ROAD BOOK

10.10.2009, Potosi (Bolivia)

4 000 meters, Extreme Limits

Before talking about our arrival to Bolivia, this is just a summary of what we have seen around San Pedro de Atacama (Chile).

San Pedro de Atacama is a small tourist town, the base of all tourists and backpackers in the region. We’ve met a few Europeans that were traveling around the world by bike or foot and others who have just been charmed by the place and never left it.

Schedule: Sandboarding in Death Valley (like snowboarding but on sand), sunset over the Valley of the Moon, visit to the salt lakes, geysers and swimming in water at 38 degrees (outside temperature is of -3 C degrees).

These sites are spectacular and amazing wildlife lives here: flamingos, llamas, guanacos, ducks, foxes and many other animals. Unfortunately, this fragile equilibrium is threatened by mining activities. It does not rain much but the peaks are snowed and underground rivers flow back into groundwater, which makes life possible in these arid lands.

One of the first resources of Chile is copper. And copper as well as other precious metals are on the subsoil of northern Chile! For their operations, they need water. Lots of it. And it is pumped directly from the groundwater.

Result: Global warming (scarcity of rainfall) + depletion of water reserves (used by mining companies) = drying lagoons, irrigation problems for local cultures and decrease in the number of animal species (and number of animals) living on these territories.

Regarding the geysers, a similar problem happens. The thermoelectric company that has the “concession” was drilling a few years ago to search. It has pierced so deep and clear so much energy; it is now unable to reseal the hole. All energy reserves now go up in smoke without being exploited. They need to import a costly U.S. technology to resolve this problem, but the company has no plans yet to do it. A geyser of thirty meters springs now from that famous hole. The time and intensity of geysers called “natural” decreases from year to year.

We were witnesses of endangered landscapes and we invite you to go there if you are visiting Chile. Unfortunately we cannot say that our children will have the opportunity to see it.

After 9 hours of bus and customs formalities completed, we are finally in Bolivia, over 3 800 meters of altitude! Although we already have been under these heights, we had not stayed long. Here, the effects of altitude were felt immediately after leaving the bus! (and yes 1.500m of altitude with sandy roads and slopes of 20% is virtually impossible for our Solex). We are tired! Walking, talking, eating, even breathing becomes an ordeal. We are welcomed to the parish by a compatriot, Jacques (from Vosges), he’s a priest who recently arrived to Bolivia. He invited us to accompany him to a local feast at 30 km from Uyuni. It was memorable.

During the dictatorship, many Bolivians were exiled and some are beginning to return. This applies to the host of this party. After several years in Sweden, he’s back to the land of his ancestors, the farmhouse built by his great-grandparents. He owns all the land around. To cultivate the land, he rented a tractor. The tractors are rare here, and many farmers still work the soil by hand.

When we arrived, we passed the first revelers still drunk from the night before (it was 11.00). The Mass should start around noon or 12:45 Bolivian hours. The office is run by the band. They accompany the procession from the farm to the church (it has more than 200 years!) and its in top of the hill. The musicians, already slightly tipsy, didn’t attended church, preferring to enjoy during this time the beer that would be served at the party…

The church was decorated for the occasion and lined with small bouquets of flowers and altars at its four corners. During preparation, someone pulled our arm. We returned. A Bolivian woman shows out a bouquet in the wall. Just as we are not particularly large for being Westerners (1m64 for Lili and 1m74 for me), so, here we seemed to be giants (especially Anne-Sophie, she measures 1m80!)

At the end of the service, Jacques blessed the assistants and, surprisingly, Bolivians also bless their invites. One of them even came with a brick to bless their new home still under construction! Here, the faith is demonstrative. We need concrete action.

As soon as we entered the farmyard we found ourselves with a beer (one liter of course) in each hand. It starts well. The meal consisted of local specialties: llama, pepper, black potatoes (they are freeze for longer storage) and maize. To refresh our course, right to the beer and also to the “chicha” (corn juice with or without alcohol, obtained by chewing. Appetizing, don’t you think?)

Outside the farm, people start arriving. Those wishing to participate and that were not invited to the feast can come by making a gift. For this, many small traders were installed at the entrance of the courtyard. Here, the “future guests” can buy crates of beer, dinner services, sweets … Before entering fully into the party; they must be announced by the orchestra. They showed their gifts at the entry of the court, the music is muted and the musicians strike up a tune. They offer this to the hosts and the fiesta continues.

During our few days in Uyuni, we took the opportunity to discover the Salar (salted lake). It’s the world’s largest. In some parts, there are 10 meters of salt! Our driver, who is our engineer, cook and guide, offered us a real skit during our two-day visit. At each stop, his head was inside the engine. We will never know if there were really any mechanical problems, like if the 4×4 had really suffered from the road or he just made it worse. In his kitchen skills, he is really good preparing typical dishes. In contrast, regarding his skills as guide (he’s been for 15 years) need to be review! We were visiting a cave where there were ancient mummies of 3.000 years (well this is what he told us) and they were in perfect condition. And here’s what happened to them (this is what Juan our driver / mechanic / cook / guide) told us:

“3.000 years ago, the natives venerated the moon not the sun. They were living at night and slept during the day in caves / caverns, protected from the sun during the day. One day, a part of their cave collapsed and a ray of sunshine came. As they were not used to sunlight, they were killed on contact. This also explains their position (a fetal position common to many pre-Hispanic cultures) since before dying, they tried to protect themselves from sunlight by curling!

On our way back, in the desert, we asked him to stop for a minute and he said:

-       “All right now we’ll walk!

-       Excuse me?

-       Yes, yes, we will walk a little.

-       Why? The car is faster!

-        Exactly, it’s going too fast.”

He dropped us, our way back would be of about 15 min, and it lasted 1h30!

The Salar was also an opportunity for us to test our gear. After a quick review, we set out to conquer the desert under the amused eyes of Jacques! Before arriving there, we tried 30 km of rough roads, gravel and sand at 3.800 meters of altitude to test the Solex and set on the feasibility of crossing the plateau with our machines (though, in Bolivia, perhaps not).

