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General trip reports

So Long, and Thanks for All the Rock

Already as a child I had to learn a truth about life, that everything has an end. It is always very sad for me to finish a bag of “Basler Leckerli”, my favourite biscuits, but on the other side it is nice to finish a work day in order to follow my leisure time activities.

Together with Louis we had the chance to spend half a year living our dream, travelling a new continent and seeing it from the sky, climbing fantastic routes and standing on high summits, discovering hidden places and sleeping under a new sky full of stars. We visited colourful Peru, with bustling markets, chaotic cities, high mountains, excessive glaciers and perfect though cold waves. We toured through extreme Chile, with perfect cracks in the dryest desert in the world and with overgrown cracks in the jungle version of Yosemite in Cochamo. And finally we fell in love with diversified Argentina, from the tradclimbing paradise Arenales to the extreme walls and weather conditions of Patagonia.

At this point we want to thank our readers for their interest, their contributions and their patience. I hope that you enjoyed our trip as much as we did and that you forgot the horizontal world the time of reading about our adventures. Our trip has come to an end, but an end is at the same time the beginning of something new… Let us see what it will be for us!

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

The Wallis, Switzerland

The Wallis, Switzerland

The ones interested in our activities and that of our friends can follow this blog:

So Long, and Thanks for All the Rock!



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How to buy a car in Chile… and sell it back three days later

One day between two surfing sessions in Huanchaco we had a brilliant idea. We would buy a car, travel with it across Chile and Argentina and sell it before flying back to Switzerland. We could drive from one climbing spot to another without worrying about bus schedules or carrying our 90 kg luggage from bus terminals to hostals and back or organizing transfers from where public transportation stops to remote climbing spots. Since we had to pass by Antofagasta in the north of Chile to receive our gear we would buy the car there, on our way to the Atacama desert and its canyons of ocher, cracked sandstone.

We looked over a few websites listing cars for private sale in order to get an idea of the car market in Antofagasta, read that blog informing about the paperwork one has to go through when buying a car in Chile and leaving the country with it and that article explaining how to assess how roadworthy is a car when considering to buy it.

Once in Antofagasta (we arrived on a Wednesday) we visited a few garages selling second-hand cars and called several private person selling their cars on the internet. We soon figured out that relatively recent (less than ten years old), second-hand cars were expensive (starting at 5000 Sfr in a garage and at 3000 Sfr from a private person). Thus we had two options (1) buy a relatively recent but expensive car from a reliable car dealer and take the risk to loose time/money selling it back or (2) buy an old but cheap car from a private person and take the risk to break down and lose time/money to repair/sell it back. We chose the second option, answered to some more ads from the internet and arranged two appointments with private persons on the following day (Thursday).

Taking a number is a Chilean national sport

A long queue in front of the immigration office

On the same day (Wednesday) we went to the tax office to obtain a RUT number which identifies a tax payer and which is required by anyone who among other things buys a SIM card or a car in Chile. What happened next is a story inside the story that is worth telling since it illustrates all the bother that bureaucracy, laziness and incompetence put together can cause to individuals.
A clerk (let us name him clerk A) redirected us to the civil registry office. At the civil registry office clerk B explained to us that we first had to go to the immigration office to get a work permit. At the immigration office the waiting line in front of the building was so long that we returned to the tax office convinced that there had been a misunderstanding (the author of the blog was clear about obtaining the RUT number at the tax office).

Back at the tax office, after having explained again that we were travelers willing to buy a car, clerk C told us with a firm tone of voice to address ourselves to another office and helpfully indicated the way to us. Ten blocks away at that other office that was a kind of pension fund clerk D confirmed to us what we knew from the beginning namely that the right place to ask for a RUT number was the tax office. Back again at the tax office containing ourselves we were able to obtain the right form from clerk E which we filled out and handed to clerk F who again questioned us about who we were and why we needed a RUT number. He asked for our address at which the central tax office in Santiago would send the RUT card within three weeks (you get a provisory RUT number for the meantime). We provided the address of our friend Marius in Valdivia which was however refused by the system. It turned out only an address in Antofagasta could be accepted. When we proposed to provide the address of our hostal in Antofagasta clerk F hesitated and asked the chief clerk for help. The answer of the chief clerk was that we needed a written agreement from the hostal owner. The tax office was closing shortly after so that we resolved to come back the next day with the agreement before our two appointments.

