’s were catching cows to vaccinate them and counting and catching the new-born calves. The young calves got their ears chipped, the piece falling to the ground, no blood involved. While doing so I was told the dry summer had left it marks on most of the cattle, skinny as they were. Photo’s like these are difficult, as there is a constant moving. I wanted to have a pleasant background while at the same time my slowly aging eyes have great difficulty focussing (I hardly ever use automatic focus, nor any other automatic set up).
Paraguay’s second entry at Encarnacion. I stayed nearly 8 months in Paraguay so I have a lot of photo’s to choose from. I could have picked the loose sandy roads in the far north, or the tranquility from this country and its citizen, or a portrait of the person I met on a farm who is now my husband. I could have chosen a pretty indigenous girl playing her guitar or the German workers of my Mennonite friend Marilyn, her husbands cattle or, … endless is the list. I chose this one, as cycling on the unpaved tracks in the Chaco is the best way to get to know Paraguay. Which to me is a country of normality, decent, no-nonsense, calm, no sheer beauty nor greatly attractive yet such a pleasantry. The only big risk is the rain: when it falls everyone’s stuck!
Paraguay third entry. I needed another 3 months to stay so I renewed my visa with Geo, a German traveler whom I met on a farm where we were both working as a Work Away laborer. We married soon after. Purposefully we traversed much, to return back to the farm, to stay put at a private tranquil place and… over tracks like this one on the ruta 12, one of the main roads of Paraguay. We met with truck drivers stuck in the mud. They keep their heads cool by drinking terere (cold yerba mate/herbal tea), hunting for bores and frying tortilla. Being a truck driver in the Chaco of Paraguay means adjusting to the unpredictable weather. When the rain falls, everyone get stuck in the mud. A truckload with cows (45 cow-heads) can stay out in the mud for 7 days, because that is how large his capacity of water supply is. After that he has to release the cows in order to save their lives. It takes approximately 2 full days to let the earth dry for, though risky, possibilities to move on.
Brazil’s third entry. A short entry only to renew the Paraguayan visa again, where we slept across the border. While being here, we decided to go to the famous waterfall now that we were so close. Both not fond of well-known attractions, we went reluctantly. It was a mass of people. People with all sorts of perfumes, artificial smells and fashionable styles. People from all over the world, some of whom do not want to be tourists but rather called backpackers, some of whom are not backpackers but travelers. Some of them cycling travelers, not mere travelers. Others ignoring signs to feed the wild animals slouching close, some being bitten. Many people took selfies, pouting their lips, forming unnatural grimaces to imitate a smile. So many people, all busy with things, often not so much with what we came for: the waterfall. Thoughts, impressions, annoyances, unspoken words of praise or of rejection or of prejudice. Such a collectiveness of people presses down on me, even though the energy is that of a positive holiday atmosphere. And then, seeing this mom and her daughter brings me right back to my mom and me. Here is to be seen a quiet corner of, perhaps, the coming to an end of a life (as what my mom’s life was when she got in a wheelchair). This woman might perceive this waterfall in a very different perspective than many others around her. Anyway, it reminded me of my mom, at the end of her life, not so long ago. Her death was one of the reasons to be on this continent, and it fills me with gratitude that what has happened between us, my family and me.
Fourth entry. An illegal entry for which I had to pay a penalty but it was this or the possibility that they would not allow me entrance (I could not risk that since all my bicycle gear and bicycle was still in Paraguay). Here, my soon to be husband, Geo and I got to travel by motorbike to the farthest north of Paraguay. National Park Cerro Leon. This photo shows how that is over there…
Fourth entry from where I left by airplane from Foz de Iguazu. I stayed a week at an Airbnb place where I didn’t leave the premises, except to get food. It was winter, cold but a constant flow of WiFi made my days worthwhile. I worked on my blog, went through my thousands of photo’s, watched a bit of Netflix and prepared myself mentally. I did not make any photo’s, except for a few shots on my phone. This shows what it can mean to become a traveler, and no less for a cyclist. A traveler who choses a bicycle has to go through stages of discomfort, agony, boredom but also the very opposites, such as sheer happiness and the essential notion of aliveness. Then, things such as how one appears are of no importance really.
I made a ‘Best Photo of Each Country Cycled Through’ from all the places I cycled through.