Author Archives: Cathy

The Final Map

South America 2-up…… 20 000km, 5 months…… What an adventure it has been…..

Hi friends and family

So 5 months of travelling with the silver steed is drawing to a close….
At times it feels as if we have been travelling forever and at other times it feels as if the journey has just raced by.

The bike is packed and waiting at the airport. It catches the same flight as us on Friday.

I have updated our map to give you an idea of how we got through 20 000km.

Thank you for sharing in our adventure

Categories: Diary | 19 Comments

The mission of San Ignacio mini

Walls of the mission with holographic displays.

On the way up we managed to drive straight past these ruins. I think the call of the raging Iguazu falls was too much for us. But on the way down we made a point of not missing it.

Missionary stations are always something that make me stop and think and I often have very mixed feelings about them. On the one side they bring education and health. On the other side to get these benefits you need to believe in their form of religion and culture. I remember in Africa when we were driving in Uganda we met up with a volunteer who was working for a church. We asked him how he felt and these were his words. The local people were taught that if they believed God would provide. And provide he did when a large truck of supplies arrived every month. So much so that it was not worthwhile for the locals to grow their own food anymore……

A similar story which was even more poignant was in Sudan. Here there were a few local farmers who had start to grow grain and had quite a business going. When an aid agency decided that they needed to help they flew in bags of grain. The local farmers went out of business and the grain that flooded the market was sterile. Not great for future farming….

We had watched the film the mission before coming to South America and were aware of how the missionaries were pushed southwards by the Portuguese. When we arrived in San Ignacio we found the ruins and a very kind security guard recommended that we attended the night tour as it was already late in the afternoon. It sounded exciting to visit ruins at night but we really had no idea of what we were in for.

Holographs depicting work being done while building the mission station

What a show. While walking around there were holographic displays depicting how the missionary started, what life was like and how it ended. All in all it was a spectacular evening.

In the missions young children stayed with their families in houses around the main square until the age of six. At six years the children were separated from their families and were divided according to sex. The girls then got to choose who they wanted to marry (this happend very young) and if the marriage was approved by the church they got their own house and so the cycle continued.

The different colours of light reflected from the walls….. quite something

The mission stations were very successful. So much so that they were eventually a threat to the Spanish. Eventually in xxxx the Spanish King banished the missionaries as they were considered a threat to Spanish rule. The mission stations were then abandoned and this one was lost in the jungle until it was rediscovered in the 1900”s.

It was really interresting walking around this long deserted mission at night and the holographic displays almost made you feel as if you were walking in the past.

Housing around the main square

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Iguazu animals….. some of my favourite shots

Pensive toucan

Good looking toucan

We visited the animal sanctuary on the Argentinian side and the animal park on the Brazillian side. There were so many photo opportunities I thought I would just put up a few of my favourite shots.

If I can’t see you… you can’t see me

Reflections and the caman head

Toucan giving us the beady eye

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Iguaçu…… unimaginable beauty

Iguazu falls

The amazing Iguaçu falls are found between Argentina and Brazil which means there are two sides to see them from (and yet another border crossing which is a problem when space in your passport is very limited).

Water everywhere

We were told that the Brazilian side gives you more of a panoramic view and that the Argentinean side is more of a close up WOW experience so we hit the Brazilian side first and decided to take local transport from Argentina as we didn’t want to cross with the bike just for a day. It was fun and saved us quite a bit of cash (which we spent and more the next night when as a celebration of coming to the end of an epic adventure we splashed out and stayed at the Sheraton in the park on the Argentinean side).

Double cascade from the Brazillian side

The falls are truly spectacular. Neither of us wanted to admit it as our heart lies with Africa but these are the most spectacular waterfalls we have ever seen.
The falls are made up of 150 to 300 waterfalls depending on the time of year and the level of the water. We saw the falls at high water and it really is phenomenal. The falls extend for 2.7 km and in places they cascade down twice over an island. The height of the falls vary from 60 to 82 meters and around every corner there is a different view.

Spectacular Iquazu…. yet another view from the Brazillian side

The biggest is what they call the Devil’s throat and it really looks like a throat. I like the Spanish name “Garganta del Diablo”….. it just sounds right. The Devil’s throat is best seen from the Argentian side which we visited the following day. It is a U-shape and is 82 meters high (you can’t see the bottom due to the spray) and 150 meters wide. We both just stood on the view point looking down in absolute awe of this gigantic natural spectacle. I found this quote and I think it just sums it up… “awesome spectacle of an ocean pouring into an abyss.”

The Devil’s Throat from the Argentinian side

What makes the falls even more spectacular are the rain forests. I have fallen in love with macaws. I think they are just the most beautiful birds with their extra big brightly coloured beaks and I just love their blue feet. Every time we got a glimpse of one I was over the moon.

