The E-Bike Diaries

“The E-Bike diaries”, is a six to seven month’s expedition that will be heading north through seven South American countries: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. It is equipped with two Swiss Made state of the art Flyer electric bikes. Six different travel companions, four photographers, a journalist and an ecologist, will cover sections of the journey together with photojournalist Luca Zanetti. Inspired by two previous travelers Ernesto Guevara Serna alias Che and his companion Alberto Granado, the route begins in Santiago de Chile with the aim of reaching Caracas in Venezuela. The object of “The E-Bike diaries” is to document in photographs and texts as well as videos the rich and diverse cultures of the people who inhabit the area, their hopes and struggles with a focus on the effects of climate change.

Years before becoming the iconic revolutionary, on January 1st 1952, Che Guevara, a 24 years old medical student and his best friend Alberto Granado, a 28 years old biochemistry student, began their long dreamed of journey trough South America.

They rode on what they called a carburised version of Don Quixote’s Rocinante horse: a 1939 500 CC Norton motorcycle, la Poderosa (The Mighty One). As described in the Che’s famous Motorcycle Diaries, it is half-way through their travel, in Southern Chile, that the Poderosa gave up: “It was our last day as motorized bums; the next stage seemed to be more difficult as bums without wheels.”

Much less well known is that Che Guevara, aged 22, went to visit Alberto Granado on a 4.500 km journey that started in Buenos Aires on an Italian made Garelli bicycle fitted with a baby Mosquito engine (a sort of Velosolex).

This made me speculate about the plausibility to see both Che Guevara and Alberto Granado on an e-bike, instead of a conventional petrol operated motorcycle, were they to leap into the future, and embark on the same journey today. The e-bike apart from being one of the coolest inventions of the age is an ideological choice. It reminds us of today’s crucial struggle, for both man and nature and not between man and nature. It stands for the construction of a more energy efficient and less resource intense economy, for a change against the economic imperative of endless growth or certain death.

Climate change, air pollution, the greenhouse effect, the galloping loss of biodiversity, the rising of sea levels the acidification of the oceans, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, their own carbon footprint: none of these topics were probably on the list of things Che Guevara and Alberto Granado worried about. As men of their age their sensors were calibrated on social injustice, that is persisting in many parts of South America. In the form of stark contrasts in land and wealth distribution. What has changed positively since Che’s time is that in most countries the armed struggle to overthrown authoritarian rulers has ended. Many of the people that fought authoritarian regimes indeed where jailed and tortured by them are now in power in democratically elected governments.

Che Guevara changed the world at the end of his life journey. “The E-Bike diaries” hopes to change it too, if only by inspiring people to switch from a car to a bicycle. This may sound like a watered down ambition, it isn’t. The relentless burning of fossil fuels is frying the planet and it is urgent that we do something about it now!

It is in this spirit that we’ll name our e-bikes the Poderosa I and Poderosa II.


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The E-Bike Diaries

Back to Zurich

/ Base camp

In the Peruvian andes, department of Ancash with the mighty Huascaran 6768 meters in the background. Photo by Alex Kornhuber

Dear eBike diary followers,

The last weeks of cycling in Colombia from the southern border of Rumichaca to the capital Bogotá, have been wonderfully mesmerising. On our way to the Laguna de La Cocha, we passed with almost no visibility trough the thick cold fog enveloping the paramo the Bordoncillo where we managed to catch a glimpse at the stoically standing Frailejones.

In the Putumayo department on a road called the death trampolin, that cuts trough the dense cloud forests between the valley of Sibundoy and Mocoa. We marvelled at the explosion of biodiversity and about humans and their ability to move absolutely everywhere regardless of obstacles.

The endless view surrounding the lowland jungle town of Mocoa filled us with that special hope that you get from an empty landscape. The hope that there can be a new beginning.

On June 22 the day the Colombian government, and the oldest insurgency in the Americas the Farc signed a permanent cease-fire. I was hoping to make a symbolic image of the historic moment, instead a lone red cow appeared out of nowhere for a few seconds, on a mountain pass between the Cauca and Huila departments. This made me hopeful for the Colombian peace process even if, most people I talked to on the road were sceptical.

