Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sola? Revisited!

I just can't resist writing another entry on the subject. If you have been following this Blog, you might remember me telling you about how big a deal it is over here in South America, to be traveling alone as a woman on a motorcycle.

It still is. Not a day goes by without the question: 'Sola? You are traveling alone? Really?!?' So I am getting a lot of attention. I am not complaining. I kind of like it, I think it is nice to get noticed.

And then I traveled with another motorcyclist for a while. A guy. And you know what? I disappeared! People stopped noticing me. They even stopped talking to me! For example we went shopping for tires. We walked into a shop and I asked the attendant for tires. He looked at my companion and asked: 'Street or Enduro?' I answered by telling him: 'Neither, I am looking for dual purpose tires.' Again he turned to my companion and said: 'Ok, I will go see what I have.' Do you get the picture! I was suddenly invisible woman!

Once I was back to traveling alone, guess what? Yes, I reappeared! Just the other day I pulled up to a hostel to ask about a room. The owner almost had a heart attack when he heard I was traveling alone. 'Really, alone? Aren't you scared? And with a motorcycle, dios mio!' His wife was standing behind him and couldn't believe all the fuss he was making. Finally she had enough and exclaimed: 'And why do you think a woman cannot drive a motorcycle alone? She has got two hands and feet as well! That is all it takes!'

But there is the other side to traveling alone. Like today: I went into a repair shop and wanted to by some gear oil for my bike. The guy behind the counter asks me what kind of car I have. So I tell him, that I ride a motorcycle. He informs me, that therefore I don't need gear oil, I need motor oil. 'Well yes', I tell him, 'I need motor oil for the motor, but I also need gear oil for my gear box.' He doesn't think so and he flat out refuses to sell me gear oil unless I show him the manual for the motorcycle. I give up and walk away. Outside the store I ask another guy if he could please go into the store and buy some gear oil for me. No problem, the guy walks in and gets the gear oil without the 20 questions!

I am not sure what I am to make of all this. I do agree with the wife of the Hostal owner. It should not be a big deal for a woman to be traveling on a motorcycle alone. There really is no reason why that shouldn't be possible. But on the other hand, it feels good and it is tempting to think that it is a big deal after all.......

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cusco, Machu Picchu, friends and cheescake

It has been a while since my last entry. Sorry! If you have been following this Blog, you will remember that I was having some problems with the bike (broken frame) and that I have lost my tent.

After a long wait, the tent finally made it to Cusco! I was ecstatic! Now I could finally take off up North to Huaraz to do some mountain climbing! There was a big celebration that night at Paddy's in Cusco and I was sure I was almost out of there. I should have know! To quote a good friend of mine: 'Never count your chickens before they've hatched!'

To make a very long story, as short as possible: the next day, while trying to fix the oil-leak on Stybba's cylinder with new gaskets that had arrived with the tent, I noticed that I had far bigger problems! The upper, right engine stud was coming loose. I wanted to fix it using a helicoil. Unfortunately there are no helicoils to be had in Cusco. So another long wait for yet another package, only to find out that the helicoils were not doing the job either! In the end the problem was solved by 'bush-mechanics' at a little back-alley 'tornero'. Not pretty, but I think it will hold!

Once I was ready to finally leave, I was amazed to realize that I had been in Cusco for more than a month! What did you do all this time, you might ask? Well, for starters there is a good crowd at the campground in Cusco. Almost everybody ends up staying longer than originally planned and so I made some wonderful new friends and met back up with some old ones. Even met Esther and Peter a couple from Lucerne, my hometown! Turns out we had to travel all the way to Peru to meet, even though we grew up in the same neighborhood.

Camping Life in Cusco is really relaxed. There is a cozy little living room with a gas-heater and lights. Perfect for long nights drinking and talking, but just as good for movie nights, courtesy of Douglas and Stefanie who carry a projector and tons of DVD's with them. A luxury we bikers can only dream of. There were barbeques at the campground but also nights out in town at Paddy's or Norton Rats.

