12 05 2008

Michiel (Dutch cyclist first met on the Carretera Austral) has found his way to Buenos Aires for a weeks rest before tackling the lagonas ruta in Bolivia. Oh, what’s that Michiel? Only if I go as well? I must admit it is a tempting offer, but I’ve got this ticket to Canada, and, well, you know, the altiplano in Bolivia is hard work. Good luck with the ride from Salta to Mendoza instead. Better alternative for a solo cyclista.

But Michiel is crazy about football, so we went out to see a match last night (one of 6 this week for Michiel). Originally we planned to see River Plate (one of the ‘Big Two’, the other being Boca Juniors) vs someone, but due to current events in the Cupa de Liberatodores we didn’t think this would be a very lively match. So instead, for a reason that still escapes me, we headed to San Lorenzo. This barrio(suburb) could generously be described as poor. We were a group of four (others from the hostel) with two fluent Spanish speakers, but it was possibly a little foolish (ie dangerous). Of course nothing happened, but we were all pleased to get back without an incident.

So San Lorenzo played Independentia (thanks for the reminder Michiel – I don’t pretend to memorise these things). We (ie San Lorenzo) lost: 0-1. I say we because our seats, or rather patch of concrete to stand on, was behind the home goal. It was rather an experience with the crowd singing most of the game, and clearly challenging the away crowd in the songs. I was impressed by the passion the crowed showed. This was only (I say only!) a club match, and San Lorenzo didn’t play so well, but the crowd was right behind the team. I get the idea that San Lorenzo are doing well in the Cupa de Liberatodores so I think the crowd kept reminding themselves of this – especially after the goal, which of course caused the away crowd to go nuts.

After the game I was a bit surprised that none of the home crowd moved. In Oz, there would be a great rush to be out of there. But for maybe half an hour they just sat there. Eventually the away crowd had all filed out to be packed into buses and escorted by police out of the suburb. It looks like this is normal, to avoid the post match hostilities. It worked pretty well, but meant we were on the street looking for a taxi at 2230, in a reasonably dodgy neighborhood. So we caught a bus.


Update: The nice Argentine/Canadian I set next to on the flight to Toronto was slightly horrified, and glad that we survived unscathed, when I told him we went to see San Lorenzo at a home game, and then sat with the supporters. The neighborhood is slightly more than dodgy…

The bike!

11 05 2008

Is gone. I wasn’t actively trying to sell it, but someone in the hostel heard it had to go and he wanted it. So, after 14,000km it’s not in the best shape (actually, I described it as a wreck when he said he might want it), but it should be ok to bash around the city for a while yet.

I had owned it for 274 days. That is the shortest time I’ve ever owned, and ridden to death, a bike (and averages at over 50km per day!).

Bye, bye, trusty steed.

Time waster

10 05 2008

I’m here to waste some time. But, I´ve discovered something. Wasting time doesn’t (any more) make me mad, having someone else waste my time for me, well, that attracts my ire.

I tried to sent a packet home from Buenos Aires. I walked to the central post office, thinking that this might be most efficient. I took a number and sat down. 1 hour later… (this part suffers from the fishermans’ story syndrome – the first time I told it is was 30mins, and since I don’t wear a watch, it could easily have been an hour). I was finally served and told that to send a cd of photos (and a lovely mothers day letter to mum) I would need to complete a customs form, and this would need me to produce my passport. The passport that is accross town in the hostel. I knew this to be rubbish, having sent plenty of parcels and not needing my passport once in Argentina. I tried to explain this. They didn’t budge. The prospect of a long walk followed by another long walk back and another long wait for no good reason got me reasonably fired up, but I left without sending the parcel. I think they understood I wasn’t impressed.

There is another post office, not 50m from the hostel, who took the packet with barely a question (certainly no passport required) and I went back to a more profitable time waster of reading. The James Bond books, if you are interested. Now that is really wasting time.

Iguazu Falls

7 05 2008

Since leaving Buenos Aires, the twin main objectives have been to waste some time until the Canadian weather gets its act together and realises than it’s time to be warm. And visit the Iguazu falls.

One objective is complete. The falls are well worth such a huge detour. Since we had come so far to see these falls, we visited both sides, one side being in Brazil and the other in Argentina.

iguazu1Big solitary fallsI must admit to being slightly underwhelmed at the start of the view in Brazil. We’d just had a (verbal) fight (in ‘Russian’ or Portuguese, could be either) with the Brazilian guards about having to pay for the bus service in to the park even though not using the bus. [It’s not possible to enter without buying a bus ticket as well, don’t waste your time trying.] The walkway / viewpoints in Brazil at first only allow you to see some of the waterfalls on the Argentinian side (across the river). They are impressive, but worth several thousand kms? Not really.

Garganta del DiabloNot until later do you see the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat) with is a U shaped thundering wall of excitement. And then, suddenly, it is worth the visit (if you can see anything through the spray). On the Brazilian side, there is a walkway on which you can stand in the spray of the falls, and have falls almost all around you. It is huge! But this is all I liked about the Brazilian side – I prefered the Argentinian side. Lots of walkways. Lots of view points. Lots of places for Stefan to take photos (>200!). Many smaller falls (less water, same drop) amongst the trees.

Group mug shotOn top of the Garganta del Diablo you can hardly hear yourself think. A phenominal amount of water pours over the falls, and sprays all over the place in a thourougly frivolous way. A wall of white noise. I tried to encourage a boat race over the edge – bit of a waste of time, you can’t see through the spray for about half the height of the falls. How would you know who won?