We leave after lunch (14.30) and we should be back by 18 h00. On the way, we met two French doing a tour of Latin America by bike. And we realized that, by bike or Solex, each has its own effort! But ultimately, each own has its own rewards! The time to go and return passed quickly! It was almost 18h00 and we had another 15 km to go! It will be short! Speed to go 18 km / h in average; return: 25 km / h. We were downhill and we had a slight tailwind. The road, it has unfortunately not changed: pebbles, sand, ruts … we had to hurry, if not by 18:30, we wouldn’t see anything. Suddenly, in our rearview there was a truck. It was going at the same pace that we were for the last 2 km. He didn’t out run us. Is he waiting for us to stop? On this road, in the middle of the desert, the only possible destination is Uyuni. We stopped, I motioned him to stop and he made us a signal as if we were cuckoo! “

I didn’t understand! And he continued at the same speed. He followed us slowly until the night approached, but because he couldn’t go faster in such a road! We started pedaling as  madmen, we skided into the sand, we flew over the potholes. It was the “Enduro du Touquet” Bolivian version!

A car arrived in the other side of the road. It slows, stops, and restarts its engine. I manage to hang on to him. Anne-Sophie calls me. I turned. She died of laughter. This was the pickup of the parish. Fathers Jacques and Jorge came to our rescue. It’s good; we’ll have where to spend the night!

Balance Test: Loss of engine power due to altitude.

Road conditions in Bolivia: important ramps from Uyuni to Potosi and unpaved roads.

Next gas station: at 300 km.

The only stretch of asphalt road goes from Potosi to La Paz.

Conclusion: We will not advance an inch with our Solex loaded. There was no choice, we will begin the crossing from Bolivia, starting from Potosi :-(

At 4.000 meters of altitude, we’ve reached the limits of our Solex.

Calama (Chile) 30/09/09

Walk through the desert

After a few days off in La Serena, at the home of Antonia (who showed us her work: the mosaic), we continued our journey of 1,200 miles of desert to Calama. Thank you very much again, Antonia (and your children too) for having us. And for the succulent ‘Chilean’ Hachis Parmentier dish, a layer of mashed potatoes, chopped beef, potatoes, raisins, olives and onions, all sprinkled with brown sugar, delicious!

We left late afternoon to maximize the time and keep on with our itinerary. For the first time, we spent the night in the desert, not far from the coast. There are few flowering cactus and in the distance, the sunset. A foretaste of what awaits us in the next 12 days. We do a fire with what we have available: cactus! We discovered its properties and longevity!

We woke up at dawn and set off to travel 170 kilometers without service stations to get gas! We started the day with a compact fog where we saw no more than 10 feet away. It’s cold and moisture condenses on the visor of our helmets, reducing our visibility. We must continue without the visor, our fingers are frozen, our teeth chattering … strength, it’s barely 8 in the morning, and the sun will warm us after a while … Time passes: 9, 10 … and the sun doesn’t rises. It will be a hard day! At eleven o’clock, the sky clears and the sun finally appears to make us warm. Meanwhile, we keep on the track and gaining altitude. It starts to get hot. We have been traveling for 20 kilometers into the desert. Every so often we crossed “urban areas” which are nothing more than a few shacks clustered at the roadside and dogs surrounding them. Suddenly a pack came from behind a house 2,3,4,5 dogs! We’re surrounded! They are even more bellicose than those with which we have crossed so far! How do we get out of this? We did, we drove too fast for them (32 Km / h) and they abandoned their mission!

We took a break for lunch under the hot sun before attacking (“one more time?) the heart of the coast mountains that we have not finished crossing. After pedaling for a while, ahead, we’ll had miles of decline, this time not by a wilderness of rocks but of sand. At about 16:00, Cacahuète started failing. It had to happen, after 3 weeks of travel. The wind blows, it’s hot and the sun burns us. We decided to stop after one kilometer in a motel for miners to see where the problem was. We were able to negotiate with the employer to stay in a room under construction. His wife, however, was not very enthusiastic, but still we had no intention of staying there for much time. The rooms were dingy, like their showers. In our square of cement, we were protected from the wind and we could fix the Solex. The sun sets. We’ll spend the night here, under the starry sky in which we noticed for the first time the Milky Way, usually hidden by light pollution of the cities.

The cities are set out in the middle of the desert and encounters always happen: Vallenar, Copiapo, Caldera, Chanaral, Taltal, in the middle of the desert, Antofagasta, Banquedano and then, finally, Calama; the last town before crossing into Bolivia. Many of them owe their existence to the nearby mines or the passage of a train carrying minerals. The train serves almost entirely to that purpose. Recently, for example, a mining company acquired the Calama train station to transport their production. The result: the train uniting hitherto Calama (Chile) and Uyuni (Bolivia) no longer exists … at least for travelers.

In Vallenar we found a mechanic. The engines of our motorcycles had no secrets from him. At a time, he used to repair the Solex of Franciscan monks. We find a rubber gasket for my pipe, that God knows the time it had! We will stay behind a post of chips: the same type of box that we have in France, (even in another part of the world that also exists!) attended by Carlos. He’s about 40 years old and is an entrepreneur who among other things has served meals to the pilgrims (16.000/per day) during the visit of Pope John Paul II.

In Copiapo we met the bishop who was there for the Mass of the National Day. During dinner, he talked about Debussy, Claudel … he was a passionate of French culture. We would have loved to stay a little longer with him to discuss, but were exhausted and we had to get up early for a long day in the desert. Our “desert” stages literally drained our energy. The sun bothers us all day and we are true “rags” at the end of the day. Where are the trees to can give us some shade?

On the way to the English Bay (Caldera) comes to us a strange perfume. It’s not the scent of the desert. With a quick look around us we understand: flowers! There are thousands of small white flowers on both sides of the road. First we thought we were seeing the desert bloom (has not rained for 8 years and this year with a few drops it’s enough to flourish even the most arid regions), which supposedly occurs in October. Finally, there were just flowers of the desert. Anyway, it was unbelievable!

Later, after hundreds of miles through the desert there’s a mirage: the sea! No, not a hallucination, the sea is there; the sea and white sandy beaches. After a nice splash in a paradisiacal beach, we enjoyed a local drink: apricot juice, with half apricot inside and quinoa (local beverage).

The National Day (September 18) is dedicated to the military parade in Santiago. When we reached Chañaral, we saw that all televisions were switched to the transmission of the parade, with their volume at maximum. The Plaza de Armas (Main Square) is empty. Even the dogs in the city, on which a journalist who we met two weeks ago warned us, did not came to meet us. The church doors are closed, it’s a pity! The girls knock on some houses and finally, Chan gave us shelter. At night, he invite some friends to taste the bread we made, among whom was Miguel. He “collects” water of mountain peaks and “irrigates” the desert. He grows vegetables in the driest desert of the world! You can collect up to 5 liters per square meter per day. Amazing!

