A bittersweet love affair

December 1st, 2013

I have a tricky relationship with hills; at times it seems more complicated than the human relationships in my life. James simply says that I hate them, but that’s not entirely accurate. It’s true that I don’t love them quite as much as he does. Instead, my hills and I have all the highs and lows of a love affair: anticipation, thrills, desire, anger, hatred, defeat, frustration, elation. I go through more emotions during a big climb than you’re likely to find in even the most melodramatic of Latin American telenovelas.

I loathe the flat straight boring roads of plains and coasts and find myself longing to be amongst the mountains when we are not – but put me on a 25km+ dirt climb in the heat on a fully loaded bike and I am sweating, swearing under my breath and willing the ordeal to be over. On reaching the top, feeling the breeze, looking over the other side at the delicious descent to come, all the grunt and pain is forgotten in an instant and the victory is glorious.

After so long riding through the Andes, you’d expect me to be accustomed to the emotional and physical rollercoaster they present but every new ascent remains a new battle. It’s recently become more complex by the unwillingness of my parasite residents to take the hint and go away. Trying to tackle a big climb whilst hosting giardia and blastocystis has been impossible at times, and in the past six months there have been too many occasions where we have had to admit defeat, turn back and re-think our route.

The parasite issue had begun to dominate our trip; not just during the hill climbs but on and off the bike in all situations, my body had been loudly and violently reacting to its unwanted squatters. I am sure I present a conundrum to outside observers: to all intents and purposes, fine – aside from a heavily bloated stomach and some fairly anti-social farting. But when the parasites are active, stomach cramps, diarrhea and most importantly a lack of energy, have made it impossible to ride my bike well and often forced me to stop.

Medical advice about how to treat my condition had been varied and mostly ineffective as I didn’t seem to be responding to the conventional trusted methods of anti-parasitic tablets (over twelve months, I have taken eleven unsuccessful rounds of medication). After one too many turnarounds and more than a year of generally feeling ropey, a doctor friend suggested that coming down from life at high altitude (at which the body is always under high levels of stress) might help my body recover and fight better. However, as we were on the verge of embarking on the infamous, high altitude Lagunas Route in a remote corner of south-west Bolivia, Stubborn Cyclist Syndrome won out, and we pushed on.

The parasites of course had other ideas, and just two days into what was supposed to be an “epic ride”, I am not capable of continuing and we return reluctantly to Uyuni, leaving our friend Anna to carry on.

Catching a train from there to the border town of Villazón seemed like the most practical option. The new plan was to begin again in Argentina; to ride at lower altitude, to seek out easier routes and perhaps to consider slightly smaller climbs that might allow me to recover and actually finish this trip. The jury’s still out on my parasitic friends, but in the meantime our first few weeks in Argentina offered plenty of welcome distraction – and just one big climb…

Sarah

Sarah sitting in the sand with her bike near San Juan, Uyuni, Bolivia

The moment of realisation – I am too sick to push my bike through deep sand and despite setting out with the best intentions to complete the eight to ten day Lagunas Route we admit defeat and return to Uyuni to reconsider our options. In one of the lowest points of the entire trip so far, we even go so far as looking at flights home.

Sarah wearing a pair of grey Converse boots in Villazón, Bolivia

Whilst racking our brains about how best to continue, I suffer another blow when my shoes are stolen from outside a hotel room. The theft is the first in a sequence of events that soon develops into a saga ending with new shoes, new pedals and a new left crank. Interim shoes are also needed to get me through to the first decent sized town in Argentina. In a retro moment, I opt for a pair of lightweight Converse boots – the first time I have pulled on a pair since I was a teenager.

Bikes leaning against a road sign for Ushuaia at the Villazón La Quiaca border between Bolivia and Argentina

Shoe dramas temporarily forestalled, the decision is made to hop on a train for the final 300km of Bolivia and cross the border at Villazón. We enter Argentina at La Quiaca and, for the first time on this trip, are confronted with a road sign that tells exactly how far lies between us and our final destination of Ushuaia. Scary. It will in fact be at least 1000km further for us than this sign suggests as – of course – we won’t take the direct route there, but still…not far to go…

Sarah riding with her leg stuck out along the road outside of La Quiaca, Argentina

…and in Argentina, the road starts positively; we set out – happy to finally be making progress – descending to lower climes, and the new boots seem to be holding up well. 

Roadside shrine to Gauchito Gil near La Quiaca, Argentina¬

Argentina is a land of roadside shrines. Three popular saints dominate – San Expedito (patron saint of lost causes), Difunta Correa (a miracle in the desert where a mother died of thirst but her infant child was discovered alive still feeding at her breast)…

Statue of Gauchito Gil in a roadside shrine, near Chilecito, Argentina

…and this chap – Gauchito Gil. A popular saint seen as something of a Robin Hood figure who broke the law to assist the poor and was executed in 1878. His shrines are always adorned in pure red, and even in the most remote spots, very well tended. People leave a whole host of offerings – from wine and cigarettes to entire bicycles and truck wheels. 

Red flag showing the face of Evita near La Quiaca, Argentina

Occasionally the shrines also pay homage to other popular figures – here Evita, beloved wife of Juan Perón, Argentina’s president from 1946-1955 and again between 1973 and 1974. 

Riding past rock formations in the Qubebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina.

Our route from the border to Salta runs through the Qubebrada de Humahuaca with some beautiful rock formations to admire… 

James camping amongst the cacti in the Qubebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina

…and some very thorny camping spots. 

Rock formations in the Qubebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina.

Riding towards San Salvador de Jujuy, we continue to soak up the colours, the shapes and the unanticipated heat of a new country

James, Guillermo and family at the table for asado in Jujuy, Argentina

…until an invitation stops us unexpectedly in our tracks. Guillermo, local to Jujuy and out for a mountain bike ride early one Sunday, starts chatting with us and asks if we have eaten Argentinian asado (bbq). Having only been in the country for four days, it’s something we have yet to try and with no further ado we are invited to join the entire family for this sacred Argentinian tradition.

A grill full of meat at Guillermo's asado near Jujuy, Argentina

Practiced in most homes, on most weekends, an asado is much like the quintessential British Sunday Lunch where the whole family gathers to eat together. The differences show however in both quantity and preparation of the food – with around four times the meat and cooked outdoors over a grill and hot coals. Argentinian asado is a food experience we have been anticipating; having been to many a rainy bbq in England, we receive a valuable lesson in how the experts do it.