After a while of watching all that water it seems a little irresponsible to lose all that energy, and not, maybe do something useful, like turn it into electricity (spot the engineer…). Luckily just up the Paraná river (maybe 30km away) is Itaipu hydroelectric station that generates a lazy 14GW. The biggest hydro plant in the world, generating essentially all of Paraguays electricity and 20% of Brazils. We went there to have a look, but they wanted to shunt us into a bus and charge us to look at the dam wall. Not go inside the generating hall or anything exciting, just look at the outside of the concrete dam. Do I look so stupid? We looked from the road – it looks like a big dam(n) wall.

The Iguasu falls looks much bigger than Niagra (turns out it is), but maybe I’ll have to just have another look at Niagra in a week or so. And then see Victoria Falls. Could be a bit harder to get to Victoria falls though… Does this mean there is another trip to Africa coming up? Hmmm.

bluey2blueyAnd a bird we saw at the falls for Kev and Steve. Sorry, no idea what this guy is called.

Let’s just say it’s Bluey from Argentina.

butterflyI wonder if Sea to Summit would like to use this one – the butterfly was a bit crazy, it was trying to lick the dry bag. I guess it is a similar colour to it’s favourite meal. I’d never seen a butterfly’s tongue before. I don’t know why I would have, but I felt I should have.

Toronto is expecting mid-teens for a few days. Warm enough to visit? I guess it will have to do. Maybe a bit better in a week. Still working on the second objective.

Where am I?

30 03 2008

Back on the bike and I’ve left Argentina. It’s strange, I’ve only crossed the river, but it feels much different here.

The Buenos Aires suburb, or adjoining city, of Tigre is actually really nice. It’s very well maintained, with plenty of parks and canals. If BA is the Paris of South America, then Tigre must be the Venice of Buenos Aires. I was surprised at how big Buenos Aires is. I shouldn’t be, with a population of over 13 mil, they need 40km solid of houses. The road situation left me a bit cold though, I got sucked into a motorway at one point, stopped to ask a policeman for directions and was told to keep going. 10 minutes later I was shepherded off onto a tiny side road by another policeman.

I crossed by boat from Tigre to where-ever-I-am-now, Uruguay. This meant weaving through lots of canals along the mouth of the Rio Plata delta. This was a sunny Sunday afternoon, but I was shocked at how many boats were out there. Rowing boats and canoes were thick close to the port of Tigre, then there was a flotilla of sail boats, and then a mixture of huge power boats (expensive ones too!) and dingies with jet skis charging around playing on the wake. Amazing. The water is a horrible brown colour – it must be mostly mud from further up the river, but it doesn’t look altogether healthy. I won’t be swimming in there.

A good start for Uruguay: I don’t know the name of the town I’m in. It could be Carmelo, or Carmen. I think it starts with a “C”. It’s warm and humid here, balmy almost, distinctly different from BsAs. I guess I’m slightly closer to Brazil and the Amazon, but I didn’t think it would change this quickly. It’s more like I expected towns around here to be, it’s well after dark and the small center plaza is crawling with people. I didn’t see this as much in BsAs, it was more people going to a club or bar, rather than just hanging out.

The Uruguayan’s are friendly. So far. At least they let me in without any hassles, and pointed me at a hotel. The hotel owner was most helpful. He took me to a room, which looked quite nice and then proceeded to rattle of a price that had several more zeros than I was expecting. I realised I didn’t have a single Uruguayan Peso, and indeed didn’t have the first clue what the exchange rate might be. Slightly under-prepared, you might say. It’s all sorted now.


29 03 2008

Buenos Aires is actually very nice. It’s been described as the Paris of South America, but I think it might actually be nicer than Paris. At the very least it is far, far more affordable. But I think my time here might be over. Stefan and Sabine left for Uruguay this morning.

The problem is, there is so much of the continent still to see. And then there is Central America, and North America. Indeed I’ve barely scratched the surface of the world. Since bike traveling is pretty cheap, and I’m not yet hitting any financial constraints, what to do next is actually causing a problem. Too many options you see.

I think I will go for a quick tour of Uruguay to begin with. At least one report on the South American touring links page suggests it is quite nice. Flat and reasonably nice will be good for a few weeks. Then there may be a bus ride to Iguazú (a rather big falls in the north in Argentina), and then… well, the options just keep on coming. Brazil is right there. And what a big country it is (similar area to United States)! So what if most of it is jungle.

I was keen to get to Canada, but really why would I go there while it is still cold? Maybe I’ll take the opportunity to see a bit of Brazil while I’m so close. Dangerous tactic though, if I just keep going, then I’ll end up cycling to Canada and miss out on the work permit 🙂 Then I wouldn’t have to work for a while longer… Hmm… Another option. And none clearly better than the last…

Buenos Aires

27 03 2008

It’s a big city.

I don’t really like big cities. But… this one has some charm. Actually bucket loads of charm, and plenty of character. We’ve camped out in San Telmo, in a small hostel. It’s already been almost a week(!) and I’m still getting a feel for the city. I’m torn between leaving (because I’ve been stationary for so long) and staying (because this city is so big and really deserves more exploring). Which will win? That will partially depend on how the job applications in Canada go.

I had a bit of bad luck while I was updating my resume (which felt weird – I don’t feel like I’m on holiday any more, but for sure don’t feel like I should be working!). Just about to leave the internet cafe, I noticed my bag had… gone. Bugger. Some brat had stolen it, from between my legs! There was a kid who was hanging around, the owner got onto him, and asked him what he was doing, and then the kid left- I assume this was the culprit. The biggest bummer was my camera was in there, but I hadn’t taken many photos since I’d last copied the card onto DVD, and Stefan had also taken lots with his SLR (and I can copy those). Actually, I was most surprised with how much I have changed in the last year. All of my friends in Oz don’t need to be told how I would have responded a year ago (pretty angry would be putting it mildly). But I accepted the loss much more readily than I though I would have. I searched the internet café, then the close streets, checking the bins. And then, well, it was gone. What’s the point in getting angry as well? Hopefully the insurance will cover some of it. But if not… well, I wasn’t attacked, my health hasn’t been affected, it’s not that much money gone – and really, after 8 months in South America, I’ve been pretty lucky not to have had anything stolen yet. But, with a a bit of luck, that’s the first and last.

