Inspiring Quotes for Crossing the High Deserts in South America

Below you will find a collection of inspiring quotes I collected during my preparation stage for crossing the high deserts of the Altiplano in southwest Bolivia as well as the Andes via Paso Socompa.

Quotes like these keep me smiling and help to focus my mind on the essential parts of the trip.


“… this will be one of your most unforgettable cycle touring expeditions yet …”
Cycling Southwest Bolivia

“Roads: These will be your biggest nightmare in the southwest especially. There are so many tracks that at times you won’t know which one to choose from. Signposting is almost non-existent and when it does appear, it is very dubious. The paths are incredibly dusty with washboard and sand surfaces, making cycling really difficult. And certainly so with your bike being heavily laden with supplies and extra water. So, expect to push for many kilometres and that said, you should also be aware that you’ll face the usual hardships of travelling at high altitude too. ”
Cycling Southwest Bolivia

“Sandstorms are also a common – almost daily-event”
Cycling Southwest Bolivia

“In a country like this, standard operating procedure says to gather information about a planned route, prepare as best you can, and hope nothing goes wrong. Sometimes something does. Sometimes the only water source in 60km has a dead rat floating in it.”
https://steelingaway.com/2015/01/04/bolivian-altiplano-lagunas/

“Three kilometers east of the town centre of Tahua, when you finally hit the entrance of the Salar de Uyuni, you will immediately realise the rewards of all that hard slog against howling winds in the middle of sand tracked oblivion”
Cycling Southwest Bolivia

“The cold hard facts are these: the best parts of the road to cycle on are going to be a washboard, because it is the only hardened surface around. Otherwise, you will be pedalling your wheels through sand or pushing your loaded rig at more than 3500meters above sea level.”
Cycling Southwest Bolivia

“Riding along the salt plains was indescribable. So silent, you just hear the crunch of your tires along the salt. You can see the bend in the Earth! Islands would appear out of nowhere as we aimed for the distant mountains.”
http://www.inspireout.org/2011/10/29/3429/

“Was uns, oder vor allem mir (Petra), am meisten zu Schaffen macht ist nicht der Strasszustand, der manchmal einem Bachbett aehnlich sieht, nicht die naechtliche Kaelte, die alles was man nicht in den Schlafsack hinein rettet gefrieren laesst, nicht die Hoehe, die einem Schlaf und Atem raubt und nicht die vielen Paesse, die es zu ueberqueren gilt. Was uns richtig zu beissen gibt ist der Wind!”
https://travel.marek.li/2007/10/wind-and-wonders/

“Diese Fahrt ist kein Picknick und das bolivianische Hochland ist nicht Disneyland; Gefahren sind real und allgegenwärtig.”
Julius Grossmann – Fahrrad Guide

“Plant and tree species are reportedly about 190 species, in the harsh terrain, which have emerged given the conditions of salinity, lack of fresh water, low temperatures, and scarcity of nutrients.”
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduardo_Avaroa_Andean_Fauna_National_Reserve

“Now on our left we have a travelling cyclist, known to roam these parts during their seasonal migration from Alaska. It looks like we’ve got a solitary male here and by the state of him I’d say he’s been on the road a while. Best not to provoke him too much, they’re an unpredictable bunch, but we generally find offering them a bit of food settles them down.”

“But what do we feed them??”

“Oh they’ll eat anything, this one probably hasn’t seen a good meal in days….”
https://theridesouth.com/2015/01/18/riding-the-lagunas-into-chile/

“The Paso Socompa crossing between Argentina and Chile is shrouded in a certain amount of mystery; a remote and desolate place, over which no one can seem to agree whether or not it’s actually a legal border crossing. Long since closed to vehicular traffic, it’s now a rather forlorn and forgotten outpost where a handful of plucky cyclists are about the only action it sees.”
https://theridesouth.com/2015/02/04/the-puna-double-cross-pt-2-paso-socompa/

“Granted, Bolivia might not seem the most obvious choice for a family holiday, especially the high altitude Altiplano, perched at 12,000ft and above. The backroads are corrugated and sandy. The sun is relentless. Food is limited and water is scarce. And living conditions are distinctly basic.”
http://www.bikepacking.com/plog/cycling-bolivias-salars/

“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear-the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break….I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.”
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

“Water, water, water… There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount…unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

“You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe.”
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

Paying the GR221 a Visit – Mallorca

Mallorca is awesome for hiking – although it doesn’t look like this in the first place. The GR221, as part of the European network of long-distance trails, provides roughly 150 lovely kilometers of connected trails. Additionally, there is a lot of map material available with which you can create your own alternatives.