James and Guillermo admiring a tray of asado meat in Jujuy, Argentina

Proud chef Guillermo continues to deliver course after course of delicious cuts of meat to the table…

Cutting a piece of pork at Guillermo's asado near  San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina

…long after we have room to fit it all in. This pork was divine and it seems Argentinian steak – that everyone had raved about before we arrive in the country – is truly deserving of the hype. 

Sarah at the foot of the hill near Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina.

With meat filled tummies, we spend a few days in Salta planning the next leg and sorting out my pedal/shoe issues. In a rash fit of naivety, temporary good health and enthusiasm, we decide from Salta we will tackle the Cuesta del Obispo instead of sticking to a valley ride. Not a particularly big climb when compared to those we have ridden in Ecuador and Peru, it nevertheless represents a challenge to me. It becomes clear that despite still being fuelled by delicious asado, I am not back to full strength…

Sarah sat in the shade at the side of the road on the Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

…and I find myself sitting by the side of the road once again cursing hills, parasites, baking heat and anything else around me that can be blamed for my lack of performance.

A plate of empanadas, Salta province, Argentina

This time though, we don’t turn back but James wisely calls an empanada stop. Delicious parcels of pastry and meat combined with cold Coca Cola help us on our way… 

Red rocks on the climb of Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina¬

…through backdrops of burnt rock…

Sarah and bike on the dirt road climb of Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

…onto a dirt climb of some 25km which will take us back up to an altitude of 3457m – the fake positivity displayed here didn’t last long… 

Sarah snoozing on the grass on Cuesta del Obispo, Salta  province, Argentina

…and I soon need a break to take stock and have a snooze.

Sun rising over Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

Deciding that the climb is too much for me in one day, we make camp and tackle the rest early the following morning… 

Looking down at the dirt ribbon of road on Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

…crawling along the ribbon of road.

Chapel at the summit of Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

With some relief we reach the top and, as always in my complicated love affair with hills, the emotions swirl and compete…

Chapel shrine to San Rafael at the summit of Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

…and I mutter a quiet prayer of thanks at the chapel of San Rafael. 

James riding down the descent after Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

Time for the downhill…

Road sign of a cow with "bife" graffitied on it, near Cuesta del Obispo, Salta province, Argentina

…and we whizz by a reassuring testament that Argentians definitely know where their meat comes from (bife = steak).

Valle de los Cardones, Salta province, Argentina

Into El Valle de los Cardones – an immense field of cacti…

Cactus in bloom, Valle de los Cardones, Salta province, Argentina

…which at this time of year are in beautiful bloom.

Sarah riding downhill towards Payogasta, Salta province, Argentina

The downhill continues…

Sarah having lunch in the town square, Payogasta, Salta province, Argentina

…and we arrive in the small and welcome town square at Payogasta for lunch in the shade. Every small village in Argentina seems to boast a beautifully kept, pretty, tree shaded square with strong Spanish overtones. They beckon us to retreat from the sun and enjoy a long siesta.

James lying on his back in the grass at Cachi municipal campsite, Cachi, Salta province, Argentina

Most towns also offer good municipal campsites. Having become accustomed to ‘roughing it’ with wild camping, these havens of green with facilities and bbqs have added to the culture shock we have been undergoing since entering Argentina; a much more affluent and ‘European style’ of living.

A tub of Tramontana ice cream in Cachi, Salta province, Argentina

It doesn’t take long in a new country for us to discover our favourite treats. With an abundance of ice cream shops here it’s a done deal, a cyclists’ dream: we can eat ice cream every day. Now we just have to discover our favourite flavour: current winner is tramontana – vanilla ice cream with caramel and small chocolate covered balls of biscuit.

Pouring coffee over a cup of ice cream in Cachi, Salta province, Argentina

We celebrate the completion of another hill by turning the tramontana ice cream into the Italian classic of affogato…pour on hot coffee to enjoy a deliciously cold caffeine/sugar high that’s hard to beat…

Sarah and the bikes and tent at a campsite in Cachi, Salta province, Argentina

…then relax and contemplate…

Bikes leaning against a road sign for the wine route in Salta province, Argentina

…the forthcoming journey into wine country. 

Share

La Ruta 40

December 20th, 2013

As I slumped down into the sand in our chosen patch of desert scrub for the night, flies simultaneously tried to swarm into my eyes, up my nose and into my mouth. I peeled my shirt off my back, un-sticking a three day paste of dust, sweat and sun cream as it went. I cast my mind back over the last 8 hours: 100km of dead flat, scrubby desert into a headwind, with the highlight being a bend at 30km. How exactly did we end up on this road, I asked myself?

I thought back to what other cyclists had told us about northern Argentina: the asados, the red wine, the ice cream, the warmth of the Argentines. Not once, I now noticed, had anyone mentioned the roads as a highlight – in fact the opposite. “Don’t bother with Ruta 40 after Cafayate” they said. “Take the bus – there’s nothing to see”. And it’s true, after the dirt road adventures of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, riding the northern deserts of Argentina along Ruta 40 was – to put it lightly – something of an anti-climax.

However – as we’ve learnt many times over the past two and a half years – on a long bike trip, context is everything. And, for us, that context was sitting in an internet cafe in Uyuni, Bolivia a month earlier, hovering over “Buy now” on a direct flight back to London. After a year and a half of on-off sickness and a further two months lost off the bikes in Peru and Bolivia, we had reached a tipping point. This trip was always meant to be fun, and right now the fun was seriously lacking.

In the end, we didn’t click. We decided to give it one last roll of the dice, in the hope that the lower altitude, better hygiene and warmer weather of Argentina would weave a miraculous cure. That was why I was sat in this desert, riding this road. And, given that context, Ruta 40 was probably one of the best roads we have ridden for a long time. It was flat, fast and paved – everything we would usually go out of our way to avoid. But now, it gave us the perfect chance to regain some of our fitness and confidence, with a healthy dose of direct southerly progress thrown in. If we wanted to reach Ushuaia before winter did, then southerly progress was exactly what we needed right now.

And so was this leg of Ruta 40 really the tedium-filled sweatfest that everyone had made it out to be? Well, not really. For sure, it had its moments. Yes, it was searingly hot. But try a few weeks of pulling on sodden clothes every morning in rainy Patagonia and you’ll soon realise what a pleasure it is to camp in the warm and dry every night. And yes, there was some ugly, uninspiring desert. But we also saw plenty of beautiful desert, and with it experienced the unique peace and solitude of a desert camp miles from the nearest human being.

As always on routes which don’t run past “must see” places, I was reminded that it is the small things that are at the heart of what I really love about bike touring. A moment of exquisite dawn light. A hat tipped in greeting. The shade of a tree at midday. To anyone else they are incidental, un-noticed even. But on a bike, on these routes with “nothing to see”, these the are the things which come to the fore; the memories that you will dream about for years.

