This Green and Pleasant Land

Date: 13th April – 29th April 2013

Where: Dover/Folkestone – Hastings – Brighton – Fareham – Winchester – Stonehenge – Kemble – Oxford – Bearley (HOME!)

Distance: 8404 to 8713 miles

Hugs over, we looked around us. The sea-mist temporarily shrouded the vistas of Dover: Here the harbour wall, there the white cliffs, here the castle, there the grotty port buildings. We were back on home tarmac at last. No more ‘asphalt’. We cheerfully found the cycle-path. No more ‘ciclo-vias’. We set off uphill, lungs bursting in our buffet-laden bodies. We’d decorated ourselves with red balloons from the cruise’s quiz, rising the occasional wry smile as we went. No more Andean ‘hills’. The cycle-path took us right along the top of the cliffs, quickly making us realise that we have amazing landscapes right on our doorstep. The only difference being, that after five minutes, the grand scenery was over. No more ‘Pampa’. Then it appeared, like a shining light…the tea-room! Our first British culinary arrangement was nothing short of spectacular: A mug of tea and two tea-cakes with butter! Heaven! Re-invigorated, we made short work of the 2km downhill into Folkestone. No more day-long slogs between abandoned houses where all you see is some distant guanacos.

The Hannis family had arranged a B&B for us that night, and after a satisfying pub dinner with REAL ale, we slept a deep sleep, under a down duvet, with an actual pillow. Rested, we spent the day fossil hunting, before moving to the slightly less glamorous campsite nearby. Here we met Rémi, an old cycle-touring accomplice, who would join us as far as Brighton.

The next day we set off with Rémi acting as our guide (‘Get on the other side of the road guys!’). We followed the coast for much of the day, rediscovering the short sharp hills of the English countryside, as much as the cafe-diners with cheap, filling grub. Confusion reigned at one point as we spotted a giraffe off to our right. ‘Are we in Africa?’ No, just a wildlife reserve, one assumes for animals that just couldn’t hack it in the crowded zoos, and couldn’t go home because British immigration had lost their paperwork. Our cunning plan of attaching the Brazilian sun to the back of the cruise ship and dragging it back to the UK worked a treat, but had rather unfortunate consequences: Firstly we got rather badly sunburnt, and secondly, the Patagonian wind had decided to come along for a holiday too. The resulting arrival time of 7:30pm was a little later than planned, but our warm showers hosts in Hastings were lovely (Abby and co.), and we could leave the next morning well-fed and with eyes wide open.

The next day to Brighton followed the first, except the wind was stronger. Not wanting to arrive at 7:30pm again, we jumped the bikes on a train mid-afternoon, and as such arrived with plenty of time. Here Rémi left us to the devices of the British road network, as he had to return home to go to ‘work’ the next day. Poor guy!

An equally amazing warm showers experience (with Dan) on the 8th floor of a building overlooking Brighton’s sea-front gave us the energy to keep fighting the wind as far as Chichester. At this point, the lure of the train was too much, and once again we hopped on the train. When we arrived in Fareham station, a lone figure was waiting, last seen waving at us from the dimly-lit ferry on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua: Nico Stavrakakis, Sarah’s brother, and cycle-tourer in his own right.

Atmospheric weather welcomes us home as we go along the top of the White Cliffs of Dover

Atmospheric weather welcomes us home as we go along the top of the White Cliffs of Dover

Remi and Geoff with an early morning Folkestone harbour

Rémi and Geoff with an early morning Folkestone harbour

Much of our time on the South coast was spent along shed-lined promenades

Much of our time on the South coast was spent along shed-lined promenades

This green and pleasant land...full of churches, pubs and red phone-boxes

This green and pleasant land…full of churches, pubs and red phone-boxes

Geoff can barely hide his excitement at discovering crumble and custard again!

Geoff can barely hide his excitement at discovering crumble and custard again!

Some people evidently still believe what we've just done was a little stupid!

Some people evidently still believe what we’ve just done was a little stupid!

Since getting home, Nico has spent much of his time perfecting recipes that just couldn’t be cooked in the middle of a rainforest in Honduras. On Sarah’s request, he’d prepared a wonderful Biryani complete with saffron rice. That set the tone of our four-day stay in Fareham…catch-up time on all the food we’d missed and of course with Sarah’s family. The pattern continued when Sarah’s Mum arrived, with her slow-cooked beef brisket. The moment Sarah was really looking forward to happened at last when Sarah’s sister turned up, complete with their little boy Nicholas who Sarah had not seen since he was 3 months old. Now walking and talking, he inevitably controlled everyone’s interest.

After yet more fish and chips it was time to reluctantly move on homewards. We only had a short day to Winchester to stake our claim to the throne of England (by getting to the treasury before anyone else). Unfortunately the monarch didn’t die en-route and not wanting to wait at the treasury (and longest Cathedral in England) any longer, we pedalled off to a veteran warm showers host. Jay is not old by any means, but he has been hosting cycle tourers for over six years. It is no surprise to us that people keep staying with him and his family, such is the hospitality we received. To top it all, his daughter works for the ‘Mars’ chocolate company, and had a car full of free goodies to re-stock our panniers!

Never trust a brother to give your swing a little push!

Never trust a brother to give your swing a little push!

Most of the Stavrakakis clan in the park

Most of the Stavrakakis clan in the park

Cycling through Winchester

Cycling through Winchester

Friends made and reunited: Remi and Sarah, Hastings with Abby, The 'Biryani' with Nico, Winchester with Jay

Friends made and reunited: Rémi and Sarah, Hastings with Abby, The ‘Biryani’ with Nico, Winchester with Jay

Jay had printed out a detailed map to get us to Salisbury, and these roads are undoubtably some of the prettiest we have ever been along in the UK or indeed the World. Helped no doubt by yet another day of full sun, the fields of white flint contrasted with the Spring’s newly green trees and countless daffodils. We took time to go round Salisbury Cathedral (tallest tower in England), and in particular to see one of the few surviving copies of the Magna Carta (one of the first documents expressing people’s rights). A meandering country lane took us onwards to the A303 main road, where a footpath carried us to Stonehenge, probably the most famous of all ancient monuments in the UK. We found a campsite just North of it and camped for what would be the last time.

We awoke early, wanting to reach our destination of Kemble in good time. A quick glance of the map, and we suddenly realised we were in the middle of Black Heath, one of the main areas for target practice for the Army. Sure enough a few miles down the road we spotted a tank camouflaged to our right, and as we went past, it fired, luckily in the opposite direction! That was about as exciting as that day got, apart from the competition to see who could find the most bizarre-named UK signpost. One signpost as we neared Kemble was to a small village named Crudwell, Geoff’s home for most of his early life. We stayed with old family friends (Steve and Jan) in Kemble, and were treated like royalty.

Sarah admiring the view from a typical Hampshire country lane

Sarah admiring the view from a typical Hampshire country lane

Geoff stops to admire an avenue of daffodils

Geoff stops to admire an avenue of daffodils

Dwarfed by Salisbury Cathedral

Dwarfed by Salisbury Cathedral

Approaching Stonehenge along the busy A303 road

Approaching Stonehenge along the busy A303 road

Late evening sun on tent number 3 (zips broke on tent no.2 as well!)

Late evening sun on tent number 3 (zips broke on tent no.2 as well!)

In Devizes, a horse-drawn beer wagon guides us nearer our goal

In Devizes, a horse-drawn beer wagon guides us nearer our goal

Does anyone know where Christian Malford lives? Maybe he lives in New Zealand? (We love British village names!)

Does anyone know where Christian Malford lives? Maybe he lives in New Zealand? (We love British village names!)

The older (and wiser) half of the Hannis family came down to see us again, and we had a short walk around Malmesbury, eventually finding the famous tombstone inscribed with a tale of immense sadness:

In bloom of life,
She’s snatched from hence,
She had not room,
To make defence,
For Tyger fierce,
Took life away,
And here she lies,
In a bed of clay,
Until the resurrection day

RIP Hannah Twynnoy, died 1703. Evidently people didn’t know the perils of keeping pet tigers in those days!

That afternoon, Steve took us through editing all our video clips into one spectacular masterpiece. Having edited numerous videos over the years, it has given us a head-start in understanding what is and isn’t possible with some simple video editing software by speaking to him. Maybe it’ll now take us less than a year to actually create the finished product for us, and of course all of you.

After another tremendous breakfast an old family friend, Phil,arrived. He would join us as far as Oxford and then cycle back home to near Kemble the same day. In order to keep up with his hand-made road bike we ditched our camping equipment with the ever-suffering Hannis family and were now down to two rear panniers each. The road to Oxford passed without a bump, or a hill for that matter, and as such we arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the Iffley meadows nature reserve, and also to sample some Oxford ale in the Isis Farmhouse Pub.

The Kemble Methodist Church...rather in need of repair!

The Kemble Methodist Church…rather in need of repair!

Mother and son on our walk round Malmesbury

Mother and son on our walk round Malmesbury

Cycling along the Thames at Lechlade

Cycling along the Thames at Lechlade

Cycling along the River Thames (Isis) in Oxford...LMH boathouse (Geoff's old college) in the background

Cycling along the River Thames (Isis) in Oxford…LMH boathouse (Geoff’s old college) in the background

Snakeshead frittilaries in Iffley Meadows, Oxford

Snakeshead frittilaries in Iffley Meadows, Oxford

More friends from the road: The Hannis family and Jan and Steve who treated us like royalty in Kemble. Phil, who has diligently commented on the blog all through the trip, and as such a great support to us

More friends from the road: Top: The Hannis family and Jan and Steve who treated us like royalty in Kemble. Bottom: Phil, who has diligently commented on the blog all through the trip, and as such been a great support to us

Phil soon left for the second half of his mammoth cycling day, leaving us to visit an old friend (David) in an ice cream parlour (any excuse) before pedaling up Rose Hill to Clare and Jamie’s house. Old friends from OUMC (Oxford University Mountaineering Club), we quickly felt at home and spent the next few hours drinking G & T whilst Clare whisked away at her homemade mayonnaise. Eventually the damn thing behaved and thickened so that we could get on with the eating part. It was delicious.

