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.
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:
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!
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).
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!
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)
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!
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: