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Yamaha Journey Vol.13

This is the story about Lois Pryce’s motorcycle travel on Yamaha XT225 from Colombia to Argentina.


A Two-Wheeled World of Human Connection

Lois Pryce


#02 South America: Into the Southern Hemisphere
Colombia – Argentina / Americas

Londoner, Lois Pryce left her media industry job to ride her Yamaha XT225 from Alaska to Argentina, a journey of 20,000 miles. In this second part of her quest for new horizons, she continues her life-changing journey, entering the majestic landscape of South America, taking in the exotic climes of Colombia’s Caribbean coast and the heady peaks of the Andes. Riding towards her ultimate goal of Ushuaia, the southernmost town at the very tip of the continent, she winds her way through the ancient Inca lands of Peru and Bolivia and finally, traverses the stark wilderness of Patagonia to reach ‘El Fin Del Mundo’ - the end of the world.

High in the Andes, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, I was overjoyed to find local women selling refreshments by the roadside.
Their bright smiles and cool drinks were a welcome sight for a weary traveler.

Urubamba Valley, Cusco, Peru

As the sun set over the tranquil waters of Lake Titicaca,
I watched the timeless scene of the Bolivian fishermen dropping anchor and coming into shore.
It was easy to see how the Incas had believed this magical lake to be the centre of the cosmos.

Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, Bolivia

As I emerged from the Atacama Desert into the Chilean Lake District, I gasped in wonder
at the transformation of the land – my heart leapt as high as the snowy volcanoes after so long in the barren wilderness.

Lago General Carrera, the Carretera Austral, Chile

Riding across the wild plains of Argentina’s cowboy country I was welcomed warmly by the gauchos on their steeds, saluting me from the saddle as I passed through their lands on my own ‘steel horse’.

Patagonia, Argentina

A New Hemisphere, a New Continent

In Panama, the Pan-American Highway comes to a sudden halt. Blocked by a stretch of dense, roadless jungle between Panama and Colombia known as the Darien Gap, the overland traveler is forced to make their passage to South America by sea or air. There were no boats sailing when I arrived so I packed my bike on a small plane and bid farewell to North America as I flew high over the impenetrable forest below. Despite missing my bike, it was thrilling to see the Darien Jungle from the air and an hour later I landed on a brand new continent. The colonial city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast felt like a different world. An ancient port town where merchants, pirates and swashbucklers have plied their trade over the centuries, its docks teemed with seafaring trade of all kinds. In the old town the cobbled 16th century streets bustled with raucous market traders pushing handcarts of mangoes and papayas while Latin beats blasted from the brightly colored buildings with their flower-filled balconies. A warm sea breeze and the swaying palm trees reminded me I was in the Caribbean and I reveled in the tropical heat and exotica. Soon, I would be winding my way up into the towering peaks of the Andes, thousands of feet above this ocean that lapped gently at the dockside. I was aware that the whole of South America lay in wait down the road, and felt the same thrill of unconquered territory ahead, as when I had set off from Alaska.

As I crossed the border into Ecuador, the tropics fast became a distant memory. Ascending the great slopes of the Andes, I was forced to stop and catch my breath, not only due to the altitude but in sheer awe of these vast mountains. Dusty dirt tracks led me in and out of their giant folds, crossing rivers on ancient wooden bridges where hummingbirds flitted and hovered in the warm valleys. Sometimes I wouldn’t see another human all day but in a tiny village not far from the equator, two little girls ran out of a shack to watch me pass by. When I stopped to greet them they dared to edge closer, pointing at my eyes, whispering, ‘Azul, azul!’, their wide brown eyes gazing in wary wonder at my blue.

Peru & Bolivia – Blowing hot and cold in the Andes

Peru arrived like a horn blast. After the empty green slopes and tranquility of Ecuador’s landscape and people, Peru’s wild highways and blaring cities snapped me out of my reverie. Vintage muscle cars and thundering trucks delivering crates of ‘Inca Cola’ overtook me with inches to spare. In the capital, Lima, there was only thing for it - park up for the night and relax with a Pisco Sour, the classic Peruvian cocktail of brandy, lime juice, egg whites, syrup and bitters. I took a deep breath; I was back at sea level but not for long. My route through northern Peru had taken me across empty coastal desert but from Lima I turned away from the Pacific and back up into the heart of the Andes. Before I knew it I had climbed 15,000 feet on the kind of road that motorcyclists dream of - switchback upon switchback, twisting and turning until I looked down below me and for a moment I was truly on the top of the world.