The Toucan… my latest love…

After visiting the Argentinean side, when we were relaxing on our balcony at the Sheraton (very spoilt) overlooking the falls a pair flew straight past us. This sighting has to be one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I hope to never forget that image.


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Goodbye Bolivian altiplano…. bring on Iguazu

So we have just managed to get through a few days of pretty hard riding. We had a few choices…. one of which was whether we wanted to drive to the famous Iguazu falls or fly from BA. After having a look at the ticket prices we decided it would probably be better to drive.

Dirt roads in Bolivia bring out the wild side……

Neither of us was too sad to leave Bolivia. We found that the people were not that friendly and the altitude was affecting us. (There was also a shortage of hairdryers which is really not good in cold weather if you have long hair!!!!!). The scenery was spectacular but the temperature was something else…. we function better in warm temperatures with ample oxygen ;). The food was bland and lacking in quantity so my husband was not the happiest.

We headed across the border to Argentina and were so pleased to be eating empanadas again (even if they were chicken and I had to suffer the after effects for the next day or so) . We spent that night in a lovely little hotel in Tilcara and both engorged ourselves on red meat. One can’t believe that you can cross an imaginary line and suddenly the red meat is thicker and tastier!!! It was so nice to be around friendly people and not to worry about whether you would get served petrol at a petrol station.

The next morning was an early start and we headed to Salta. We had planned to ride the road to the clouds but when the temperature gauge read below zero and we could only see 2 meters ahead of ourselves due to the mist we realised that it may not be the best of ideas.

Salta I can imagine is a lovely town when it is not raining. We saw some of the architecture, had a VERY delicious lunch at the center of town and then got horribly lost as we hadn’t been able to load the latest maps on to our GPS due to slow internet. Eventually after about an hour I was directing Andrew through the city by looking at the maps on the iPad. We must have been quite a site.

About 200km from Salta in a tiny town we found a little hostel with a really great shower. We made supper for the first time in months (almost thought I had forgotten how to cook). Tomato and sausage pasta has never taste this good. The next morning again was another early start with the temp reading minus 1.5 (we were a little cold).

Bike dashboard showing subzero temperatures

Luckily by the middle of the day we had hit double figures. We drove nearly 700km and the change in scenery was astounding. At first it looked like South African savannah and then it changed to jungle.

Along the route we got stuck behind a number of trucks. We decided to do as locals do and followed their driving rules. Not a good idea….. after a seven hundred peso fine we were both feeling a little tender. We were just really happy that we didn’t have to collect our license the next day as they were threatening to keep it for the evening.

At 7pm just after sunset we arrived in Iguazu. I was so tired I fell asleep before dinner.

The next day brought the most spectacular sights. We will be filling you in on these soon….

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Fun photographs of the Salar

Bike high jump


Hiding in a glove

Balancing on the bike taken to a new level

Handstand on a helmit

Walking into the whiteness

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Cerro Rico and the silver mine, Potosi

The Potosi mountain in the far left

Cerro Rico is the silver rich (actually not so silver rich anymore…. but it was the world’s largest deposit of silver) mountain that lies behind Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world sitting at 4090 meters above sea level.
Silver was first discovered at Cerro Rico by a local herder who lost a llama on the mountain. The nights are VERY cold here and the legend goes that he started a fire on hill and liquid silver ran from the fire……the mountain itself was beleved to have veins of silver.

The entrance to on of the mines. On the upper right you can see cables carring compressed air and electricity to work the jackhammers that they use to make holes for the dynamite.

The history of the mines from the 16th century till today is littered with the bones of those whom the mountain has swallowed. The first mines opened in the late 1500 and the Spanish colonialists were the first to exploit this natural resource. Initially locals, Indeans and African slaves were used to mine the silver. The conditions were very rough with the slaves working 20 hour shifts and only having four hours off to sleep. They were also kept in the mine for up to six months at a time…. if they survived. The legend goes that enough silver was mined to build a bridge from Potosi to Spain and that enough lives were lost to build another bridge to match it from human bones. Makes me thik twice when I look at my silver jewelry.

Today there are over 400 mines with 150 being actively mined and over 15 000 miners working in the mine. The life expectancy of the average miner is only 45 to 55 years due to silicosis and asbestosis. They usually have an unpleasant death due to the lack of medical services and know that their time is up when they start coughing blood. The miners work for themselves and there are no safety guidelines in the mines. There is also no limitation on the amount of time that they are allowed to work. Children as young as 13 years old are working in the mines to support their families. There are no females working in the mine as it is believed that they will bring bad luck and are not strong enough. The only females working near the mine work outside the mine sorting the rock. These are usually widows of miners that have died in the mine.