Our map specifies the national parks. We made some detours to get through. On the map, these places are marked by green trees, so we expected a lush forest. Not so! It is simply magnificent sceneries, protected areas … and virtually no cars.

We spent our days in the desert, but none are alike. Depending on the time of day and the elements that surround us (stones, sand, mountains, plains) the colors change. It’s a new scenery at our disposal every day.

The encounters in the middle of nowhere are always surprising. At Taltal, a car intrigued by our caravan, stopped a few miles ahead. When we got to where they were, and once we made the presentations, they invite us to a barbecue. Great! The first in Chile! The hospitality of Alina and Rodrigo did not end there because we were invited to sleep in their house. In fact, at Rodrigo’s brother house, who is at home only half of the week. Taltal is a charming little seaside town. Forgotten in the guidebooks, it’s worth to visit. Just 150 years old and already is full of legends painted on the school walls.

Before parting, we took the traditional photo-souvenir Polaroid.

We expect over 200 miles without a service station on our map, we decided to take a “little shortcut” that will allow us to drive a few tens of kilometers on the coast. Rodrigo told us about the quality of the road. There are some repair works, but everything should be fine.

Today is (still?) hot. The road along the coast is relatively flat and while not all paved, passable for our Solex. After stopping for lunch, we began to climb the mountains to the coast. This part requires much physical effort and we must put our feet on the ground to push. We are soaked with sweat and the girls are exhausted, but the scenery rewards us.

Around 15:00, we found the repair works. After 500 meters, it was impossible to advance further. They are doing work along 20 km of slope with rows leaving 30 cm of gravel road! Even cars cannot move forward. We have no choice and we had to stop.

After all these events, we decided to rest a day in Antofagasta. Here we will meet with scientists at the inn where we were staying: they were studying the seabed; from the algae in the ocean currents to the plankton and phytoplankton. They have between 24 and 33 years old and several have already seen the world: the Arctic, Brazil, Mexico, United States, Canada, and Australia. Their investigations lead them to the ends of the earth! We washed our clothes and tried to find a mechanic capable of making a ligature for the carburetor of Lili’s Solex. We lost it after the change of the piston (scratched by a grain of sand) in the desert … the slur in question will not last long because the next few days we will be in Antofagasta – Banquedano 15/20 km / h. We stoped in Baquedano, a very enriching experience because there we met the technology teacher of the town, who is also responsible for the small observatory. We were able to take a course of astronomy and to observe Jupiter and the lunar craters.

Lili will have to get to Calama by auto-stop and Anne-So and I, we’ll go in Solex. We have no Motul (synthetic oil). We look in vain in Antofagasta, impossible to get a bottle. We had no choice; we had to use the poor quality oil (semi-synthetic) for the next 150 miles. We got back our bad Argentine memories regarding the oil, and so, after a few miles, the engine performance was reduced. It will be necessary to return to Calama. The sun, wind and geography play with us (if not, everything would be too easy). We struggled, but we arrived at 18:15 (appointed time planned with Lili: 18:00) in the main square of Calama. She was waiting there with good news. The three people who brought her by car (she was hitchhiking) were so impressed with our story that they started looking in all their networks (phone, mail, Facebook, …) to find us accommodation for the night!

We stayed at Imen and Antonio’s home, on the outskirts of the city in the rural area of Calama. Everything was quiet … well, almost … if we remove the five dogs that guard the house and had the “good idea” to improvise a football game with my helmet, which I had left on the garden table. We had to do a complete checkup of our Solex before leaving for Bolivia. It was necessary! The program: weld, hammer, screw adjustment, exhaust pipe cleaning, new bonds … well, almost everything. The girls worked also and their hands needed a manicure! Welcome to the world of mechanics! ;-)

We depart to San Pedro de Atacama, where we visited the lagoons, the Salar, geysers, water baths of 38 degrees Cº temperature (with an outside temperature of -3 º C) and did sand boarding (snowboarding on sand dunes).

These days of rest were good for us before we start the conquest of the highlands. Will the engines resist? We will know soon!

La Herradura (La Serena, Chili), 12/09/2009

Super tractor ‘Cacahuete’

Anne Sophie arrived. We welcomed her at the airport. Her Solex survived perfectly the trip as well as the spare parts. We stayed a few days in Santiago and we visit “Contigo”, a microcredit organization founded by a French guy. The origins of this institution are an example of what can be done with few resources: In 1989, Danilo, a young 17-year-old Chilean, father of two children, worked in the street painting handmade sculptures. Hubert, a young French cooperating, intrigued by the quality of his work and curious to know how he did it began talking to him.

Each day, Danilo sold its entire production, about 10 pieces. At the time, he earned 550 Chilean pesos. He wanted to increase its production, but for that he needed more wood and an electric engine for his workshop. Without a guaranteed job, no one would lend him the money. And a bank would not grant him a loan, or at least at an exorbitant interest rate of 10% per week! After a quick calculation, the conclusion was that he just needed 5.500 Chilean pesos (100 € for the time) to produce more pieces. This is how Danilo received his first credit and “Fundación Contigo” was born.

This story is an example of what you can do with a dream, work, and the will to progress. As in Danilo’s story, “Fundación Contigo” continues today offering others the same kind of opportunities to other persons.

For more information, you can visit their website: www.fundacioncontigo.cl

After a few days of rest in Santiago, we got back on the road and arrived to our first Chilean highway. The exit of Santiago was packed. Even though we were careful of not leaving the capital at rush hour, traffic was intense. After one hour we were able to get out of this urban jungle.

On the road, we discover the usefulness of “local streets” that go along the highway, but we had a hard time finding the entrance. After 10 minutes on the highway, which is closed to pedestrians and bikers (they have to go on authorized roads); it appeared on our rear view mirrors a yellow phosphorescent truck with the emergency light flashing at us. After he passed us, he waved at us to stop: “It’s forbidden to drive here with your type of vehicle; you must drive on the local streets!” Finally, he escorted us out of the highway and we got to this famous road adjacent to the Pan-American free highway.