And when it felt like we had come so close to losing those moments before we were ready, it was just bloody good to be back on the bike again; doing what we love and immersing ourselves back into the hypnotic daily rhythm of this simple life on two wheels.

James

Sign on Ruta 40 outside Cachi

Ruta 40 is a an Aregentine classic, running 5301km from the Bolivian border to the Straits of Magellan at the tip of Patagonia. Depending on the state of your legs and the direction of the wind, that rolling countdown can either make you feel heroic, or just downright miserable.

Cycling the Ruta 40 Valles Calchaquies

We join the 40 at Cachi, after crossing the Cuesta del Obispo from Salta. This dirt ride to Cafayate proves to be by far our favourite section. Up and down we roll through the Valles Calchaquíes…

Flowers along Ruta 40

…a verdant oasis of lush vegetation following the river…

Parrots in the Valles Calchaquies

…populated by roving patrols of screaming parrots.

Dog licking Sarah on a bike Argentina

Here the welcomes are of a slobbery kind.

Church sign in the Valles Calchaquies

We pass through friendly and well cared-for rural communities…

Community housing in Argentina

…with immaculately tended squares, and gleaming social housing projects. It all feels a million miles away from the bleak harshness of the Bolivian altiplano.

Camping bike touring Valles Calchaquies

A perfect desert camp spot…

Riding the Quebrada de las Flechas

…before a dramatic ride through the Quebrada de las Flechas sees us into Cafayate.

Grapes in Cafayate, Argentina

This is wine country…

James sampling wine in Cafayate

…and so it would be rude not to taste some – even if, like me, your wine knowledge doesn’t stretch much beyond “Ooh, that’s a nice label”.

cycling la 40, Argentina

After Cafayate, we’re onto pavement. This is undoubtedly the 40 at its tedious 50km-without-changing-direction worst.

Dawn cycling the Ruta 40 near Cafayate

And so, you learn to appreciate the small things: the dawn light…

Ruta 40 mountains at dawn, Argentina

…is definitely when the 40 is at its best.

Shade on the 40

The shade of a tree for lunch…

Plaza on the ruta 40

…and the delicious coolness of the mid-afternoon town square siesta…

Grazing horses in plaza on the 40

…where the only thing that might interrupt a cyclist’s snores are the grazing horses.

Mural on la 40

There’s always something of cultural interest too: intriguing murals…

Church at Hualfin, la 40

…a beautiful church at Hualfin to discover…

Guachito Gil shrine

…and the ever present Guachito Gil shrines to peruse.

Roadsign on the 40

Too high brow? Then how about the cartoon road signs…

Peligro sign, Ruta 40

…never lacking melodrama.

Tarantula crossing la 40

Just make sure you don’t nod off and run over the crossing wildlife, both small…

T-Rex on the 40

…and slightly larger. (Don’t ask, I still have no idea)

Frutigran

Of course, it’s vital to keep energy levels up: always ensure a good stash of Frutigran – Argentina’s official cycle touring biscuit, straight out of the ovens of the Seventh Day Adventists.

Salta negra and empanadas

Empanadas and cheese tortillas make a good treat lunch, washed down with a Salta Negra…

Grido's in Argentina

…but come mid-afternoon, the race is on to the nearest town to score the daily ice cream fix. Don Facundo Grido, we salute you – if not always for artesan flavour, then always for good, honest, peso-per-scoop value for money.

Margaux cycling la 40

Speaking of food (for a change), we make some French friends: Margaux, a soon to be organic farmer…

Jérôme

…and Jérôme, a soon to be artisan brewer extraordinaire.

Camping at Eber's ruta 40

We stop together at Eber’s quirky but beautiful Ruta 40 campsite/open air barber’s shop in Salinas…

Dog at Eber's ruta 40

…where Bedders quickly makes friends…

Duck at Eber's ruta 40

…and I ponder the prospects of sneaking a pet duck into my pannier.

Crêpes

In true gallic style, Jérôme and Margaux teach us Brits a thing or two about roadside cuisine.

Crepes

Before long they’ve whipped up an enormous batch of crêpes bretonnes with a delicious caramel topping, which lasts us for the next couple of days.

Cuesta de Miranda, La 40

Still fueled by crêpes, we head up into the all-too-brief coolness of the Cuesta de Miranda and onwards to San José de Jachal. Here, we sadly say our farewells, as the French take a direct route south to visit some organic farms.

Cuesta del Viento, La 40

We leave the 40 behind and head south west towards the Cordillera and some dirt. It’s a dramatic change in landscapes: the greys of the Cuesta del Viento…

Laguna

…the surprise turquoise of its dique

Lush pasture near Rode, Argentina

…and the lush pastoral greens of Rodeo.

Dirt road south of Iglesia

From Iglesia we’re onto dirt, following the spine of the Cordillera south.

Simpsons clouds Argentina

The Simpsons-esque clouds above offer little respite from the heat…

Cooling hat of water over head

…calling for desperate cooling measures.

Gaucho ruta 40

On the hillside above us, Gauchos pass…

Sand cycling south of Iglesia

…and for a few moments everything goes all Bolivian.

Light over la Cordillera

We’re treated to an evening light show…

Camp spot la 40

…before we call it a day and settle in for a night of perfect peace and solitude.

Morning sun

The next morning we soak up the morning sun…

Calingasta

…and then it’s back onto the ripio – heading for Calingasta…

Coffee

…and leaving a caffeine-inspired message for our friend Anna, who is on our tail and chasing hard for a Christmas rendez-vous.

Share

Ingredients:

- 3 mature touring cyclists (choose cuts with 2+ years on the road for a lower fat version)
- 5kg of mixed food per cyclist (opt for quantity over quality, use pasta and porridge as a base)
- As much Argentine red wine as you can carry
- Copious quantities of coffee (if desperate, even the terrible Argentine stuff will suffice)
- One national park with a view and free camping (Parque Leoncito recommended)
- Two observatories for star gazing
- To decorate, a sprinkling of Christmas cheer

Method:

In preparation, pre-heat your grill to “Northern Argentine desert” setting. Once at 40 degrees, take your cyclists and grill slowly but continuously for two months, rotating occasionally to ensure even sunburn. Keep them mildly dehydrated, and marinate in sweat and factor 60 sun cream at least twice a day. Maintain a safe distance from showers or other washing facilities at all times.