I’ve changed my normal ‘explore a city’ routine, and have basically tagged along with Stefan and Sabine. So we’ve ridden around to see some of the city and parks, walked through countless fairs and markets, out to La Boca, sat and watched lots of outdoor Tango shows, been caught up in a street protest and even gone shopping. It’s been pretty good, I like the city. It feels a little like Paris to me – many buildings in a similar style to what I remember of Paris. This may sound nasty, but I’m kind of glad the Argentinian economy fell apart in the 90’s – the city hasn’t been spoiled by many towering skyscrapers. I’m sure they’ll come as the economy becomes more powerful. Right now, everything is reasonably priced for me (read: cheap), and it was a bit of a surprise to learn that 20 years ago this place was as expensive as New York or Paris.

Last night Sabine dragged us out to a Tango show/course. Well, that’s not quite true; I went willingly and was keen to try it out. I think with a bit of practice I could even get the basics – after an hour lesson I could dance a simple pattern. I was amazed that several of the girls who came were worse than me! Can you image that! I even had my toes stepped on 🙂 I was impressed. Perhaps I’ll try again…

Stefan and Sabine are doing their best to get rid of me (and about time too). They’ll be off to Uruguay at the weekend. I may also go that way, but with a different boat, and a slightly different destination. But I think I’ll be back here. If nothing else, to fly north…

Ushuaia to Buenos Aires

24 03 2008

That was much quicker!

Stefan, Sabine and I didn’t really enjoy Ushuaia. Partially this was because we thought everything was overpriced, but I think it was mostly because the weather was bad. It rained or was very overcast every day. Pity. We did get one good view of the mountains that tower over the city – while we were at the airport waiting for the flight. I think we spent more time in the internet café than nearly anywhere else. But when it is raining, cold and generally miserable, what can you do?

Well, you can ride down dirt roads to the end of Ruta 3… I had to go as far as I could! I got a face-full of mud for my trouble, and ended up cleaning the bike in the rain, but now I can say I’ve been to the end of the road.

We briefly tossed up the possibility of busing up to Buenos Aires. But the two or three buses would have summed to around 50 hours for the 3000+ kms. Or, for about 50% extra, we could get there in 4 hours. I didn’t really have any need or desire to be fast, but the thought of avoiding such a long time in the bus had (even me) reaching into the pockets for a bit more cash.

The flight from Ushuaia to BA was reasonably uneventful. That is, until we tried to land. I’ve been on a few commercial jet flights. But not once have they had to abort a landing. As we approached we could see the storm, there was a huge cloud front and plenty of lightning. It was pretty obvious that the wind was strong; the plane was bouncing around all over the place. The pilot tried to bring us down anyway, was over the runway just about to touch down and a gust of wind took us off to the side. This was no zephyr. With a scream of engines, we were given a second chance to look at this storm, from above. We cruised around for a while over the city (quite low) and were given a bit of a tour. We flew over to the domestic terminal and landed there instead. A bit of a bonus for us – instead of a 35km trip to the city center, we now had only about 4km.

Moments after the plane had parked, another plane attempted to land. Still sealed in the aluminium tube, we heard it approach, and then the scream of engines as it too, aborted the landing. It is rather disconcerting to see a plane, maybe 20m of off the ground sailing along at what can only be described as a jaunty angle. It may suit a tango dancers fez, but for a plane it just looks silly. The storm had obviously reached the city, just after us.

And what a welcome to BA we got! After the good luck of changing airports closer to town, riding the rest of the way was now a possibility. We loaded the bikes, and went out to discover the heavens had opened. It was pouring! We chose to ride anyway. A little rain can’t hurt, right?

Well, we got drenched. My shoes were full of water in maybe a minute. It was raining hard. It looked like the storm caught everyone off guard – many, many beach-goers were sheltering in bus stops all along the road (this was Good Friday). Apparently this weather is not all that normal.

We’ve now had a mixture of hot and muggy, and rain with thunderstorms some nights since we’ve been here. But it has been warm, which is more than I can say for Ushuaia, or Canada for that matter.

I was thinking of heading up to Canada fairly quickly from here – direct flights don’t look all that expensive to Vancouver. But perhaps I’ll give it a month or so… It looks like it might get to 10°C on Tuesday. Brrrr. I don’t have the clothes (or the desire rigth now) for that kind of weather!

So it may not be the end of the bike trip just yet… Uruguay is just across the river from here. The falls of Iguazú are a mere 18 hour bus ride north (too far to cycle in a short time, me thinks). And… is that Brazil I can see on the map just over there? Ol and Jess – where are you? Why are you not in Brazil – I’m ready to visit now!

Perito Moreno Glacier

19 02 2008

Possibly one of the more touristy parts of Southern Pategonia. But I am a tourist, so I had to go and see what all the fuss is about.

The last update was in El Chaltén. From there we had a ride around two (big) lakes to El Calafate. The wind is more often than not a strong westerly. Going east is no drama. The second day we had to turn right, into the teeth of this wind. Four reasonably strong cyclists, sharing the lead, and we could only make 10km/h. 30km took over 3 hours. This is the famous Patagonian wind. All the stories we’ve heard are true – and there’s about 1000km of this!

I’ve now said good-bye to Jürg and Rahel. They’ve decided to move on a bit quicker from El Calafate (involving buses) to reach Ushuaia and go to Australia to meet more excellent people like me. What more can I say? Except possibly the truth: that they are keen to meet Jürg’s sister while she is also visiting Australia. Good luck getting there in time!