The highway is used by everyone except the vicinity of Santiago where there are restrictions on some parts. We saw cars, trucks, but also: cyclists that go in the emergency border, bus stops, fruit sellers and the ultimate: a car that parks to leave a young schoolgirl. Where is her house? On the other side of the hill, on the other side of the highway! The little girl has to cross the 4 lanes before she crosses the 5 km of desert that separates her from home.

For our first day of being a team of three, we traveled 120 km to the coast. On the hills of the Bay of Valparaiso, we admired the sunset, a beautiful view … over the Pacific! We arrived to Viña del Mar (nearby town) and we stayed in Eduardo’s house. Quite a character! A retired captain from the merchant marine, he also worked in his youth as a volunteer firefighter. In Chile, all firefighters are volunteers and must pay an annual fee to join (to pay for the equipment). It’s an honor. When visiting the city, we wanted to drink something, but there were any bars in the surroundings. There was just the school of officers of the Merchant Marine… after Eduardo showed his credential as Captain we entered the school and they gave us a tour to the lighthouse. We finished our tour with a cup of tea with the officers on duty, happy to have visits on the weekend. Eduardo’s tour doesn’t end here; we had the honor of having lunch in one of the most select areas of the city. The restaurant is only accessible to members of the club of former captains. To join, you must have been a student at least 1 year at the Naval Academy or have officiated as captain. The show is unique, on the rock facing the restaurant sea lions are basking in the sun, while the cormorants come to rest after fishing.

The next day, during a walk on the dike, the gypsies approached us. We couldn’t get rid of them. At the end, we had to talk to them. We told them we had no money and they insisted to give us lucky charm. They took a few petals of a flower they had and told us they had to put it on our pockets. We figured out clearly their game, but we had reserved for them a surprise. Which was their goal? Check out our pockets to get money. They did that 2 times! In vain! They were angry! Usually they find something, but this time they couldn’t get anything! Just a few used dirty handkerchiefs with a smelly mixture of oil and gasoline!

We continued our trip and arrived to Horcon, known for its island, refuge of penguins. In the road often we stopped to admire the landscape and this time we saw our first pelicans. At one of the stops, we were waiting for Anne Sophie in a turn at the entrance of a village. Yet she passed us without seeing us. Crap! We are going to get lost. And we didn’t have any communication medium to contact her. I restarted my machine and rushed after her. I zigzagged between dogs. She accelerated more. I pedaled like a madman to reach my cruising speed. After 300m, the dam … ended! I was going at 42 km/h, too late. I couldn’t stop (I only have rear brakes, checked for the last time during the descent of the Andes) BOOOM! It’s good! I went to 36 km/h. Anne So finally slowed down and I caught her. We’re saved!

We are making progress every day a little further north, spring arrived and the days lengthen. To our right, the coastal mountain range, to the left, the ocean. The landscapes are a bit more arid, cactus slowly replace the trees. The difficulties remain the same. Our calves hurt every day but it’s the price we have to pay to get to the summit where we can see the magical views of the beaches … and some remote villages.

In one of the villages we met Yoco, an employee of a small agricultural farm. After showing us around the paddocks of avocados, oranges and lemon trees, we told him that he lives in a paradise and he replied; “yes, that’s what all people tell me.” He told us about his youth in the valley, that he stopped going to school when he was 12 years old and he has never gone further than the next village, 16 km away. That’s when we understood the meaning of his answer and his many questions about France and Europe. We gave him a few postcards of the lighthouses of Chile and we drew a world map for him. We explained him some concepts of geography. Later on we had the same experience. Lost in the middle of nowhere, 50 km from the nearest town, we settled our tent on the roadside nearby to four small houses. One of the residents asked us this question: “What are the resources in France? What minerals do you have? He had never been out of his province and since copper is the major resource of Chile, he imagined that was the case in all other countries, each with a particular resource.

Our day to day is marked by the encounters. For the first time we wanted to enjoy a little more of our host, so we decided to leave his home after lunch around 16:00. We had 40 km to go and the sun sets around 18:30. It was possible … but our day to day is also marked by mechanical problems. 15 km before we arrived to our destination, we had a flat tire. We repaired it and moved forward. But after 5 km, Magellan’s engine dropped. It was 18:30. That was bad luck! We didn’t have time to stop and check out where the breakdown came from. It was almost night. We concluded therefore to go downhill by bike! Cacahuete is Anne Sophie’s Solex, much more new than ours; so it’s the perfect tractor for a case like this!

The Solex, the bike that goes by itself… almost ;-)

Vitacura (Santiago, Chile) 02/09/2009

Head in the Clouds

We’ve arrived! We are now in Santiago, Chile, in Domingo and Catalina’s home, thanks to the strength of our calves. Crossing the Andes has been one adventure after another.

Before crossing, we had to wait in Mendoza until the road was re open, so we took the opportunity to check out our SoleX before crossing the Andes and immersed for the last time in the Argentinean culture. We stayed at the house of Luis, Poroto and his family with whom we shared these few days … and took our last few pounds of reserves to face the horrors of the Andean winter. While we have lost 3 kg during our Franco Hispanic voyage, we gained 1 kilo per week in Argentina, 6 kilos in total! Argentinean hospitality and culinary specialties deserve to be highlighted … Thanks again to everyone for these wonderful days!

In Mendoza, we also recorded a TV show and another radio program (and we recorded a French jingle for the show that’s going to be broadcasted during the next 6 months!)

We left from Mendoza with our Solex towards Los Andes Solex to cross the border, against the advice of many Argentines who told us that we should think in doing the journey by bus or by truck. They told us it was too dangerous, too cold, too windy, … but Yosuke (our Japanese cyclist friend, that we met on the road) was already on the other side, so if a bike can do it, our Solex also!

The first day of the voyage, we found the foothills of the Andes. It was winter in the mountains and it was hot! This year the temperature records were broken. We were driving with t-shirts. After 2 days, after a round in the mountains, we bathed in a river … For now, we have no major problems, and our bicycle engines climb the slopes without problems. We just changed the fuel pump of Lili’s Solex. The landscape is magical, it resembles the Death Valley with small red canyons. Around 14:00, the wind begins to blow. Becoming stronger, we got at the first tunnels where wind swallows and blows stronger. But that’s nothing compared to what we will face the next day…

We stopped at Uspallata. It will take us 2 days to get to the top and 1 day to descend by the Chilean coast. After more than 2.600 km, my wheel is definitely smooth. It is time to change it. At the bicycle dealer (we have no more mouthpieces to inflate the wheels), the show starts again. Customers approach us intrigued by our strange machines, and they ask the same questions: How does it work? How fast it runs? Since when have you been traveling? For what is the third wheel? … This time just some of them asked questions and I just had to answer 3 times. Here they have bicycles with auxiliary engines, so they understand quickly the functioning of ours.

