Sunday, February 26, 2012

new horizons

not so much in what i am seeing, but with whom i am travelling. Philipe and I have decided to go our separate ways - he is debating whether he can bear to continue with MrC (his sidecar - it's a bit of a love hate relationship), or just ship him back to Europe, and go 'ultralight'. (this word has been playing in our conversations of the past 1 month - 'when i go ultralight, it'll be so easy'... etc ). the thing is that with motorbike travel (and especially sidecar travel) you tend to collect so much stuff. there's always the faff packing the bikes, and along with helmets, big jackets (with rubber back/shoulder/elbow protection) and other tools, spare parts etc everything tends to get a little over the top.

but I digress. i'm winding down both the south america leg of the trip - and the entire journey. i think it would be a pity to miss seeing ecuador and colombia, so am going to hot foot it up there once I've sold all my bike gear. then by mid April, off to Nepal for 2 or so months - hopefully sneaking in enough trekking before the wet season sets in.

it's going to be a change - after 8 months traveling across South America, Europe and the USA on bikes, on foot, via couches, in houses, campgrounds, hostels and making new friends together, seeing beautiful sights and having plenty of adventures, no longer is it 'us' or 'we', but now back to being just me. it's not all been smooth sailing, and I am glad that we gave it a good try. i guess that we're just at different levels of maturity, and approach living life in different ways.

i have this theory that some people are 'older souls'. i feel as though I'm just young and green in the way I live. I'm constantly distracted with new things, i have very little ability to be self introspective, need stimulation to think and find it difficult to 'settle'. I know i'm still 'growing up', but i've met so many people in my life that are just a bit more content with who they are and how they want to embrace life and run on a more balanced, less hectic rhythm. i can name friends from growing up and through university, that were and are still like that. I don't think it's just physical age, it's somehow in our natures. Whether this is because of past lives or whatever, i don't think it matters too much to me. it's just that in this life, I feel as though I'm quite young compared to other people of my age who just seem to be older and more mature, emotionally.

Fortunately and unfortunately for myself and people I share my life with, it means that I've got myself here, but I'm still fumbling a bit to find my feet. along the way I meet people that play different roles and have different rhythms. sometimes we sync well, other times we sing then strain, and i guess i'm still experimenting with these different rhythms and trying to find what works.

like a child growing up, i need to continue maturing in my own way. i don't know if i'll grow up in the way people think I will, but i gotta be happy and content with my own journey. and perhaps then I can share my life with someone who loves my pace and style.

so for now - new horizons. lets see what happens

Saturday, February 25, 2012

alive with pleasure

this afternoon, in the beating heat of the afternoon sun I was walking back from picking up some things from Frank's house in Arica. a garbage bag with motorcross boots slung across one shoulder, my t-shirt gradually
wet from the gathering sweat; on the other shoulder, a hammock and sleeping mat in one of my envirosax bags. dust was sticking to my sweaty feet as my crocs scuffed along towards where I could get a collectivo (shared taxi) and some respite from the sun. as I approached the roundabout, i looked up and saw a guy coming towards me.

tufts of hair escaping out of a dirty baseball cap, dark brown leathered skin, and hands caked in concrete dust pushing an empty wheelbarrow. he had though, a sort of friendly grimace, and when I looked down to his shirt - I saw the following words:

alive with pleasure

it made me smile - such words, on such a person, in such a place. he probably has no idea what his shirt said, but yet he had that sort of smile on his face. for me, a moment to smile in an otherwise kind of sad day.

Friday, February 24, 2012

ode to my lil red bike

On the road between Cafayate and Cachi in Argentina
it's sad. two days ago i waved goodbye to my lil red bike as it drove off into the sunset. well it didn't drive off alone - but with its new owner, Francisco. I'm not sure how much I trust him - he didn't seem to really appreciate the beautiful sound of the purring motor, or the impeccable maintenance record, or really respect the heights, depths and lengths it's travelled. But I guess, that's what happens when you let something go. You send it off with your best wishes, and hope that it makes it's way ok.