But I’ve met, and spent a few days with Stefan and Sabine, and along with Michiel, we’re a group of four again. So it’s the Germans, Dutch and Ozzie (stupid Australian who can only speak English) rolling on. I should have learnt German rather than Spanish before starting this trip…

11kBut anyway, the glacier. It’s 80km from El Calafate, Porito Morenoso we rode there. To avoid the wind, we left pretty early, but not early enough. About 1 hour into the ride, the famous patagonian wind sprung up, and we were struggling to make a decent speed. We did a good job of hiding behind each other, and made the glacier about midday. We spent the whole afternoon watching. You may think that watching a glacier speed along at up to 2m per day could be a little dull and I have possibly miraculously developed patience. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like that. The glacier calves often, and quite often they are big chunks that come off. We were treated to a few big crashes.
crash 1crash 2

The sound (when the tourists have cleared off – some people just do not shut up!) is really quite impressive. With the sun on it, you can hear the tourtured ice creaking and groaning. The pieces that fall off the leading edge are not really all that frequent, but there is sometimes a sharp crack (anywhere from the sound of a firework being launched, through a door slamming, to a bloddy loud bang, like a gunshot). The glacier feels so close, but it is still far enough away that by the time the sound reaches the lookout, the piece of glacier has fallen about 60m to the water, so searching for falling ice by ear alone is a frustrating experience. You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled! We argued discussed the distance we were from the glacier at one point – I think it was about 150m. I guess we could work it out (speed of sound, time taken for ice to fall 60m). Nerd.

Marco and the gangBy chance we met a great Guardaparque, Marco, who ecouraged us to talk up his knowledge on the web pages. And not talk about the excellent nights sleep we may have got close to the glacier, since it is after all illegal to camp in the park. We didn’t camp – how we got around the situation I will not say, but Marco allowed us to cook in his hut. Nice guy. Really. And we got to see the glacier in the morning sunlight as well (not really for sunrise, it was raining and snowing when we woke the first time – bugger that just for a photo!).

The wind helped on the return journey. 30km/h easily. Depending on the wind, the next part could be very long, or very short. A few rest days in Calafate right now – soon to be heading toward Torres del Paine and maybe a week or so of walking.

End of Carretera Austral

11 02 2008

With some disapointment we’ve completed the Carretera Austral. The scenery is truely amazing on almost the entire route, and is best viewed by bicycle (the point was demonstrated when talking to a German who we’ve seen a few times driving a tank – ok, it’s just a truck with a house on the back – who hadn’t noticed a few points of scenery we tried to discuss, you just move too quickly in any other vehicle). Perhaps a horse would also be pretty good.

Unfortunately I can’t find a few words to sum it up, and rather than resort to a blow by blow description of the last three weeks (which would likely send all of us too sleep, despite it being quite good at the time), perhaps refer to the last post until I can come up with something better.

We met more and more cyclists until we arrived at Villa O’Higgins. Suddenly there were hordes of them/us. And lots were dissapointed – the ferry from Villa O’Higgins (at the end of the road) across Lago O’Higgins was fully booked for several days (tip to anyone following, use to book your seat – they stick to the capacity of the vessel, 60 seats). So only 6 cyclists made it on this trip, although I know of another 6 who missed out.

We crossed, and decided to spend some more time sitting in the nice comfortable boat visit the O’Higgins glacier. And what a good decision that was. I’ll post a photo when the computer is slightly faster than the glacier. 60-80m high. 3km long. That’s pretty big. We hung around for a few minutes, and watched a few huge chunks fall off (or calve if you insist). Much much bigger than a house. Pretty spectacular.

The crossing to Argentina I’ve been looking forward to for weeks – it’s supposed to be devilishly difficult. We exited Chile on the lake shore, and headed uphill rather steeply for 15 or so km. We met two Dutch coming down who tried to freak us out about how difficult it was going to be, but really, they over-exagerated. We camped a few km into the climb (part riding, mostly walking). The land owner almost threw us out, but we charmed him into letting us stay. He was actually a nice guy, but he’s probably sick of cyclists (since you can only cross this way by bicycle, horse or foot).

At the top, as we entered Argentina, the dirt track disappeared completely (after we’d crossed a river without a bridge) and turned into a walking / horse track. Which started out reasonable, but degenerated and took us a few hours to do the 6km. Mostly walking, with considerable sections needing the bikes to be carried. Over many logs and obstructions. The final was a steep descent that really needed the front panniers of most bikes taken off. But impossible? Hardly. I managed without removing any panniers or bags, but then I don’t have front panniers. Still a challenge and something a bit different (but I think the crossing around the volcano in Ecuador was more fun, and far, far more scary).

Another lake crossing by boat, and a camp by the river (and some freshly caught trout in addition to the normal pasta for dinner – gracious Michel and Virginie!), and today we’re in El Chaltén, only a short distance from Fitz Roy. A more impressive massif than I expected.

The wind and weather until here has been exceptional. The rain still hasn’t dampened us significantly (a bit in Villa O’Higgins and some yesterday, but for Patagonia it’s been exceptional). Today the wind started. I expect it to get stronger, but as an indication we had a tail wind for a few kilometers today. On a rough, horizontal dirt road, no peddaling, the wind gusted to push me from 8km/h to 28km/h at one point (and often above 20km/h). A few times we’ve almost been blown over. Steve and Kev, remember the wind that blew Steve over in Tassie? The same, but all day. She’s strong.