We’re on our second-day to conquer the summit. We woke at dawn, following the advice of the cyclists we met the day before, in order to avoid the wind that starts around noon. At 7:30, we left. We had a long road ahead. Not in kilometers (we still have 70 km to go) but become of the uneven terrain. We just leave the Andes town and we were received by gusts of wind. The wind began to blow at 8.30. We barely had time to take some pictures and videos at dawn. The wind blows terribly, we were moving with a lot of difficulties. We moved at 20 km/h in average and this morning the hills were just the beginning.

The further we went the wind blew stronger. We now need to pedal even downhill! It was the last straw! It’s always the same wind that blows from Buenos Aires, from West/North West. We take a short break to have breakfast around 11.00. We haven’t ate anything since we woke up but a cup of tea. We eat some cookies that some guys we’ve met yesterday gave us. We still had 45 Km to go. The engines are struggling. We pedal, fighting against the wind until we get to a velocity of just 5 km/h uphill and now we must push our Solex. We go at 10 KM/H on flat terrain and at 14 Km/h downhill. That’s all we can do. The difficult moments continue but we don’t give up. The brand new flags that we made yesterday haven’t lasted long. They flew early in the morning. Auguste’s also flew.

At 14H00 we finally reach “Puente del Inca”. We have only 15 KM to go. These are the steepest and the road is not easy … We are at 2.800 meters from sea level. At 2.600 m, we removed the air filters so our engines could breathe. The snow is all around us. We crossed the first ski trails. Is at this moment that Rodrigo (friend of Luis whom we met at Maipu) and his family arrived (although we weren’t expecting them anymore). We’ve coordinated with them to meet in the road, so they could escort us ‘morally’. We visited “Puente del Inca” together, and they accompany us up at the border where we had lunch together. Here we are! We celebrate it with a picnic for kings prepared by Rodrigo’s parents. Not far from there, we found an abandoned house which will serve us as place to camp for the night. Shortly after we arrive, some Chilean military installed their tents next to us. The soldiers talked with us, evading the supervision of their captain, they came and took pictures. They offered us dinner and breakfast. In addition, we had the provisions that Rodrigo gave us! The fireplace was not working well and the rooms were smoky. But there was little choice; it was the smoke or being at -10 degrees. The room was damp. The ceiling was leaking. Ophélie slept on the stairs on some boxes to be isolated from the floor and I was on a plank of wood.

We woke up at 8h00. The soldiers were already climbing the summit. We had a little headache. Fortunately we didn’t left on the fire all night! We are at 3.834 meters from the sea level. Will the Solex restart? Yes! It’s good! We can continue. Anyway, today we just have to descent. At customs, after the paperwork, we will check our brakes. We will need them!

As always many spectators were watching us. One can only imagine what will be in Asia.

Upon crossing the border, the guard on duty asked us for the toll ticket. What toll? We were going in cycling mode for not paying and we commited the mistake of crossing with our engines humming. Crap. We did as tourists that didn’tt speak Spanish and they let us go. Whew!

Our brakes are put to the test. I just have the back break and the brake motor. Since Madrid, my brakes give it all. Lili has her two breaks, the front brake almost in good condition. That’s enough. We drive slowly. We pass under the cable railway, and as we descended, our two wheels bounced back. On the flat terrain, we are rushing up to 37 Km/h! It was a long time since this.

After a stopover in Los Andes, our first Chilean town where we stopped, not without difficulty was Esmeralda, before arriving in Santiago.

On the road to Santiago, there is a long tunnel that we cannot take (exhaust gas, are very close …). This make us do a detour of 20 km to the “Cuesta Chacabuco. It would not matter if the hill in question had not an inclination of 20 to 30% on 6 km on its east face with a dirt road! We trample and skid. We’re resuming altitude. We proudly crossed with our Solex and the strength of our calves the first hills. This will not be the case in the following hills. The hill seems endless!

We crossed the Andes and we are without breath! We’re almost dispirited after crossing a small hill with a lot of ramps. It took us almost 2 hours to cover 6 Km! We are at the top. The climb was epic but the landscapes were worth it. We are head in the clouds. In the distance we can see the peaks of the Cordillera, over a cloudy sky and below the fog. Unreal! We remain a moment before we started the descent. Incredible too. 15 km of pure descent into the fog. We drive slowly. The speed and the atmosphere cautivate us and we liberate little by little our engines and ssssshhhhhhh Aahhhh! Bing! the first fall. Nothing serious. Lili braked during a curve and she skid. It was more the fear than the harm. Just the bumper bent a little.

Back on the road towards Santiago, our engines were dissatisfied. They didn’t appreciate our 4×4 adventure. We stopped in the first city: Esmeralda.

Review: Augustus has lost a screw out of the exhaust gasket and HS a screw that holds the engine cowl. Magellan lost more screws holding the engine fairing and fuel return. We have to go the hardware store. After some repairs, we find refuge with Abraham, baker and grandfather of Carlos (nephew of the owner of the house where we asked for lodging) (are you following us?). Every day is like this. There is always a solution. While we wait for the solution, some Chilean ask us questions including one in particular:

- Are you hungry?

- Yes, everyday!

It doesn’t take long before they are giving us fruit and yoghurt. Our finances are not brilliant and we loop the entire budget except for food and shelter. We depend every day of Providence. The philosophy of our odyssey is reinforced. It also allows us to live a little more the everyday culture of the countries we cross. If we are not invited to sleep, we still have our tent, and for food, we have pasta for emergencies.

Today arrives Anne-Sophie, she will accompany us for the next 2 months!

Maipu (Mendoza, Argentina), 24/08/2009

Octane 95, Motul 2%

This is it, after 2.500 km we are at the foot of the Andes which we will cross on Friday. The road is closed because of the snow. It is not without difficulty that we have arrived, but this is part of our journey. Yesterday, we finally found good quality oil (Motul, made in France ¡!!). Until now, we had always found the same oil at service stations, the same oil that forced us to stop every 200 km to lead the exhaust pipe… Even with a 2% mixture we had the same problem. So we started looking and finally we found a synthetic oil ¡!

