Breaking away to South America

In December 2010, Peter Dreesen of CERN’s Technology Department (TE) returned from a long trip to South America. In four months he traversed the entire Andean range, from the equator to a latitude of 55 degrees south—on a bicycle!


Peter Dreesen on the Salar de Uyuni Lake, Bolivia.
11 000 kilometres is one long bike ride! And yet, that’s what Peter Dreesen did, travelling from Quito, Ecuador to Ushuaia, Argentina. Peter, an engineer in the TE Department, is no novice: the year before, he cycled from Paris to Peking, a distance of 13 500 kilometres, in just over four months. His latest voyage began last August, when he loaded his bicycle and boarded a plane for South America.

In the saddle. After a week of acclimatisation at three thousand metres altitude, Peter left Quito on 6 August 2010. He arrived in Ushuaia (el fin del mundo, the end of the world, as it’s known in South America) on 12 December 2010. He recounts: “It was a bizarre sensation to arrive in the city and have the road just end there. Normally, you get to a place, and there's a road that carries on to somewhere else.”

Peruvian promenade.
Although the trip was organised for a group of 40 cyclists by a specialised tour operator (Bike-Dreams), it demanded personal preparations beginning a month in advance. This covered more than just physical training: “I had a special bike manufactured,” says Peter. “I wanted one with a belt-drive rather than a chain, because of problems I encountered in 2008 in China."

In following the line of the Andes from north to south, the tour participants went through no less than five countries (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile) on a route where the climbs totalled more than 150 kilometres. As a solitary cyclist, Peter had some memorable experiences. He recalls crossing the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia: “This is a lake which is so rich in salt that you can actually cycle on the salt crust that covers it. It is situated at a height of 3 650 metres above sea-level, and is about one-third the size of Switzerland—and there isn't a single road!"

Off-piste. Although the route was planned out in advance, Peter allowed himself to break away a few times, in order to see a particular church, village or interesting archaeological site. “Sometimes it happened that we arrived in the middle of a fiesta, with music and people dancing. Passers-by would stop and join in the festivities: bus drivers, their passengers, a passing truck driver, a policeman. And then the music would come to its end, and everyone carried on their way."

No sooner had he reached home than Peter began to think about new expeditions. So what’s next? North America, then Africa. Thousands of kilometres of beautiful scenery await!

You can find photographs from Peter’s trip here.

by Anaïs Schaeffer