Solid baseline information can be found here in different languages. Also check out the section guides that can be downloaded as PDFs. Information below is from early 2014 so could be outdated.

Tour Information

  • Date: Easter 2014 – 2 persons – roughly 1 week
  • We took the “Tren de Soller” from Palma to Soller from which we headed towards the coast to Port de Soller
  • From Port de Soller, we hitched / took a bus to Deia in order to walk again north along the coast (recommended!) until reaching Port de Soller again.
  • We continued to Santuari de Lluc (where we also slept 1 night) while doing some variants (Torrent de Pareis)
  • We took a tent for being more flexible – but not really needed if you stick to the general recommendations

Difficulties & Challenges

  • None

Tour Alternatives & Ideas

Hiking Traverse & Packrafting Rio de las Vueltas

El Chalten is an upcoming (if not already) hot spot for tourism and on the edge to become a mainstream place-to-be in Patagonia. Nevertheless, not yet a McDonald’s restaurant can be found there so I can still recommend to pay a visit to this lovely spot close to El Calafate.

The “Rio de las Vueltas” is already a known place to packrafters from around the globe and you can find more information about rafting trips on this river here, here and here. It’s a nice river without big challenges (as of FEB 2015) but with awesome views on the Cerro Torre and easy to be accessed.

Caution: This trip contains a border crossing that is not possible / allowed according to local Chile Border Police. Therefore, please do review the situation with authorities from Argentina and Chile before you follow instructions below. It is clearly NOT recommended to follow our path again without previous engagements with authorities – more information below. 

Tour Information

  • Date: February 2015 – 2 people – spent in total 2 weeks down there
  • There is no official place to resupply until you reach the Laguna del Desierto which has a kiosk. So you need to carry all your food form the very first beginning on (unless you want to ask/pay locals).
  • We took the bus from El Calafate to El Chalten but asked the driver to drop us way before El Chalten on the road: -49.576, -72.33772
  • From there we traversed the mountains towards north until hitting the road near Lago San Martin: -49.19186, -72.36147
  • For the traverse: We didn’t follow any official trail (is there any?) Hence, you need to prepare the right trail based on GMaps or BingMaps – the area up there is quite lonely but not too difficult to cross. It took as around 2 days to cross it.
  • Reaching the gravel road,  you can head north-west towards the border to Chile – the police station where we got our exit stamp fr Argentina is located here: -49.12608, -72.49215

Caution: The border crossing we did from Argentina to Chile caused us a lot of issues at the Chilenean border police in Lago Ohiggins (-48.86929, -72.74208). We basically got stuck there for 1 day since Chile did not accept the exit stamp from Argentina border police. I strongly do NOT recommend to cross the border (-48.89705, -72.69654) via the path we took without previous engagements with both Argentina and Chile border police although locals could tell you otherwise.

El Chalten Trip Overview
El Chalten Trip Overview
  • You can rest at “Estancia El Condor” if you have the required $$$ – this is not a cheap, low level spot – but a nice one and they have a hot shower and good food: -49.08406, -72.55115
    The estancia also rents horses.
  • The border crossing trail requires to cross one river and also takes some time since it’s not a well maintained trail. We also lost the way several times in the swampy area around here -48.91854, -72.63549.
    This border crossing is listed in various official maps of this area (please read red-marked statements)
  • Once finishing all formalities with the Chile border police in Lago Ohiggins, you can head south towards Laguna del Desierto. You can also extend the trip by heading north-west and then south-west to Lago Chico.There is plenty of material on the web for these kind of extensions. You can also take the boat and head up north to Villa O’higgins in Chile.
  • You can walk or take the boat to cross the Laguna del Desierto until you reach the camping space at the southern end: -49.08282, -72.89224
  • We inflated our packrafts near this place for convenience purposes: -49.10253, -72.90485. Be aware that there are some waterfalls upstream that you cannot raft according to our information.
  • From there, you can easily float down to El Chalten in 2 days or even less depending on the speed of the river.

