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ADV Rides10 Best on a Bucket List Ride Through South America

10 Best on a Bucket List Ride Through South America

 Highlights from a trip through some of the most inspiring landscapes on earth!

Published on 09.28.2017

Riding on a South America Trip to the End of the World
 
Every time I mention the “Big South America Trip” we did last fall on Adventure Bikes, people want to know more about it and the number one question (always) is… What was the best part? Seriously? How can you pick a “best moment” when you’ve traveled 11,000 miles through six amazing countries and some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth?

The questions go on and on… How did you do this? Where did you go? What did you think about this or that? Did anybody get hurt? The answers to these questions are somewhat subjective and various members of the team might answer differently, but here are some of the highlights from what we called Expedition 65º – a journey from Cartagena, Colombia to the southern tip of Argentina.

There is no particular order to the list, just a random compilation of the great stuff we saw, felt, smelt, heard, and so on…

1. Machu Picchu – Most Awe Inspiring

South America Trip Top 10: Machu Picchu
Courtesy Simon Tong

Located high in the Peruvian Andes is the Incan fortress of the clouds, Machu Picchu. It’s not only a world heritage site, but its one of the top three historic attractions on earth (the great wall of China and the Pyramids being the other two). Knowledge of this had us all eagerly waiting to climb those stone walls and walk in the footsteps of those Noble Incan elite from long ago.

However – take note! You cannot get to Machu Pichu without first starting in Cusco (Another world heritage site). Here’s how it works: park the moto—you can’t ride there anyway—and take the train from the city. Its a beautiful 4-plus-hour journey (each way) to Aguas Caliente. You’ll cross over the headwaters of the Amazon River as you go and once you reach the end, you board a bus which will take you up a dizzying set of switchbacks to the park’s boundary. The bus will drop you off at the entry to the park, where you pay your entry fee and join a guided group (no longer are you allowed to freely roam the property).

Frankly it’s really a good thing to have a guide to get a glimpse into Incan life. To learn the context and history from the locals is invaluable and nearly all the guides are Quechua speaking natives, the original descendants of the Inca’s themselves. If you don’t have a guide, you’ll just spend your time looking at a huge pile of very well stacked boulders wondering “what happened here?”. It’s truly an amazing place.

2. Salar de Uyuni – Most Isolated

South America Trip: riding Salar de Uyuni

Absolutely mind bending… In stark contrast to the lush green valleys of Colombia and near vertical mountains of the Andes in Peru, the salt flat of Uyuni, Bolivia is like nothing else. Yep, it’s a dry lake and many of us have seen—or even ridden on—those in our lifetime, but none are bigger or higher in elevation. Situated in the legendary Alitplano at 12,000 feet above sea level, is what feels like—and is—the flattest place on earth! AND it is gigantic! At just over 4,000 square miles, it’s four times larger than the Los Angeles metro area, twice the size of the state of Delaware and covered with nothing but salt and lithium. No green stuff. Very few rocks and lots of nothingness.

The Uyuni is the place that actually inspired me to launch the Expedition 65º trip, as I’d been there before leading one of our South American tours. However due to time constraints, we didn’t get enough time to truly soak it all in. The Uyuni beckoned to me… come explore… I vowed to do so and thus Expedition 65º was born in my mind, though it took two and a half years to return. On this visit, we took our time to exploring it. In fact we spent the night camping out in the middle of the Uyuni on the only piece of rock that sticks up from the lake bed — Isle de Pescado (fish island).

Ponder this for a moment… White as snow, but hot and dry… as flat as the ocean on a calm day with absolutely nothing on the horizon so you can see the actual curvature of the earth and the freedom to ride as fast as you can, for as long as you want, in any direction… and you have the Salar de Uyuni. Isolation takes on a different meaning there. There is nothing to see but the horizon and that makes for a special form of isolation. Nonetheless, there is both a magic and a majesty to this place that makes it a “must visit” destination. Also there is a great game you can play because the place is so vast. Try writing your name in cursive on the screen of your GPS. Where else in the world can you try such a thing?