We had a good night’s sleep, and an even better breakfast which finished just in time for Jon and Kirsten to knock on the door. This couple (now married) were first encountered in a ramshackle restaurant in El Salvador whilst they were on holiday. We met them again a few days later, and a friendship had been established which only now (over 1 year later) could be continued. A lovely walk along the river to a pub (where we met Alison and Rich (also OUMC)) followed, with bright sun for most of the time. The rest of the time we were fighting tooth and nail against a freak hail-storm. We were glad not to be on our bikes at this time!

The road beckoned again, and the next morning we set off for the final day’s cycling. We had left things a little late, and by the time we had eaten another huge breakfast at Mirek and Kasia’s (old friends from Coventry) we were against the clock (and the wind) to get to Hook Norton for our next social arrangement. Arriving twenty minutes late, we were greeted to the Pub by Sven and Jude. These ex-OUMC friends were visiting from Switzerland, and were keen to meet us having read the blog all the way. As such, they had driven down from Manchester that morning to see us. It has been great seeing so many friends since coming back, it makes us feel very much at home again.

We left the Sun Inn in high spirits, and after one or two roadblocks and hills, the distractions faded, and our thoughts drifted to that first day cycling from Dover, and then further to the first days in Mexico. This adventure was almost over. We made it to Charlcote, and with eight miles to go, Mother Hannis joined the train. We made steady progress against the wind, and flew down the hill past the golf club and into Bearley for the first time in 15months (17 for Sarah). Home at last…now where are our CLOTHES!

Wakey wakey! Clare prepares the first of two great fry-ups we had in Oxford

Wakey wakey! Clare prepares the first of two great fry-ups we had in Oxford

Friends from Oxford: Clare with Basil the cat (both OUMC), Jon and Kirsten from El Salvador, Mirek and Kasia from Jaguar Land Rover, Sven and Jude from OUMC

Friends from Oxford: Clare with Basil the cat (both OUMC), Jon and Kirsten from El Salvador, Mirek and Kasia from Jaguar Land Rover, Sven and Jude from OUMC

Mother Hannis almost breaks the land speed record

Mother Hannis almost breaks the land speed record

Made it to Bearley

Made it to Bearley

Made it home!

Made it home!

It turns out we were quite organised before leaving the UK, and we quickly found most clothes items we wanted, with only a bag of Geoff’s underwear eluding us at this point (editor’s note: it’s over-rated anyway). There still remains quite a bit to be sorted (see photo below), but we are having no issues being ruthless so far. Next on the list is a video of our travels…please have patience with us on this one. It could be a month, it could be a year, however one thing is clear, it will be the next and FINAL blog post. The before and after of writing this blog has been great fun, but frankly I am glad that the actual effort of doing it is now over.

Thanks once again for all the support you blog-readers having given along the way, it made it more than worthwhile. Also thanks to all the generosity shown to us by people here in the UK, and across Latin America.

For those who want to continue reading cycle-touring blogs, please look at Mel and Chris’s exploits as they reverse our journey and go even further North to Alaska. We’ve been reading them, and spend at least two hours stitching our sides together afterwards!

http://youjustpedal.com/

Whatever next…

For a start, we need to get to grips with our old belongings!

For a start, we need to get to grips with our old belongings!

Just Cruisin’

Date: 29th March – 13th April 2013

Where: Santos – Búzios – Salvador – Recife – Arrecife – Cádiz – A Coruña – Dover

Distance: 8371 to 8404 miles

29th March 2013…the day we’d dreamed of since booking the cruise in Bolivia had arrived at last…we opened the last calendar door, checked out of a South American hostal for the last time, and safely reached the port without punctures. Eventually we found where to leave our bikes and boarded the ship, quickly finding the unlimited buffet of scrumptious food! Despite the Police being called, our bikes eventually boarded the boat, and after helping with x-ray, we were then able to push them up to our room via the lift. Now there was nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the ride aboard the MSC Magnifica, with her two swimming pools, six jacuzzis, library, card room and multitude of bars and sun loungers. Being scroungers, the whole experience was a little odd, but retrospectively it was definitely the best way to return home. No jet-lag, time to contemplate, and the added bonus of actually visiting some places on the way.

The first of these was the St.Tropez of Brazil: Buzios. A trendy fishing village with clear waters and a long boulevard of boutique shops. We quickly adopted a disembarkation routine: get up late, get off ship, stroll through nice streets, drink beer looking at ship, totter back to ship appreciating occasional colonial buildings with loud oohs and ahhss. The routine also worked a treat in the old colonial capital of Salvador and the many-sky-scrapered City of Recife. All too soon though, we left South America for the last time and embarked on the open sea leg which would take us back across the Atlantic to Europe.

Getting the measure of the Beast

Getting the measure of the Beast

Enjoying a spot of 13th floor breakfast, before disembarking to visit the lovely village of Buzios, Brazil

Enjoying a spot of 13th floor breakfast, before disembarking to visit the lovely village of Buzios, Brazil

The MSC Magnifica dwarfs the rest of the fleet in Buzios harbour

The MSC Magnifica dwarfs the rest of the fleet in Buzios harbour

Aphrodisiac oysters anyone?

Aphrodisiac oysters anyone?

The well-preserved streets of Salvador, the old capital of Brazil

The well-preserved streets of Salvador, the old capital of Brazil

Another disembarkation destination appears in the porthole...Recife, Brazil

Another disembarkation destination appears in the porthole…Recife, Brazil

Life at sea was a completely different kettle of fish, armed with little more than a twin pack of cards and a set of 21 beer tokens, the outlook was bleak. In the end we survived easily enough though, even having some fun on the way. Each night we enjoyed the company of Paul and Andrew on our table, but the runaway highlight was the quiz which was strung out over three days. Our predominantly young team was great fun and we were allocated the country Norway. This became a home from home and we found ourselves wandering round the ship shouting “Norway” at anyone we thought would listen. Our mix of countries and age meant we actually knew quite a few answers and we ended up coming second to Jamaica. Loaded with MSC goodies we staggered out to the bar and drank two bottles of free bubbly. That was definitely the highlight.

(The astute amongst you will have noticed our mile count drift a little higher during the cruise to 8404miles…the bikes in the gym commanded a wonderful view out over the sea and we managed to persuade our bodies to add a few more miles to the count.)

Team Norway!!! 2nd place in the global domination quiz!

Team Norway!!! 2nd place in the global domination quiz!

Italian night on board...Sergio with the tiramisu, mmmmm!

Italian night on board…Sergio with the tiramisu, mmmmm!

Not much to do but to relax :-)

Not much to do but to relax :-)

Bike touring round Lanzarote

Bike touring round Lanzarote

After 5 days of nothingness except the occasional ghost ship, we see the mainland…Spain, we’ve reached Europe! The City of Cadiz was lovely and time passed more quickly now, so that when we staggered up to breakfast three days later we were greeted by a misty morning view of the White Cliffs of Dover. Emotions welling up, we tried not to choke on our fruit salad and cereal, before disembarking with the bikes.

After 16months away (18months for Sarah) we trod on English soil again. As agreed beforehand Geoff’s family were there to meet us, and with that we started the home leg of the bicycle joyride!

Cadiz Cathedral welcomes us back to Europe

Cadiz Cathedral welcomes us back to Europe

Fried gamba and whiting whets our taste-buds for Europe once more

Fried gamba and whiting whets our taste-buds for Europe once more

A familiar sight, early morning mist over the port of Dover, UK!

A familiar sight, early morning mist over the port of Dover, UK!

The bikes are ready to go back onto English soil once more

The bikes are ready to go back onto English soil once more

Two members of the Hannis family bow down in reverence to the returning cyclists...

Two members of the Hannis family bow down in reverence to the returning cyclists…

...the resulting photo isn't bad either! Together again!

…the resulting photo isn’t bad either! Together again!

Notes for other cyclists thinking about choosing a cruise:

  • Our boat was the same price as flying, the bikes traveled for free and didn’t need to be disassembled, and we had no jet-lag…pretty damn cool really.
  • There are tips to pay additional to your ticket, but these are paid as a lump sum at the end of the cruise, and the amount you pay can sometimes be negotiated.
  • If you buy the ticket in the country of destination (UK for us), the price would have been even cheaper…get friends and family to look.
  • All food and water on board was free (although water could only be got from the 13th deck).
  • Boarding was a little stressful, but trust them and offer to help put the bags through x-ray on the boat.
  • Disembarking at destination was easy, pushing the bikes downstairs and then letting the bikes be unloaded when fully loaded by the ship’s staff.
  • We kept our bikes in our room (lots of space), but the ship’s staff also offered to keep them in a luggage room below deck if we had wanted.
  • You can disembark at ports along the way with your bike easily enough, but remember if you aren’t back in time, the ship will leave without you!
  • People were very interested in our travels and would have gladly watched a presentation of our travels. We didn’t want to, but if you feel capable of doing this contact the cruise company directly and offer…you may get a discount!

Goodbye South America!

Date: 18th March – 28th March 2013

Where: Buenos Aires (Argentina) – Foz do Iguazu (Brazil via Paraguay) – Santos

Distance: 8333 to 8371 miles

Hello and welcome to the last blog post from South America! As you read this we are boarding our cruise home. We have been looking forward to this ever since we first came up with this ruse in Bolivia. Free food, free swimming pools, free cabin, but everything else costs. Cycle tourers just need a place to eat, sleep and exercise, so I think we’ll be OK!