A couple of days before Christmas, fill cyclists’ panniers with food and drink until expletives begin to flow continuously. Pedal mixture vigorously to your chosen camp spot, ideally into a vicious headwind. Pour mixed food into cyclists and allow them to rest in the shade until stomachs begin to rise slightly, and ribs become less pronounced. At this point, feed again, and continue this routine for the following 3 days. It may seem obscene, but for best results at least every 30 minutes is recommended.

When necessary, loosen mixture from time to time with a little coffee (especially early mornings) and red wine (afternoon and evenings). On at least one occasion, try to douse your cyclists thoroughly in water with a little added soap. They will complain, but can often be lured into water with leftover scraps. Throughout, keep your cyclists covered under a blanket of cloud. Then, on the evening before serving, remove clouds and bathe your cyclists in perfect starlight.

Finally, your stuffed cyclists are ready to be served – top with a healthy sprinkling of Christmas cheer. However, by this point, I guarantee you will be so repulsed by their smell and habits that the prospect of actually presenting them to your guests will be appalling. It’s probably best just to let them and their strange ways be. Release your cyclists back into the wild for another year – and next Christmas, I’d recommend you just stick to the turkey.

James

Cyclists food stash in Calingasta, Argentina

Christmas food stash safely secured…

Anna cycles into a headwind, leaving Barreal, Argentina

…we head out from Calingasta: Anna versus headwind.

View from Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

Our cool oasis in the desert: Parque Nacional Leoncito, with views across towards Aconcagua and Mercedario.

Crepes made on an alcohol stove

A Christmas day breakfast…

Crepes cooked on an alcohol stove

crêpes bretonnes (merci bien Jérôme et Margaux!) topped with honey…

Cracking walnuts bought in northern Argentina

…and sprinkled with walnuts – a local staple. Not a stupid nutcracker in sight.

Cyclists shower from a tree

Christmas stocking fillers: a bag full of sun-warmed water strung up from a tree means a treat for everyone in sniffing vicinity…

Stickbread made over charcoal

…then it’s onto lunch. We build a fire and whittle sticks…

Stickbread made over charcoal

…to bake South African stickbread – a Rhiannon favourite.

CASLEO Observatory, Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

Perched above the park, CASLEO Observatory makes the perfect James Bond villain’s lair…

CASLEO Observatory, Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

…and the perfect place from which to reach out into the unknown.

Telescope inside CASLEO, Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

Inside, the 1980s telescope…

Guided tour at CASLEO, Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

…calls for some stylish hats, and some serious beard stroking.

Rails for telescope at CASLEO, Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

At night, the roof slides open, and the ‘scope pivots on its rails.

TV screen at CASLEO, Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

It’s a fascinating step back into an analogue world.

Cloud formations over Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

Every evening…

Cloud formations over Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

…dramatic clouds pile up…

Cloud formations over Parque Nacional Leoncito, Argentina

…and stargazing is thwarted – until a magical final night. The sky clears, and we are treated to an unforgettable view of Jupiter and its moons.

Cycling from Leoncito to Uspallata, Argentina

Then it’s back onto the road – towards Uspallata…

Holiday car roof, Argentina

…with Argentine holidays in full swing.

Cycling with view of Aconcagua behind from Barreal to Uspallata

Aconcagua looms behind, the highest peak in the Americas.

Eating lomitos in Uspallata, Argentina

“Eat lomito!” I’ve scribbled on my map above Uspallata – so we do. Thanks Pikes – your one stop shop for peaks, passes…and the best steak sandwich recommendations.

A friendly dog while climbing out of Uspallata to Mendoza

Picking up a campsite friend who refuses to leave…

Climbing from Uspallata to Mendoza via Termas de Villavicencio

…we take the back road to Mendoza, past the Termas de Villavicencio.

Cyclists veggie lunch

A mid-climb lunch – veggies keep the troops happy.

Cycling the descent from Termas Villavicencio to Mendoza

Then it’s across the travesía

Cycling the descent from Termas Villavicencio to Mendoza

and down through the switchbacks – returning to the hot plains for a New Year’s reunion with friends in Mendoza. 

Share

Compañeros

January 15th, 2014

When I handed in my notice and announced plans to make this trip with James, I distinctly remember amongst the mix of enthusiasm and bemused faces, one of my colleagues raising his eyebrows and with heavy sarcasm wishing us “good luck”. When I asked him to explain, he replied “…all that time together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’re going to need some luck; it’ll make or break your relationship”. He was wise and knew well before we did that although the weather, the budget, the physical strain of riding the Americas would all be challenging, perhaps the greatest challenge of all would be spending so much time in the company of one other person.

James and I both worked two jobs for well over a year before we left and saw relatively little of each other in the effort to save as much as possible to make the trip happen. Then, in a pure reversal, we boarded the plane to Alaska to begin a journey which would see us spend practically every waking minute together. In the course of two and a half years, there haven’t been many hours where we have been apart. So undoubtedly our relationship has evolved.

At times it’s felt like a pressure cooker – tough physical moments, sickness, confusion, deliberation and unparalleled highs – just waiting to explode. By nature, thankfully we’re both pretty placid and not inclined to argue but we’re also both opinionated, used to getting our own way and always think we are right; as a result the air has occasionally turned blue during some spectacular foot stamping barneys. As time has passed, the unusual situation of only having each other to depend on has, thankfully, made our relationship stronger, particularly during the frequent low periods when we were ill.

Whilst the relationship might have lost some of its sparkle through the repeated daily routine of riding our bikes and setting up camp, living in our little world of just two cyclists has seen us become each other’s agony aunt, financial advisor, entertainment system (impromptu pedalling concerts being a speciality), chef, life coach, nurse and friend.

I had assumed that we would be the only friends each other had during this journey. Making new friends on the road was never something that I had considered, perhaps because it seemed so improbable. The very nature of our lifestyle, with us always moving, choosing different routes, riding in different rythyms had the odds stacked against any meaningful relationships forming. And besides, just because we are all cyclists doesn’t mean we should instantly get along does it? I have happily been proven wrong however and there are brilliant people we have spent time with – both on and off the bikes – that I truly hope to meet again when we have finished. People who have inspired us, people who have clicked with our sense of humour, people whose riding styles mirror ours, those we have taken under our wing and those who have taken us under theirs.

Spending time with others and travelling with others has eased some of that pressure of 24-7 with one another too. As a couple, you bicker less in the company of someone else, discussing opinions with an ‘outsider’ helps galvanise the opinions you share with your partner and if you all have mutual appreciation for bicycles, coffee, food and language, the myriad of variety within those topics can fuel conversations for hours on end.

Our cycling buddy Lee ticked all of these boxes for us and cycling together with him at the beginning of our trip was ten weeks of taco fuelled silliness that saw us through Baja California, mainland Mexico and into Guatemala.