Getting ready for the working mine tour. Not the most flattering outfit I have ever worn but it does give the leathers a run for their money.

The mountain of Cerro Rica is actually getting smaller every year to the persistent mining. The government of Bolivia has tried to close the mine due to the terrible conditions but they were unable to as what would they do with the 15 000 miners and the co-ops where they extract the silver? There is no other industry here so it would leave the people destitute.
In the mines themselves the conditions are appalling. I went on a tour of the mine and was only able to do the first section (about an hour) due to my asthma flaring up. The air is so full of dust, there is no ventilation and the fumes from the dynamite come in waves. On the lower levels of the mine the temperature goes up to 40 degrees Celsius. Most work 8 hour shifts and chew large balls of coco leaves to help alleviate the altitude sickness, headaches and hunger. We were told after our tour that 3 days earlier miners had died in a collapse. This happens often as there are no safety regulations in the mine.

Loading the cocopans

Miners at work

At times the passage dissapears and you have to crawl on your tummy. Here we were getting ready to go crawling into that tiny hole in the center of the picture

The white bar with the cord wrapped around it is the dynamite.

Before entering the mine we were taken to a store to buy presents for the miners. It is quite scary as there is no restriction on the sale of alcohol or dynamite. Even young children can buy it. We bought drinks for the miners as many do not even take water with them into the mines.

Outside the mine the miners are Catholic. Inside the mine they worship mother earth and El Tio. El Tio is the male equivalent of mother earth and all the mines have statues of him. The miners leave him offerings and if he is happy they believe that they will have more mineral wealth. Offerings include alcohol, cigarettes, llama fetuses and even human fetuses. If miners die in the mines it is believed that that Gods are satisfied with the sacrifice and that they will be rewarded by increased mineral wealth for the next month or two.

With the mining god, El Tio.

It is not known for how much longer the miners will be able to mine here. To me it felt as if we were in a time bomb that could collapse at any stage.

Categories: Diary | 6 Comments

La Paz to Potosi… another incredible journey that answers many a question

People often ask me if I get bored sitting on the back of a bike, what do I see, do I sleep and do I ever drive?
This journey between La Paz and Potosi answers a lot of those questions.

This is the typical view that I have from the right side of the bike looking forward. I just love this photograph for the stark beauty of the lanscape with the floating cloud formations.

Firstly there is no way I could sleep as I need to keep balanced otherwise I could topple the bike…. that is one of the things about travelling on a bike…. you need to always be aware…. even if you are just sitting on the back. Andy and I also have a speaker system that allows us to chat to each other while riding which has really revolutionised our travels.

This is the typical view from the left side looking forward. Notice the change in the landscape from the previous photograph. This was only about 100km further on.

Do I drive… the easy answer is no because my legs are not long enough and I can’t reach the peddles. The longer answer is more difficult. I don’t really know if I would be brave enough to do it. I have so much trust in Andrew’s ability that I don’t really need to think about whether I would be able to. I know that when we hit really hard sections that I am fine and that I can manage, but whether I would be able to ride the whole thing on my own… I’m not sure. We have met one couple on 2 bikes and have read a blog of another couple. I really do admire those girls. Maybe if I was bigger I would feel differently? Who knows…. luckily the short legs save me from having to face this dilemma…..

Colours in the rock that were spectacular

What is really amazing about travelling on a bike is feeling your environment. It might sound strange but feeling the temperature changes and wind really helps you to understand what the land is actually like. The disadvantages of this are the cold and the stress that you put on your body…. but I suppose you can’t have everything.

Basic mud houses at over 4000 meters above sea level

Not having to concentrate on the road also gives me so much time to just observe. The landscapes are so dramatic and different. As we drive past I see the most amazing things. From little children playing soccer, to birds on the side of the road, to cloud formations, to rainbow coloured mountains, pink lakes, old women chatting to their friends….. I often wish that I could just blink my eyes and take a photograph to capture some of the beautiful things I have been privileged to see.

I’ve naimed this the Orange Canyon

Being independent is something that both of us really appreciate. We haven’t had to look at a clock pretty much the whole trip. We measure our days by how much sunlight is left, if we feel tired we sleep, if we are sick we stay longer, if we are feeling good we drive further. We also mostly get all the sights to ourselves… very special.

It is now less than 2000km till Buenos Aires…….homeward bound we are

So why bike? Yes it is dangerous but there are so many advantages….. and I just feel so privileged to have been able to experience so many spectacular things.