Our trip from Buenos Aires to the Iguazu Falls was typically complicated. This time the guilty culprit was the bus driver of Crucero Del Norte. When we showed up with our bikes he plainly and frankly said ‘no’. We found this very frustrating given we were sold the ticket having made it quite clear we were traveling with bikes and they weren’t boxed. Eventually customer service came to the fore, and our bikes were loaded, but then came the exorbitant fees for carrying the bikes, three times what the desk had said. At this point both of us were so fed up with the debacle that we paid up, but the whole scenario, plus the fact that half the bus were looking at us, made us close to tears. Seeing this the evil staff thrust money back into our hands, in doing so exposing their cunning plan for extorting cash from foreigners. They had been treating the Paraguayan passengers with the same contempt.

At last, we were on the bus, and now the staff were friendlier, better late than never I guess. The ride on the bus was about as interesting as an end-of-season football match between two clubs with nothing to play for. Coincidentally 90 minutes late, the referee called time on the game and we were dropped in our 15th country: Paraguay. We had come here to save £30 on bus tickets as Ciudad Del Este was not exactly a tourist destination. We could see why, with all sorts of people, noise, and food crowding the streets…a cyclist’s dream! Juices and food was thrust in our direction as we cycled, luckily we could use our Argentinian cash to buy some of their bbq kebabs. We quickly reached (and nearly missed) the immigration post, and scooted over the bridge to country 16: Brazil.

Hopping off the bus for some street food in Paraguay. Note the region’s (Misiones) notorious red soil.

Hopping off the bus for some street food in Paraguay. Note the region’s (Misiones) notorious red soil.

Sarah outside the Parguayian immigration office

Sarah outside the Parguayan immigration office

We’re in Brazil, and at last Geoff’s t-shirt makes sense! We found some IPA too!

We’re in Brazil, and at last Geoff’s t-shirt makes sense! We found some IPA too!

Geoff’s photographic memory of the entirety of google maps easily navigated us to a newly founded Casa de Ciclista in Foz do Iguacu, which the local cycle association (ACCI) has set up. Luciano and Fabio were excellent hosts, and made our time there absolutely perfect. After a day where rain stopped play, we went to the Brazilian side of the amazing Iguazu Falls and then the Argentinian. We were lucky that the falls had four times as much water as normal in them, making the spray and effect of so much gushing water even more spectacular! We’ll let the photos speak for themselves for this natural wonder:

A curtain of waterfalls appears as we approach the valley

A curtain of waterfalls appears as we approach the valley

Walkways take us right out to the heart of the valley directly above the big drop

Walkways take us right out to the heart of the valley directly above the big drop

Geoff proudly displaying his Florianapolis Ironman T-shirt (gift from ‘The Ironmen’ – see Parque Nacional Los Alerces, Argentina)

Geoff proudly displaying his Florianapolis Ironman T-shirt (gift from ‘The Ironmen’ – see Parque Nacional Los Alerces, Argentina)

In the distance water plunges down the devil’s throat…tomorrow’s agenda in Argentina

In the distance water plunges down the devil’s throat…tomorrow’s agenda in Argentina

An amazing place where water becomes mist becomes cloud

An amazing place where water becomes mist becomes cloud

Impromptu evening BBQ organised by the ACCI

Impromptu evening BBQ organised by the ACCI

Happy with our accommodation (behind)

Happy with our accommodation (behind)

Another day, another walkway…this time to driectly above the devil’s throat

Another day, another walkway…this time to directly above the devil’s throat

What a lot of water!

What a lot of water!

Now that is a curtain of water!

Now that is a curtain of water!

A brief moment when we tore our eyes away from the water

A brief moment when we tore our eyes away from the water

A bounty of butterflies littered the pathways, it was like Ecuador all over again

A bounty of butterflies littered the pathways, it was like Ecuador all over again

A rainbow splits light and dark

A rainbow splits light and dark

Magical!

Magical!

Magical food! (Home-made Tapioca)

Magical food! (Home-made Tapioca)

We went for a Saturday cycle-ride with the ACCI to Argentina again (crossing the border for the eighth time this trip) to a landmark where you can see into three counties (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) at the confluence of the Iguazu and Parana rivers. Around 30 Brazilian (and 2 Scottish English) cyclists caused chaos on the streets of Argentina before stopping for one or three beers and cycling home in the dark. It was great fun, and we’re sure to source out or start up something similar and so relaxed in the UK when we return!

ACCI at the exact border between Brazil and Argentina

ACCI at the exact border between Brazil and Argentina

With the Argentinian three countries landmark

With the Argentinian three countries landmark

Time to stop for a beer

Time to stop for a beer

When we got back to the casa, we were surprised to find Corinne and Joseba who we last (briefly) met in the La Paz Casa de Ciclista! They had reached Ushuaia a month earlier than us and after bussing to Buenos Aires had cycled Northwards. They finish soon, after meeting and hooking up on the road four years ago! For those people wanting to see a world tour blog…visit theirs (see the links page)!

The bus to Santos from Foz was the polar opposite of our last Argentina bus experience. Professional and quick, with no money exchanging hands for the bikes, we were more than pleasantly surprised. In no time we were in Santos, and set about shopping to make ourselves more presentable for the cruise. In between we went for the odd ride round town, made minor celebrities of ourselves at the local bike shop, and relaxed on the beach watching the locals practising football (we didn’t see Pelé though in his hometown).

With Corinne and Joseba as we bid the casa de ciclista goodbye

With Corinne and Joseba as we bid the casa de ciclista goodbye

The 1000m vertical hillside from Sao Paulo to Santos gave great views down to our final destination!

The 1000m vertical hillside from Sao Paulo to Santos gave great views down to our final destination!

Surfing with the locals

Surfing with the locals

Watching the beach volleyball from the cycle-path

Watching the beach volleyball from the cycle-path

Coconut anyone?!

Coconut anyone?!

The Bandavelo (Damien and Thomas) are on a cruise from Buenos Aires to Venice, and coincidentally were stopping in Santos on the 26th. We went down to try and find them, but it was like finding a cyclist in the pampa, so we resorted to taking the following picture to give you all a taste of just how big our cruise ship is going to be! Sleeping in a drainage ditch under the road it definitely isn’t going to be!

Getting the size of the Beast: the Bandavelo’s cruise ship

Getting the size of the Beast: the Bandavelo’s cruise ship

The Mega-hitch

Date: 6th March – 17th March 2013

Where: Ushuaia – Peugeot 206 (Rio Grande) – Peugeot 206 (Rio Gallegos) – Peugeot 206 (Somewhere in the pampa) – Peugeot 206 (100km from Buenos Aires) – Buenos Aires

Distance: 8324 to 8333 miles

Apologies for the cheesiness that follows, but some things just have to be written, so if we’re all sitting comfortably, we shall begin:

Before we begin this post, we want to thank everyone who has been following us so far, and encouraging us with comments (in or outside the blogging environment) and ‘liking’ our adventures. Those little bits of effort on your part have really made a difference and kept us going. We plan on keeping the blog going until we return to our house in the UK and will then hopefully finish with an internet link to a video of our adventure.

Well, Ushuaia, it all happened so suddenly. As promised in the last blog, our thoughts went something like:

We’re tired. Need somewhere to sleep.

We should eat. Need steak.

We should celebrate. Need alcohol.

We are asleep. Start to dream.

We dreamt of brilliant blue lakes, beautiful mountains, sparse deserts, lush forests, and of course the people and food we’ve had on the way. Every time thoughts drifted towards the ‘more difficult’ parts of the trip, it was all too easy to gloss over them and think instead of the friends we’ve made, stories we can tell, and skills we’ve learned.

We did little of note in Ushuaia itself, but instead took the chance to meet up with the friends still on the road: Over the next two days we shared stories and caught up with Jorge, the Bandavelo, and Emilien and Xinhan. Martine and Matthijs were there too. They all helped us complete this trip too, just knowing a friend is somewhere on the road nearby helps immensely!

For those who remember Nicaragua, yes the cigar did make it, and still in one piece! It wasn’t exactly enjoyable, but everytime it resurfaced in one of our panniers throughout the trip, the words on the side of it: ‘Not to be opened till Ushuaia’, kept reminding us of where we were going. (Link to original photo of the cigar: CLICK HERE)

Some of the friends we managed to meet in Ushuaia: (top) M and M, (inset) Jorge, (bottom Bandavelo, Emilien, Xinhan, Gustavo, and Tomas

Some of the friends we managed to meet in Ushuaia: (top) M and M, (inset) Jorge, (bottom Bandavelo, Emilien, Xinhan, Gustavo, and Tomas

The port of Ushuaia. THe posh sailing boat in the middle is taking our friends (EMilien and Xinhan) firstly to Antartica and then Cape Town: Lucky them!

The port of Ushuaia. The posh sailing boat in the middle is taking our friends (Emilien and Xinhan) firstly to Antartica and then Cape Town: Lucky them!

Various photos of cigar-smoking lunacy

Various photos of cigar-smoking lunacy

We spent a day in Ushuaia exploring options for traveling North to Buenos Aires. The plane was expensive, the bus, twice as expensive. However luck was on our side. Four months ago a rather portly ex-trucker was relaxing in some hot springs just outside Pucon. We got talking and he told us that many car transporters travel down to Ushuaia full and return empty, we should enquire at the Restaurant Julio where all the truckers eat…

The following day we set off to find the restaurant, figuring it would be along the coast where all the containers seemed to be. We quickly established that Restaurant Julio was actually in Rio Grande, but that the YPF petrol stations were where the truckers congregated. On finding the YPF, we spent two hours speaking to about eight separate lorries, having positive responses from all, and two tentative offers of lifts! Megabonus!

That afternoon one of the offers became concrete, and we were on! All we had to do was get to the YPF petrol station out of town in two hours time…we rather rapidly started packing! Panic packing over, we pedaled hard, and made it just in time.

Lucas and the half-full car transporter pulled up and we gladly loaded our bikes and jumped on, and the Mega-hitch (equivalent to London to Athens) and the Mega-lie began! The side of our lorry was covered in anti-British Malvinas propaganda, so Sarah told them we were from Scotland. They had no idea where ‘Escocia’ was, so all seemed fine, and we weren’t left on the side of the road there and then. One hour later and between us we’d mentioned ‘Inglaterra’ (England) at least four times. Lucas began to look confused!

