Three months in South America, in photos

Our first day of cycling in Columbia. It basically took us 2.5 days to get here from Romania. 16 hours on 2 planes, 6 hours in Bogota and 24 hours in a bus. What we didn’t know was that we landed in one of the most dangerous regions in Colombia, parts of which where still under guerrilla control until 2017. And of course I nearly got my phone stolen while checking google maps in the first 10 minutes after stepping out of the bus station.
Two days later we finally manage to cross into Ecuador and we take our first detour of the main roads. Climbing towards the paramo, at 3800m you really understand why the Americas were called the new world. The plants, the trees, the birds, everything is completely different to Eurasia and for the first two weeks you feel completely foreign.
One of the first nights with clear skies. We are still struggling at this point with figuring out which is the best place for each piece of equipment. After two weeks of camping it would become second nature.
Ecuadorians have a thing for cobbled routes, especially in the north. It seams that every small road has been painstakingly transformerd in something like you see in this picture. Unfortunately the rocks used can be quite big and the gradients are quite steep. Altitude also doesn’t really help.

The first glimpse of the volcanoes with Cotopaxi in the background. The next 300 kilometer stretch is called for good reason the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

Cycling on the outskirts of Quito, after a third degree encounter with a dog. Dogs in Ecuador are quite random, exactly like the weather. Some completely ignore you, other are aggressive from the beginning. Sometimes it’s the same dog with both behaviors at different moments in time. We spent the evening searching for rabies statistics in Ecuador.

In several bigger cities in South America there are the so called “Casa de ciclistas”, places where bike travelers can meet and stay for as much they want, hosted by locals which are passionate about bikes or bike travels. Everything is donation based.
Quito seen from above during the first night after we left the Ecuadorian capital.
The twisted forest, heading into the wild and into the Paramo.
Not your average river crossing.
Cotopaxi, the first big (5600 meters) volcano we encountered on the Avenue of the Volcanoes. It was also my first encounter with the South American salmonella, which can bring you to your knees in couple of hours. And no, in South America it’s not safe to drink mountain water, even if you’re in the middle of the mountains.
Our “Repair Kit”. Probably the most important part of it was the hope that nothing essential will break.
Tarwi, one of the main crops in the Andes, besides corn, wheat and potatos (of which there are over 3000 varieties).
A typical Ecuadorian village with a supply store which had basically 6 different items. The only one which was useful for us were some eggs for the evening dinner.
The turquoise waters of Quilotoa, a volcano with an imploded cone turned into lake.
Travelling without (age) limits. At 63 and 69 Lionel and Laure have just started their trip through South America for a indefinite period of time.
Deep fried fast food in a small town in the Ecuadorian mountains. To say that food is uninteresting in Ecuador is an understatement and after one week you probably get to try out all the different staple dishes in the mountains. Potatoes, rice, chicken, and of course salchipapas, oily fried potatos with sausage.
Yes, this is a house, and deep in the mountains there are still people living in houses with earthen walls and hay roofs.
Cycling high at 4000 meters in the western side of the Andes.
An alpaca watches with interest while we search for a camping spot in the warm light of the sunset. Finding a camping spot in Ecuador is relatively easy but still sometimes you’re simply in the wrong place when the sun sets.
A sunset between the clouds over the Pacific ocean.
The kitchen of a 6×8 meter restaurant in Ecuador. 4 tables in front of the open kitchen you see in this photo, bubling cauldrons with 3-4 different dishes and a very welcoming cook who also took selfies with us.
Vicunas, or the wild and undomesticated cousin of the lamas and the alpacas.
The highest pass on our journey through Ecuador, though after 3 weeks on the road, most of it spent over 3000 meters acclimatization was not an issue. Also compared with the heights and the passes in Peru looking back this was quite low.
Looking at the galloping clouds over the snowy peak of Chimborazo. Ecuador can be both quite windy and quite cold, and strong winds can be expected at any moment.
An angel in one of the oldest churches built in Ecuador. While Michelangelo was creating David on the other side of the globe it is interesting to imagine a priest, trying to explain to a indigenous stone carver what an angel is and how it should look like.