In these remote mountainous areas of Peru and Bolivia the indigenous Quechans provided flashes of colour. The women in their patterned shawls and full skirts in reds and pinks tended to their herds of llamas and alpacas, whiling away hours spinning the soft wool to make blankets and ponchos. In Bolivia, their outfits were topped by the famous bowler hat, a legacy of the British railways workers from the 1920s. To see this icon of my homeland in this faraway world was strangely comforting, especially when the road became rougher and snow began to fall. In the space of a day I had gone from baking desert to freezing mountaintop, and with darkness looming I feared I would be pitching camp in a snowdrift but to my relief, a tiny tin shack of a café appeared and the elderly owners offered me their stone floor in front of their blazing fire. ‘Where have you come from?’ they asked me the next morning. ‘Alaska’ I said. They looked confused. ‘But yesterday, from Lima’. ‘Lima!’ they exclaimed, ‘It is so far!’

Chile – Ghost Towns and Gasolineras

Back down at sea level, I followed the Pacific coast along Chile’s long thin landmass. The sudden arrival of well-made highways, traffic lights and road signs were a culture shock after the trails of the Andes but soon I was back in the wilderness as I entered the Atacama Desert, famously the driest place on earth. Not a single drop of rain has ever been recorded here and towns were few and far between. In preparation I strapped cans of fuel to my bike and a few miles later passed an abandoned pump and an ominous sign, ‘Proxima Gasolinera 470km’. It was going to be a long, hot ride. The boundless desert and nearby beaches provided camping spots aplenty and each day I marveled at how me and my little bike had found ourselves here, so far from home. There were no signs of civilization except for the occasional long-distance trucker kicking up dust so I was amazed to come across the deserted mining settlement of Humberstone, an eerie ghost town where the company stores, buildings and equipment had been abandoned nearly 100 years before, still perfectly preserved by the dry desert air.

Just when I thought the Atacama would never end, the southern tip of Chile exploded in a visual delight of snow-capped volcanoes and turquoise lakes. The Carretera Austral, the ‘Southern Highway’ wove through this wonderland, taking me into Patagonia and the last leg of my journey. The end was almost in sight but I had no idea that I was about to embark on the most challenging section of the trip.

Patagonia – El Fin Del Mundo

For the last ten months I had been riding south, my destination, Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world that can be reached by road. Now I allowed myself the thought that I really was going to make it. But this final stretch was the wildest road of them all – the infamous Ruta 40 through Patagonia, a 2000 mile gravel highway, windswept and lonely but all the more thrilling for its isolation. I met a couple of weary bicycle travelers coming the other way and I was glad to be on my nippy motorcycle, powering me along. The only other travellers were the occasional armadillo, scurrying along next to me, undaunted by their surroundings. The Wild West feel of Patagonia was enhanced by the odd glimpse of the region’s famous ‘gauchos’, the Argentinian cowboys. These weather-beaten horsemen congregated at remote ‘estancias’, the ranches and roadhouses that cropped up every few hundred miles. With their steeds tied up outside, they sheltered indoors, playing cards and drinking whisky long into the night. ‘Esta es el fin del mundo’ one of them told me, ‘This is the end of the world.’

It was two long, weary weeks later that I finally rolled into Ushuaia, dusty and tired but I had never felt more alive. I looked out over the icy waters of the Drake Passage, next to a group of penguins huddling against the wind. Antarctica was just a few hundred miles away across the water, and Alaska was nearly 20,000 miles behind me. My bike and I had come a long way; it had become a true friend and loyal companion, just like the horses were to the gauchos. Now it was time for us to head home. I didn’t know what would happen next but I did know that life would never be quite the same again.

Lois Pryce

Lois Pryce is a British travel writer and author. She has written two books about her motorcycle travels around the world. Her third book, ‘Revolutionary Ride’, about her recent journey around Iran will be published in January 2017.

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