Difficulties & Challenges

  • Be aware of the famous patagonian winds! Yes – they are strong and will have an impact on any packrafting attempts.
  • On the Rio de las Vueltas, take care of potential barb wire in the river or on the shores which could harm you and your packraft.
  • Consider the red-marked recommendations above in regards to the border crossing – you can get into trouble easily otherwise.
  • Rio Electrico is a more challenging river – be aware and scout properly – the confluence with the Rio de las Vueltas can be found here: -49.23075, -72.91083
    The walk upstream is recommended nevertheless – nice views!

Tour Alternatives & Ideas

  • If you bring your packraft, you could do the extra round to this peninsula: -49.03741, -72.48744. You can get back on the gravel road with packrafting this area here: -48.99103, -72.52555 until you reach the gravel road again. There is a trail on the peninsula that you can use and cannot miss. Take care of strong winds!
  • Interesting extension once you arrive in El Chalten: Circuito Cerro Huemul
  • On the following image we investigated 2 potential alternatives for the route – both alternatives need to be investigated beforehand since I’m not completely sure whether the terrain allows them
Alternatives for the El Chalten Trip
Alternatives for the El Chalten Trip

Getting There & Away

  • Fly in to El Calafate (FTE) and take one of the buses towards El Chalten

Hiking the Pre-Andes around Mendoza

The trip below was a short 3-4 days trip we did in September 2015 around Mendoza, Argentina. This region allows you easily to chose amongst plenty of different possibilities to plan your own trips / routes in the amazing pre-Andes environment of Argentina.

 Tour Information

  • Date: mid of September 2015 – 3 people
  • We started in Mendoza and hired a taxi to bring us out of town to the starting point of the trail: -32.86059, -68.93973
  • We used a part of a circuit trail which follows several mountain ranges close to Mendoza – the part we walked was pretty amazing so I can definitively recommend it. Further information can be found on wikiloc.com here.
  • We followed the trail anticlockwise until we descended down to the gravel road 13 close to those ruins: -32.81588, -69.00184
  • From there, follow the routa 13 towards north – you will pass a farm where you can ask for water:  -32.78947, -69.02105
  • Further up the road turn left into the the mountains – basically here: -32.7932, -69.03319
  • From here we headed south-west towards the lake close to Potrerillos: -32.95319, -69.16084
  • This is a nice area with several possibilities in terms of finding a suitable way – I used Google Maps to prepare the right track beforehand.
Map of Mendoza Trip
Map of Mendoza Trip

Difficulties & Challenges

  • We wanted to extend the trip originally but we ran out of water – this is the biggest issue you will face there. So bring plenty of it and don’t count on any real possibilities to refill.

Tour Alternatives & Ideas

  • Following the gravel road 13 starting in Mendoza and ending near Uspallata in the north would be a nice little trip with probably pretty amazing views.
  • Wikiloc.com should be considered as a great source of information that could contribute to creating your own trips in this area.
  • If you bring your packraft: Rafting the Rio Mendoza with a packraft after crossing the Andes from Santiago de Chile towards Mendoza would be a great adventure I assume – be prepared for some white-water.
High Quality Map Mendoza Area
High Quality Map Mendoza Area

Getting There & Away

  • In Potrerillos you can find a tourist information – additionally there are buses coming down from the north on the routa 7 going to Mendoza. You need to ask locals for further information / timetables.
  • Hitch-Hiking should be possible as well – however, we didn’t try it.

Packrafting Rio Palena until the Pacific

Since I couldn’t find any proper source with some basic information around packrafting the Palena, I intend to close this gap with this post. Within the packrafting scene, several people already did the Palena but solid information that is public and accessible in a centralized way is still missing.

I consider the Rio Palena to be a perfect river for beginners in case the river has the right level of water (go in summer, not in winter), you don’t go alone, you carry the appropriate equipment and finally you scout rapids before you take them.

However, there are no rapids that are extremely dangerous or complicated. All rapids had a reasonable easy run-out (date: February 2016) – the biggest problems represent turns of the river that have overhanging trees and plants in which you could get tangled up. And yes – some rapids could easily flip you and your raft however all of them could be circumvented.

Caution: All information is based on the water level as of February 2016 – there is high possibility that the river changes in the future and hence, the rapids & complicated points will change as well. 