We went our separate ways in Guatemala after attending Spanish school in Xela. James and I got back on our bikes and Lee stayed behind to continue his studies and fulfil a long held desire to learn salsa. In doing so, he met Heidi and nine months passed before he dusted off his bike and carried on with his tour. Like in all good fairy tales, the heroine wasn’t left behind and Heidi decided to get herself a bike too and came to join him in Colombia. From Bogotá they rode together and had been chasing us throughout Peru and Bolivia. We were finally reunited during our new year stop in Mendoza and made plans to ride on together from there.

Sarah

Lee carving a piece of vacio at Hostel Alamo, Mendoz, Argentina

New Year seen in with seven other cyclists, an asado feast for Heidi’s birthday, Argentine Tango, a merry go round of gear fixing interspersed with ice cream trips and artesan beer drinking. Our time in Mendoza was hectic but fun and most of all it allowed us to eat…a lot.

Cat graffiti on the road out of Mendoza, Argentina

Leaving the city as a foursome, we roll past some graffiti for a local gym.

Sandy stretch of Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

Extra supplies are essential on the next stretch though as there’s nothing out here on the old Ruta 40. In fact the road is not much more than a sandpit.

Car heading into the distance on Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

Only the occasional vintage car…

Dying trres on the Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

…a row of tree skeletons…

Grasshopper on a blade of grass on Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

…and a plague of pretty grasshoppers keep us company.

Lee and Heidi eating biscuits on Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

A shared love of biscuits presents the perfect excuse for regular stops to munch and chat…

Heidi, Lee and Sarah cycling along the old Ruta 40, near Pareditas, Argentina

…before we continue up and down on the dirt. 

Sunset over Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

Camping around here is pretty and easy…

Lee riding in the early morning on Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

…and with bleary eyes, we ride in the early mornings – before the sun and wind pick up in the afternoons. 

Big insect on Lee's hand on Ruta 40 near Pareditas, Argentina

We pick up a stowaway hitchiker. This little guy got folded up in Lee and Heidi’s tent and miraculously survived. We release him back into the wild 60km from home and wonder if he will hitch a ride back?

Sarah and James' bikes on the Ruta 40 near Lago Diamante, Argentina

The 40 continues, with little to distract, until… 

Lee drinking maté near Lago Diamante on Ruta 40, Argetina

…we are invited to drink Argentine maté with a family on holiday at a refugio in the middle of nowhere. Maté (a caffeinated herb) is held in awe in the same way that tea is revered in England and so there is a distinct etiquette and culture surrounding its making and drinking. Lee already knows the most important rule – don’t touch the bombillo (straw).

Lee and James chatting in the road on Ruta 40 near La Jaula, Argentina

Busted! Catching up on all things coffee. 

Lee and Heidi riding away from La Jaula, Argentina

The early morning climb out of La Juala sees Lee and Heidi chasing their shadows up the hill… 

Lee riding across an enormous plateau near La Jaula, Argentina

…bringing us to a huge plateau. We think we’re doing well, until we realise we have miscalculated the distance to El Sosneado.

Lee on sandy Ruta 40 to El Sosneado, Argentina

Lee of course takes it all in his stride whereas Heidi and I don’t find the extra sandy 20km quite so funny. 

An amardillo on the parilla at a campsite in Malargüe, Argentina

A day off the bikes in Malargüe and we plan an asado feast. Our neighbouring campers already have their grill on the go and their speciality dish of the day is armadillo.

James, Lee and Heidi eating an amardillo foot at a campsite in Malargüe, Argentina

We are invited to taste some of the leg and vote overwhelmingly that this poor little critter won’t be making an appearance on our bbq any time soon.

Cycling towards the Chilean border from Bardas Blancas, Argetnina

From Bardas Blancas, we head towards the Chilean border…

Goats running home near Bardas Blancas, Argentina

..and chase the goats home to their corral. 

Lee and Heidi in the road to the CHilean border near Las Loicas, Argentina

As we contemplate the hot and dusty road ahead, Lee and Heidi discuss the finer points of salsa technique…

Putting a tea bag in a hot drinking bottle near Las Loicas, Argentina

…and it gets so hot that the only way to deal with our nearly-boiling drinking water is to stick a tea bag in it.

James, Lee and Heidi in the river near Las Loicas, Argentina

A cool, rushing river is incredibly welcome at the end of a long hot and dusty day. We wallow, we splash; and when it’s time to get out…

Heidi leaves the river near Las Loicas, Argetina

…Heidi does it in style.

Goats in the road near Paso Pehuenche, Argentina

Climbing up towards Paso Pehuenche and the Argentine/Chilean border, a menacing herd of goats brings us to a stop.

Lee and Heidi cycling past Campánario near Paso Pehuenche, Argentina

They graciously allow us through and we continue to climb, past the spectacular peak of Campánario…

An Islas Malvinas sign at the Paso Pehuenche border between Argentina and Chile

…to the border, where a final opportunity is taken to remind us that the Falkland Islands (or Las Malvinas as they are known here) are Argentine.

Chile sign at the Paso Pehuenche border between Argentina and Chile

Into Chile.

Heidi cycling downhill on pavement into Chile after the Paso Pehuenche border between Argentina and Chile

Now heading downhill and on pavement, we are flying…

Sarah overlooking Laguna del Maule near the Paso Pehuenche border between Argentina and Chile

…towards Laguna del Maule.

Lee and Heidi sheltering in the shade mear Laguna del Maule, Chile

Time for some lunch and the fierce sun means we have to improvise and make our own shade.

View of Laguna del Maule near the Paso Pehuenche border between Argentina and Chile

A post lunch swim is tempting but it’s a long way down. So we continue towards Talca, where we have Warmshowers host Daniel waiting for us.

Moon over the valley on the way to Talca, Chile from Paso Pehuenche

All that remains is a 100km downhill through a spectacular valley with, of course…

Lee and a handmade Chilean tortilla, near Talca, Chile

…a few stops to sample some of the roadside food that’s on offer this side of the border.

Share

Lakes & Gates

February 24th, 2014

In my experience, when given the choice between a lake and a gate, cyclists would normally always opt for the lake. Throughout our trip, pedalling past beautiful lakes has brought us peace and contentment. The two mighty lakes of Atitlán in Guatemala and Titicaca in Bolivia spring immediately to mind, but there have been countless lakes along our route to relax by and enjoy.

Gates on the other hand have always represented a temporary or permanent obstacle in our path; an annoyance. Either we have been completely unable to pass or, in deciding to tackle the gate, we have had the onerous task of unloading our bikes, heaving them over the gate and loading them back up again – not much fun with two bikes and ten bags between us.