Fried guinea-pigs, a delicacy in all of South America. It tastes very similar to rabbit flesh but it has way more bones.
Chimborazo marks the end of the volcano corridor in Ecuador. Here seen from one of our camping spots at 3800 meter in the sunset light with some quite spectacular clouds.
Muddy roads on our way to Cuenca.
The scenery changes incredibly fast, you can go from lush pastures in the eastern side of the mountains, to wind swept paramo over 4000 meters and to dry desert like scenery in less than 40 kilometers.
Papaya, and other tropical fruits quickly became a staple of our diet during our travels. Tasty, cheap and full of nutrients. And no, it doesn’t compare with any of the fruits bearing the same names from the European supermarkets.
Cuenca marked the end of our 1 month crossing of Ecuador, from here we briefly packed our bikes into buses and we headed to the mountains of Peru.
After one month of random weather through Ecuador Peru received us with clear skies, with a rainbow and with road gradients which suggest that Peruvian road builders actually know how to build a road.
A typical country-side porch and oven. The sombrero painted on the wall is actually the sign of the most popular local party. Instead of banners here people just paint the signs of the parties and the names of the candidates directly on houses, thus showing at the same time showing support (and probably receiving something in return).
Besides roads Peruvians also love food and they are much better at cooking things which actually taste good. Like this Ceviche for example, containing marinated raw fish, some pasta, fried corn, salad, onions and sauces.
With a gene makeup which can be traced back to somewhere in between Siberia and the Eurasian steppes it’s easy to understand why some of the kids could be teleported somewhere in in Mongolia and no one could tell the difference.
Windy roads and granite walls on the road to yet another 4000 meter pass.
The clearest milky way we have ever seen until now.
Clear skies unfortunately also mean freezing nights. Each night the temperature would plunge bellow zero while in the middle of the day you had nearly 20 and you could cycle in shorts and a t-shirt.
Rather unfortunate looking alpacas. Alpaca wool is something of a luxury in Peru, softer than sheep wool, lighter and also way more expensive.
Our first glimpse of the Cordillera Blanca in the distance and one of the most broken roads we have cycled on until now.
Lighting a fire at 4000 meters when you have almost no trees around is not an easy task.
And we have to climb that?
Fixing a flat with a smile on our faces. If we would add up all the flats we had in 3 months I think we probably spent an entire day just fixing flats. Imagine getting up in the morning and for an entire day just going through the next steps: get the tire off, get the tube off, search for the hole (this step can take quite some while and might have to be repeated), apply patch, check tire, put tire and tube back on the rim.
Cordillera Blanca is not called blanca for nothing. Strething for more than 120 kilometers from north to south and with many peaks over 6000 meters it’s one of the greatest mountain ranges in the Andes.
Normal corn and purple corn left to dry in the sun in the porches of a country house.
High passes also mean incredibly long descents. For example in the descent from this photo we went from 4200 to 2400 meters without a pedal stroke. The descent lasted for a couple of hours and was nearly 50 kilometers long.
The full moon, hour tent and the last moments when the sunset was still visible. Finding a camping spot was not always easy and we usually just pitched our tent on someones field. Usually the locals would drop by afterwards to check what was with the tent on their land, but usually after seeing the bikes and after chatting for a while they would just leave is in peace for the evening.
Most of the peruvian roads are unpaved and we spent probably around 95% of the times on roads like these. This means almost no traffic, with hours without any cars in sight. On the other side when did meet a truck it also meant that you would get covered in thin layer of dust.
Yet another tasty Ceviche. Though uncooked fish sounds a bit tricky in the mountains we had no problems with food in Ecuador or in Peru. On the other hand I did get quite sick twice from drinking water contaminated with some sort of Salmonela high in the mountains. A water filter was the thing we probably missed the most.
Descending deep in the bowels of the mountains, at 1600 meters. On the left starts the Cordilliera Negra, on the right the more famous Cordilliera Blanca.