Initially, we have equipped our Solex with new tires from 2 different brands (to compare their quality). After 2.500 km, my tire, which was from the Huchinson brand was smoother than the Delhi tire (with white sides), which still could go for at least 2.500 km more ¡!

Our motorcycles have also undergone several customized operations: my engine has been enhanced in Angouleme (Gaëtan ¡thank you!) and then solidified in Tartas (Eric ¡bravo!).

Many nuts and bolts were lost on the road and had to be replaced. Now, we don’t have many original bolts.

The exit of the exhausts pipes was slightly enlarged and the aesthetics of our motorcycles has change with the progress of our trip. Our hosts have given us stickers and their children gave us some velvet for our handlebars. We are now beginning to look like real “bikers”. Especially since Chacabuco, where we received rock n’ roll bands for the handlebars!

On the road, we go at 25 Km / H in average (because of the bad oil and the wind always goes west/northwest) which allows us to enjoy the everyday life scenes. The landscape is sometimes certainly monotonous but there is always something to see: an eagle about to hunt, birds (parrots …) at the beginning of spring, flamingos when we crossed the lagoons of salt (which resemble a desert, which gave us an idea of what we will see when we cross the Atacama Desert in Bolivia). Sometimes we also observe unusual scenes, like 3 days ago on the roadside, in a small farm; some Gauchos were butchering a cow ¡!

We spend several hours sitting on our Solex and are bodies have adjusted to them. The position is quite comfortable and enables us to go for up to 2 hours until the next stop.  Anyway, we can’t go for longer time, it is necessary to cool the engine and avoid some fingers tingle.

When we enter the cities, we go instinctively towards the central square. The continent is young and the cities are all built identical. The streets are perpendicular and the city is developed symmetrically from the center. We have 2 options: either we move directly to a church and ask for hospitality or someone invites us before we go to the church. If none of these events happen, we ring at the door of the first house that we see that has a garden to ask if we can set our tent in their yard.

The same scene is repeated daily. After the presentations, guests call their family and friends. We then tell our journey, the purpose of the trip and it is usually at this time that someone takes his phone and after a moment, the newspapers, radio or local TV, shows up.

The hospitality is amazing in Argentina! The Argentines are proud of showing us their culture and their culinary specialties: Parrillada (grilled), Asados (barbecue), ice creams (better than Italian!), Pizzas and empanadas (delicious), the dulce de leche, kind of chocolate milk, which we have an over dose that we can no longer eat it, and especially their meat that has nothing to do with what we eat in Europe!

Religious fervor is present in Argentina. The Catholic religion is indeed the state religion. The masses are full and live. We also met young “missionaries” who go door by door just as the Mormons to bring the word of God. Unlike them, they do not frighten the unbelievers, telling them they will go to hell if they do not believe. Their action is primarily social. They go into houses where people usually never go. They maintain social ties as mailmen do in the French campaigns.

The polo is the national sport together with football. Maradona is a true living god to the extent that he has become a saint and is worship and some churches have been built in his honor. They are called Maradonistas.

From the moment we leaved Buenos Aires, we could notice the difference between the capital and the countryside. The quality of life of the campaign has nothing to do with the capital. The campaign is the economic engine of the country.

Argentina is a young nation. One can even say it has really started to exist with the new generation. While parents often refer to their European roots, the young, can’t even situate Paris on a map! They just know that it is the capital of France … Their reference now is South America and Europe does not represent much for them. It’s the old continent and unlike their parents they speak only one language: Argentinean (which is different from the Spanish!)

Regarding music, Reggeaton (mixture of rap and reggae) and Cumbia are the most popular.

Each day is a new adventure.

Hugs to everyone!

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Junín, 11/08/2009

¡¡Happy Birthday!

Wow! I woke up and I was 25 years old already! I was going to celebrate my first quarter-century in Buenos Aires. We returned from El Calafate by air with Shane and Dhee, two Irishmen on sabbatical, whom we met in Puerto Madryn. Their next destination is Australia and then South East Asia, we do not know why, but there’s a good chance that we will meet them again.

In Buenos Aires we were going to be received by our cousin Maxime. He arrived on BA on early August for an internship. We arrived at night with 2 hours of delay; we had his address but not the apartment number, no doorbell or telephone contact. We took a taxi from the airport, and the taxi driver told us that there must be a doorman who could tell us the number of the apartment.  When we arrived to the door of the building, surprise: there were 9 floors with 8 apartments per level and no names. It was midnight and the concierge was not in! We asked the people who were leaving the building if they knew a French guy who just moved this week but nobody knew him. We decided to go to a cyber coffee and fortunately, he had sent us his apartment number. However, we didn’t know how he sleeps!! We rang the bell for 5 minutes and no one opened. A couple who we met at the entrance of the building opened their door and we were surprised to find they were neighbors of Max! We knocked at his door, but still no response. We thought that he must have gone out for a drink. It was 00:45, his next door neighbor, Sol, invited us to wait a little longer with her. It was 1:15, so we began unfolding the sofa bed, at that moment Ophelie made a final attempt of knocking at his door, and suddenly the door opened ¡! Max had fallen asleep! … Welcome cousins! During the week we went out with his neighbors and party until the end of the night as only Argentines can do that…

We stayed for one week in Buenos Aires; we were waiting for the arrival of a new engine from France. I didn’t trust my engine to cross the Pampas. I preferred to leave on good foundation. The one that I’ll receive has been proven from Berlin to St. Petersburg without a problem! So, after many adventures and administrative attempts at the customs office, I received my greatest birthday gift: a new engine! Thank you Anne So!

We used our “porteña” week to get to know the federal capital: the  Agriculture Room, the steaks of 1.50 € / Kg, the sunset over the harbor, the huge park where the noise of the bustling city does not to disturb the quietness of the huge bird sanctuary, San Telmo and its antiquary, Boca, and especially we met Mujeres 2000.