I’d upload some photos, but we’re on a satellite connection (sloooow), and really I’d still prefer to be outside. Sorry. Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine are around the corner and my camera card is almost full! Ahh, the stress of a traveling life 🙂

Daylight around here

16 01 2008

Someone should slap the Argentinians. They’ve instigated daylight savings. So now, on the western side of the country the sun rises about 8am, and sets – get this – at almost 10 at night. Add twilight to that, and you’re well into sleeping territory when the fire for the barbecue is being lit.

Which means catching a 9:30 ferry, 25km from the campsite, was rather ambitious. I don’t enjoy 5am starts, especially since this is (in theory) a holiday. But we made it, and began the touristy Crus de lagos from Bariloche in Argentina to Petrohué (or Puerto Montt) in Chile. A rather scenic, and rather expensive, way to cross between the two countries. I must admit it was rather scenic, and I’m not sure if the constant bombardment from the horse flies was part of the price, or at no extra charge just for the cyclists. The most used word is slipping from “wow” to something like “f&%$ing flies”. Really, I catch myself saying “wow” more than you could imagine on this trip – there is so much that is different from the normal – sitting in front of a computer – life. I hope that starts again soon – Patagonia is just there!

But we’re in Peurto Montt for a few days at least. Some gear needs repair, the bikes need cleaning. And the ferry is full for 8 days. Bugger. So I think we’ll ride around the inlet, and the short jump to Chaitén will instead be a ride. But there are two parks on the way, so it’ll be pleasant (if we end up going there). Not sure. Will sleep on it, and a bed for the first time in several weeks.

Lagos District

13 01 2008

Is living up to it’s name as a great tourist attraction. Unfortunately, the Argentinians have also heard of it and it is currently summer holidays. So I am meeting many, many cycle tourists each day – mostly Argentinians from the big cities (read: are city folk who don’t respond to a friendly wave or hello most of the time). The campsites are FULL and the roads are also relatively busy with mad Argentine drivers. I’ve also bumped into a few more long term cyclists – a Dutch family, a couple from Lithuania and two couples from Germany. Looks like the further south we head, the more cyclists are around!

After the comparative boredom of the highway south from Santiago to Victoria, the roads have been far more pleasant. I have also managed to drive myself into the ground with a desire to get south quickly. In ten days of riding I’ve travelled 1300km, with only one rest day. Not a bad effort if I do say myself. But now I am tired, really tired. The sort of tired I can only compare to after a hard lot of exams at uni. I don’t really know, but it’s probably not that far from the same tiredness as those with new children. My legs are buggered, and I can hardly stay awake. The best news is that I’ve caught up to Jorg and Rahel, and the next few days will involve several (relatively expensive) ferries – and not a whole lot of riding. So I’ll be back to my old self soon.

After Victoria the road I’d chosen headed straight at Volcano Llaima. The military control informed me that this one was, indeed, the volcano that had erupted on 1 Jan this year. So? Well, the lava had flowed far enough down the volcano to cut off the road. Ahhh. Change of plans. In a burst of usefulness, the soldier told me about a similar dirt road that went more to the west, and had (so far) been outside the lava flow, and more importantly was open to traffic. It followed the “Ruta Interlagos” a sort of ‘tourist drive’ (and wasn’t on my map). So, rather than go back the way I came, I took it. The road deteriorated. and then seemed to hit a cliff. I rarely have to walk, but this road was steep. Lock the bikes brakes on, take two steps, haul on the bike, lock the brakes on. Repeat. Was real fun at the end of the day. Someone (on horseback) told me about a lookout at the top that would suffice as a campsite, so I kept looking out for the top. After a while I noticed I could again see the volcano, only 15-20km away. I didn’t hear anything, but suddenly there was a significant cloud of smoke. Another eruption. No danger, but a pretty special occasion.

I camped within sight of the top hoping for a lava show after dark – but the clouds had better ideas and instead sent me to bed early.

I continued to follow the Ruta Interlagos for the next day, since I had no better offer, and it continued to head toward Villarrica (the right way anyway). The dirt road, lakes, views of volcanoes, trees, green farms, flowers… just kept coming. Pretty nice stretch.

In defiance of the blue skies, I performed a (successful) rain dance by washing my cycling gear – while camping, alone, at a great spot by a river. Not even any bugs – sometimes you just get lucky. The next morning, everything was wet, but I was prepared – I have a second set of clothes now. So no real drama, the rain cleared in the afternoon, and I though that might have been it. The next night I camped next to a waterfall, much higher in the mountains, as I was heading back toward Argentina. Again, nice campsite. Again rain in the morning. Except this day, the rain was more like a bucket of water had been emptied over me, more or less continuously. The whole day I only managed 80km, and a two hour ferry ride. I was cycling along the edge of the lakes, but occasionally though maybe I was in one of them. It was wet!!! Pity that my rain coat really is too old. So I got cold and wet. Remember the washed clothes? Well, the main set were wet, the spares were wet and it was still raining – not so comfortable now. But I did avoid the snow that I later found out was only a little way south. Of course snow always looks great in the mountains, and huge forests cannot survive without rain – so you take the bad and hope that the good is better. The forests and terrain around here are worth a day or two of discomfort. It’s just a pity that I kept going through the bad days – if I’d stopped I could have been reasonably comfortable in a campsite somwhere and seen the views after the weather cleared. One lives and (hopefully) learns.

So after many miles of grinding my chain away (rain does wonders to the dirt roads, and doesn’t assist in maintaining a clean bike), I arrived in San Martin, and another two days (one of more exceptional views of lakes and mountains, and dirt roads, one of wind) took me to Bariloche. From here, there are several options, but Jorg, Rahel and I narrowed it to two. Take the asphalt road in Argentina for several hundred kilometers past more lakes, but on a road that essentially looks, err… long and cut out some of the Caraterra Austral, or take a reasonably expensive ferry back into Chile and head toward Puerto Montt and the start of the Caraterra Austral. The views promise to be worth the ferry (and legs took a small part of the vote – moving without further killing the legs seems like a good idea right now).