In the town of San Agustin we saw the incredible monolithic sculptures representing the gods and animals of a culture that flourished between the 1st and 8th century but of which little else is known.

We had our first sight of the mighty Magdalena River in San Agustin at the beginning of its journey of more then 1500 Km, towards the Atlantic Ocean; and didn’t lose sight of the river until the town of Honda 500 Km later where we started to climb towards Bogota.

We had a scary moment at a bus stop in the town of Pitalito when (while changing a chain), we overheard a couple talking about the possibility of being caught on a nearby CCTV camera if they where to rob us.

We stopped in Villavieja to see the Tatacoa desert. From there we placed our FLYERS on the boat of fisherman Rolando Rojas to navigate the Magdalena for a few hours and cross into the neighbouring Tolima department.

The Odometer marked 11.000 Km when we crossed a hilltop from Subachoque and saw the town of Tabio about 40 Km from Bogota. 205 days had passed since we started in Santiago de Chile with my mother Pia back in December 2015.

The density and speed of all this is difficult to process. I found that at first what happens on the road stays on the road. It’s only in retrospect when you look at the images taken or write about what you have experienced that you can somehow appropriate the experience with a degree of normality.

Now back in Zurich after returning the FLYER to their owners, I’m on my old mountain bike again, on my first trip out to the super market I was fined 60 francs for passing a red light.



Ipiales to Honda

/ Colombia

Statue of south American liberator Simon Bolivar in the town of Tagua Narino
24th of June the day the Colombian government and the Farc insurgency signed a definite bilateral ceasefire; I was hoping to capture a symbolic image of the historic moment. Instead my only encounter was with this lone red cow that appeared out of nowhere on the border between the Cauca and Huila departments.
A young visitor at the San Agustin archaeological park.
The mighty Magdalena, the principal river of Colombia, flowing northward about 1,528 kilometers (949 mi) through the western half of the country. Here flowing trough the Huila department. It is navigable through much of its lower reaches, in spite of the shifting sand bars at the mouth of its delta, as far as Honda, at the downstream base of its rapids. It flows through the Magdalena River Valley. Its drainage basin covers a surface of 27.3 million hectares (105,000 sq mi), which is 24% of the country’s area and where 66% of its population lives.
A Virgin Mary placed on a beautiful Albizia saman tree in the Huila department.
The Tatacoa Desert is the second largest arid zone in Colombia after the Guajira Peninsula. It occupies 330 square kilometers of land. This semiarid region is located north of Huila Department, 38 km from the city of Neiva in Colombia and 15 km (9 mi) from Natagaima in Tolima. It is a rich deposit of fossils and is a great tourist destination. The Tatacoa Desert has two distinctive colors: ocher in the area of Cuzco and gray in the Los Hoyos area.
Leaving de Tatacoa desert on the Magdalena River with fisherman Rolando Rojas towards the Tolima department.
A low part of the central Andes range in the Huila department viewed from the Magdalena River.
Jason Baumann on the Flyer on a very dusty stretch of road from Cambao to Port Bogota near Honda in the Cundinamarca department.
A street scene in the town of Honda.

Jason Baumann

/ Colombia

After cycling on the FLYER in Ecuador from Loja to Quito, Colombian photographer Juanita Escobar has now headed to Mexico on a work mission. Thank you Juanita ! The eBike diaries now continue together with Jason Baumann. The mission is to reach Colombia’s capital Bogota where the journey will come to an end. My friend Jason is a Swiss entrepreneur that has been based in Rio de Janeiro with his architect girlfriend Barbara for years. I owe Jason a big THANK YOU! for helping, together with Anne Oskam in the construction of the eBike diaries website. Welcome Jason!