3. Roaring Forties – Best Battle With the Elements

South America Trip- Riding the roaring forties

There is a zone of latitude called the ‘Roaring Forties’ that dates back to the days of the Yankee Clipper ships that would sail “around the horn” from Boston to San Francisco in the 1800s. They were the fastest ships on earth at the time, a reputation they earned because they could harness the “roaring winds” of Latitude 40 to 49.

We found out that the roaring forties are still alive and well when we rode south through Tierra del Fuego. We heard from the proprietor of a ranch that the winds were going to be pretty bad that day — but we had no idea. Sustained 70 to 80 mph sidewinds all day long! Try to ride on a heavily graveled road in wind like that. We were continually blown over like dominos… even with the bikes parked on their side stands, they were blown over. We eventually figured out that parking “into the wind” would prevent it… but then we’d have to turn “broadside to the wind” to begin riding and BAM!… on the ground again.

Eventually we hit a paved road where we had better traction and could fight the wind more effectively, but we suddenly became aware of another phenomena, riding “with the wind” at high speed is bizarre. When you’re riding into the wind, the noise is incredible. Think about it… A 70 mph wind, and you’re riding “into it” at 50 mph you have wind noise equivalent to 130 mph. Suddenly, the road makes a curve and you’re riding with the wind and its silent, and you feel “nothing’ in the way of wind resistance. You and the wind are moving at the same speed — lift your face shield, glance down at your speedo — you’re doing 75 with no wind on your face AND you hear nothing. Its freaky. You almost feel that you’re at a stop and could just step off your bike. The good news is that you can get nearly 100 miles per gallon riding with the wind!

4. Sopa! Sopa! – Funniest Moment

Evan asks for Sopa on Expedition 65

The language barrier can be frustrating… or hilarious. It just depends on your viewpoint. Here’s the best example I’ve ever had. On a random afternoon in Peru, one member of our party (named Evan) was sent ahead to seek out a hostel for us to spend the night. He found a great little place owned by a friendly Peruvian woman named Carmen. After he successfully negotiated for our rooms (landing us domiciles for $7.00 per person) he decided to clean up before dinner, so he stripped down and headed for the shower. Pulling back the shower curtain he found that there was no shampoo or soap, so he walked to the front desk with only a towel around his waist to see Carmen about this little problem.

Arriving in the lobby, he realized that he did not know how to explain what he needed… so since we all know that the best way to communicate in Spanish is to add the letter “A” or “O” to any English word and say it louder… Evan tried to ask for soap. “Soapa?” He asked…”SOAPA?” And again… one more time “SOAPA?” Suddenly, he remembered the word “sopa” means soup in Spanish. Carmen had both a puzzled look, and a small smile as Evan gave up and headed back to his room for a soapless shower.

And now… “the rest of the story.” It wasn’t until a couple members of the team arrived who were fluent in Spanish, did we come to understand what Carmen ‘really’ heard. You see – while Carmen did speak Spanish, her native language is Quechua (language of the Inca’s) and the word “sopa” literally translated means cunnilingus. When we all learned of his faux pas, we were rolling on the floor in laughter, and Carmen took the joke to the next level as well… can you imagine Evan’s consternation as Carmen followed him around the hostel for the rest of the night saying… Señor Evan? Sopa? Sopa? I will never forget that…

5. The Arrival – Most Anticipated Moment

Riding Colombia the first day.

How do you label excitement? One thing that happens as we age is that we’re truly excited less and less about things… so when you get ‘genuinely’ excited about something, its an awesome feeling. Let me tell you… Its hard to describe the excitement of arriving in a foreign country after a year and a half of planning and then going through a bunch of arduous legal dealings (customs, logistics, etc.) being able to walk into a warehouse and seeing your motorcycle for the first time in a foreign land.