At the hostal the manager had no objection and signed a business card with name and phone number. The next day (Thursday) at 8.30 am we were sitting in front of a clueless clerk G. He called the chief clerk for support who ignored the business card, refused to call the hostal manager and asked for a notarial agreement instead. At that point we bursted out and demanded to talk to the chief of the chief clerk directly. We were introduced to his secretary to whom we explained the situation from A to G. The chief of the chief clerk probably heard everything through the ajar door and when we entered his office accompanied by his secretary without even looking at us he nodded. Ten minutes later we were leaving the tax office with a provisory RUT number.

There it is, our Nissan, all innocent (The one on the right 😉 )

Half an hour later we were meeting Mr. X who was selling his 1992 Nissan Sony for 1500 Sfr. The ad had been online for one week. Our first feeling of both the car and the owner was good. We went carefully through the check-list of the article to become aware of the condition of the car. The answers of the owner to our questions were satisfactory and the car despite its age looked like one which had been taken care of over the years. We drove through the neighbourhood putting our forearms to work to turn the wheel with no power steering. Mr. X hinted that for the travel that we were planning it would be better to change the oil, the oil filter and the brake pads and that he would take care of these costs by reducing the price to 1300 Sfr. We thanked him, promised a soon answer and left for our second appointment.

The second car for sale was also a Nissan of similar age and price but the inspection was finished much more quickly. We had a short drive during which we almost caused a few accidents. The brakes did not work at all with the forward gear in (it was an automatic) and worked poorly in neutral. The automatic gearbox was defective since it required some manipulation of the gas pedal to shift gear. The engine was covered with dirt and it seemed that no one had opened the hood since the Chilean-Peruvian war.

Last inspections and oil change before the trip

That afternoon we spent some more time in the city center looking for cars with a “SE VENDE” sign behind the windscreen and calling the owners but they all turned out to be expensive. Finally we called Mr. X, offered 1100 Sfr cash for the car and fixed an appointment the next morning at the civil registry office to make the sale official.The half an hour at the civil registry office surrounded by couples getting married and happy relatives waiting in the line was wasted time since we had to address ourselves to a notary to issue the act of sale (only if the buyer is not Chilean). Moreover Mr. X had to sign a statement authorizing us to leave the country with the car since the official registration of the car under Stephan’s name would take three more weeks. Before midday on Friday three days after our arrival in Antofagasta the car was ours. Departure for San Pedro de Atacama was planned for the next morning. In the afternoon we had the oil, the oil filter and the brake pads changed for about 100 Sfr. Later we met a local climber who advised us a small climbing spot close to town. Thus the next morning (Saturday) we wasted two hours looking for the “Roca Roja” and not finding it after driving some 50 km back and forth along the coast.

On the road!

At midday we were back in Antofagasta, bought a road map and left the city feeling quite frustrated. We drove the few kilometers uphill to the pass connecting the coast strip from the desert inland and drove another 40 km until the car stopped… It felt like if we ran out of petrol. None of the indicators of the instrument panel were working but we had gased up in Antofagasta. Stephan asked for petrol at some mining barracks standing close to the road but they had only diesel. We decided that Stephan would hitch-hike to the next petrol station, bring some petrol back and find the phone number of a breakdown service. Two hours later he was back driving the car of two helpful guys with no driving license with 10L of petrol in PET bottles. We all pushed the car shifting up the second gear and… it started. We thanked the guys and drove 20 km more until the car stopped again. Luckily we were only 500 m away from the entrance of the small village of Baquedano. We pushed the car along the roadside with more than 30 degrees celsius and noticing the amused faces of drivers coming in the opposite direction. At the village another helpful guy inspected the engine and was able to start it by spilling fuel on the carburator. He also drew the anormally low level of the fuel filter to our attention. He accompanied us to the home of mechanic of the village and waited with us for him to come back from work (like everyone he worked for a mining company).

We also felt like exploding, our car broke down in the middle of the desert, near a copper mine

The mechanic checked the engine as well but could not diagnose any defect. It was 7 pm, almost night and Calama the next city was 140 km distance and 1000 m elevation away in the desert. We drove the 20 km to the petrol station where Stephan had been a few hours earlier, refueled and noticed that the top of the petrol tank was perforated. A helpful truck driver also had a look at the engine. By sucking through the fuel filter he found out that it was partly clogged maybe by some tiny pieces of the petrol tank. Even if the fuel filter would have been easy to replace it was 10.30 pm and we were only 80 km away from Antofagasta. We came to the conclusion that we did not want to travel with that car.