On this leg of the journey however, it was to be the reverse. The lakes, although pretty, were hidden from us behind a succession of wet and grey days and instead it was the series of gates that were the real pleasure along the road, tempting us along towards the Carretera Austral.

Sarah

Sarah outside the tent near Villarica, Chile

Leaving the northern Chilean coast behind, we are off to a bad start, arriving at Villarrica, portal to the Chilean lake district in the middle of torrential downpour. Unlike our beloved English Lakes, there isn’t even a fascinating pencil museum to shelter in and so we pitch a soggy tent in a soggy field…

Building a beach near the lake in Villarica, Chile

…and wake up to breakfast on a building site. Villarrica sees the potential in tourism and is in the midst of building an artificial beach for its visitors.

A view of Volcan Coñaripe over the lake of the same name, Chile

Things improve when we reach Coñaripe and camp next to the mystical lake…

View of volcan Coñaripe, Chile

…before a beautiful ride, climbing up towards the volcano of the same name.

James picking blackberries in the Lake District, Chile

We are racing against time but the change in the seasons means we can enjoy the blackberries…

James picking blackberries in Chile's lake district

…picking juicy ripe berries as we go is one of the highlights of travelling by bike in the autumn.

Pan amasado, local honey and a flask of tea in the Chilean Lake District

Another highlight of bike travel in Chile is stopping for warm bread straight from someone’s oven. Pan amasado can be found in nearly every village in Chilean Patagonia and this particularly warm, fluffy and comforting batch couldn’t have come at a more welcome time. Straight from the oven with fresh local honey and a cuppa from the flask. Perfect.

Fire station at Puerto Fuy, Chile

Rain again stops play. We are forced to postpone our ferry crossing at Puerto Fuy because the weather is so bad but it leads us to ask for shelter at the cosy new fire station in the village.

Wooden stair rail in the fire station at Puerto Fuy, Chile

Beautifully constructed from local pine, it’s not quite finished yet, but the attention to detail and craftsmanship are evident.

Wood panelled room in the fire station

We stretch out in a warm dry room, listening to the rain hammer outside.

Sarah pulling into the port at Puerto Fuy, Chile, on her bike

By the morning, nothing has changed and it’s a damp journey to the port…

James and Sarah on the ferry across Lago Pirihueico, Chile to Argentina

…reminiscent of soggy days in Alaska at the very beginning of our trip.

Two bikes leaning against a tree at Lago Nonthué , Argentina

The ferry takes us from Puerto Fuy across Lago Pirihueico and back into Argentina. When we arrive at idyllic Lago Nonthué just across the border, the sun finally shows itself…

Rainbow over Lago Nonthué, Argentina

…and we hang around the campsite to watch the rainbows.

View of the lake near San martin de los Andes

No visit to the Argentine lake district is complete without a stop at San Martín de los Andes…

Picture of Sarah's Ecuadorian hat at a campsite in San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina

…where it is time to say goodbye to my faithful but battered old hat, with me all the way from Cuenca in Ecuador (May 2013).

One of the lakes in the Argentine Lake District

The Argentine lake district seems distinctly more attractive to us than its Chilean counterpart…

Light shining on a meadow near San martin de Los Andes, Argentina

…but perhaps that is because the sun shines on this side a great deal more.

Russian style church in a meadow near San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina

Pretty churches with a Russian feel hide behind trees…

A rule measure sticking out of a lkae in the Argentine Lake District

…we ride quietly past…

Lago Espejo, Argentina

…until crystal clear Lago Espejo (Mirror Lake) convinces us to stop riding early and jump into the water.

Man fishing near Bariloche, Argentina

It’s hard not to fall in love with Patagonia…

River near Lago Espejo, Argentina

…really hard.

Shop window of a chocolate shop in Bariloche, Argentina

But there is an uglier side to this area – chocolate shop Swiss-style towns like Bariloche sometimes make the lake district feel like it’s a bit of a circus…

Two circus performers in Bariloche, Argentina

…especially when the circus does in fact roll into town and add to the mayhem.

James and Sarah in front of a distance sign on Route 40, Patagonia, Argentina

Back on the road, we are heading for the less-visited towns of Esquel and El Bolson, stopping along the way to “create” a birthday card for James’ brother Ed. A handily placed road sign with the year of his birth, a hastily prepared poster, a tripod and hey presto we’ve got ourselves a card!

Sarah and James in a bus shelter, near El Bolson, Argentina

Map check in a lovely log bus stop. I could happily live in something like this one day I think.

Road sign for Route 40 into Esquel, Argentina

Unbelievably, we are still on Route 40! It brings us to Esquel where…

A tray of facturas from Esquel, Argentina

…true to form, we seek out the bakery. Facturas are mini pastries to be found in every Argentine bakery in Patagonia. The quality varies but in Esquel we hit the jackpot.

View of the river valley from Corcovado, Argentina

Time for another detour and we choose a route to avoid roadworks at Futaleufu, the traditional border crossing for the Carretera Austral which takes you back into Chile. Keen to avoid the gravel, dumper truck mayhem we have been hearing about we used Skyler’s Off Route blog to plan a more picturesque and fun-filled route.

Road sign from Corcovado to Lago Vintter, Argentina

It’s a route that takes us along dirt roads, past forgotten lakes and through plenty of gates to our destination of the Chilean border crossing at Lago Verde, just a day’s ride from the fabled Carretera Austral at La Junta.

Tree branch hanging over river near Lago Vintter, Argentina

Idyllic camp spots…

A stone through crystal clear water near Lago Vintter, Argentina

…with crystal waters…

Small daisies in a field near Lago Vintter, Argentina

…and pretty little daisies which, I learned after all this time in Latin America are called margaritas. I will never look at a tequila cocktail in the same way again.

View of a windy day at Lago Vintter, Argentina

We reach Lago Vintter on a stormy day. The wind blows caps onto the lake and all of sudden we feel we are by the sea.

Pushing through the wind to Las Pampas near Lago Verde, Argentina

Ploughing through that wind, we head for the hills…

View of the zig zag in the road on the way to Las Pampas near Lago Verde, Argentina

…I love the zig-zag at the end of this dead straight stretch of road.

Picture of policeman Aldo in Las Pampas or Doctor Atilio Oscar Viglione, Argentina

At the end of that zig-zag lies a village that used to be known as Las Pampas and is now called Doctor Atilio Oscar Viglione. Thankfully our generous host that evening has a much more manageable name: Aldo. Head of the local police Aldo wastes no time in taking us in, giving us a bed, plying us with tea and then providing the tastiest indoor bbq I think we will ever eat.