Mujeres 2000 is a microcredit association that works with entrepreneurs of “villas” (slums). Loans start at 200€ and go to 1000 € for the larger loans. Volunteers accompany groups of 5 women who have a project (empanadas sale, washing cars, selling newspapers …). The loans can be renewed only if the entire group has finished repaying the loan. The repayment rate is 92%! These women are incredible. They simultaneously run their small businesses and their families. If you want more information about this organization, you can visit their website: www.mujeres2000.org.ar

At BA, we spend our last night with Maximiliano (whom we met the day before), at his house at the Constitución quarter. This is one of Buenos Aires’s neighborhoods more dangerous… We had together with Klayton (our Texan friend from El Calafate) who was hallucinating. From the center of the city, a group of young people tried to approach us. For people who saw us at the road with our Solex we were like a plate of food for someone who has not eaten for 3 days! Fortunately we were with Maximiliano who dismiss them. He lives with Marco, who is organizing a tour to South America in motorcycle with a friend. Last year, Maximiliano was the responsible for coordinating the video team for the promotion of the Dakar Rally Argentina. It’s a genuine national event here! They took us to a boliche (discotheque) typical of the neighborhood where local groups play. We were the only foreigners. It was a great night! The next day we had to take the road towards Santiago, Chile ¡!

Finally back on the road ¡! To us, being outdoors, where all the cows are, is part of our daily view. Between 2 cities there may be 30, 50 or even 100 km with nothing in between. Argentina is a country “macro cephalous”, characteristic of South America, where the capital concentrates the majority of the population.

First stop: San Andres de Giles, we spent the evening in a local tavern. We were the guests of the night; everyone was paying attention to us. They offer us wine (Argentinean, of course) and some empanadas. People asked us all sorts of questions. Even more than in Europe. Each of us took turns to tell our adventures. Now Ophelie speaks a little Spanish or at least knows by heart the presentation of the project!

Each day we are in the hands of our faith, and every day as we move forward in our journey, we don’t have any advantages. We arrived to Chacabucco and we went to the central square in search for the Church to ask for hospitality. Nobody was there. We didn’t panic; we parked our SoleX and waited. In our jargon we call it the “Pamplona technique”, where we tested it for the first time. It never fails! 10 minutes later, we had fifteen curious around us and we began the presentations. Soon, someone invited us to sleep at his house. We will be hosted by Johnny. He and his family are fans of motorcycles! He even had an accident last week against … a dog … The reception is great. Fifteen minutes and a few phone calls later, a dozen riders arrived ¡! It was the motorcycle club of the city, and they wanted to meet us. We did a tour to the city escorted by the motorcycles: it was mythical ¡! We surrounded the central square several times and finish with an interview with a local channel.  On the way, suddenly everyone stopped at the same time for no particular reason. Twenty meters away there was the police. In our mirrors we saw them adjust their helmets and keep going. Here nobody rides with a helmet. They often give us the same excuse: I cannot wear helmet, I’m claustrophobic ¡! It’s a holiday day; we have the right to have “asado” (Argentine barbecue). Every day of the year you can have a culinary specialty, summer and winter ¡!

It is very difficult for us to leave, but as it is often the case we cannot stay. Everywhere we go, we receive a fabulous welcome and the local people wants us to discover more about their culture and their country. But we must move forward. Thank you all.

Yesterday we arrived at Junín and we happened to pass by the Alliançe Française, it was still open at 20:00. The welcoming was once again wonderful. We had our first TV interview in Argentina! Our Solex caused a lot of curiosity.

There are still so many things to say, the empanadas (of meat, vegetables or other), pizzas, the landscapes. Each day is a new adventure. We don’t know where we’ll go¡! That’s it for today, and just today we got a map of Argentina! We have been all this time using a compass

Thank you all for your messages of support, and sorry for the smiles we haven’t sent, we didn’t have a good internet connection to send the pictures.

Ah, by the way, we haven’t had problems with dogs, we hope this lasts!

@ Very soon!

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El Calafate, 28/07/2009

Welcome to Argentina!!

We are now in Argentina! The flight went well and packaging the SoleX was no more complicated than packing a bike. We had no problems with the chassis or the engines. In the plane, we saw several passengers equipped with masks; we understood why when we arrived to Buenos Aires…

It’s pouring rain and it was cold as we exit the airport. It was a big change from the Spanish heat wave! Welcome to winter in South America!

Here reigns true psychosis regarding influenza A. There are posters everywhere, on all bus stops, subway; on TV … Apparently, Argentina is among the most affected countries after the USA. Anyway, after all, the “normal” flu provokes more deaths each year than influenza A… We do not take special precautions; we just take care to wash our hands after we used the subway with alcohol.

In Buenos Aires, we were received by Aline and Dante, contacts of Henry’s flat mate in Madrid… While we were at their house we organized our trip in Argentina. We decided to leave our SoleX one week in Buenos Aires to explore South Argentina.

On the road to the bus station, we were victims of an attempted robbery with “whipped cream”. The technique is simple: You sprinkle whipped cream in the back of the victim and while the offender offers himself to help you clean his accomplices rob you from behind! When they came to us, we felt that something was wrong and we declined their help to clean us and didn’t let them approach us. Just when we accelerate the pace, one of his accomplices tried to unzip the bag in which we had the camera. Phew! we were on our guard and we had our hands on it! It will serve us as a lesson! Never let your guard down … we will make this mistake during the bus ride…

During our 22 hours travel by bus and few stops to drop off and pick up passengers, we made the mistake of falling asleep at the same time … The result: exploration of PH’ pants pocket where he kept the credit card…

After the 22 hours by bus, we arrived to Puerto Madryn. Here, we had to go by train because the roads are not really developed and it was more expensive to go by bus. During the trip, we were offered breakfast, lunch and dinner! But better still, we could choose between 3 classes: Bed (1st class), Semi bed (2nd class) and normal. We opted for the semi bed since the trip was too long. In semi bed, we could almost stretch us to sleep. This class is better than the economy class flight to Madrid – Buenos Aires!

In Puerto Madryn whales come to breed from the south and their babies learn to swim till they are 1 year, this is from June to November (during winter here). It’s amazing we were able to approach high tide cetaceans within 5 meters. They are HUGE! We also went on a photo safari where we saw the local wildlife. We saw the Guanaco (cousin to the Lama), the Patagonian Sea Lions and sea Elephants, it was really exotic!

In Puerto Madryn, we stayed in our first Youth Hostel and met others who would be our first foreign travel companions. The first of many to come. We will travel with Joseph, a young American of 23 years whom was also a victim of robbery (his credit card) during his trip; Christopher, typical English, in a sabbatical year (in his case he would rather talk about friends and social life, in 5 days in Puerto Madryn he has still not been able to see a whale … there are after parties harder than others …) and many others that we will met later on the road.