Then Katharina and I went to Machu Picchu together. Machu Picchu is a very well preserved pre-Columbian Inca site spectacular located on a mountain ridge way above the Urubamba Valley. Even today it is hard to reach, since there are no roads there. There is a train from Cusco to Aguas Caliente, a village down the valley from Machu Picchu. Every day more than 2000 tourists visit Machu Picchu and it was a bit of a challenge securing a seat on the train. Nevertheless I am really glad we went. It is a spectacular site. The city was built around 1450, but abandoned a hundred years later. And as everybody here will tell you, it got rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. By now I am sure there is millions of photos from Machu Picchu, but for all it is worth, if you want to check out mine here they are:

Back in Cusco the bikers from the campground all went for a Sunday ride together. It was Thomas and Katharina ( which I had met for the first time at the hot springs of Fiambala. Then there was Carola (, from whom I had heard a lot but now finally met. And there was Rupert on his Tenere. We did a loop from Cusco to Urubamba and by ways of Pisac back to Cusco. We had lunch in a nice little restaurant in Urubamba, with a Peruvian musicians who was playing not just Peruvian folk tunes, but also the title song of Titanic on his pan flute. Then we crashed the market in Pisac. Helmie had recommend a cafe in Pisac for cheescake. Unfortunately the cafe was in the middle of town where the sunday market was in full swing. Still we managed to get through with our bikes. The Peruvians loved it, but we got really told off by some French tourists.
And so the days in Cusco went by rather fast. Still I was super happy to be back on the road again, once the bike was running. However my Peruvian Visa had almost expired and so instead of heading up north I went South back to Bolivia. But that is another story and will be told later.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Everything can be fixed, right?

Hello everybody! Yes, I am still alive and I am still out there traveling on my motorcycle Stybba. Right now we are in Cusco, Peru trying to recuperate from a streak of bad luck!

We got to Peru a couple of weeks ago at Lake Titicaca. Then we ended up in Arequipa for two weeks, where I took some Spanish classes. It was a wonderful time with good company, good food and a movie every once in a while. But after two weeks as a city dweller it felt great to get back up on the bike and do some riding. And the ride up to the Colca canyon was great for that. After Arequipa the road starts climbing and there are great views of the volcanoes Misti and Chachani. Before getting to Chivay, the city at the entrance to Colca canyon, it gets a little chilly on top of a pass at nearly 4900 meters. I had decided against staying in Chivay and wanted to drive the 58 Kilometers to the end of the canyon in Cabanaconde. I was hoping it would be less crowded there.

Sure enough there is hardly any traffic on the way there. It is a good dirt road and we were cruising along just fine. Then I thought I had a flat. At least the bike felt like I was having a flat. So I pulled over and checked the tires. But no flat. Strange? Must be the road or me not being used to dirt tracks anymore. So I drive a little further. No, something is defiantly wrong. I barley manage to stop without crashing and check the bike again. No flat tires, but the frame is broken and not just a little fracture, but seriously broken in more than one place right underneath the steering wheel. No way can I ride the bike anymore. It is still a good 10 kilometers to Cabanaconde and more than 48 Kilometers back to Chivay. And of course not another car in sight.

But then two Swiss guys showed up: Stephanie and Tobias. They were on a walk back from the Viewpoint. They said they would go to Cabanaconde and send a truck back. So I settled down, put all my clothes on and waited. It got dark and cold and the moon was just starting to come up behind the mountains. I had almost decided to pitch my tent when I heard a truck coming. Sure enough it was Tobias and Stephanie with the local police in a tiny Toyota pick-up. By moon-light we heaved the bike on back of the pick-up. It did not fit of course, but we tied it down as good we could. I stayed on the back of the truck with poor Stybba and we were in for a bumpy, full moon ride down to Cabanaconde. To my surprise we did actually make it. I was frozen solid but nothing had fallen of the back of the truck. For now there was nothing else to be done, but unload the bike, find a place to crash and wait for tomorrow.

Next morning I had a look at the bike and was convinced the trip was over. There is no way this can be fixed! Funny thing happened at that moment: I had been feeling kind of blue lately. Unsure as of what to do next and feeling sorry for myself, because I was traveling alone. But now confronted with a possible end to the trip, it was crystal clear to me, that I did not want the trip to be over. There had to be some way to get back on the road again!