Sign pointing to lake Number 5 on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

Saying goodbye to Aldo, we start on one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had in a long time. We only clock up 30km, slipping and sliding across rivers and through gates but it’s challenging, remote and beautiful…in all the right doses.

Sarah pushing her bike across a river on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

We start the morning with a push across the icy river outside Las Pampas…

James standing at a gate on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…and encounter our first gate…

A gate  on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…and then another.

Sarah on her bike riding a pebbly path on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

I lose count of them eventually, all linked together with pretty, pebbly tracks…

View of Sarah cycling through a gate near Las Pampas, Argentina

…all beautifully engineered…

Gateway on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…leading us to…

Argentine border post at Las Pampas / Lago Verde, Argentina

…perhaps the most pristinely cared for border post in the world. Even the dog is immaculate.

Sarah pushing her bike through a high river on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

I rashly opt to push through the next river fully loaded…

James lifting his bike across the river on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…while James sensibly lifts his across.

Yellow eggs for lunch on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

We fire up the stove for a delicious lunch made with Aldo’s sunshine yellow free range eggs.

Burned trees on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

Post lunch sees us weaving through a fantasmical ghost-wood.

Sarah crosses the gate at the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

One final gate marks another humble international border…

Welcome sign at the on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…and we are in Chile.

View of Lago Verde from the border, Chile

The stunning Lago Verde awaits with a prime camp spot but before we get there, refuelling is needed…

Dog sniffing cake at Lago Verde, Chile

…Aldo has slipped a homemade cake into our panniers and this local hound knows just as well as we do that it’s a tasty snack. What he realises much later to his dismay is that cyclists don’t share!

River near Lago Verde, Chile

We soak up the sights on the Chilean side…

Lancha on the lake at Lago Roosevelt near La Junta, Chile

…and our final camp spot before we hit the Carretera Austral? Why at a lake of course: this time, the serene Lago Roosevelt.

Share

Band of bikers

April 5th, 2014

For the stretch between the end of the Carretera Austral in Chile, all the way to the island of Tierra del Fuego (some 500kms) we barely ever cycled alone. Part of a merry band of bikers, we enjoyed the social riding – the endless banter, the clash and blend of personalities, and of course the food…always the food.

Sarah

Bikes alongside the ferry in Villa O Higgins, Chile

The end of the Carretera Austral is in reality a very dead end, exit to Argentina only being achievable for cyclists and pedestrians. Even for them it’s a bit of a challenge: first a ferry across Lago O’Higgins, then a hike and bike for around 25kms, then another ferry across Lago Desierto and finally you’re in Argentina. We are two of ten cyclists on one of the final ferries of the season.

Nando Padros, cyclist from Cataluna

Joined, amongst others, by the inimitable Nando – otherwise known as el abuelito (grandpa)…

Anthony pushing his bikeup a steep hill with Lago O Higgins behind, Chile

…and Anthony, a Frenchman on a trip from Quito to Ushuaia.

Sarah cycling through the border between Villa O Higgins, Chile and El Chaltén, Argentina

Another low-key border crossing… 

Sarah cycling through the woods at the border between Villa O Higgins, Chile and El Chaltén, Argentina

…which winds through beautiful woods…

Autumn leaves and calafate berries near El Chaltén, Argentina

…with autumn in bloom…

James pushing his bike through a narrow section at the border between Villa O Higgins, Chile and El Chaltén, Argentina

…and as the track narrows…

Sarah pushing her bike through a narrow stretch at the border between Villa O Higgins, Chile and El Chaltén, Argentina

…it turns into a tricky boggy battle, that takes us to another boat across another lake.

A lamb on a roasting cross in the fogon at El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

All tired out, we reach El Chaltén and Flor’s amazing casa de ciclistas. Luck would have it that they’re roasting a whole lamb on a traditional Patagonian asador that very night, and so we feast unexpectedly and catch up with old friends – Anna…

Lee with four kittens on his head at Flor's house in El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

…Lee (plus a few very cute accessories)…

Raul chopping cabbage in the garden at Flor's house El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

…and Raul. So begins a cooking frenzy that will go on for a whole week – at any one time ten cyclists gather in Flor’s tiny kitchen trying to outdo one another with fresh gnocchi, Argentine buñuelos, stuffed apples, flapjack, Scottish cranachan and more.

Fitz Roy range, Argentina

It’s hard to tear ourselves away from the cozy house but the Fitz Roy range, looming directly over town is a good distraction…

Drinking mate by Fitz Roy, Argentina

…and we wander with Lee to find a good spot to drink maté and ponder both the past and the future.

Group of ten cyclists with Flor at her house in El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

The party gathers for a final group photo (courtesy of Tatan) before thanking Flor profusely for her boundless hospitality…

Tatan and Candela cycling away from the Fitzroy range near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

…and we zoom out of town with a delicious tailwind. Tatan and Candela (from Argentina) lead the way…

Sarah, Lee and Heidi cycling away from the Fitzroy range near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

…followed by myself Lee and Heidi, loving the effortless cycling and chatting away. There’s a distinct air that everybody (all ten of these southbound cyclists leaving Flor’s at least) is coming to the end of their trip…

Seven cyclists in front of the Fitzroy range near cycling away from the Fitzroy range near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

…we can’t help stopping for group photos and babbling on with excitement, mixed with anxiety, anticipation and lots of in-jokes.

Abandoned Pink House near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

A day’s ride from El Chalten with that favourable tailwind (we covered 90km in just under four hours) brings us to the fabled “Pink House”…

Cyclists' register on the wall at the Pink House, near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

…an abandoned hotel, where hundreds of cyclists have stopped before us and signed the wall of fame.

Signing the cyclist register in the Pink House near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

I duly add our details – is it a sign of a good trip that I have completely lost track of the year?

Raul lighting a fire in the Pink House near El Chaltén, Patagonia, Argentina

Raul stokes up a roaring fire and we huddle around the warmth, happy to be out of the wind for the night.

Road sign of a tree being blown in the wind on the way to Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

Because when it blows here, it really blows…

Sarah, Lee, Heidi and Kurt stopping for a snack on the way to Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

…making roadside snacks challenging. We take refuge, using each other as windbreaks…

Perito Moreno glaciar near Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

…on our way to El Calafate and the mighty Perito Moreno glacier.