So, as a little ode to my star, some of my favourite memories.... (i have some sort of elton john like music playing in the background and am getting a tad emotional.. so bear with me!). Just to start off...
  • the feeling of possibility and joy every time setting off on a new open road
  • the beautiful soft, purring sound of the engine. no it wasn't a grunty harley, nor a plasticy clack clack... just ... beautiful.
  • fitting in pedestrian bridges to get to great spots
  • standing up, closing my eyes (nearly!) and just letting the front wheel find its way through the rocky ground in Southwest Bolivia
  • hitting the asphalt upon reaching the Argentinean border at Paso San Francisco. Well a combination of getting myself there solo that high, and also having nice road to curve around.
  • the conversations I've had with locals about travelling on bikes - as a woman, as a foreigner, as a person.
  • finding my wheels on muddy roads in Northern Argentinean parks.
  • always being patient with me when I fell so ungracefully from you.
  • the comrades of other bikers you meet. You see one coming, you wave, you chat, you share stories, Or you roll into a hotel, see the bikes, start admiring, start talking, solve problems with the aid of some beers, make wonderful friends from all over.
  • goodness. just all of it! (yes there are some gripes - but I've saved these for the 'about my bike' page
So, thank you lil red for making my trip. I hope you are ridden well and given lots of love. I will always treasure our time together and am grateful that I met you so serendipitously and that we discovered so much together.

fare well oh lil one! and .. (cue music)...

April - May 2011: My first relationship with the bike from the back seat. 2 up with Diego. We rode from Mendoza to Santiago, then up to La Serena over 2 months. He taught me how to ride, how to maintain the bike, how to make a delicious pasta dish with a raw egg, and got me through the paperwork of transferring ownership.

April 2011: Just after the very first time I rode the bike in a campground near the border of Chile/Argentina on the way to Santiago. I fell off 3 times, was not able to conquer figure of 8s but started feeling the looooove.

April 2011: This was the afternoon I 'felt at one with my lil red bike'. Somehow the gravel, the BMX like experience just sold it for me. A day before I had been the passenger; the day after - I drove Diego and our luggage back into the capital of Chile, Santiago.

May 2011: Roadside fixing a flat. This was month 1 of 10 months, and the LAST FLAT I had. Got to love enduro tires. And my awesome bike that hardly ever broke down.

May 2011: In La Serena, Chile on the morning we set off SOLO. Complete with my dodgy helmet, jeans, hiking jacket and bicycle elbow and knee protection.

May 2011: 5 days later, we cross the 4786m paso to Argentina. Elated. And the bike? no problems at such a high altitude. Yes a little slower, but still got us up there.

May 2011: Some of our little overnight roadside hotels somewhere on Ruta 40, Argentina. No other bigger bike could have possibly fitted in here.

June 2011: Another advantage of my lil bike? it got me across pedestrian bridges and into a campgrounds alongside rivers where people like this old dude swung by on his way home for a chat. Near Cachi, Argentina.

May 2011: The poor thing did eat a fair bit of dust though. Near Tarija in Bolivia.

May 2011: Hmm Mud is not so easy to conquer. In the remote Parque Nacional Baritu in Northern Argentina.

June 2011: Oh yes. My lil bike headed out this 650 KLR, 1100GS BMW, and BMW boxer. They all had to sit behind me cause I was the littlest and ahem.. the slowest.

June 2011: The hardest terrain we did. In Southwest Bolivia. Sand, gravel, mud. Awesome:)

June 2011: Sometimes I abandoned the lil bike to climb up some metal at 4500m altitude. WIth full gear on. Southwest Bolivia

August 2011: Both me and the bike hanging out with friends in Sucre, Bolivia. This hostel was definitely a biker home away from home.

August 2011: Roadside breakfast soup from the market after a 5am start some 100kms down the road. Even on these cold mornings the bike always started.

August 2011: Both of us having fun exploring the Ruta del Che in Bolivia.

September 2011: Always a bit of TLC goes a long way. Adjusting my chain roadside in the sweltering heat of Bolivia,

September 2011: Lil red more hardworking cousin... loaded with family on mud roads in Bolivia.

November 2011: Coming out of hibernation in Alex's garage in Arequipa. Ready for what was to the last stretch of road.

November 2011: Coming into the final station... The rather desertic expanse of Arica, Chile.

February 2012: FInal clean at Frank's house in Arica.

February 2012: Ready to be passed on for the next adventure!

February 2012: The vultures ;) ... aka Philipe and Geoff having a peruse of the tools of lil red.

February 2012: Francisco laying claim to the bike in the Notaria in Arica.

February 2012: Last snuggle...

February 2012: Francisco ready to helmet up and ride off into the...