So one of the peak moments of excitement during the trip had to be getting on our motorcycles and riding through Colombia for the first time. I like many others in our community have a hectic life – and to be able to “check out” for two and half months to do nothing other than ride was a luxury to cherish. Not thinking about my business, not feeling constrained by the requests of others, being ‘in the moment’ for two months. Realizing the trip was finally underway kinda made me giddy to be honest!

6. Cartagena – Best Nightlife

South America Trip - Plaza de Santo Domingo, Cartegena, Colombia
Courtesy Michael Keen

More historic than I could ever put into words, this Caribbean oasis was founded in 1533 as the northern coast port of Colombia, and survives now as an UNESCO world heritage site. There is a reason that everyone wears white clothes in this tropical sweatbox. White clothing reflects the scorching Caribean sun and at least helps you think that you “fit in.”

The fortified city of Cartagena has been the cultural crossroads of South America since the 1500’s and every great civilization seems to have left a little mark on the culture here, making for a great, and luckily, affordable vacation spot. The timid can easily enjoy the city in safety. But for those with a sense of adventure, get outside the walls and wander. If you don’t pick up a date for the evening, you’ll surely find something to tickle your fancy. From free-flowing bacchanalia, to haute couture, to multi-cultural cuisine. But a cheap set of plastic chairs surrounding a table in the town square is the life for me. Watching tourists and locals meet, through a bottle of rum, your eyes will see it differently while in Colombia. And the weather at night is perfect, all year round being this close to the equator.

7. Gaucho Parilla – Best Meal

Gaucho Parilla Expedition 65

OK – face it… Food is one of the best parts of travel; the uniqueness, the exotic flavors, the environments. And this meal was a truly remarkable experience.

Jorge Javonovics, one of our team members and a chef, is a jovial fellow and a native Argentine. As Expedition 65º entered Argentina, Jorge invited us to dinner with his family. Dinner is an understatement. It was a food orgy of epic proportions. Argentine hospitality is beyond most folks ability to grasp. There was roughly 60 pounds of meat and sausage for 20 people. (that’s right – about 3 pounds of meat per person) plus salad, veggies and all the other stuff… but the meat was the centerpiece, and beef especially is a great source of pride to the Argentinians as they ship it all over the world. The party started at sundown and carried well into the wee hours of the morning. The wine flowed… the meat rolled off the grill like cars in rush hour traffic. And I came away with a new definition of hospitality.

A moment of great pride for me was a gift presented to me by Jorge’s dad, a Gaucho knife. It turns out that there is a cultural aspect of coming to someone’s house for dinner that I was unaware of. Since the early days of Argentina when Beret wearing Gauchos (cowboys) roamed the Pampas, its been customary for all men to bring their own knife to a “Parilla” or Barbecue as we’d call it. The reason for this is that in the old days steel was expensive and most homes did not have enough knives to give to each person that might come to dinner @mdash; so it became customary for all men to bring their own! Now its embedded culture… if you’re going to visit someone’s home for a Parilla, you bring your knife! I’m proud to say that I have my own now and next time I go back to Argentina, I’m taking it with me.

8. Death Road – Most Thrilling Ride

Expedition 65 rides The Death Road

As with all great trips, Expedition 65º wasn’t about “getting to the end of the world,” it was about the journey. And one day’s ride in particular stood out as an “icon” of adventure because we’ve all heard about… and seen it before. The famous Death Road in Bolivia is lined with tombstones and markers every few hundred feet, which are grim reminders to the toll paid by countless travelers over the years as they toiled along this narrow and treacherous “shelf” in the middle of the Andes.

In spite of the somewhat annoying toll booths and crossings that have popped up in recent years for tourists, it’s a spectacular ride — A narrow shelf 8 to 10 feet wide, with vertical cliffs that vary from a paltry thousand feet or so to drastic plunges of a half mile or more. To make matters more interesting, you get to ride through several small waterfalls that cascade directly onto the road (and you). Bottom line, the Death Road is one of the highlights of any South America trip @mdash; don’t miss it!