Cabanaconde is a little place out in the middle of nowhere. There is not much there, but people dancing and singing in the street. There always seems to be some party going on. But I did find a welder and he was willing to come have a look at my bike. Nevermind all the parties and the fact that today was Sunday. He was convinced he could fix it, but he said the problem was binding everything back into a place so that he could start welding. In the end it took a big crowbar and tree men but eventually we did manage. At least it looked like it just might hold. I gave it a try. The bike still felt a little funny, but nothing I couldn't get used to. Things were looking up. I am still worried though. This is the second time the frame broke and not because I crashed, but because of metal fatigue. No telling how long it is going to hold this time and where it is going to break next. Having to worry about breaking the frame every time you start down a deserted dirt road, kind of defeats the purpose of the trip. So I think I will have to see about putting a new frame on my bike. But for now I think I can make it to place like Cusco, where this might be possible.

I stayed a couple of days in Cabanaconde to hike into the canyon and have a look at the condors before heading of in direction of Cusco. I had decided to take the direct backroad instead of heading back to Arequipa and the paved road to Cusco. But of course I was still worried about the bike. I can’t remember how many times I stopped to look at the welding to see if it was still holding. No problem there, but when I stopped on top of a pass with a good view, for once not to check on the frame but to get an orange out, I noticed that the bag with my tent was missing! No telling if it had fallen off, or if somebody had stolen it in Chivay while I was out shopping. The bag was gone! Shit! I drove all the way back to Cabanaconde looking for it, but of course in wane! No more tent!

Next day was a long day riding. I did make it to Cusco and was super happy to have made it here. On the campground I ran back into Thomas and Katharina, two bikers I had first met at the hot springs in Fiambala, Argentina. Also Helmie, the owner of the campground let me borrow his tent, until I can figure something out. Live is good! I hope for now my streak of bad luck is over. And after all, everything can be fixed, right?

Thursday, April 03, 2008


La Suiza, originally uploaded by Fernweh.