Late at night in a gas station… a truck driver revising our car

We had a late supper at the canteen next to the petrol station with sleepy truck drivers. I slept next to the car, Stephan in the trunk and the next morning (Sunday) we drove the 80 km back to Antofagasta, taking twice a break to let the fuel level in the filter rise. We called Mr. X and explained to him that we did not want to travel with the car and that we wanted our money back. After a hard bargain and a new car inspection with the roles being pathetically switched he agreed to take the car back for 900 Sfr. On Monday morning we met at the notary, canceled the act of sale and retrieved our money. We sent our mountaineering equipment to Valdivia by road freight and at 2 pm we took a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. We were heavily loaded pedestrians again but we were feeling somewhat lighter…


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Soy Paco de Huanchaco

In order to relax, to reorganize, to order new equipment, to discover the pacific coast of Peru, to eat fish every day with less guilty conscience, TO IMPROVE/LEARN SURFING, we decided to spend a week in Huanchaco on the pacific coast of Peru, next to Trujillo, 700 km north of Lima.

Paco de Huanchaco

Street art in Huanchaco

Since the delivery of our purchases took more time than hoped, we finally stayed almost two weeks in this  little town stuck between desert and ocean. We paddled for waves and ate “ceviche”, “arroz con mariscos” and “tortilla de verduras” during the day and watched all sorts of dumb surf and climbing movies during the night (that inspired ours).

A dreamy little girl eating her pollo

Huanchaco has long beaches, one of them being protected by an long elegant wooden pier (0.5 soles entrance fee…). The waves are neither perfectly shaped nor huge but they are consistent all year long and beginner friendly. The water is cold though and the rental suits not very performant (but we learnt one technique to keep warm;-). Huanchaco is popular among backpackers either heading to the north of Peru, Ecuador or Amazonia or willing to do volunteering work. On weekends it draws crowds from Trujillo making the hawkers on the seafront busy.

Sunset at the Veradero Beach

The magic trick with the plastic bag

Typical of Huanchaco are the long, thin, pointed fishing boats made of woven palm. When the fishermen are not riding them through the breakers to deploy their nets, they are lined up vertically along the shore spiking the horizon with imaginary islands.

Nicely aligned fishing boats in Huanchaco

At midday, deserted streets, low houses crushed by the sun, old cars from the midth of the last century and beautiful graffitis give a timeless character to the town.

A reminder of the past

A pelican pictogram in the Chimu Temple of ChanChan

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The new and expensive cultural center of Huaraz: half of the money to construct it, half of the money in the pockets of officials.

Here we want to talk about our second home Huaraz (our first home being our frosted and freezing tent), the small but swarming city at the foot of Cordillera Blanca that smells like roasted chicken after nightfall. It hosted us one third of the time before and after each climb and played well its role of oasis of bakery, sleep in beds, food with vitamins, repair shops, wireless internet, hot shower, human contact and more…

Debris flow hazard map of Huaraz. Computed with RAMMS?

The urban crevasse… dangerous road work in Huaraz

Huaraz is the touristic center of Cordillera Blanca but not only. The region is rich thanks to mining and the authorities do their best to spend the public money in the loudest possible way. All officials drive brand new Toyota pick-up trucks and at the time of our stay (summer 2012), they were renewing all road surfaces almost simultaneously.

Cultural activities in Huaraz. Razor blades are fixed to the legs of the animals to accelerate the outcome.

As every day, a streetband (Guggenmusik like) from a neighbouring village celebrates a local holiday…

…Virgen de Chavin, Virgen del Carmen, Virgen de Candelaria, playing the same songs and drinking lots of beers.

Huaraz is an outpost of modernity and urban life. In the lateral valleys at the foothill of Cordillera Blanca, people live in small villages and are almost self-sustaining. They speak quechua, women wear the traditional Andean costume and carry babies or wood or food in a coloured piece of cloth thrown over the shoulders. Mules are the every day means of transport. In addition to providing for their needs they grow flowers (for export) and eucalyptus trees and farm sheep and cows.

The craftsgirl who forged our “estacas” (also the only reliable one).

Our hauling bag custom-made by Yuraq Janka.

Repair shop in the hotel room. Plugging holes with lama slime.

The streets of Huaraz are built according to a square pattern. The “collectivo” terminals, on opposite sides mark the limit of the city center. The “Plaza de Armas” (there is one in each Peruvian city) is flanked by bank branches and the decorative tourism police station. Following the Avenida Mariscal Luzusriaga lined with archways that shelter hawkers of all kinds, you end up in the market quarter with its food stores, slaughterhouses and canteens. On the way, you have passed by the Casa de Guias and the Parque Ginebra with its shops and restaurants, the only very hideout of gringos eager for inflated prices.