So we’re on the edge of Patagonia. The weather has already given us a taste of what is to come. The cyclist heading north haven’t yet scared us off (100km/h wind – pah!). The scenery is just getting better. I think I’m getting to the good bit 🙂

What I did for Christmas

29 12 2007

And my birthday.

Mendoza to Santiago isn’t all that far. On leaving Mendoza, the road starts out heading south, before curving back westward to the north and heading into the Andes once again. The map (lying, cheating, stealing map) suggested that there might be a secondary road that ends in the same place just south of Mendoza. So we took it. Unfortunately there was a thumping great river not on the map, without a bridge. Turns out it’s impossble to cross at the end, so we burnt 30km retracing our steps. Not happy Jan.
But we found a train bridge, and after several goes asking for directions from the police, we got across – not the train bridge, but a dam wall. Just down stream. The nice river valley, complete with trees and nice temperature, gave way to desert, an oil refinery and an industrial sector. So we pushed on, up the beginning of the Andes to Potrerillos. I was a bit frustrated at the days outcome, we’d traveled around 37km as the crow flies, despite riding all day. It turns out I haven’t relaxed into the “travel today and we’ll see how tomorrow turns out” mentality totally, yet. But it was the first day with a bad direction decision – and we escaped Bolivia without the normal touring cyclist outcome of having to follow a train line at some point, so I can’t be too unhappy.

Up in the mountains again, the scortching heat of Mendoza fell away. It’s asy to see why it’s popular up here in the summer – you can sleep at night again.

The next day had no difficult roads to chose, just the main one toward Chile. We followed the river Mendoza, and at times watched the rafters below us hurtling downstream. To be honest it looked like more excitement on the road, but the kayakers supporting/guiding the rafts looked like they had fun. We got held up in Uspallata, by talking (phone and other tourists) and buying food for the next days (this was the 23rd and we expected a general closure of shops around Christmas).

So from Uspallata there was a relatively simple matter of climbing to the top and rolling down into Chile. So we split it into two days. The first (24th December) we rode up a valley aided by a super tail wind. The valley narrowed and the rocks started to display all sorts of colours. The land also had green grass (kept green by the rediculous amount of snow they get here each year). So we had colours ranging from green to reds, yellows and browns of the rocks, and an impossibly blue sky, with some white fluffy clours as well. And towering mountains everywhere. It was pretty hard to deal with (especially since I like mountains – if you hadn’t worked it out).

On the way up we met Doreen, a German out practicing for a Caraterra Austral ride beginning in late Jan. She was planning to ride down in 2 days what took us 4 to come up. I gather she made it since she’s back in Santiago now.

We had a Christmas Eve / 30th Birthday lunch in a basically close skiing resort in Argentina, and continued up to Puente del Inca (a natural bridge across the river Mendoza – flowstone out of a cave, a bit strange). Decided that this was a pretty poor place to overnight, and rode up to the entrance to the Aconcagua national park. The park ranger wouldn’t let us camp in the park, but we snuck around the corner and camped in a small clearing on gloriously soft grass (just outside the park). Luckily the grass was soft, because there is an absence of trees at this altitude, and the hammock was (again) used as a hutchy / tarp tent. It works, so long as the weather is fine (no wind OR rain).

For birthday dinner we cooked a special pasta and tomato salsa. Ok, so it was basically the same as all the camp food we cook, but I got a special big serving as Rahel wasn’t hungry. Yumm! The stars came out, we were almost in the shadow of Aconcagua (we would have been if the sun set to the north – we would also have been in all sorts of trouble if the sun setto the north…) – what else could you want from a birthday campsite?

So the next morning I did what all children do on Christmas morning, woke up before sunrise to unwrap my presents. Except I misjudged sunrise – by anhour or so, and I sent myself back to sleep for a while.

But still before sunrise I jumped up, grabbed all the warm clothes I could lay my hands on (cleverly all made ready the night before), and rode back to the park entrance and lookout for Aconcagua. I was rewarded with a brief glimpse of the first rays of sunlight hitting the top of the big mountain, through the clouds, before the clouds moved in and covered the top for the next hour or so I stood there, camera in hand. Perhaps the altitude again, but another ‘take your breath away’ moment.

“Wow” was generously used. The Austrians we met yesterday, who claimed they would brave the overnight temperatures in their car were not to be seen. I was cool in my sleeping bag. Perhaps they froze, or chickened out and headed for warmer climes in the night.

I went back to the campsite and fell asleep in the sun, waiting for Jörg and Rahel. The cold night had given way to a beautifully warm morning. Just right for a Christmas breakfast of stale bread, and half a teaspoon of honey. Travelling with style!

The tunnel (and the top of the pass) was close, so we didn’t rush. Except I got it into my head that I should go over the top instead of the easy way, through the tunnel. So I left Jörg and Rahel on the nice concrete road, and headed up and over the 8km and roughly 1000m climb pass.

Why? Don’t know. Why didn’t I turn around when I started to snow? Don’t know. Are you crazy (like the English couple I met in a car on the way up suggested)? Don’t know. Has your brain frozen, since it got down to 1°C with a pretty strong wind, and was about 4000m? Don’t know. What day is it? Don’t know. Must cycle. My fingers hurt. Why can’t you talk properly? Jaw is really cold. Stop bugging me with questions, the top is only just there – I can see it.

I was hoping that the snow and clouds would clear as I approached the top. The thunder reminded me that it probably wouldn’t. But after 2 hours of freezing fingers and toes (the rest was fine under several layers of high tech clothes) I got there, and rode down the other side. The view was, contrary to the suggestion of a Norwegian I met a few days ago, poor. Lots of mountains, I assume, behind the thick cloud. The weather really changed quickly – but that should not be surpising, this is the mountains. Real mountains, not that stuff we have in Australia.