Lineup of seven cyclists in front of Perito Moreno glaciar near Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

Believe it or not, all these cyclists (plus one who didn’t make it into the photo) managed to fit into just one hired VW Golf to get to the national park…

Wide shot of Perito Moreno glacier near Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

…but the uncomfortable journey was worth it – watching the stunning glacier calve into the lake below…

Chunks of ice in the lake at Perito Moreno glaciar near Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

…seeing the chilly details up close…

Perito Moreno glacier

…and marvelling at the overall spectacular. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

Sarah cycling away from Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

Another tasty tailwind leaving Calafate…

Sarah cycling through the pampa near Tapi Aike, Patagonia, Argentina

…and we practically fly into the pampa…

Sunrise at El Cerrito, Patagonia, Argentina

…with its breathtaking skies…

Pink clouds of sunrise at El Cerrito, Patagonia, Argentina

…every morning a new show…

Sarah cycling past a roadside scarecrow near El Cerrito, Patagonia, Argentina

…and its assortment of roadside characters – some less inquisitive…

Grey fox in the bushes near Tapi Aike, Patagonia, Argentina

…than others.

Sarah and Andy cycle past a road sign on the way to Puerto Natales, Chile

Back into Chile and we feel the end is near – even the road signs say so: we are now following the “Route to the End of the World”.

Andy eating crackers in a bus stop on the way to Puerto Natales, Chile

We ride with Andy – fellow Brit and self-confessed hot chocolate addict. Lunching in bus stops we appreciate them anew, as things of beauty: well built, warm and better than most of the Central American hotels we stayed in.

Frozen eggs at Cerro Castillo, Chile

We camp in a playground at Cerro Castillo where it’s so cold overnight, Andy’s eggs are frozen in the morning.

Entrance gate to an estancia near Puerto Natales, Chile

Fighting sidewinds, we pass grand entrances to estancias we cannot see…

Shack in a field on the way to Puerto Natales, Chile

…and humble shacks battened down against the weather.

Two dogs behind a fence in Puerto Natales, Chile

In Puerto Natales, the welcoming party pops up to say hello…

Old boat in the yard at Puerto Natales, Chile

…and we wander through the run-down shipyards…

Close up of abandoned boat in Puerto Natales, Chile

…admiring old hulking ruins…

Hip hop graffiti in Puerto Natales, Chile

…alongside graffiti (you are the hip to my hop)…

Mapuche graffiti in Puerto Natales, Chile

…Resist brother Mapuche! (indigenous people of Patagonia).

Andy brushing teeth in Puerto Natales, Chile

When does the constant movement of cycle touring become normal? Perhaps when brushing your teeth astride your bike in the middle of a busy shopping street doesn’t seem at all strange…

Bus shelter and three bikes by the side of the road on the way to Punta Arenas, Chile

…or when sleeping in a bus shelter feels like a luxurious treat. This architectural gem is our home for the night.

Andy and Sarah waking up in a bus shelter on the way to Punta Arenas, Chile

The three of us squeeze in, make hot chocolate and even watch a film on the laptop. The next morning we drag ourselves away from our cozy spot…

Tree mishapen by the wind on the way to Punta Arenas, Chile

…back into the Patagonian wind…

Andy and his cycling goggles on the road to Punta Arenas, Chile

…and it’s “goggles down chaps” for our final ride into Punta Arenas and the end of mainland South America.

Minefield on the roadside on the way to Punta Arenas, Chile

Past forgotten mine fields…

Boy cycling along the front in Punta Arenas, Chile

…into a port city with a laidback feel…

Large group of imperial cormorants on a pier in Punta Arenas

…a hoarde of resident cormorants…

A wall in the cemetery at Punta Arenas, Chile

…and a fascinating cemetery to mooch around.

A plate of cakes in El Immigrante cafe, Punta Arenas, Chile

And this particular leg of the journey ends as all good journeys should…

Andy with a big slab of cake in El Immigrante cafe, Punta Arenas, Chile

…with fellow cyclists and with cake.

Share

A final dirt detour

April 13th, 2014

Suddenly, the name that we have been heading for so long is close. Too close for comfort, in fact. So close that we might have to start thinking about what comes next.

We scrutinise the map, searching for a way to delay the inevitable. Our escape presents itself: a dirt road looping away from the tedium of the asphalt into the heart of Tierra del Fuego.

It’s the perfect ride: Patagonia in all its multicolour autumn glory, perched precariously on the edge of an icy winter. If I could finish anywhere, then it would be here – on the dirt, in the middle of nowhere, with just the guanacos for company. This is where I feel at home.

But the magnetic draw of the finishing line is too strong. We reach the asphalt once again. End of the World ego trumps my romanticism, and we push on, Ushuaia-bound.

James

 

Sheep on Patagonia estancia

Tierra del Fuego: land of pampa and sheep, corralled in enormous estancias

Martin the shepherd, Estancia Rubi, Tierra del Fuego

…and watched over by shepherds like Martín. An icy downpour has us seeking shelter at his door, and in true Patagonian style we are greeted with a smile, mugs of tea, tray after tray of roasted lamb, and a bed.

Estancia Rubi, Tierra del Fuego

The next morning dawns icy…

Frosty bike handlebars in Patagonia

…everything covered with a hard frost.

Stove in estancia kitchen, Patagonia

We retreat to the stove to defrost frozen hands…

Sunrise over barbed wire fence, Patagonia

…until finally the sun creeps over the horizon.

Cycling Estancia Rubi, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

It doesn’t get much better than a crisp, clear Autumn morning’s ride like this…

Frosty grass, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the world seemingly frozen in time…

Frosty autumn leaves, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…caught between autumn and winter.

Cycling Ruta 9, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

We savour the moment, absorbing every detail of what feel like our last days of South American freedom:

Horses in the frost on Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the ever-present onlookers…

Icyy puddle on Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the roadside art…

Frosty fence on Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

…the plays of light…

Snow peaked mountains, cycling Tierra del Fuego

…the freshly dusted peaks…

Tree in Patagonia

…the ancient waymarkers…

Estancia and snowy mountains, Tierra del Fuego

…and the hidden lives.

Riding Ruta 9, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

These are the days when I could ride towards the horizon forever…

Leaves on the road, Tierra del Fuego

…the magnetic pull of the open road.

Signpost to Ushuaia

And then: Ushuaia calling 123…

Facturas at Panadería La Union, Tolhuin, Tierra del Fuego

…forestalled by a stopover at the legendary Panadería La Union in Tolhuin. It feels like Christmas Eve; the perfect place to spend our final night on the road with empanadas, facturas, a warm bed and good company.  

Share

 

Arriving in Ushuaia, Argentina by bike

We did it!
Anchorage, Alaska – Ushuaia, Argentina
30,893km, 1009 days, 16 countries and a million memories.

Share