Categories: Diary | 11 Comments

Craziness in La Paz

Donkeys in the road

Traffic and pedestrians

Planes and taxis

Dogs and cars

And to think we were worried about the tread on our tires

Driving through La Paz was crazy!!!! The traffic was something else. Drivers don’t take any notice of lanes, let alone which side of the road you should drive on. Pedestrians and dogs think that the roads were made for them. One way roads are everywhere…. I think you are getting the idea.

Dinner with travelling friends. From the left it is Debs, then Andy, Jean-Louise and Alex (bikers we met in Copacabana who just happened to walk into the same restaurant as us in La Paz) and on the right is Dean. I’m taking the photo 🙂

Both Andrew and I had been feeling homesick and were really excited to be meeting up with Debbie and Dean in La Paz, friends that we had met on the Navimag ferry in Chile. By an absolute miracle and thanks to the GPS we found Debbie and Dean. We had a wonderful time catching up on travel stories, touring the city and enjoying each other’s company.

View of La Paz with the snow capped mountain in the background

La Paz is different. It has a beautiful setting under a snow capped mountain but is such a clash of the senses. There are beautiful run down colonial buildings, exquisite cathedrals, streets covered in rubbish, beggars in the restaurants, stalls selling chicken feet, tourist shops selling beautiful fabrics, witches markets selling dried llama fetuses…. I think you get the idea.

The Cathedral

Chiken feet etc for sale in the markets

Riots in La Paz

We walked past a riot in the street, then past photographers in a square who still use the old box cameras. We saw the outside of a prison that is run by the prisoners with guards only on the outside. Families are allowed to live with the prisoners if they have enough money, children then enter and leave the prison to go to school…. so different to what we are used to.

Our hotel didn’t have a hairdryer so I went to have my hair washed in a salon (it had been quite a few days and I had been wearing a thick band over my head for a very good reason). This was very entertaining…. I ended up walking out looking like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde… Andrew even nicknamed me Puff.

The bike and the most dangerous road in the world

The next day we had planned to ride the most dangerous road in the world. I woke up with a throat that felt like it had been dragged over sandpaper so spent the day in bed. Andy had a very exciting day. After just starting to head down the most dangerous road in the world an alarm light went off on the bike. The bike was out of oil!!!!! So my husband then decided to freewheel a GS1200 motorbike down the most dangerous road in the world. All I can say is that I am really happy that I was not pillioning on that ride.

Categories: Diary | 5 Comments

Tiwanaku…. another lost empire

Going through the front pages of the Rough Guide to South America I first saw a picture of Tiwanaku.

Sub-terranean temple of Tiwanaku

With a little more reading we realised that we would only be 75km away when we were in La Paz….. so Tiwanaku was added to our itinerary.
We had to wait for 2 days while I recovered from a bout of laryngitis but luckily we got there eventually.

View of Tiwanaku from the top of what used to be a very large pyramid.

Tiwanaku is the Macchu Pichu of Bolivia. It was the ritual and administration centre of the Tiwanaku empire. The empire first started in about 1500 BC (probably as a little agricultural village) and developed over the next 2000 years from there. Archaeologists believe that most of the buildings were built between 300 and 1000 AD and during this time the empire grew significantly and that the empire expanded.
It was discovered that the Tiwanaku people made human sacrifices where they disembowelled the person and then displayed in rituals to the gods. Mummies without heads were also discovered so it is thought that they may have decapitated people too. Despite all this it is believed that in general they were gentle group of people who were more interested in economic and agricultural growth making treaties with neighbouring people including them into their empire. (wouldn’t have wanted to get on their bad side though).

At about 950 AD something very significant happened that caused this empire to collapse. There was a significant climate change at that time and the most popular theory is that a very significant drought caused the collapse. Without water there was less food, less food means hungry people, when hungry rebellion is the next step with a loss of power. A few hundred years later the Inca’s then discovered Tiwanaku and integrated it into their culture.

Another view of the Subterranean temple with the stone heads. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to excavate this.

My favourite was the Semi-subterranean Temple. A number of heads protrude from the walls. It was an awesome sight.

Close up view of one of the heads from the Subterranean Temple

Other highlights included the Gateway to the Sun which was decorated with fine carvings of Viracicha who was known as their “god of action and shaper and destroyer of many worlds.

Close up view of the Gateway to the Sun with very intricate carvings

Gateway to the Sun

There is a museum that houses all the pottery, tools made from stone, wood and bone, textiles and metal ware. I was again astounded at the artistic skill. The engravings were beautiful and they sculpted pumas, frogs, tortoises and many other animals. There was also a stone monolith with very intricate carvings that was bigger than the Moai statues in Easter Island. This was Andrew’s favourite.

Stone monolith

A close up view of the monolith with very detailed fine carvings

Yet another empire that has come and gone…..makes one realise there has been so much before us.

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