Loja to Quito

/ Ecuador

Near Gualaquiza in the province of Zamora. A shark falling from the sky or a monument to one of several wars that took place between Ecuador and Peru, caused by old territorial disputes.
On the troncal amazonica heading towards the town of Puyo. A region full of waterfalls and rivers with a road that runs along the eastern flank of the Andes and the Amazon rain forest.
The Zamora river
Juanita Escobar on the FLYER heading towards Quito
The second highest summit in Ecuador the Cotopaxi 5897 m. One of the highest volcanoes in the world, that has erupted more then 50 times since 1738.
A street band between Latacunga and Quito.

Juanita Escobar

/ Ecuador

After crossing together the entire length of Peru and a bit of Ecuador from Puno to Loja, Alex Kornhuber will now go back to his home in Lima, where his girlfriend Fiorella and their Dog Chasca Ñawi are waiting. My friend Juanita Escobar that has just arrived to Loja from Lima with two brand new back wheels for the FLYERS will take over tomorrow. I met Juanita a Colombian photographer by chance last year; while working in Colombia’s eastern plains on a story about cowboys. There she was a woman among hard men. I thought if you enjoy the life of the cowboy chances are that you might like the idea to cycle on an eBike trough a stretch of South America. She jumped on the idea! Her incredible work can be viewed here:

Huaraz to La Balsa

/ Peru

Cañón del Pato (Spanish: Duck Canyon) is on the Rio Santa (Santa River) at the north end of the Callejón de Huaylas (Corridor of Huaylas) in north-central Peru. The mostly rocky canyon walls are too steep and arid for cultivation, and in only a few places are the slopes of the imposingly rugged canyon suitable even for grazing domestic animals. The canyon was formed by the river where the north end of the Cordillera Negra range (to the west) converges with the Cordillera Blanca mountain range (to the east). These two Andean ridges run generally parallel for nearly 140 km from south of the city of Huaraz northward to the Cañón; the Cordillera Blanca continues northward for another hundred kilometers or more. The Callejón de Huaylas is the valley between the two cordilleras averaging about 16 km (measured on a map from the crests of the two ridges) in width but in places as much as 25 km in width.
Up from the town of Celendin to the El Indio Pass 3050 m then down to the town of Balsas on the Maranon River 700 meters, then up again to the Barro Negro pass 3580. This took us two days and was one of the most demanding stretches of the whole Peru crossing.
We encounter Josefino on our way down to the Marañón river between Celendin and Balsas where the region of Cajamarca borders with the Amazonas region. Josefino has been chewing coca leaves all his live, much in the same way his ancestors the Chachapoya people used to. The alcali is extracted from the leaves by adding a small amount of lime on a spatula. Cheweing coca leaves have a stimulant effect and helps to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness.
A forest growing along an affluent of Marañón River. On the left the road that takes form the town of Balsas to Leymebamba both in the Amazonas region
Donkeys used to carry cement to remote areas where high voltage electricity pylons are being built.
The fortress of Kuelap is a walled city associated with the Chachapoyas culture built in 6th century AD. It consists of more than four hundred buildings surrounded by massive exterior stonewalls. The complex is situated on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley.
Gocta a perennial waterfall with two drops and a measured length of 771 meters. This image shows the second drop of the mighty waterfall that is found in the region of Chachapoyas in the Amazonas department.
Colonies of white Herons can be found near the rice fields between Bagua and Jaen in northern Peru.
Raftsmen unloading the FLYER after the crossing of the Marañón river, between the town of Reposo and Santa Cruz in northern Peru.
Alex Kornhuber happy during the crossing of the Marañón river between the town of Reposo and Santa Cruz in northern Peru.

Abancay to Huaraz

/ Peru

A statue of Christ above the town of Huancarama.
Entering the town of Ayacucho on the 15th of April my 45th birthday. The day also marked 7000 Km and exactly 4 month since the beginning of the eBike diaries journey.
Potato Harvest: According to the International potato center more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Selected over centuries for their taste, texture, shape and color, these potato varieties are very well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes, at altitudes ranging from 3,500 to 4,200 meters.