... sunset.

sadly... "the end" for my wonderful journey with lil red:)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

wet wet wet in the chilean altiplano

Parque Nacional Lauca
so, it's the wet season. 100kms away it's as dry as a bone, but up here in the altiplano, it's cold, raining, foggy and just alltogether quite wet. at 3500m where we are at now, each day roughly goes like: grey skies with patches of rain from 6am to 11am, 11am the fog rolls in, the light dustings turn to more of a steady patter, and by 4pm it's raining steadily. sometimes you get treated to a reprise in the rain in the evening, but not usually.
1 hr later - the fog has rolled in
But once you go a bit higher and rise above the fog and cloud, and hit the altiplano proper, the skies in the morning tend to open up more. you still get steady rain, rolls of thunder and lightening in the afternoons/evenings, but the mornings are glorious. Altiplano translates as high plains, and refer to the where the Andes mountain range is at it's widest and highest. It's 2nd to the Tibetan high plateau, and has an average of 3750m in altitude. (Thank you Wikipedia). Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru all partake in the wide scrubby immense landscapes, with towering snow capped volcanoes and mountains that preside majestically over everything.
Rising up onto the Altiplano
Stunning dusting of snow!
Up here in Chile's Parque Nacional Lauca, it's true to form. The two brothers, Volcan Parinacota (6348m) Volcan Pomerape (6282m) keep a knowing eye on the vicunas, llamas, alpacas, vizcachas (little rabbit/wallaby-esque runners), and many bird species including pink flamingos. for us though, we only saw the feet of these brothers - as their full height was being kept secret by the low cloud. it's pretty amazing to be riding along, seeing the mountain ranges grow bigger, and then you realise that those are not the mountains, but just the foothills of something humongous!

I love that you can't really see the whole mountain... 
Just mainly these frozen waterfall foothills
Pink flamingo at Lago Cotacotani
There are also 2 lakes - Lago Chungara and Cotacotani where the birds congregate around. It was alongside Lago Chungara that we stayed one night at the Refugio run by Conaf - the Chilean national parks authority. A welcome relief from the cold and wet outside (we were then up at 4580m - so it's getting pretty cold at night even though it's summer. in winter it gets down to -20-30 celcius. brrr). Philipe and I played a card game and then cooked up some food on their stove, then tried to get some sleep.

The Conaf refugio
At 4580m you're high. The air density is lower which means there's less available oxygen for the body. From 3500m people can suffer altitude sickness, and even though we'd been acclimatising by ascending slowly for the previous 4 days, even I didn't have my normal, wonderfully resting, heavy, constant sleep. You tend to wake up intermittently, sometimes even your breathing becomes so shallow that it  stops - and then you jerk awake gasping your much needed oxygen in. it's impossible to say who will be affected by altitude - it's not about fitness; even an olympian athlete can be cut down by it. i remember when trekking up to everest, there was an ex army colonel in our group -- who was a bout a pack and a half a day smoker. at about 3500m he was really suffering, but after many cups of xo beef stock, sleeping and resting for a couple of days, his sheer determination pushed him onwards and he ended up summiting up to over 5500m a week later.

i guess i'm pretty lucky - i don't seem to suffer too much, and acclimatise well. my heart rate keeps pretty low, and my oxygen high. Philipe however is not so lucky - his heart rate is much faster, and oxygen lower, and takes him a lot longer to acclimatise. this evening after not showering for 3 days, and being quite cold and wet, we thought we'd um. go to the hot springs. but coming out of that water, at 3700m, does make even me woozy! it reminds me of my father - we were at about 3000m near arequipa - and there he is doing butterfly in the hot springs... crazy!

Getting some of the local history of the parque from Jorge - the Conaf Guardaparque
Inside the parque
but back to the altiplano... we were pondering whether the sidecar could make the 4x4 roads, and about to give up and head back to Putre, when we asked the Conaf guardaparque if we could accompany him on his daily inspection round! and so, we got a personalised tour of the parque - with the history, local animals, stories of the moutains, and all within a warm and dry 4x4. Jorge also took us into Parinacota, where we saw an original adobe pre-inca church. This route is one of the old pre Inca and Inca trade routes, and it is very rich in history.

Adobe church (1500s) in Parinacota
We were very lucky with the weather, although by the time it was 1pm and we were making a hasty drive back down to Putre, we ended up being soaked through, slipping and sliding down muddy tracks with visiblity of about 10m. Not fun when you're on the edge of a hill with the odd truck coming at you!