Laguna Paron, sorounded by a series of 5000 and 6000 meter Peaks is probably the most estetic lake in Cordilliera Blanca and the most amazing place in which I’ve cycled until now.
Climbing towards Porticello of Langanucco, one of the high passes which cross the Cordilliera Negra. There are few place on this planet where big mountains are so close to roads.
Three of the highest mountains in Peru, mirrored in the lake near which we camped the next evening.
Spot the bike and cyclist! The scale of Andes is unlike anything I have seen until now.
Towns are few and far between, and most of them have been completely wiped by earthquakes or landslides in the recent past. The ones which do have an old center still left standing are a prime example of Spanish colonial architecture.
Paulina, the lady known by all. Taking photos of people was a bit frustrating because there was now way of sending them back the photos once we would get to Romania as there is a running postal service only in the regional capitals. So Paulina simply said that the next time we come by we should just ask about her as everyone should know where she lives and we should leave the photo there. But somehow coming from Europe it will be a while until next time, if there will be a next time at all.
Finding a grassy 2×2 meter area for our tent was sometimes difficult. For example we this place while climbing towards Punta Olimpica (4900 meters) late after sunset. One of the coldest nights but also one with incredible views.
Sometimes road conditions are simply tough, like the road in picture on which we climbed for hours on end on an incredibly harsh corrugated road. The washboard patterns which form in time on roads which have traffic are incredibly annoying. But sometimes a sunset like the one pictured can make you forget everything in minutes.
Puya Raymondi, the biggest flower on earth grows in strange forest like groups over 4000 meters in some parts of the Andes.
A sheep carcass left out to dry in the sun near a shepherd’s hut high up in the mountains. The dry air means that the meat doesn’t spoil and can be used after months in different dishes, or it can also be eaten raw.
The vagabond traveler look after two months in the road with Cordilliera Huayhuash in the distance.
Mountains worth contemplating, even for the locals.
Ride free.
Sometimes besides the effort of push your bike passes close to 4000 meters you also have ice-cold river crossings.
Besides the occasional set lunch (which costs around 1 euro in Peru) we did most of the cooking ourselves. This meant different kinds of porridge with coffee in the morning with pasta, salads or rice in the evening.
The perfect resting spot.
Bloody sunsets on the road to Huancavellica.
Meeting other travelers is always fun, especially because these meetings are few and far between. For example before meeting this dutch couple we didn’t meet anyone for 2 weeks. This also means that usually you stop and chat a lot of time, exchanging information and finding out the nice bits and the not so nice bits ahead.
The road has a certain aesthetic beauty to it but not all roads are created equal. In a harsh and wild landscape the road is a symbol of the human element and somehow it makes these place a bit less wild than otherwise.
Rituals and traditions are a strange mix in South America, like the masked procession from this picture. Christianity and old customs and traditions mix in rituals with meanings lost in the mist of time.
Breaking the 5000 meter barrier. After 3 months at altitude it’s now clear to me that it never get’s easy. Here you have half the oxygen content in the air as at sea level, and no amount of red blood cells can make up for that. What acclimatization does is removing the headache and some of the shortness of breath. But generally everything is twice as hard as at sea level.
But still some people, like these shepherds live their entire lives at these altitudes. This place was 60 kilometers away from the nearest village.
Why are you doing this? asks Marcellina, a woman living with his husband at 4600 meters high in the Andes. We travel in order to see the mountains, in order to try to learn a language, in order to try to understand a different part of the world. We travel in order to get lost, a process through which we also discover parts of ourselves. It’s needles to say that all this was a bit hard to explain and it took around half an hour.
Carrying the bike on the road to Ausangate, the highest peak in southern Peru. The rainy season was closing in and clear skies were replaced by autumn clouds.
Our camping spot with some protection from the winds at the base of Ausangate.
The next morning we had a couple of windows of clear skies, enough to make us appreciate how lucky we are to be here. Ausangate was the topping on the cake.
Descending back to civilization, towards Cusco and then back to Europe and to Romania. 90 days in which we saw a part of a new continent, in which we tried to learn a new language and we saw the most incredible mountains we’ve seen until now.