I finally left Valparaiso. I was very much looking forward to getting out of the city and into the outdoors. I am a little worried about Stybba though. She is leaking oil from the gearbox into the drive shaft, which makes for a big mess. The leak is a lot worse now, even though I have changed the seal on the output shaft twice now. So I think there has to be some other problem, I am not aware of. Khim has offered to have a look at it. I am planning on meeting up with him and Katharina in Mendoza. But they are still quite a bit further south and will not be in Mendoza for a while. This leaves me some time to go exploring. I want to avoid driving a lot, but instead hope to do some trekking. A good way to get to know the place and loose some of the weight I have put back on in Switzerland.
From Valparaiso it is a fairly boring ride down to Talca. But there I head up into a very pretty part of Chile. First towards Lago Colbun and then past the lake and a place called ‘Suiza’, I take a little detour into the Melado valley. I ended up spending a couple of days out there with the Chilean cowboys. I helped clear the potato fields, eat wild blueberries and went trekking. It was great, just what I had been looking for. At night there were a lot of stars to admire and a very bright moon was shining. And just like Matz had predicted, but wasn’t a 100% sure of, the moon is ‘the other way around’ down here, if you know what I mean (a ‘z’ for waning moon and an ‘a’ for a growing moon). So Matz you were right all along, sorry for the confusion!
Eventually I dragged myself away from this paradise and headed back to the main road which was going to take me over Paso Pehuneche to Argentina. In ‘La Mina’ a good 50 kilometers from the pass and the border I had to check out of Chile. I am not in Asia anymore. There no matter where I went, the bike was always the big attraction and I forever had to answer to same questions: ‘Diesel or petrol? How many cc? Mileage? Double-engine?’
Here there is really only one question: ‘Sola?- Alone?’ Never mind the bike! What strikes people as strange here, is the fact that I would be travelling alone. They just can’t get over that. Especially here at the border they seem to think that it is way too far and way too dangerous to drive over this pass alone. They almost had me worried, but a look on the map shows, that it is really only one hundert and odd kilometers to the other side. So I dismiss all their concern and tell them that it is going to be alright. Which invokes a lot of head shaking, but they let me go.
Unfortunately I don’t get very far. A big rusty nail, probably the only one around for miles, ripped a big whole into my rear inner tube. All of a sudden it is not just the gravel that makes for an unsteady ride. I just barley manage to stay upright. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all to attempt this alone? Nonsense, there is a trickle of traffic of Chileans heading up to the hot springs or the Maule Lake for fishing. They all stop to ask if I need help. So I get a hand in putting the bike on then central stand, which proves to be impossible by myself, since the gravel is very deep and makes handling the heavy bike difficult. Getting the rear tyre of was easy, but getting the tyre of the rim, turned out to be more of a problem. No tyre wallahs around here! But what do you know, up pulls a 4x4 campervan from Austria! Till lent a hand and in no time the tube was changed and the wheel mounted again. I even got treated to coffee and cake as well as a routable Argentina map for my GPS! Thank you very much Till and Gerlinde!
What with fixing the flat and chatting with Till and Gerlinde it had gotten late. So I decided to spend the night up on the pass Pehuenche on the border of Lake Maule. The Austrians had warned me that it was going to get cold, this being above two thousand meters. I was more worried about what the Argentineans would say, if I showed up at the border a day after having left Chile. But that was for tomorrow. Today it was difficult finding a spot to camp. It is Saturday, so it is hard to get away from Chileans having ‘assados’ and a rowdy time. Takes a little away from the impressive landscape and remoteness of this part of the Andes.
The next day made for a great ride over the pass and into Argentina. I have the road completely to myself and the landscape is just breathtaking. Reminds me both of some of the mountain passes in Tibet and later further down about places in Nevada and Arizona. At Las Loicas, a long way down from the pass, I finally get to the border checkpoint of Argentina! They are very surprised to see me: ‘ You came from Chile, today? Alone?’ Apparently the road was supposed to be closed today, because they were doing road construction and were planning on blasting the way in a couple of places. Once they got over just how lucky I was, to still be alive, it was back to the subject of me travelling alone. That and my last name: Rojas. ’Are you sure you don’t have any Spanish ancestors? There are many, many Rojas around here.’ I am not about to explain that Rojas is not really my maiden name. That would really make for raised eyebrows, me being married and not travelling with my husband! Best leave them to believe that somewhere in my family-tree lurks a Spanish ancestor.
So now I am in Argentina. It is still a long drive through the Pampa Diamante to Malargüe. I treat myself to an ice-cream and a phone call home. It is Sunday after all.

Melado valley, originally uploaded by Fernweh.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It is here!

The 'Mol Supremancy' was in port last Saturday. So on Monday Enzo and I went down to TPS (Terminal Pacifico Sur) the guys who run the Container Terminal here in Valparaiso. To my great relief we were told, that the container with my motorcycle in it, is here. However it had not been opened yet, so there was nothing we could do about getting the bike just jet.

I am starting to feel at home here in Valparaiso. I am staying with Martina&Enzo in their guesthouse Villa Kunterbunt. Every once in a while a couple of backpackers show up, but mostly the other guests are also motorcyclists. This way I get all the news from the road. This of course makes me want to go out there as well. But it is getting kind of late in the year to head South to Patagonia where everybody is coming from. I think I will head North form here first.

This is not Asia anymore! You have to be more careful here. A lady who was staying at the guesthouse got mugged in full daylight walking down a fairly crowded streets. Also I have heard from travellers who had their bike stolen, even their shoes. So I have to be more careful again. I find that this bothers me a lot.

While I was here Ruth and Tom, friends of mine from Switzerland, came by. It was great to see familiar faces and talk in Swiss German. Funny how things work out sometime. They are travelling around Chile and Argentina for three months and were here just in time to meet up with me. Great, isn't it?

On Tuesday Enzo and I went back down to TPS. We got the release papers from them which we had to take to Customs. This took a couple of attempts, because of misspelled numbers and missing copies, but eventually we got it right. Then we talked our way into the Container terminal. It was quite scary finding your way around all these big machines lifting heavy containers!
We were hoping to just get the bike out of the box and then drive out of the port. That would have been easy. But it was not to be. They made us hire a truck which had to transport the whole box to the other side of the port. There finally we got to open it. In it, just as I had left her, was Stybba, my trusted motorcycle!