After we saw the whales, we went towards El Calafate and the glaciers. Still further south, the temperature is not as low, as opposed to what we had been announced but there is much more wind! During the journey, Joseph was able to enjoy our corned beef sandwiches (limited budget requirements …) and discovered how to survive with € 2 (or even less) per person and per day (does that remind you of something Kieran?)

Five years ago, El Calafate was a small town of 5.000 people before tour operators started using it as a tourist destination. Today, there are over 25.000 inhabitants! It’s a small town at the end of the world that exists only because of tourism! It’s the rear base of many expeditions to El Chalten and Fitz Roy (one of the highest peaks in Argentina) or to the end of the world: Ushuaia. We meet here with backpackers of all places: from Chile, Ushuaia and Buenos Aires (there is a small airport which binds the three places).

Culinary level: in Buenos Aires we tasted the local hot dog; they call it “super Pancho”. We also tasted the “mate”, a real institution here! It’s a tea, which can be drink cold or hot, sweet or salty, there’s something for everyone! There are whole shelves of supermarkets with mate. The herbs are mixed with hot water. The “mate” is the opportunity to share a friendly moment with friends. You can drink it anywhere and at any time.

We even had the opportunity to taste American food (more precisely, from Alabama) it was very surprising: a pear with mayonnaise sprinkled with grated cheese … You should try it…

It is well known of what will be our main nag for the next months: the dogs! 2 or 3 packs roam the cities looking for a car, motorcycle or bicycle to bite a tire … Our pepper sprays will be useful and could be used soon!

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Madrid, 18/07/09

In the road of Santiago de Compostela

We’re finally in Madrid, earlier than the expected. In Saint-Emilion we embarked on the path of Santiago de Compostela. After a weekend of holidays, we took the road to Madrid, with the first challenge of crossing the Pyrenees in SoleX … This was the first big test for our gear and they have brilliantly accomplished it. We reached the top of the course at 1057m, although 3 km before the summit (at Roncevaut …) while we were having a pause, the ignition of a moped dropped. Fortunately, we were at the other side of the mountains, so we just had to go down… So in the rain and fog in cycling mode we finished crossing the Pyrenees. The thing with the Solex is that you can go on in all cases!

Challenge completed! Even with this ignition problem! It’s still not bad for our SoleX which will have in ten days the equivalent of one year of weekly use, or 1.400km!

We are now in a Hispanic country, it’s time for Ophelia to start speaking Spanish … On Roncevaut road, we had the opportunity to met many pilgrims on foot, on bicycles or on motorcycles and we did not go unnoticed with our three wheels.

Wherever we go, it’s the same show, as soon as we stop, a small group of onlookers formed around our motorbikes. Discussions are going very well and often end with an invitation to sleep. We are true ambassadors of our SoleX! Thus, we arrive at Pamplona (the day of Saint Fermin, the final day of fiestas), around 20:00, the streets were filled with people celebrating; we were invited by a Basque to sleep at his house so we find a place to sleep! It must be said that he had mercy on us, since we were sitting on the steps of a church, and we were not celebrating San Fermin, but July 14th (Bastille Day) around our 5 stars dinner (can of tuna).

The electronic ignition parts did not last long and we needed to make a decision. We were at 400km from Madrid (600km in SoleX), so we took a train to retrieve the pieces that Jéjé would send us. It was decided, now we would use conventional ignition coils. Our train trip frustrated us since we covered 400km in less than a day, instead of the six days scheduled.

We took the SoleX in the train, an exciting adventure!

The Solex has already been seen in northern Spain, but in Madrid nobody has ever seen them, just elderly people. We are 2 aliens! Everyone turns to look at us! Fortunately, the train station is not far from Henry’s house (our host from Audomarois… is a small world …)!

We were suffocating in Madrid! I had forgotten it was so hot at this time of year! But hey, we’re not going to complain about the weather, since we’ll have winter in South America!

The replacement parts have arrived and on Monday evening we’ll travel to Buenos Aires!

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Tartas, 11/07/2009

Departure

We’ve traveled many kilometers since our departure on July 4th. Today we stopped at Tartas (120 KM from the Spanish border) and we took the opportunity to give you some news … and also enjoy the Ferias (Holidays)! (Last night, when we arrived in the village, the parties were just starting; we had completely forgotten that it was the season of fairs!) Yesterday, we camped just outside the city and we met Eric and Isabelle who insisted that we stay in their home, so tonight we will camp in their garden.

It was a big night to celebrate our first thousand miles…wakening up was a little tough

More than 1.000 km already! And what memories!

We got out of the Paris region without any problems, we went through several cities: Chereuse, Limours, Dourdan, and then, “bang!” “Magellan” (PH’s Solex) would no longer start. It was 9:50 when we stopped in the national road, electricity was about to go off and the sun was going down. It was at least 30 degrees. After many assumptions and changing many small engine parts, we finally went to a garage … (open on a Monday!)… But our worries didn’t ended there, and we needed a lot of patience and the help of the mechanic to solve our problem. Finally, we found out that we needed to change some parts of the engine…Also, we decided that we would have to drive at a maximum of 40 km/h; even downhill… this will let us have a lot of time to admire the scenery!

A relief of everyone! We could finally leave Dourdan at 17:30 … under the rain. But we were too happy to finally go out and drive until sunset, so we traveled 140 km of the 150 planned.

On the 4th day, the meter displayed Viville (near Angouleme) at 777km. With an average of 27 km/h we made a pretty good time for our well equipped 1970s Solex …

On the road, chance encounters always brings us smiles and different stories. It must be said that we do not pass unnoticed with our motorcycles out of nowhere. Motorists wonder about the kind of gear we have when they see us pedaling, and when they see the engine we often make a small sign with our 3 wheels SoleX. Once, we stopped to chat with Michel, amateur SoleX of Montmorillon. After we told him our project, he invited us to dinner and to settle our tent in his yard. He told us when he traveled to Africa and Canada was not common thirty years ago, but perhaps, traveling around the world will be “normal” in a few decades!

The French countryside is worth to be seen, admired and photographed. We have familiarized ourselves with our photo and video equipment.

Since the change of the engine parts, we have not had any mechanical problems important to share, besides a flat tire from Ophelia’s trailer. Our motivation is still intact!

Here are some pictures … and the first smile!

@ Soon we’ll tell you new adventures!