A carwash advertising placard invariably involves a half naked woman, here near the town of Huancayo.
Farmer Josefino ploughing his field
Dry stones are used to build corrals for sheep above the town of San Pedro de Cajas.
A monument dedicated to the Maca root in the town of Huayre. Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) has many health benefits. Maca is often termed as Peruvian Ginseng due to its natural stimulating qualities that are similar to the benefits found in the commonly known ginseng-related herbs. Most exports go to China.
Between Huancapallac and Chavinillo the road passes by the Corona del Inca at 4000 meters.
Alex Kornhuber on the FLYER passing trough the Huascaran national park where the Puya Raimondi, the largest species of bromeliad known can be seen. It reaches 3 m tall in vegetative growth with a flower spike 9 to 10 m tall.
The half cloud covered mighty Huascaran 6778 meters at sunset

Lone pedalling

/ Peru

There are so few, it borders on the incredible when you come across a long distance cyclist here in the Peruvian Andes. None of the ones we meet have an eBike. There is usually a warm moment of mutual recognition as fellows from the same tribe.

We exchange tips, talk about the state of the roads ahead, inquire about altitude differences and distances between places, about sleeping possibilities with hot water and where to buy the next provisions. Then comes the moment when we say that we’re mounted on eBikes. Most fellow cyclist start laughing and look at us as if we have committed something morally outrageous. Tribe expulsion follows.

We met 27 year old Lucineide Lima from Brazil travelling north out of breath, making her way up the 4210 meters high Saraccocha pass that leads to the town of Ocros in the Apurimac department. The meeting was short, we offered her coffee and some oil for her squeaky bike chain but she didn’t accept either. We left thinking that she must be the toughest woman on the continent and that obviously we’ll never see her again.

That night we slept in the town of Chincheros beyond the Saraccocha pass thinking about Lucineide and wondering how far she might have gone up the pass. The next day we leave Chicheros late at around 10AM on a long downhill ride. At the bottom of the valley one crosses the river Pampas that divides the Apurimac and Ayacucho department. A few kilometres after the river crossing, a cyclist appears further ahead struggling uphill. It’s impossible, but here she is; Lucineide again out of breath, damming the mountains, smiling and craving for the high-plateu plains.

Happy about the reunion we take a break and have more time to talk. Lucineide left the town of Florianopolis in southern Brazil, after selling her belongings six month ago.

She wants to travel around the world with her bike because travel makes her happy and pedalling is like a therapy. She hates the dogs that run after her on the road and hopes to never feel enclosed or trapped in life. She’s afraid, yes, because she’s alone and something could happen to her; but so far nothing bad happened.

On the contrary when she left Brazil, people warned her to be very careful in Argentina because Argentines supposedly were bad people. When she arrived in Buenos Aires on her birthday she found lodging at a family that organised her a beautiful birthday party. They bought a cake and Cachaza to make Caipirinas and presented her with the saddlebags for her bike. From that moment on her thinking changed towards Argentinians and Argentina.

Puno to Abancay

/ Peru

A heard of Alpaca surrounded by the Raya mountain range on the edge of the Puno and Cusco departments.
Sheppards near the town of Maras above the secret valley.
The Chimpuya a mountain 5,489 meters high part of La Raya mountain range on the edge of the Puno and Cusco departments.
The Peru Rail train running between Cusco and Puno, crosses La Raya Pass at 4313 meters.
The Huaypo lagoon
A lady Sheppard looking after her flock near the Inca ruins of Moray.
Giant palm trees adorn the main plaza of Curahuasi.
The Ch’iqun (Quechua ch’iqu workable stone) is 5,530 meters. Here viewed from the town of Maras.

6 pictures

/ Bolivia

The Illampu 6383 m is the fourth highest mountain in Bolivia. It is located in the northern section of the Cordillera Real, part of the Andes, east of Lake Titicaca. Here a view from the town of Achacachi.
This looked like a brewing thunderstorm luckily it didn’t materialise.
The city of Oruro with its Virgen del Socavon (our lady of the mineshaft) monument.
Rainbow in the small town of Sevaruyo.
The city of La Paz the highest capital in the world 3640m
To reach the hot and humid lowlands or Yungas the road climbs from La Paz to the Cumbre 4700m and then drops down 900m.