The same time David Cameron decides to hold a referendum on the Falklands, we get into this lorry for five days!

The same time David Cameron decides to hold a referendum on the Falklands, we get into this lorry for five days!

It's not long before Sarah gets to grips with gaining her HGV licence

It’s not long before Sarah gets to grips with gaining her HGV licence

Stopping for a brief snack, and 'Oh, look, it's a ham and cheese sandwich...again!'

Stopping for a brief snack, and ‘Oh, look, it’s a ham and cheese sandwich…again!’

Things got even more random as the evening went on. He put on a DVD of Fatboy Slim on Brighton Beach, cue lots of drunk English people making fools of themselves! We made a conscious effort to be thankful we were from Scotland. Thankfully, we reached Rio Grande and stopped for the night. Lucas gave us a choice of room (Peugeot) 206, the (Nissan) Pathfinder suite, or the rather battered (Peugeot) 505. We chose the 206, and after the obligatory trucker food, had the first of many perfect night’s sleep.

On we went, past more and more pampa. At one point we went past a lorry crushed by the side of the road. It had been driving empty when a gust of 130kph picked it up and threw it off the road. We were really lucky with our windy experiences! Nothing else happened of much excitement, except that one night we might possibly have slept in our room 206 whilst the car transporter was moving. We justified the risk to ourselves though, by figuring we could put seat-belts on while we slept!

Finally, 86 hours later, after a diet predominently consisting of ham and cheese sandwiches with the occasional milanesa sandwich (kind of like schnitzel) thrown in for a bit of variety we arrived! Geoff promptly left a bag in the car to be retrieved in yet another Geoff and Sarah adventure! Annoyed with ourselves, we got on the motorway into Buenos Aires for 50m before being stopped (it’s illegal). The Policemen stopped a van for us though, and it took us within four blocks of our warm showers host: Virginia! Lucky to the end!

To briefly put our luck in context, the Bandavelo took eight days to hitch, changing rides four times, with the low point being when their empty car transporter was re-directed to Bariloche when 1000km from Buenos Aires! Other cyclists reading this blog…you have been warned!

Our bikes safely strapped onto the car transporter

Our bikes safely strapped onto the car transporter

Curtains securely drawn in hotel room 206 during a rare lay-in

Curtains securely drawn in hotel room 206 during a rare lay-in

Endless pampa drifts by as we head up North

Endless pampa drifts by as we head up North

The final stop before Buenos Aires...Thank you Lucas!

The final stop before Buenos Aires…Thank you Lucas!

Relaxing with a milkshake and orange juice, whilst waiting for our warm showers host in Buenos Aires: Virginia

Relaxing with a milkshake and orange juice, whilst waiting for our warm showers host in Buenos Aires: Virginia

We waited awhile for Virginia to return from her morning chores, but we didn’t have to wait long. She was the perfect host, and we enjoyed our time thoroughly in Buenos Aires, in big part due to the safe and comfortable space we had staying with her. Our stay is best told through photos captions of this lovely city where old meets new almost everywhere.

Beautiful old architecture, shaded by tree-lined streets abounds all over Buenos Aires

Beautiful old architecture, shaded by tree-lined streets abounds all over Buenos Aires

Down by the docks, the architectural slant definitely leans towards the modern (and very expensive)

Down by the docks, the architectural slant definitely leans towards the modern (and very expensive)

Old fuses with new as we explore the City by foot for a few days

Old fuses with new as we explore the City by foot for a few days

The voice of Evita is still everywhere, preaching peronist politics to the people

The voice of Evita is still everywhere, preaching peronist politics to the people

We take a number of completely non-framed photos as we continue to explore round the City. If only Ska-P had been one week earlier! Gutted!

We take a number of completely non-framed photos as we continue to explore round the City. If only Ska-P had been one week earlier! Gutted!

Another year has gone round and the jacaranas are coming into bloom again since we started!

Another year has gone round and the Jacarandas are coming into bloom again since we started!

Going out for a 'parrilla' (meat-feast) with Virginia and some of her relatives

Going out for a ‘parrilla’ (meat-feast) with Virginia and some of her relatives

We spend a morning wandering the streets of Boca

We spend a morning wandering the streets of Boca

Parts of it are very colourful, but a little over-touristy for our liking

Parts of it are very colourful, but a little over-touristy for our liking

Some parts still seem to be authentic though

Some parts still seem to be authentic though

We wander round the famous Boca Juniors stadium, home to some famous players apparently...

We wander round the famous Boca Juniors stadium, home to some famous players apparently…

In the afternoon we visit the streets of the San Telmo district, stopping awhile to watch Tango dancing for the tourists

In the afternoon we visit the streets of the San Telmo district, stopping awhile to watch Tango dancing for the tourists

In Puerto Natales, Geoff had a good idea, and the 'countdown calendar' was born...a thing we've missed from home to open everyday

In Puerto Natales, Geoff had a good idea, and the ‘countdown calendar’ was born…a thing we’ve missed from home to open everyday

After collecting Geoff's bag in the morning we visited the Recoleta cemetary, home to the dead famous people of Buenos Aires

After collecting Geoff’s bag in the morning we visited the Recoleta cemetary, home to the dead famous people of Buenos Aires

Teachign Virginia the basics of bike mechanics as she prepares for her tour

Teaching Virginia the basics of bike mechanics as she prepares for her tour

From here we plan on getting a bus to Paraguay and quickly cycling into Brazil to visit the Iguazu Falls. Our time in South America is coming to an end, less than two weeks to go now! Oh yes, and in case you hadn’t heard: the new Pope is from Argentina (and a Peronist apparently).

A new Pope is born, let's hope he likes bicycles!

A new Pope is born, let’s hope he likes bicycles!

To the Ends of the Earth

Date: 26th February – 5th March 2013

Where: Punta Arenas – Coastal camp – Penguin Palace – Argentinian border waiting room – Rio Grande – Tolhuin – Ushuaia

Distance: 8007 to 8324 miles

We were now only 500km from the end of the world and it didn’t take much to get two excited cyclists out of bed and onto the ferry to cross to the island of Tierra del Fuego. Dolphins joined in the fun as we neared the port of Porvenir, jumping clear of the water by the side of the boat.

There is a popular philosophical question that goes something like: ‘If a cyclist screams at the top of their voice in the Tierra Del Fuego pampa, and no-one is around to hear it, do they make a sound?’ The answer is quite simple…it depends which way the wind is blowing! Luckily it was behind us, and the help this gave us cannot be underestimated. With winds often exceeding 100kph in the wide open expanse of pampa, we have heard first-hand cyclist stories of five-day missions to cross the 150km of ripio. However for us, the helpful wind coupled with ripio (mostly) akin to asphalt let us thoroughly enjoy our time on the island.

A last chance to enjoy a Chilean completo (hot dog)

A last chance to enjoy a Chilean completo (hot dog)

Our latest full moon experience at sunset in Punta Arenas

Our latest full moon experience at sunset in Punta Arenas

Meeting more old friends: Francisco from the Rhiannon Community Farm in Ecuador

Meeting more old friends: Francisco from the Rhiannon Community Farm in Ecuador

Boarding the boat for the Island

Boarding the boat for the Island

This presumed route of flat pampa is actually anything but that. It began with short steep hills, sparse ramshackle fishing huts, rough wild coastline… it was like we were back in the Scottish islands. We were enjoying ourselves and stopped early by the coast sheltering from our windy friend behind a boat. The perfect relaxing evening was completed by a passing pod of inquisitive dolphins.

Little did we know, but this would be the last time we’d put up our tent. We slept well and were on the road early, climbing away from the sea. We quickly reached the flat nothingness of the pampa, then the first set of trees (56km from Porvenir), and the second set of trees (80km), and the crossroads bus stop (100km), all the time being propelled by the wind. At this point Sarah (and Geoff’s Mum) decreed that we would turn right for 15km to visit a colony of king penguins which are establishing the only colony outside of Antartica. We  arrived at 2:30pm leaving the whole afternoon to settle down and enjoy the antics of the penguins. Although it pains me to say it, it was well worthwhile!

Coastal communities similar to the Hebrides, Scotland

Coastal communities similar to the Hebrides, Scotland

The hilly coastal section

The hilly coastal section

We’ve reached the sea again: seagull party!

We’ve reached the sea again: seagull party!

A long-overdue view of our pressure-cooker food: tomato and tuna pasta with parmesan cheese, mmmmm

A long-overdue view of our pressure-cooker food: tomato, courgette and tuna pasta with parmesan cheese, mmmmm

Early sun on the tent

Early sun on the tent

There were never more than 40 penguins on show, but the small number was more than compensated for by the fact that we could easily watch individual behaviour. Eggs, new-born chicks, proper fluffballs, and all ages of parents were on show. It was fascinating to watch, and so we did for the next three hours, stopping only to cook. A late-evening glimpse and then we were asleep inside the Penguin Palace (the big visitor tent) warm in our sleeping bags. They even filled up our water bottles, and as such the 12000 Chilean peso (about £15) entrance fee was really good value.

Climbing up from the coast to reach the pampa

Climbing up from the coast to reach the pampa

We reach the nothingness of the pampa (first group of trees on right)

We reach the nothingness of the pampa (first group of trees on right)

Arriving at the penguin camp (the Penguin Palace visible in the background)

Arriving at the penguin camp (the Penguin Palace visible in the background)

King Penguins on an Easter Egg-hunt – can you find it?

King Penguins on an Easter Egg-hunt – can you find it?

Pppppppick up a penguin!

Pppppppick up a penguin!

All four chicks on show: (L-R) Fat Fluffball, New-born, Mini Fluffball, Dead :-(

All four chicks on show: (L-R) Fat Fluffball, New-born, Mini Fluffball, Dead :-(

Penguin chorus choir auditions

Penguin chorus choir auditions

The Return of the Kings

The Return of the Kings

'I'm stuck in the middle with you...'