 Tour Information

  • Date: early February 2016 – trip in total lasted a little bit more than 1 week including getting there & away, relax days etc.
  • The best source so far to get basic information around the Palena can be found on the websites of “The Greater Patagonian Trail” maintained by Jan Dudeck. Jan did an excellent job with maintaining a huge amount of information about this great trail challenge down in South America that you definitively should have a look at. His page is also the source where you get the basic GPS coordinates in form of the file “GPT21P.kmz“. I will refer to this file further down again.
  • Packrafting from the Palena Bridge until the Pacific (Raul Marin Balmaceda) will take you between 5-6 days depending on water level, wind and, closer to the Pacific, tides.
  • Start: -43.60909, -71.81844; End: -43.77986, -72.9499
Rapid on the Rio Palena
Rapid on the Rio Palena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Be aware that Jan’s file will only provide GPS coordinates until the town of La Junta – but you cannot miss the way afterwards. Jan is working on an update right now for this specific section of the Greater Patagonian Trail.
  • I recommend beforehand to mark specific places where you can get out of the river just in case you intend to leave the river earlier as planned (see difficulties & challenges below) e.g. -43.92256, -72.8071 is an excellent place to do so.
    The reason for this is: Even though the river runs partially very close to the X-12 gravel road, the river is mostly surrounded by deep jungle which is pretty difficult to cross for even just a few meters.
  • Regarding Jan’s file GPT21P.kmz:
    In the file are several coordinates called “settler” – these GPS points are specifically useful in order to find the right place to camp / no to camp.
    Jan also marked some “rapids” in the file – I recommend to use this information as a baseline, but since the rapids on the Palena change depending on the season, water level etc. you need to keep your eyes open.
  • I walked the last 30 kms to the Pacific due to strong head winds / tides. The ferry is free of charge – but only open from 8.30am to approx. 19.00pm – use your Packraft to cross the river afterhours. On busy days plenty of tourists will use the gravel road X-12 so it should be easy to hitch-hike.
  • In Raul Marin Balmaceda, you can find basic hotels, electricity from 7am to 1am and a lovely short hike to the Pacific Ocean Beach.

Feedback from Jan:
The Greater Patagonian Trail Section 11 to 27 is to my opinion the “Packrafting Paradise” in Patagonia that is reasonable save to paddle with a packraft. Section 1 to 18 are already published, section 19 to 27 will be published in the next 6 months. Sections 1 to 10 of the Greater Patagonian Trail are best hiked without packraft.

When venturing into the fjords with a packraft be aware that sudden weather changes, powerful wind, strong tidal currents can bring you unexpectedly into dangerous situations. The limited escape and camp options along the coat of the fjords (very dense vegetation and a steep rocky terrain) may make it very difficult to seek safe ground in such conditions. To my opinion a packraft has a too low hull speed and is too wind-sensible to safely venture into the fjords. The fjords are more suitable for sea kayak expeditions.

On a nice day packrafting seams perfectly feasible but a weather change can put you in a very dangerous situation if you are in a packraft.

Rapid on the Rio Palena
Rapid on the Rio Palena

Difficulties & Challenges

  • Some rapids have the strength to flip your boat – however, they can be circumvented.
  • Take care of trees / plants in turns of the river in which you could get tangled up.
  • On the last  30-40 kms to the Pacific you can face strong head winds which could slow down progress or even make it impossible to keep on going.
  • Be aware of the tides in the end which also impact your possibility to progress.
  • Mark potential places to get out of the river beforehand – especially for the last section from La Junta to the Pacific.
  • The alluvial trees you will see during the trip demonstrate the enormous power the river can have during the rain season.
  • On the part from the ferry to downtown Raul Marin Balmaceda, locals informed me that a puma has been located several times. I hiked this part as well on my own, but I recommend to check with the guys from the ferry how the situation is before doing so (very helpful people).
Upper Rio Palena close to the Town of Palena
Upper Rio Palena close to the Town of Palena

Tour Alternatives & Ideas

  • See alternatives & ideas here
  • I met people doing extended hiking & packrafting trips in the Corcovado National Park north of Raul Marin Balmaceda. But you need to do your own research in regards to further possibilities there.