The cost of laundry goes with the weight…of dirt?

Having a shave done is an experience.

Playing billiard in a room with 20 pool tables, 100 teenage guys and 0 girl.

The city center is full of restaurants or stands selling food. They can be categorized as follows: “pollerias” for roasted chicken, french fries and salad, open in the evening, “cebicherias”, for raw fish salads and other fish specialities, open only at noon, “chifas” for Chinese food, “pasticerias” for empanadas, hamburgers and pastry, traditional restaurants proposing all the same menus: soup and salad with either lomo saltado (beef) or picante de cuy (guinea pig) or chicharrones de pollo (chicken) or trucha frita (truit) and vegetarian restaurants (we found three in the whole city).

Lost: three guinea pigs going by the name of Nifnif, Nafnaf, Noufnouf. Last seen near the market.

Fantastic cakes!


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La Virgen de Chavin

One late evening at the Galaxia hotel (our first hotel in Huaraz before B&B My House and La Casa de Zarela) after a rich supper, Andy passes by. We dress up and together we walk to playgrounds 200m away from the hotel. The rumor that was audible from the hotel has turned into the powerful and rythmed sounds of a music band with brass wind and percussion. On a basketball court, people are dancing, only illuminated by streetlights. On the lawn, next to the basketball court, a 10m high structure made of thin wooden sticks is standing. We join three friends of Andy who soon hand to us a bottle filled with warm, sweet, alcoholic drink. It is called calentito and is made of Pisco, honey, dates and different spices. You fill a shot glass of it and pass the bottle to the person next to you who will wait until you have emptied your glass to help him- or herself. Waiters bustle about, bringing filled bottles to people and taking away empty ones. They all are celebrating La Virgen de Chavin, the patron saint of a city located 80km away bird’s-eye on the other side of the Cordillera Blanca. At 12pm, four men start running and shouting among dancers and groups of people. Above their head they carry boxes looking like accordions but which belch flames and sparkles instead of music notes. After the vesuvius-accordions have died out, the pyrotechnists move to the curious structure and set fire to wicks hanging down below it, kicking off 20min long fireworks. Stage by stage, the structure bursts into flames, with explosions, fire wheels, rockets, vesuvius, … the band keeping on playing in the background like in a light show.

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From Limas’s fog to Chancos’s swimming pool

Lima is the starting point to the Cordillera Blanca. During the winter (our summer) the city is wrapped in fog most of the time (like Aargau). At eight in the morning only the drugstores and casinos with slot machines are opened. Fresh orange juice is served at every corner and the snack advocado-salt-bread turns out to be as addictive as paprika crisps. Marius meets me in the evening and we eat the typical “ceviche” that is a crude fish salad with some famous “pisco sour” that tastes very much like caipirinha (but maybe I’m wrong and no this blog is not only about food:-)

poor but coloured Lima suburb west of the city center

The next day we take a coach to Huaraz. It’s 200 km bird’s eye, 400 km by road, 8 eight hours or 3 hollywood movies in a row. The coast north of Lima is at times a steep sand hillslope dropping into the ocean with the road perched at mid-height. The road then leaves the coast and follows a valley up to the Conochocha pass at 4050 m. Every village dries its corn on the ground making it an orange-yellow paved square. From the pass reachnig out to grassy highlands you spot the first high, white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

downtown Huaraz with the Huascaran massif in the background

first snow in sight

In Huaraz, we meet Andy, the “contact” of Marius, biking/trekking guide and mountaineer, who briefes us about the city, accomodation, acclimation, transport, … He gives us a hint about Chancos, a small village with a climbing crag and thermal baths which we visit the next day. “Collectivos” are a cheaper alternative to taxis and as efficient if you are lucky. They are small buses or cars serving a particular route and leaving once they are full. To Chancos we took two “collectivos” and discovered the modest but steep but easy crag with eight less than ten meters high routes of a very sculpted kind of limestone. After experiencing every route and being only watched by some cows we headed to the village. The air was warm and we had no envy to dive into hot water but instead we stopped at the swimming pool at the entrance of the village, full of happy and playing and relaxing people.

steep but not too hard

Chancos’ climbing crag

Chancos’ swimming pool with view. Non-transparent water ideal to play the “homme noir” game.

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Hola buenas, buenas!

Hi everyone, this is our first post. Things are getting ready, plane tickets are bought. Until August we still have time to get into shape!


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