‘I’m stuck in the middle with you…’

Our viewpoint (we were glad of Sarah’s binoculars)

Our viewpoint (we were glad of Sarah’s binoculars)

‘How was your day?’

‘How was your day?’

Cooking up some seagull stew for dinner

Cooking up some seagull stew for dinner

Caption Competition! (Please comment below!)

Caption Competition! (Please comment below!)

We again made quick time to the border and the tarmac, staying in the waiting room on the Argentinean side for the afternoon and night. Here we assessed Sarah’s front derailleur gear cable, which had broken en-route, both agreeing it was un-fixable without more plastic housing, and thus restricting Sarah to only her middle wheel on her crankset. The last day through the hills to Ushuaia would be tough now! Later Damien (half of the bandavelo – see links page) turned up with three friends and shared the room. We first met them in Cusco and now we would be finishing together. A brief walk from the immigration office and we were standing in front of the Atlantic Ocean watching as the sun went down behind us. It was the first time we’d seen it since Colombia over eight months ago. Our trip down South America was truly nearly over!

The spectacularly-broken gear cable and housing

The spectacularly-broken gear cable and housing

Argentinan Tierra Del Fuego – a land full of signposts (mostly anti-English occupation of the Malvinas!)

Argentinan Tierra Del Fuego – a land full of signposts (mostly anti-British occupation of the Malvinas!)

Finishing off the ripio part of the pampa. The lorry shows the wind was clearly with us!

Finishing off the ripio part of the pampa. The lorry shows the wind was clearly with us!

To the East - the Atlantic Ocean once more!

To the East – the Atlantic Ocean once more!

To the West – the dusty sunset

To the West – the dusty sunset

The next two days to Rio Grande and then Tolhuin passed quickly. The flat asphalt with occasional sea-views was not exactly inspiring. We didn’t care though as we were rapidly closing in on our goal. At one point we spotted a killer whale (orca) off the coast with the binoculars, but other than that nothing remarkable happened on the road. Where we stayed in Rio Grande was a different matter though! All was calm in the hostal Argentino until at 7pm three more cyclists came in through the gates. We first rode with Jean-Baptiste on the way out of Trujillo, Peru, and having followed each others progress all the way South he had come to find us at the only place cyclists really stay in the City (Click here for the Peru blog). It was great to be tracked down and meet up to share stories with him. The other two cyclists have been an even bigger part of our trip: Emilien and Xinhan were first encountered in Nicaragua, and we rode the SW corner of Bolivia together (Click here for the Bolivia blog). Having ridden crazily hard for two months from Valparaiso in Chile, they had caught us up with only a couple of days to go! It was good to see them again. We met again the next night in the La Union bakery in Tolhuin: A cyclist and tourist institution with the best churros and empanadas on Tierra Del Fuego.

Oil wells on the road to Rio Grande

Oil wells on the road to Rio Grande

Meeting old friends: with Jean-Baptiste in Rio Grande

Meeting old friends: with Jean-Baptiste in Rio Grande

Cycling by the sea as the kilometres drop to reach Ushuaia

Cycling by the sea as the kilometres drop to reach Ushuaia

Making new friends: with Mora the dog at the Tolhuin bakery (flour store on the right)

Making new friends: with Mora the dog at the Tolhuin bakery (flour store on the right)

Meeting old friends: with Emilien and Xinhan in the gynamsium dormitory of La Union

Meeting old friends: with Emilien and Xinhan in the gymnasium dormitory of La Union

From Tolhuin 1000m of ascent and 104km takes the weary cyclist into Ushuaia. With heavy rain forecast we set off anyway, keen to get to our destination. It was already raining, and did so on and off for most of the day. For the whole day Sarah rode out of her skin leaving Geoff struggling behind meaning we quickly reached the final valley, whereupon, like every happy fairytale, the sun came out. We could then enjoy the last few kilometres of cycling before rounding an innocuous-looking bend and suddenly reaching the destination: Ushuaia. A moment to savour, and one we’ll remember all our lives. So…the 5th March, 400 days exactly after starting together, we had arrived. Photos were taken, hugs exchanged and the dawning realisation that we had actually made it to the end of the world began to sink in.

Setting off in the rain for Ushuaia

Setting off in the rain for Ushuaia

Riding past the Lago Escondido which was ironically mostly hidden by the rain and clouds

Riding past the Lago Escondido which was ironically mostly hidden by the rain and clouds

Beautifully coloured moss moorland as we enter the final valley

Beautifully coloured moss moorland as we enter the final valley

The entrance to Ushuaia

The entrance to Ushuaia

Looking down on the City and VERY happy!

Looking down on the City and VERY happy!

In the next post we’ll talk a little more of our time in Ushuaia and the thoughts currently rushing through our brains at this emotional time, but for now we’re just glad to be here. Then there is the small issue of how the hell to get to Buenos Aires without breaking the bank. It could never be as simple as getting on a plane for us!

Pampa pampa pampa

Date: 14th February – 25th February 2013

Where: El Calafate – El Cerrito camp – Rio Turbio – Puerto Natales – P.N.Torres Del Paine – Puerto Natales – Morro Chico – Punta Arenas

Distance: 7740 to 8007 miles

So, just for a moment imagine you are dreaming, looking into the future. Imagine you can see two tiny cyclists on one big island: Tierra Del Fuego. They are only 210km from Ushuaia, ‘El Fin Del Mundo’. Naturally they’re very excited. Suddenly a spoke pokes you, and you’re awake…where are Sarah and Geoff? Where have they been?

One word, one answer: Pampa. Fear it, love it, loathe it, ride it. No matter what, it is there, and must be crossed.

In El Calafate there is only one touristic destination, Hernando (our Medellin host in Colombia) raved about it: Glacier Perito Moreno. This is one of the only glaciers in the world that is stable; advancing and retreating equally each winter and summer. It was truly stunning and we’re glad we visited.

A view worth hitching for: Glacier Perito Moreno

A view worth hitching for: Glacier Perito Moreno

Taking in the view of the glacier spreading up the valley

Taking in the view of the glacier spreading up the valley

Collapse of a giant results in a tidal wave

Collapse of a giant results in a tidal wave

Glacier Perito Moreno, still advancing!

Glacier Perito Moreno, still advancing!

So to the pampa. A tailwind and other cyclists took us to the first crossroads, then we were on our own. The tailwind weakened and a big hill tested us. At the top only pampa remained; an altiplano of grass; cold and unforgiving. We stopped where many cyclists stop at El Cerrito and had a bad experience with the jefe (supervisor) at the time. As such we left really early, but quickly ran into a headwind of gigantic proportions. Here was the Patagonian wind we had heard off! Having been pushed off our bikes countless times within a km we resorted to pushing. Having been blown over a number of times in only a few dozen metres we flagged down a  truck (in the wrong direction). Our luck was in! Esteban and Antonio were going to El Calafate for the day and then returning to Rio Turbio that same day, thus taking us South. It was surreal to find ourselves swanning around a casino in El Calafate when we had been fighting wind tooth and nail just hours earlier.

Antonio then offered for us to stay with him, and we did so with gusto, glad to have escaped the pampa. In all we stayed two days with him before finally leaving for Puerto Natales.

Leaving El Calafate with new friends from Scotland and Bulgaria

Leaving El Calafate with new friends from Scotland and Bulgaria

Early morning pampa sun, and nothing to see, nothing to do, just pedal

Early morning pampa sun, and nothing to see, nothing to do, just pedal

With Antonio and Esteban about to eat dinner

With Antonio and Esteban about to eat dinner

A Grecian dinner all ready for our host Antonio

A Grecian dinner all ready for our host Antonio

Entering Chile for the fifth time at Paso Dorotea from Rio Turbio

Entering Chile for the fifth time at Paso Dorotea from Rio Turbio

Cycling past the sculptured sea-front of Puerto Natales

Cycling past the sculptured sea-front of Puerto Natales

Enjoying a treat in Puerto Natales: Cadbury's Chocolate, sooooo good!

Enjoying a treat in Puerto Natales: Cadbury’s Chocolate, sooooo good!

Puerto Natales is the base for the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, with some of the best trekking in Chile. Most people do the ‘O’, or the watered down ‘W’. We did something resembling a ‘V’, and thoroughly enjoyed it. On the last day we even met some old friends from Costa Rica: Stefan and Swantje. It is still amazing to us how small the world is for traveling folk.

Welcome to the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

Welcome to the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

Guanaco reflection on the way to Lago Pehoe

Guanaco reflection on the way to Lago Pehoe

Setting off for the hills

Setting off for the hills

Entering the Valle Frances

Entering the Valle Frances

The snowy ridge of Mt.Frances framed between rocky peaks

The snowy ridge of Mt.Frances framed between rocky peaks

More icefall, this time from Glacier Frances (left). It results in an ice waterfall (right)

The two-toned mountains of Valle Frances

The two-toned mountains of Valle Frances

Up early for the Torres Del Paine sunrise: not as red as normal!

Up early for the Torres Del Paine sunrise: not as red as normal!

Old friends! Stefan and Emma from Costa Rica (www.kontraer.com)

Old friends! Stefan and Swantje whom we first met in Costa Rica (www.kontraer.com)

We rested a day more in Puerto Natales to avoid rain, and left late for Punta Arenas, stopping in Morro Chico. There we met four Englishmen cycling North. ‘The cycling doctors’ are just that, doctors cycling for charity. If you want to see their progress (very eventful so far!), or sponsor them, please visit their page: click here. The next day we decided today was the day when we would crush the pampa, and exact our revenge. We would cycle all 152km to Punta Arenas and show it who was boss. There were times that day when the pampa looked certain to win, but eventually at 8:30pm we pedalled (nb. no cruising or rolling) into Punta Arenas and found M&M at their hostal. We paid a lot for the room that night, but it was worth every penny.

Usually the wind blows the other way!

Usually the wind blows the other way!