9. Hacienda Teneria – Most Unique Lodging

Expedition 65 staying at Hacienda Teneria

After a long days ride past snow-capped peaks and barren desert textures in Bolivia, we traveled South to find Hans Hesse’s hostel and campamento known as Hacienda Teneria. Hans is 80 years old and as his name would indicate is of German heritage. Teneria is a remote & decrepid 600-year-old pre-colonial Spanish-style hacienda. Hans scratches out a living hosting the few wayward travelers that somehow manage to find his front door! I mention this because even though we had a GPS waypoint for his ‘casa,’ we rode right on by because Hacienda Teneria does not have a “driveway” to enter the place… we found our way in by simply riding through the trees.

The prices are pretty reasonable at Teneria – $8 dollars for the night, a cold shower and a mattress in a room with 4 other guys made it all seem pretty acceptable. After all, we were in the middle of central Bolivia after 10 hours of riding on a single lane dirt road. On arrival, we were treated to one of our more unusual meals. Han’s lovely daughter, who is studying at the University in La Paz, had slaughtered a pig and it was on the spit for us as we arrived. We sat beneath the stars next to the spit and thought about the fact that our meal had been walking about in its pen only an hour or two before our arrival. And we all agreed we better not upset the young lady that had butchered the pig, as we might be her next target. Just another fantastic night after a tremendous day in Bolivia. By the way, the stars when viewed from 12,000 feet are amazing!

10. The End of the World – Most Emotional Moment

Expedition 65 Ushuaia Fin del Mundo

Yes, the journey was the important part but all journeys must come to an end… and so there’s this place called Ushuaia, the world’s most southerly city, that we called both the endpoint and the turning point in our trip. This is the place where we celebrated the success of the trip and the end of our journey @mdash; but that’s not where the road actually ends. So before we headed for the port city of Punta Arenas to ship our bikes home, we made one last ride in a southerly direction.

Roughly 20 miles south of downtown Ushuaia, and the famous sign seen in almost everyone’s photographs that travels here, is the actual end of the road. More accurately, it’s where the road runs into the sea. After spending two and half months riding “to the end of the world,” it was important for us to actually reach that final place where land meets water. We took an hour or so to just “soak it in.” We’d ridden to the literal end of the world. We were further south than New Zealand by a thousand miles… the closest you can get to Antarctica without a boat.

What are the final stats of our South America Trip? We spent 73 days on the road, traveling 11,259 miles, across six countries, with elevations from Sea Level to 16,700 feet. We wrecked one GS, had one broken leg, changed 32 sets of tires, got three flat tires, encountered zero significant illnesses, dealt with three blown shock absorbers, 55,000 photos were taken by our journalist/photographer and we created hundreds of wonderful memories to last the rest of our collective lives.


Want more stories from Expedition 65º? Check out the coffee table book entitled “Journey To The End Of The World.” You’ll find it in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore or online at Amazon. There is also a 4-part documentary film series you can order on DVD, or you can stream it instantly on Vimeo. Use it to inspire your own bucket list trip and get going! It’s a big world out there, enjoy it!

Photos by Alfonse Palaima, Sterling Noren and Jim Hyde
Jim Hyde ProfileAbout the Author: Jim Hyde is a compulsive traveler, owner of RawHyde Adventures off-road training and tours, and a tireless advocate for the Adventure Riding community. When not sitting at the helm of the two training schools that RawHyde operates, Jim can be found leading groups of ADV Riders around the world from destinations like the Continental Divide to global locations like Iceland, Argentina, Peru & Bolivia. But there’s still more to see and do on his bucket list. Up next: The Silk Road from Istanbul to China!

Author: Jim Hyde

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7 thoughts on “10 Best on a Bucket List Ride Through South America

    • I was the only one with any tire sponsorship and even I only changed tires once. I think Jim meant to say 32 tires, not 32 pairs. 🙂

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