By now, as you might imagine, there were a lot of spectators. Which means there were also a lot of men wanting to help. So a great many hands helped putting the bike on the central stand, mounting the front wheel and reconnecting the battery. But I got to start her again by myself and sure enough, no problem the bike is still running.

All that was left to do, was got customs to check the bike. They had a quick look at the chassis number and then that was that, I was out of there and driving through Valparaiso back to Villa Kunterbunt.

All in all it went pretty smoothly. It took a whole day and we did a lot of running around but it was ok. Still I think, it would have been much more complicated had I tried this on my own. But with Enzo's help it was easy. Enzo who has done this for a lot of other motorcyclist before me, so he knows his way around and does not get spooked by all these bureaucrats. So really it was a piece of cake. Thank you very much Enzo!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Waiting in Valparaiso Chile

Mural in Valparaiso, originally uploaded by Fernweh.

On the long ride through Tibet in October and November of last year I had plenty of time to think about the next leg of the journey. Since I have already been to Southeast Asia and Australia on my last trip I decided that once having reached Bangkok I would continue on the American continent.
So the motorcycle got shipped from Bangkok to Valparaiso in Chile. A long journey for the bike: it got put into a box and then loaded on ship destined for Hong Kong. There are no direct cargo connections between Bangkok and South America, which make this transshipment necessary. In Hong Kong the container got transferred to the 'Andes Bridge' sailing under Honduran flag for Chile. Or so I was told. On Saturday I saw the 'Andes Bridge' here in Valparaiso’s port being unloaded. I was really excited and very much looking forward to Monday when I would be able to pick up my trusted ride.
For me the journey from Bangkok first brought me back home for a visit with my family. It was great being back home again and the days were packed with fun stuff to do, people to see and things to take care of. Only too soon I had to leave for Valparaiso so I would get there a couple of days ahead of the ‘Andes Bridge’. This I did last Tuesday after a long flight from Zurich via Madrid and Buenos Aires and finally Santiago the Chile. My luggage was not so lucky. It only made it to Buenos Aires. Seems at the Check-in the lady from Swiss checked my bags in only to Buenos Aires. By the time I finally got them to Valparaiso someone has had had plenty of time to go through them and pick out what they liked! Not a good start, but I learned two things about air travel: Always check your luggage tags, just because they use a computer to check your bags in, does not mean they actually know what they are doing. Second, never put anything you really like in bags that you check in. Not even if they are locked!
Anyway, back to the interesting part of the story. Today is Monday and first thing in the morning I go down to the port to pick up the bike. I had already paid for all the port fees on Friday and had them check the ‘Bill of Lading’. So I was all set and confident that I would be out of there come lunch time. But there was a bit of a problem: the container with my box and therefore my bike in it is not here! ‘What do you mean the container is not here? Where is it?’ Nobody knows, but they all seem to think that the number of the container on my papers is probably wrong and that I should check with my Forwarder. A visit at my Forwarder and several phone calls later it turns out my container somehow is now on a ship called ‘Supremacy’ which is supposed to get to Valparaiso on the 13th of March, three days from now. Or so they think and I hope! They do not yet know where and why the container ended up on the ‘Supremacy’, let’s just hope it gets here on Thuersday!
So keep checking this blog by the end of the week I should know more. In the meantime have a look at my pictures of the lovely port town Valparaiso and of the ‘Andes Bridge’, the ship that did not bring my motorcycle here to Chile!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thank you Dutch BMW driver

The other day I had to get to my toolbox. I am still having problems with an oil leak from my gearbox into my drive-shaft. Long story best told on another occasion. Anyway as I got to the toolbox I discovered a note and 20 Euros in cash! Seems a Dutch BMW driver slipped this under my seat. Since the donation did not come with a name or an e-mail address I am choosing my blog to say thank you. So if you are reading this: 'Thank you very much and drop me a line by e-mail!