Getting There & Away

  • From Puerto Ramirez which you can reach via hitch-hike or bus from Futaleufu you can also hike down to Palena town or set into the river directly. Have a look at the GPT20P.kmz section of “The Greater Patagonian Trail”
  • Take the ferry from Quellon to Puerto Chacabuco that runs twice per weeks (both ways two trips per week). If you go south you have a perfect finish because you have 24 hour fjord sightseeing tour at a very reasonable low cost.
  • See more information here at the bottom

Lago Palena Hiking – Packrafting Rio Pico

Tour Information

  • Date: November 2015, spent roughly 1 week hiking and a little bit of packrafting in the Palena region
  • As the original trip, we took the following 2 hiking trips and connected them. In total, they lead from Lago Verde up to the town of Palena where you can float down the Palena until the Pacific Ocean. Trip 1Trip 2
  • This plan didn’t work out.
  • We wanted to hike from Lago Verde up to the town of Palena before floating down the Palena River – some issues prevented us from doing so, especially the situation that we lost the way near the Rio Quinto section and the river was quite challenging to cross due to high water level
  • Caution – The GPS data provided via the links above is not very detailed and does not help in critical parts of this trip. It seems like the data has been created without actually following the original track since points are out of the actual track. Therefore, we lost the track near the Rio Quinto Junction and had to return to Lago Verde. Also, we didn’t find the huts marked.
  • What we recommend to do is basically trying to follow the path and stay on it – check regularly whether you are still on the main path since there are plenty of little paths spreading from the main path that could lead to confusion.
  • On the way back, we entered the Rio Pico near this place -44.19618, -71.87526 and went out close to the street further down the river (half-day trip maximum)
  • There were some WW parts (II-III –> scouting is recommended) followed by slow sections – after the point we left, the river gets more difficult (estimated III-IV)
Packrafting on Rio Pico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Alternatives & Ideas:

  • Start the trip at Lago Verde and head north until you reach Rio Quinto – from there, follow the Rio Quinto until you reach the main street X-11 / X-13. Obviously there are people who already rafted the Rio Quinto – however, this seems to be pretty much full of white-water and it will hard to get out of the valley in case something happens. So this is rather something for people with enough time, solid equipment and food supplies.
  • After discussions with locals it turned out that rafting the Rio Quinto has been done by local companies and support via horses to  bring in the equipment.

Getting There & Away:

  • Fly in via Esquel (ESQ) from Buenos Aires and cross the border to Chile or head down south on the Argentina side until you cross the border near the town Palena
  • Hitch-Hiking does work well if you are alone or in a group of 2, especially on the “Austral” in Chile
  • There are buses from Esquel to the Border via Trevelin – from there, try to hitch-hike to Futaleufu from where you can catch again a bus towards the Austral and from there further down south to La Junta.
  • However, enough time should be planned for getting there and away – this is South America.

Hiking in the Jungle around Paraty

Tour Information

  • Date: extended weekend in May 2015
  • This hike can be done 4-5 days and can easily be extended with additional hikes – see Tour Alternatives & Ideas
  • We started by hiring a speed boat driver in Paraty who brought us to the starting point (see below) – but the starting point can easily be changed to start without the need of a boat
  • We slept in a tent but it was way too hot – I recommend a lightweight mosquito-dome – sleeping bag was not needed – only inlet is recommended depending on weather situation. Take care that you only camp in areas where permitted.
  • On the hike, there are plenty of nice beaches, some of them also have kiosks / restaurants where you can resupply
  • Water can be taken from some rivers on the way – filtering is recommended
  • We were wearing gaiters up to the knees most of the time although we got told that there are hardly poisonous snakes
  • There is a high probability to meet day hikers on the different trails
  • Rough Map (taken from Google Maps):
Map of Paraty Hiking Trail
Map of Paraty Hiking Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Helpful GPS waypoints:
    • Hiring a boat in Paraty (roughly 100,- USD in May 2015)
      -23.2173, -44.71365
    • Start of our trail
      -23.24834, -44.60397
    • Coconut Shop
      -23.27105, -44.58006
    • Bus Stop for getting back to Paraty
      -23.33066, -44.66126

Tour Alternatives & Ideas:

  • I’m pretty sure there are plenty of alternatives for this route around Paraty as well as on the peninsula itself. The tourist maps available in Paraty will give you an overview of possible extensions to this trip – we didn’t invest any time in this topic since our time plan was pretty strict.
  • Packrafting extensions could be done as well.

Getting There & Away:

  • We drove in 4-5 hours from Sao Paolo to Paraty by car
  • There are also buses from Sao Paolo to Paraty of you can fly to Rio de Janeiro and head south.