The only shelter from the wind round these parts: the bus stop

The only shelter from the wind round these parts: the bus stop

Early in the afternoon we see the lump of rock signifying Morro Chico

Early in the afternoon we see the lump of rock signifying Morro Chico

The beautiful colours of the Pampa (when the sun is out)

The beautiful colours of the Pampa (when the sun is out)

Relaxing at the Morro Chico playground

Relaxing at the Morro Chico playground

Sharing information as the sun goes down with the Cycling Doctors

Sharing information as the sun goes down with the Cycling Doctors

More beautiful pampa

More beautiful pampa

117km down, 35km to go: Punta Arenas in touching distance

117km down, 35km to go: Punta Arenas in touching distance

The Magellan Straits, and we're almost there

The Magellan Straits, and we’re almost there

Now all we have to do is cross the pampa of Tierra Del Fuego, reputedly the windiest place in Patagonia, fingers crossed the wind is behind us! 450km to go to Ushuaia, ‘el Fin Del Mundo’, so close you can almost touch it:

So close you can almost touch it!

So close you can almost touch it!

 

Happy Trekking

Date: 6th February – 13th February 2013

Where: Villa O’Higgins – Lago Del Desierto Camp – El Chalten – 4*Luxury Ditch – El Calafate

Distance: 7561 to 7740 miles

Somehow we dragged ourselves out of bed and managed to make the 7km to the boat for 8am along with 11 other cyclists. This tourist trap carries unsuspecting cyclists one way across Lago O’Higgins for the small fee of 40,000pesos (about £60). For this pricely sum we were dropped in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of a big hill. We pushed and pedaled our way up with the emphasis on pushing, but in a couple of hours we were at the top. On the way we since learnt that we passed 20,000km traveled since Cancun in Mexico (including buses, boats and about 12,000km of cycling) at some point on this stretch. We’ve certainly seen some views, but none prepared us what we saw at the top. Mt.Fitzroy turns out to be a huge granite monolith surrounded by pointy spires and cascading glaciers. To say the view was amazing, even from this distance, would be a huge understatement. We were all flabbergasted, and promptly sat down for some early lunch. The 4WD track now rolled along nicely another 7km all the way to the official border between Chile and Argentina. A quick biscuit-stop and we were ready to enter Argentina for the fourth time.

A lot of kit leaves the Carretera Austral

A lot of kit leaves the Carretera Austral

Leaving Chile for the fourth time

Leaving Chile for the fourth time

A sudden lump of granite awes us: Mt.Fitzroy

A sudden lump of granite awes us: Mt.Fitzroy

All that pushing may just have been worth it!

All that pushing may just have been worth it!

Reaching the border crossing, just before the real fun began

Reaching the border crossing, just before the real fun began

Coincidentally, yet another 7km lay before us. This time it was going to be tough though. The 4WD track immediately became a 2WD track, where both wheels are one behind the other. At times it resembled little more than a footpath. We rode where we could, but after some close encounters with the ground (read: crashes), we decided on solely pushing. Pushing over bridges, pushing through ditches, pushing in ruts, so much pushing we were close to breaking down. Biscuits were shoved in mouths, unspeakable words were spoken, legs were scratched, but finally we reached a view out over our destination: Lago del Desierto. What a view! Mt.Fitzroy was now framed perfectly by the valley with the blue lake in the foreground. Exhausted, we stopped to take it all in. Then stiff legs walked/stumbled/fell down the final kilometre to the lake-shore and to all the other cyclists who had already arrived.

An inauspicious start: Geoff in the bushes (foot and head circled!)

An inauspicious start: Geoff in the bushes (foot and head circled!)

Off along the forest footpath we go

Off along the forest footpath we go

Going was slow, especially when the dreaded ruts appeared towards Lago Del Desierto (Right)

Going was slow, especially when the dreaded ruts appeared towards Lago Del Desierto (Right)

The view was rewarding though in the end

The view was rewarding though in the end

A hard day ends with a splendid view

A hard day ends with a splendid view

A certain someone forgot to reset the alarm, so we found ourselves crawling out of the tent to view the famous sunrise over Mt.Fitzroy. We staggered back to bed and just about made it onto the 1pm boat, which took us over to the other side of the lake. Just 40km of ripio lay between us and ice cream. Nothing would stop us now, and we powered into the town of El Chalten where M&M treated us to 1/4kg of ice cream each, devoured without second thought. That evening both our buttons popped off our trousers, but we didn’t care, we were in civilisation once again…for now.

Up early for the sunrise (L to R: Mt Poincenot, Mt Fitzroy, Cerro Torre)

Up early for the sunrise (L to R: Mt Poincenot, Mt Fitzroy, Cerro Torre)

Geoff recruits yet another unwanted pet

Geoff recruits yet another unwanted pet

Cycling beneath a giant on the way to El Chalten

Cycling beneath a giant on the way to El Chalten

El Chalten boasts itself as the capital of trekking in Argentina. It isn’t wrong as far as we’re concerned. Lots of one-day or two-day hikes are possible to reach spectacular views, making it the lazy-trekker’s paradise. We aren’t exactly lazy, but equally we aren’t exactly trekkers at the moment. After a rest day we dragged our weary bodies up to the top of a hill called Loma Del Pliague. Condors continiously flew over us towards a panorama of the Fitzroy range with clear veiws of all the peaks. Our minds loved it, but our bodies regretted it the next day, with knees aching all over. Somehow we got on the road, and ran straight into a headwind. Now this was most irregular, since we had been told that we would fly out of El Chalten with the tailwind that blows all year. We chose the one day it didn’t, so not wanting to fight wind for the day we turned tail and went for another hike. This one took us up to Lago de los Tres right beneath Mt Fitzroy. Unfortunately by the time we reached the Lago, the granite was all but obscured by cloud, but we could still imagine the bulk above us. As we sat eating lunch on the terminal moraine it started to drizzle, so we left. More rain began to fall, so we descended quickly back down to the town. That night we went out for pizza in Restaurant Patagonicus. It was probably the best pizza we’ve had all year.

Gaping at Cerro Torre

Gaping at Cerro Torre

Panoramic views from Lago Viedma all the way to Mt.Fitzroy

Panoramic views from Lago Viedma all the way to Mt.Fitzroy

Condors framed against Cerro Solo

Condors framed against Cerro Solo

The magnificent Mt.Fitzroy mirador

The magnificent Mt.Fitzroy mirador

A cold lunch at Laguna Los Tres – Mt.Fitzroy invisible in the top half of this photo

A cold lunch at Laguna Los Tres – Mt.Fitzroy invisible in the top half of this photo

Good pizza at last!

Good pizza at last!

In a growing trend we took our second rest day in El Chalten following our treks. We are getting physically tired now. We did absolutely nothing this day, it was heaven. The next day however we cycled 120km with the tailwind to the luxury ditch. This 4* accommodation had been recommended by another cyclist traveling North, and all we can say is that it was definitely a ditch! Here’s to hoping we don’t have to spend another night somewhere like it! We left it as soon as we could the next morning and made it to El Calafate with only a couple of minor points of note: Firstly Sarah complained of her wheel feeling funny at one point, and we found her rim had cracked…everything is wearing out now! Secondly, the last 30km were into a strong headwind. We’ve definitely reached the Patagonian winds we’d heard so much about now.

Leaving Mt.Fitzroy behind

Leaving Mt.Fitzroy behind

Crazy clouds fill the skyline

Crazy clouds fill the skyline

The luxury 4* ditch

The luxury 4* ditch

Early morning and ready to go

Early morning and ready to go

Sarah’s broken rim

Sarah’s broken rim

From here we’ll be visiting the Perito Moreno glacier and then pushing on South through the pampa to Puerto Natales through some notoriously tough sections of headwind. We’re going to need lots of snacks!

We’ve been warned…Patagonian wind!

We’ve been warned…Patagonian wind!

Baker Street

Date: 29th January – 5th February 2013

Where: Rio Tranquilo – Lago General Carrera Camp – Cochrane – Hotel camp – Caleta Tortel – Rio Bravo Heaven Hotel – Red roof refuge – Villa O’Higgins

Distance: 7374 to 7561 miles

It was early afternoon by the time we left Rio Tranquilo with our bikes in one piece again and the golden fleece safely stowed away to keep it out of trouble. We knew it was going to be difficult mentally to re-cycle the 30km we had done the previous day, before the fleece reared its fluffy head and gobbled Geoff’s frame. To begin with, all was fine, but as the headwind hit us again and bodies got tired, things got tough. Finally we reached yesterday’s most Southerly point, and began pedalling into the unknown. On the way we passed a thin cyclist throwing bags in all directions and obviously very unhappy. Federico is an experienced cyclist on his way to Mexico, but his Vaude panniers had broken once again. We left him slightly happier than we found him, but in all likelihood his problem will take more than one day to fix unlike any issue we’ve really had. We have been very lucky in that respect. Skirting past the blue Lago General Carrera on a fairly good surface (for a change), we reached the plug-hole of the lake. A bright orange bridge spans this gap between Lago G.C. and Lago Bertrand. The view from it was in both our opinions the most jaw-dropping thus far despite the bad positioning of the sun: turquoise, churning water with glacier-encrusted mountains behind. Every corner of this road has this ‘wow’ factor, quite unlike anywhere else we’ve found on this trip. By now we were tired and were glad to find a small set of cabañas that allowed camping down by the lake.

Down by the shore of Lago General Carrera

Down by the shore of Lago General Carrera

Still the same colour: Lago General Carrera

Still the same colour: Lago General Carrera

The daily stretch down by the lake

The daily stretch down by the lake

Now we know why one side of our tent has mesh all the way down

Now we know why one side of our tent has mesh all the way down

We made short work of the hill to get to the small village of Puerto Bertrand, stopping only briefly to try our fishing skills again. This time the devils were jumping out of the shalllows in front of us. We didn’t catch any of them as they literally danced around our hooks. The plug-hole saga continued as Lago General Carrera fell into Lago Bertrand which then drains into Chile’s biggest river: the Rio Baker. Popping down to the rapids near the ‘nacimiento’ (birth-place) was awe-inspiring. All that brilliant-coloured water was now frothing and bubbling as it hurled itself down the valley. It would have been a stunning camp-spot (others obviously had), but we wanted to make up the lost day and get to Cochrane. Four big hills stood between us and the town, we’d be lying to say it was easy, or that we didn’t push, but at 8pm we were in Cochrane and in a campsite with friends from Coyhaique.