My 2.5 hour, err, stupidity had take Jörg and Rahel 15 minutes, so they were understandably ready to get out of the cold (and a small amount of snow) when I met them on the other side. So we rode down hill into Chile. Having a Merry white Christmas.

The Chilean immigration was a total farce. It must have taken us two hours to get through, and I lost my patience with one of the officials, which is generally not considered wise when wishing to enter a foreign country. I would explain the saga, however it would involve several expletives and possibly get quite detailed. And make me angry again. Lets just say there were several improvements I could suggest, and indeed did so, but they were taken the wrong way. The upshot was we ate Christmas lunch / dinner in the customs station of two sticks of metwurst and the last of our stale bread (suppliment by some fresh bread things that Rahel managed to find).

Chile didn’t dazzle us with it’s initial impressions (as Argentina had done). There was talk of just going back.

But we proceeded, rolled down the biggest set of switchbacks so far and were battered by a rediculously strong headwind, and a horribly cracked concrete road. Did I mention we weren’t impressed by Chile initially? It continued when we got to Los Andes (quite a long ride later). Ordinary, expensive campground, everything closed (we didn’t actually make it to the city we found out later) and no vegetables to cook with! But we cobbled together a pretty tasty pasta concoction with TWO bags of salsa (a real treat, let me tell you). Cooked extra spaghetti (hey, it’s Christmas!) and ate standing around a table in the camp ground while fixing a flat tyre.

Couldn’t be better 🙂

Riding into Santiago meant following an autopista (#57), with frequent “no bicycle” signs, but there was no other option. The only time the authorities actually cared was going through a 2km long tunnel – they wouldn’t let us ride, and took us through by car. First car ride for me since Cusco. We braved the city chaos, and jumped into central Santiago. Looks like we’ll be here for a few days, so we took a nicer hostel, slightly more expensive, but worth it I think. It is also around the block from a Massive supermarket, so we may have found some Black Forest cake to celebrate a(nother) successful Andes crossing, a Birthday, Christmas and my six months in South America. And just becase it was there.

Merry Merry and Happy Happy

23 12 2007

Mendoza is a lot bigger than I thought. Three MacDonalds that we saw. 😉

Today I have internet access, but no phone (and will have none for a few days at least), and only for a few minutes – so this will be brief.

To those at home, on the road, and well elsewhere: Happy New Year. And Christmas stuff also. The party at Julie’s I hope goes well 🙂 Sorry I can’t phone in. Make sure you celebrate my birtrhday appropriately. Drink lots of wine for me.

We turned right at Mendoza to head at Santiago via Aconcagua (as per Richards suggestion). Hopefully tomorrow we get a decent view of the mountain.

Last two weeks.

17 12 2007

Desert. Boring.

In an effort to get through it and find the more interesting parts further south, we’ve gone almost 1600km in 13 days. I think I went a bit too far yesterday – we completed 165km in the heat to get to San Juan and afterwards Rahel wasn’t speaking to me and Jörg was also tired. Opps, sorry. So we’ll shack up here, in the airconditioning if possible and spend at least a day… perhaps shopping!

I’m getting old.

17 12 2007

Really. I didn’t think it would happen quite like this, but it seems to.

I may have mentioned that there was a late night soccer game a few days ago. I was tired the next day, but I thought that might be normal. Also the muscles started complaining after 100 fast kms. Some guy tried to interview Jörg and I about our travels for his radio program. I think I may have sounded incoherent. I never knew – the broadcast was at 6 am the next day, and as it was our ‘rest’ day, I wasn’t getting up for that! The rest of the day I felt pretty normal, I guess that is because we spent most of it at the internet. Nut on returning to the campground… Oh dear! I felt like a cripple! I could hardly walk from the tent to the chair! For some reason my chest felt like I’d broken a rib. This has continued or several days.

Jörg and Rahel assure me that by the time I am forty I’ll get used to the pain and be able to move almost freely again. What do I do between now and then? And I’m not even thirty yet! (a few days away, but not there yet). What oes this mean for my adventure racing days? And Rogaines…..!

Is this why old people are grumpy all the time?

North Argentina. Apologies to Vegetarians.

12 12 2007

What happened there? I’ve been going relatively hard the last week or so, first to catch up to Jörg and Rahel, and then to keep up. 1200km in 11days. That’s why there have been no posts here. The map looks a lot better, looks like I’m starting to make some progress!

After the excitement of spending the best part of a week curled up in bed in Tupiza (and a few days talking to Mikkel, Motorcyclist from Denmark), and then finishing off in Bolivia, I finally hit the land of the long red steak. Not before time. For a few days I couldn’t eat steak, but that is currently being rectified – two nights running we have had asado (BBQ), and last night I got the fire just about right – the meat was (almost) perfect!

I’ve already crowed about my first long distance day. This ended in Tilcara, where I met two Belgian cyclists who are going north (Carl-Eric and Adrian). I camped, and the storm I hadn’t noticed broke just before I got the hammock sorted out at 10:30. Around 3am I could get to sleep, because the rain and lightning/thunder stopped. Wasn’t an ideal sleep. Well, the next day was slightly shorter, only 180 odd km. I did make it to Salta that day, riding along a thin and winding Ruta 9 between Jujuy (pronounced Hoo-hoo-yee), over a pass and loving it. The road surface was nice and smooth, there was a bit of a pass, but the trees everywhere made it feel like I was in a tropical forest – which I guess I was. It was so different to the last few months, and I really enjoyed it. So despite being tired (almost 400km in two days), I flew up the hill, and caught up to another long distance cyclist/mountain climber, Reinhard from Austria. Yes, Argentina could be called the land of cyclists – we seem to be bumping into them all over the place.