On our way out of the parque - still 4000m
Navigating the 30km diversion - with oncoming truck traffic on 1 lane

Tomorrow we head back down to hot and dry Arica. Someone is coming to see my bike as I am trying to sell it, so fingers crossed I can pass on to someone good! After 1 week, i'm happy to be going somewhere dry and sunny, though... well I guess after 1 day I'll be thinking fondly of the lush green hills of slushy red landsides!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

open desert house

three days ago we left the sandy, hot desert (and rather uninspirational) expanse of arica, and started rising up through the pre-andes into the Chilean altiplano (high planes, i guess above 4000m altitude). the alitplano is shared by Chile, Bolivia and Peru, and indeed where we are now is a stones throw to both the borders of Peru and Bolivia. As much as we'd love to go back into Bolivia, our passports say we've been there more than our allowed 3 months, which is a bummer as carnival is happening soon in Oruro, meant to be a good place after Rio to see the festivities.

The valley out of Arica.. going upwards and towards the dark rainclouds...
Sunset in the fog where we ended up stopping to camp

after about 60kms, the hot air gave way to crisp winds, and finally we ascended into fog and rain. of course this region has perfect sunny weather from March to December, and now, in their wet summer season, we decide to visit! this year there has been a lot of rain, la nina, which i guess is linked to the heavy snows and winter season in the northern hemisphere.

we decided to stop around 3100m at a little restaurant called Thaki. to acclimatise also it is best to do so before 3500m and as we've been out of high altitudes for many months, decided to play it safe. what a wonderful stop it was! the restaurant was run by Alexi and Andrea - Alexi is about 60, and Andrea just over 50. both have worked and travelled around the world - Alexi in some sort of geographic survey/seismic analysis and Andrea trained in medicine but seemed to be a professional runner. They now live there with their 4 children (not sure if they are all theirs...) between about 8 years and 20 years old. And of course there's Thomas, the son of a friend of theirs from a town about 200kms away who is visiting for a month. the restaurant / house was built by them bit by bit - it's a bit of a mish mash of adobe and timber construction, with a caravan and other sort of harem like tents... complete with wind and solar power too.

they have very interesting views about the relationship to humans and the earth (some that resulted in quite long tellings..- one that stayed with me, was Andrea telling me about how the children of the city only can see as far as the front door, and as soon as they try to step outside, they are yanked back and put in front of the television. but out in the desert, her children run outside and what they can see is the horizon... a huge expanse that allows them to open their own perspectives and generate a true understanding of what pachamama (mother earth) gives to them, and their role in the chain.

Out tent pitched next to their bedrooms and bathrooms - it sort of resembled a harem! complete with persian carpets and tents inside also
A very young condor that had been found by Marco - the son of Andrea. Although big to me.. this was just a couple of years old as the fully grown condors have a wingspan of about 3m
Close up of the condor

Chatting with Alexi and Andrea in their kitchen - behind Alexi is a large adobe oven where Andrea bakes bread every day
Playing dominoes with 3 of the kids (Thomas is in the middle)
it was chaotic and disorganised, but full of warmness and openness - wonderful souls! it seemed like in the afternoons the house would swell as people dropped by - literally their house is on the highway, about 25kms from the next town, and the people coming were a mix of travellers stopping for tea, friends on their way back to Arica, friends of the son who would come for a chat after work. yesterday i made lunch with Andrea - i thought for 9 of us, but that turned into 13, then 15 and finally 19 people by 5pm. (when lunch actually happened!) a wonderful demonstration of an open house with a community converging around it.

it reminded me a lot of my brothers house in northern NSW in Australia - he chose to leave the conventional life and career in Sydney as a computer programmer and built up his house literally room by room for his family in the bush. From the same bamboo ceilings, to slightly chaotic but always open and welcoming house, it was lovely to chance upon this reminder of how you can choose to execute your life. and what makes it so? the people; open, warm, friendly who have forged their own path in a sort of middle way... neither in the city or 'burbs, or either lost hermits in the woods.

today we chanced leaving our new family as the weather had opened up, and indeed we enjoyed seeing where we were driving for about 20kms until the fog closed in again. the rain is pattering down on the tent now, and tomorrow we're going to head up even higher into the Parque Nacional Lauca; a unique biosphere with high altitude lakes, many animals and the largest variety of bird life in Chile.
With the sun out for a bit we finally said goodbye to everyone
Our new campground in Putre - hello fog again!
ps. rain rain rain. constant rain. i guess this is what a wet season is! instead of gungho-ing it up further, instead we chickened out and after a delish breakfast of carmelised onions, zucchini and scrambled egg 'bap' in the dryness of the tent, we decided to just head to some termas (hot springs) nearby. But... oh of joys... the lodge next to where we've set up tent (in someone's backyard..) has REAL expresso thanks to their italian owners! so am now downing a couple while sending off these belated blog updates