Strapping everything onto the bike for the day’s riding

Strapping everything onto the bike for the day’s riding

Leaving Lago General Carrera behind us

Leaving Lago General Carrera behind us

At the birth-place of the Rio Baker

At the birth-place of the Rio Baker

Further down the river, the Rio Baker is joined by the Rio Neff at the ‘Confluencia’ (Top: from up high, Bottom: from the riverside)

Further down the river, the Rio Baker is joined by the Rio Neff at the ‘Confluencia’ (Top: from up high, Bottom: from the riverside)

Up and down with the Baker all the way to Cochrane

Winding our way down Baker Street to Cochrane

Since we know the future, it is worth introducing these friends to you: Matthijs and Martine (M&M) are from Holland and by far and away the most generous cyclists we’ve been lucky enough to meet (firstly in Coyhaique, and then again in Cochrane). They were already cycling with a Chilean student called Ricardo who provided intelligent conversation and translation skills every now and then. We went to bed with the plan to leave together in the morning and head for a bridge 60km away.

Martine cutting the giant watermelon

Martine cutting the giant watermelon

Bike-cleaning time

Bike-cleaning time

Our best-laid plans went to waste, as we got out of bed late, so we set off seperately. 60km later and we found the ‘hotel’ campspot. Ricardo proudly demonstrated his firepit complete with benches, and M&M led us round the available rooms: The flat room, the sheltered room and the riverside room. We chose the riverside room given both of us love falling asleep to the sound of water, and after much food, a big fire and lovely conversation we did just that.

We slept a little too well, and once again left after the others. The road to the small sea-side port of Tortel was easy enough as it meandered alongside the now enormous Rio Baker, until 8km before the end when the road became incredibly bumpy. Padded shorts were no match for this track. The final uphill pushed us a little further than we wanted, but we perservered and made it to the top. M&M had become our hotel agents that day, booking us a room at the only hospedaje which is at the top of the boardwalks, thus saving us an incredible bag faff to go up and down flights of steps. Tortel has no roads save the one to arrive at the top of the hill. Countless flights of boardwalk steps cascade down the slopes to the fjord with houses built randomly in between. It is a beautiful place, very special for its location and unique lay-out. With a room booked and no tent to put up (first time since La Junta over two weeks ago) we could enjoy the village and its shops. We were all delighted to find reasonanbly–priced easter cake in one of the shops: tasty and energy-filled! Vegetables were a different matter though, and having paid an arm and a leg for three carrots and two avocados, we decided to rely on the easter cake.

The road clings to another cliffside

The road clings to another cliffside

One of the many unique house-designs we see in these parts

One of the many unique house-designs we see in these parts

Low clouds can’t hide what is beneath

Low clouds can’t hide what is beneath

Rejoining the Rio Baker: even bigger now!

Rejoining the Rio Baker: even bigger now!

Exhausted, we stop to take in the view

Exhausted, we stop to take in the view

Tortel (photo: M&M)

Tortel (photo: M&M)

Looking out over the fjord at Tortel

Looking out over the fjord at Tortel

With only one arm and one leg between us we left the next day for the final stretch of the Carretera Austral. Traffic was at a minimum by now in this remote part of the World and so it seems was sunshine. At long last, the rain caught up with us as we crossed the last big hill to Puerto Yungay obscuring what would have been some amazing views. The more lasting effect though was to render our brakes unusable, Geoff’s in particular. Descents were done with one foot down after a particularly scary bend was negotiated with gritted teeth and a lucky balancing act. At the port, the sun came out and things dried out nicely. The free ferry took us across and we arrived at the ‘heaven hotel’. The authorities have recently built a fully-enclosed waiting room (with toilet!) the other side of the fjord, thus making the perfect cyclist hang-out. Brakes fixed and mats inflated on the floor, all that was left was to have a good night’s sleep. Heaven indeed!

Late to leave again, our friends ready for the off in Tortel

Late to leave again, our friends ready for the off in Tortel

Leaving Tortel, will it be sunny today???

Leaving Tortel, will it be sunny today???

No…but very atmospheric!

No…but very atmospheric!

Drying out at the port

Drying out at the port

On we go! (photo: M&M)

On we go! (photo: M&M)

Traveling out of the wind for once: Matthijs, Martine, Geoff and Ricardo

Traveling out of the wind for once: Matthijs, Martine, Geoff and Ricardo

Off we roll! (photo: M&M)

Off we roll! (photo: M&M)

Enjoying the Heaven Hotel

Enjoying the Heaven Hotel

The next day summarises our Carretera Austral experience perfectly. Beautiful sunshine bathed us as we tracked yet another river (the Rio Bravo), ups followed by downs, huge dragonflies buzzed alongside, glaciers giving birth to rivers, even the odd horsefly came out to say goodbye. The crowning moment of the day however, was when a pair of condors swooped down the road and directly over us only twenty metres away. As ever M&M had prepared our evening stop-over, even going so far to make a grass-broom to sweep out the little red roofed refuge we’d been recommended to stay at. Mosquitos tried to spoil things, but we slept well. The short stretch remaining to Villa O’Higgins was tougher than expected, but we still arrived early to find many of our cycling friends already there. That night we had a box of red wine to reflect on our memorable experience.

Mighty glaciers everywhere

Mighty glaciers everywhere

The incredible condor

The incredible condor

Waterfalls tumble down to the road all along this stretch

Waterfalls tumble down to the road all along this stretch

Martine displaying her sweeping skills at the red roof refuge

Martine displaying her sweeping skills at the red roof refuge

Cow block!

Cow block!

The last town reached: Villa O’Higgins

The last town reached: Villa O’Higgins

So, the Carretera Austral: We’ll remember the cyclists we met, the ‘wow’ views, the kind people, the many rivers, the hanging glaciers, the swathes of grass, the deep forests, and of course the horseflies, for the rest of our lives. There is no rest for the wicked though, the Carretera Austral is finished, but tomorrow morning at 8am we get the boat to Argentina, where a steep uphill track followed by a footpath awaits us. Rumour has it, it is pretty tough…but with M&M for support, and the chance to see a mountain called Mt.Fitzroy, we reckon we’ll be ok!

The happy team in town

The happy team in town

The Golden Fleece

Date: 24th January – 28th January 2013

Where: Coyhaique – Villa Cerro Castillo – Fly camp – Rio Tranquilo

Distance: 7218 to 7374 miles

So, thanks for all your guesses (both public and private), but the answer was ‘D’: Geoff’s fleece. We have no idea to the second question of ‘how?’ though! Maybe with the extra information below people can help, but we still don’t understand how such a force was possible. Anyhows, more on that later…

…We left Coyhaique a day later than planned, and keen to make up time, we managed to make it all the way on the tarmac to Villa Cerro Castillo. Little happened on the way other than Geoff losing his first life in our Fly Game (Sarah has been bitten five times thus far, but managed to recuperate lives by drinking chocomilk in Coyhaique). The road climbed over to over 1000m for the first time since Paso Tromen to the North of San Martin de los Andes. The scenery on this part reminded us a lot of Bolivia, with little snow, but many colours and shapes to the rocks. The Carretera Austral has amazed us for the variety of its views along the way, around every corner is another ‘WOW!’ moment. We’re really enjoying the ride. The time above 1000m was short-lived as we descended back down to around 400m in one swooping set of hairpins and into Villa Cerro Castillo, named after the rampart-laden mountain towering above it.

Rolling countryside as we leave Coyhaique

Rolling countryside as we leave Coyhaique

The highest altitude of the route, and the scenery looks more like Bolivia, with not a glacier in sight

The highest altitude of the route, and the scenery looks more like Bolivia, with not a glacier in sight

The heavenly downhill curves to Villa Cerro Castillo

The heavenly downhill curves to Villa Cerro Castillo

Geoff approaching Villa Cerro Castillo, with the ramparts clear in the background

Geoff approaching Villa Cerro Castillo, with the ramparts clear in the background

Leaving Cerro Castillo another breath-taking view was round the corner as we entered yet another river valley. This river was characterised by having every shade of blue imaginable in its depths. We stopped to admire it for some time, only leaving when we began to get cold in the wind.

So far with only a few exceptions we’ve only suffered head-breezes, now we understand the true meaning of a head-wind. It’s arrival made us feel like we had truly arrived in Patagonia. The going was tough down the wide river valley and we only made 50km that day, hiding in the bushes after following some more cycle tracks. We were found in five minutes though, so much for being secretive. Urs has been traveling down from Alaska and he easily saw our tracks bumbling off the road. It turns out he was in the La Paz Casa de Ciclistas only one day before us! The small world of cycle touring. Another five minutes and the horseflies found us, so we hid in the tent only popping out occassionally to attend to the pressure cooker for dinner. We slept well that night.

Off into the unknown

Off into the unknown

Sarah (left) appreciates the many colours of yet another river valley

Sarah (left) appreciates the many colours of yet another river valley

The open valley left us exposed to the full force of Patagonia winds

The open valley left us exposed to the full force of Patagonia winds

Time for bed as the moon makes its nightly appearance

Time for bed as the moon makes its nightly appearance

As we left that morning, we were amazed to see a cloud almost obscuring our view of a mountain. How dare it do such a thing! Oh, hang on, we’re in Patagonia, normally we wouldn’t even know the mountain was there! We have been REALLY lucky so far with the weather, long may it continue, but all good things have to come to an end sooner or later. The sun was shining merrily though by the time we reached the end of another river valley (the Rio Murta) and had clambered up to a cemetary on top of a hill for yet another spectacular view. Lago General Carrera is the second largest lake in South America (after Lago Titicaca: see last Peru post) and the most fantastic blue colour (in the sun). It was to be our companion for the next few days cycling South. Tracking the lake that afternoon was really special cycling, and it felt like a reward for all we’ve been through on this trip so far. We arrived in Rio Tranquilo and met friends from Coyhaique who directed us to a nice campsite to settle down and relax for another day’s rest.