But I got a rest day in Salta. The other cyclists I knew were at the Casa del Ciclista, and Ramon and his family took me in as well. Unfortunately, most of the party had departed that morning, only leaving Jörg and Rahel and Jose (from Spain). But still I had a full dose of Argentinian hospitality. Big dinner (BBQ one night), and made to feel very welcome. It was a pretty special experience – possibly more so by me being semi comatose after the long few days cycling. Having dinner begin around 10pm, with bed about 2am doesn’t help recovery, but it is a pretty good way to live. It suits me anyway. It doesn’t suit cycling though.

Salta was a bit of a blur. The first big city since Cusco, but a completely different world. In some parts it looks like any other city, with big shopping malls (and prices to match), almost everything is available. I wouldn’t have minded exploring a bit more – or maybe I was just enjoying the chicas (there are some very fine looking women in Argentina, let me tell you…).

From Salta we have gone more or less directly south for 750km, on almost exclusively paved road (except for 30km which is inexplicably dirt road – I don’t know why, maybe they haven’t got round to it yet?). It has been mostly riding through desert, with little oasis where they put the towns. There has also been a fair amount of irrigated land, and a lot of it is used for grape growing. So they make wine, which also means they have pretty good food – one seems to go with the other.

I have finally relented and agreed that my front tyre was dead. Since there was almost no tread, the sidewall was cut twice and the inside had separate from the tyre frame, I guess it had reached the end of its life. 6120km. The other one (on the rear) is still going – but not for much longer I suspect.

Just before Cafayate we passed through an amazing gorge with red cliffs and a few very narrow and oddly shaped side gorges. The views were great, the sun was shining, we were going downhill with a strong tailwind. Life is good. The valley was well worth a visit.

The next few days are a story about wind, heat and desert. A strong tail wind turned into a strong cross wind as we approached Amaichá del Valle. The first day toward Belén was pretty good until about 1pm, when a fierce headwind sprung up, straight out of Patagonia we feel. The wind stopped us from going as far as we wanted, so we camped in a bus shelter for the night (to try to avoid some of the wind). Second day to Belén saw us get up at sunrise to try to avoid the wind. A patch of dirt road slowed us down, then the headwind came in to deliver the knockout. Luckily we ducked, and got into Belén. Then we thought maybe we should leave earlier (after eating with the Argentinians at 11pm). The wind thought the same thing, and at 10am the headwind came in. The wind meant that we were riding at full power and getting about 9 to 14km/h. Sooo slow! So we stopped for a siesta, got sand blasted in the heat, and stopped for the day 10km later in San Blas. Turns out to be a really nice campsite there, run by Herbert. For some reason I thought that I could play football (soccer) with the Argentinians for an hour until after midnight in borrowed (too small) shoes after cycling 100km. Two days later I am still tired and can hardly walk. The following day we again rose before sunrise and left early so in addition to the wind, I had the added enjoyment of trying to stay awake (and stiff and sore all over).

I haven’t mentioned the heat. It’s been hot, over 45°C in the hottest part of the day. We are trying to work around that part of the day, as do the locals, but cycling at night is still not appealing. Perhaps when the wind gets really strong in Patagonia we’ll give that a go.

Cycled yesterday with a Dutch couple, Maurice and Miranda (edit-for some reason I had Miranda’s name as Anna, until July 2009!) (who live in Belgium). So of course it was a pretty late night, with another big asado. Meat here is ridiculously cheap, you can get a kilo of prime BBQ steak for 12 pesos and Lomo (the best steak they have) for 15 pesos (4 or 5 dollars). So we cooked 2.5 kilos for 5 people – a crazy amount of meat for the Europeans, and still pretty big for me. I managed to finish it all though (it just tastes so good!). I suspect I’ll get bored of the red meat diet before Ushuaia, and I’ll work on making ths the case. Perhaps I can be a vegetarian later to compensate.

High score!

2 12 2007

Ding, ding, ding. Flashing lights and stuff.

Please enter your name:


Congratulations, you have just completed more than 200km in one day.

I woke up this morning and decided to try to do 180km – the ironman cycle distance. I don’t think I’ve gone that far before (hang on, I must have at some point, but when?). But for sure I’ve never done 210km with all my camping gear, at around 3000m altitude, and camped the night. And it took less than 9 hours cycling (plus I had the joy of changing yet another spoke). If I repeat the effort I’ll be in Salta tomorrow night, and have caught up the sick days in Tupiza, and join the cyclists party there (5 long distance cyclists in one place that I know of).

What a difference asphalt makes.


1 12 2007

This could also be titled:
Don’t cry for me.  or
On the road again. or
Half way!

Either way I have finally made it Argentina. The road was horrible, since just before Atoche to before Tupiza, and corrugated all the way today. I think, in hindsight, the train from Uyuni is not a bad idea. I just wanted to ride it though. Three very big days on the bike, or 8 hours in a comfortable train…

Tupiza ended up holding me hostage for 5 days. I didn’t even see much of the city, but I did read five Terry Pratchett books. So all was not lost.

As a welcome back present, it rained on me today. A dark cloud hanging over my head? It’d better move fast to keep up in the next few days then!

At the border between Bolivia and Argentina there is a sign that reads Ushuaia: 5121km. My odometer reads 5610km! So, even though I wont be going straight down (Chile and the Caraterra Austral we be where I spend a lot of time aas well) , it looks like this is more or less half way. Yippee!

Now, to settle this stomach down, and get into some Argentinian steak. I’ve been waiting months for this… Converting to vegeteneriasm will have to wait.