Introducing: a threatening cloud

Introducing: a threatening cloud

The many colours of Patagonia

The many colours of Patagonia

The beautiful blue Lago General Carrera

The beautiful blue Lago General Carrera

Puncture repairs are becoming fewer now we’re on ripio all the time

Puncture repairs are becoming fewer now we’re on ripio all the time

The stunning road that follows the edge of Lago General Carrera

The stunning road that follows the edge of Lago General Carrera

Nearly at Rio Tranquilo

Nearly at Rio Tranquilo

That day off was spent separately to begin with, as Sarah caught up with family on Skype, whilst Geoff visited the local tourist attraction by boat: the marble caves. A whole cliffside of marble has been shaped by the lake over the years, and now is full of little tunnels and polished hallways of marble. Very surreal, and quite beautiful. That afternoon we joined forces again to settle down and watch a local horse-taming festival, which basically involved locals and professionals jumping on the back of a wild horse and trying to stay on…kind of like rodeo. Very entertaining, and quite scary at times!

Geoff’s marble caves excursion in a boat

Geoff’s marble caves excursion in a boat

Chilean local doing his best to hang on to a wild horse

Chilean local doing his best to hang on to a wild horse

Tamed horses riding along the Carretera Austral

Tamed horses riding along the Carretera Austral

Cycling towards the Campo de Hielo Norte (Northern icefield)

Cycling towards the Campo de Hielo Norte (Northern icefield)

The next day, we left as we anticipated, and made good time to reach lunch at 30km. Along the way we met a UK/NZ couple (Mel and Chris) who were good fun and they joked if we wanted to come North with them…little did they know. ½ a km later and we stopped for lunch. Food inside us we strode off, but after only ten metres, there was a loud bang and Geoff’s wheels stopped turning. ‘Another pesky stone caught between mudguard and tyre.’ he thought…how wrong he was. The view of the back wheel is shown in the photo below and basically consisted of Geoff’s fleece (placed on the back of the bike during lunch) trapped between mudguard and wheel. It had literally ripped the mudguard in half (there is metal inside the mudguard too!). Geoff called Sarah over and spokes were inspected, miraculously, none were broken, so the bike was put on its side to remove the fleece. It was then that we noticed the broken frame, the bolt-on for the rear rack was sheared completely. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity, with many words spoken, none to be repeated. We stopped the first car and like in all good stories, this man said that a) he’d give us a lift back to town and b) he can weld it. What he didn’t say is that a) he was not a welder, but a mechanic and b) he was going to charge us the Earth for it. To cut a long story short, he was true to his word and gave us a lift back into town (to meet a surprised Mel and Chris!), but the next morning Geoff’s bike was returned only half-fixed. We paid anyway, what else could we do. To give the obvious pun: we were fleeced! However … kind people sensed our distress, and after three stressful hours a proper welder had done a much better job and we located the mechanic and he gave our money back (Sarah bravely doing the asking with her now near perfect-Spanish (in the present tense at least!)). It was Midday and time to set off South again, and would you believe it…the sun is still shining!

Bicycle frame timeline: the break (TL), close-up (TR), don’t trust this man (BL), the fixer (BR)

Bicycle frame timeline: the break (TL), close-up (TR), don’t trust this man (BL), the fixer (BR)

The Killing Fields

Date: 16th January – 23rd January 2013

Where: La Junta – Camping Las Toninas – Villa Amegual – Villa Manihuales – Coyhaique

Distance: 7053 to 7218 miles

Sorry for the delay in blogging, but this Carretera Austral business is tiring stuff. When not riding, fighting flies, and sweating, we’re planning, fixing, and buying, and if not that we’re simply recuperating, so only now (we’re in Cochrane) we’ve got some time to do another blog. This one’ll get you all to Coyhaique, the capital of the region.

The road to Puyahuapi from La Junta was good ripio flanked by huge-leaved plants: the Pangue. Practically all the time we were accompanied by horseflies buzzing all over our faces and biting our backs. We decided at this point that we were trapped in a computer game where the aim is to kill as many flies as possible. Each day is a new level with new even more dastardly flies to kill. Long gone are the easy first levels, where flies idly buzzed round your head, or landed perfectly on your hands and waited to be killed. Now, they are more sneaky, and as the days progressed they worked in teams so that one would buzz and get your attention, whilst the other would land straight on your back and prepare for the bite. To be bitten was a lost life (like in all good computer games, you only have three). Now that our virtual life depended on it we discovered new ways to counter the flies, the ‘cap of doom’, the ‘hat of mortality’ and the ‘water bottle of water’ were just some of the weapons we invented. We’re yet to find the flame-thrower, but recently discovered the ‘grab and crush’ technique which purportedly gives you bonus points (and much satisfaction) for each kill.

Anyway, coming back to reality, Puyahuapi was a lovely little town with ace empanadas, and Sarah’s first fjord experience, for which she has been pining all her life. The only indication this was the sea and not another huge lake, was the tsuanmi warnings around town. On Jörn’s (see late Bolivia posts) suggestion we stayed at a campsite out of town and spent a lazy afternoon watching toninas (dolphins) just off shore. At one point a pine martin inquisitively came out and said hello. Geoff tried his hand at fishing again, but only ended up catching his cycling glove which made a bid for freedom and had to be dived in after.

The Carretera Austral, maybe the only good legacy of General Pinochet

The Carretera Austral, maybe the only good legacy of General Pinochet

Welcome to Puyhuapi, Sarah’s first fjord

Welcome to Puyhuapi, Sarah’s first fjord

Our bikes in Puyahuapi, still going strong

Our bikes in Puyahuapi, still going strong

We left early the next morning to get up our first big hill of the Carretera Austral, a 500m climb which wended its way up at a nice gradient to a stunning waterfall. Every corner seemed to reveal a new glacier or mountain to be gawped at. The descent was equally as stunning, although much faster, and we soon reached the 300km section of tarmac in the middle of the route. Things didn’t get much easier though, as small steep hills and an increase in temperature took its toll. We reached the Piedra del Gato viaduct and looked down at the roaring Rio Cisnes for a while. Suddenly, out of the corner of Geoff’s eye, he saw a thing jump. It couldn’t be a log as it was going upstream!? We soon saw another salmon jump clear of the water and try and make its way up the rapids to breed. We stayed for another half hour marvelling at the attempts of these fish to beat nature and make it up the raging torrent to breed. We were struggling by now with the heat, we were experiencing the kind of hot where you stop sweating, get a headache, drink some water and instantly sweat it out again, which makes rehydation a very tricky process. It is at times like this when time and time again we have been saved on this trip. Today was no exception as a kind Chilean family invited us down to the riverside shade and fed us BBQ’d meat and cold cans of shandy. Re-invigorated we made it to a camping just below a big hill with fresh cake, and in doing entered a secret level to our fly game. They came out of everywhere! Dozy flies all over us, we took turns hiding in the tent whilst the other racked up the points swatting in all directions at once. Cooking done, and a long day completed, we collapsed to the world of sleep.

Starting the climb, the Ventisquero glacier in the background

Starting the climb, the Ventisquero glacier in the background

Climbing up through the mountains

Climbing up through the mountains

The Piedra del Gato viaduct

The Piedra del Gato viaduct

A salmon makes a bid to jump up the Rio Cisnes

A salmon makes a bid to jump up the Rio Cisnes

Big mountains still jump out everywhere

Big mountains still jump out everywhere

Invited for another asado

Invited for another asado

The scenery changed the next day as the work of the early pioneers became apparent. Huge areas of countryside with cows grazing amongst huge rotting trees, felled to make way for the cattle. We reached Villa Manihuales in good time and checked into the Casa de Ciclista (very friendly, but full of ear-wigs).

The Villa Amegual church in the mountains

The Villa Amegual church in the mountains

Cycling with perfect reflections in Lago Las Torres

Cycling with perfect reflections in Lago Las Torres

Ruta 7 a.k.a. the Carretera Austral takes us further South through pioneer countryside

Ruta 7 a.k.a. the Carretera Austral takes us further South through pioneer countryside

Yet another beautiful peak shines in the glorious sun

Yet another beautiful peak shines in the glorious sun

Supermercado Carretera Austral reminds us where we are

Supermercado Carretera Austral reminds us where we are

Melting inside the Casa de Ciclista…‘Mr Hannis is ready to see you now’

Melting inside the Casa de Ciclista…‘Mr Hannis is ready to see you now’

We then went down the Rio Manihuales and back up the Rio Simpson and into Coyhaique, the biggest town for miles around. Here we replaced Sarah’s bottom bracket for the third time this trip (for the third time: DO NOT CYCLE TOUR WITH A SHIMANO HOLLOWTECH BOTTOM BRACKET!) with a minimum of fuss. We also took the chance to get our trousers sewn up. However, in a farcical turn of events the shop was shut the morning we wanted to leave and by the time we got our trousers back we had to wait another day. So, Geoff spent the afternoon re-doing the trousers given the original fix was so atrocious (see photo below).

With the ‘Cascada de la Virgin’ halfway up the Rio Simpson

With the ‘Cascada de la Virgin’ halfway up the Rio Simpson

An evening view of Coyhaique

An evening view of Coyhaique

The farcical attempt at a ‘low-profile repair’ of Sarah’s trousers.

The farcical attempt at a ‘low-profile repair’ of Sarah’s trousers.

We were now all ready to head further South, where, as a teaser: the weather is as good, and the scenery is even more amazing. Now…another few teasers for you (answers in the next blog post):

Firstly, what, on the 28th January, broke Geoff’s steel frame?

a)      a bad section of washboard

b)      a pothole

c)      a car

d)     Geoff’s fleece

And secondly, How??????

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