Patagonia Part II

After six months back home in Seattle, I (once again) left the comforts of four secure walls, a hot shower and family and friends to re-visit Argentina and Chile on bike.  This time I planned the trip with my awesome partner Mariano (Nano) who I met last year half-way through the ride.

Carretera Austral (Again?)

That’s right, this year we decided to “re-do” the Carretera Austral (CA or Route 7) that awesome 1,240km (770mi) partly paved/partly dirt road that runs through the heart of Chilean Patagonia.  Last year we busted through it.  The constant rain coupled with our limited time to get to our ultimate goal of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, forced us to get an occasional ride and haul-ass the rest of the time.  It definitely felt like we were just checking it off the list rather than really enjoying the spectacular natural beauty of the place – which (duh!) is the entire reason to be there in the first place!

From day one this was a completely different ride.  We had a two-month time limit, but  decided to enjoy the process rather than be ruled by a final concrete destination. We started our ride in San Martin de Los Andes, 1,566km (973mi) south-west of Buenos Aires along the Andes Mt. chain part of the seven lakes route – one of my favorite bike routes ever!  From San Martin we rode south to Villa Angostura and then 15Km straight up Cardenal Samore pass into Chile.  We cycled up the 1,314mts. (4,311ft.elevation) pass in the middle of a 90 degree day with gigantic horse-flies trying mercilessly to break our spirits for the entire three-hour climb.  The pay-off was flying downhill into cool, damp, green Chile leaving the horse-flies in the dust for the time being.

Our route in Chile took us in front of Osorno Volcano and around Lake Llanquihue (second largest lake in Chile!) to Puerta Varas and then finally to Puerto Montt the official beginning of the Carretera Austral.

Last Year/This Year…

Route:  This year we started in Puerto Montt.  Last year we started in Villa Santa Lucia (entering Chile over the Futaleufu pass – try to say that 10 times fast!) missing the first 315km (196mi) of the route.  As fate would have it, we were shocked to find out that only weeks before our trip began, there was a major landslide at Villa Santa Lucia that completely destroyed the town and cut off the road south and north of the CA.  As a result, several things happened.  First, everyone else seemed to have gotten the memo that the road was closed and decided to call off the trip (except for the relentless Chileans).  There were noticeably less bikers this year.  The other consequence of the closure was re-routing by boat.  We took a gorgeous (free!) 7 hour boat ride through the fjord like inlets of southern Chile in order to connect back up with the CA 70km (43mi) south of Villa Santa Lucia at La Junta.  As a bonus prize, we ended up cycling 73km (45mi) from the port of Raul Marin Balmaceda to La Junta on a magical dirt road through a rain forest where if you squinted your eyes just slightly you could see fairies, unicorns and star-dust just up ahead in the distance.

The other major route change from last year was crossing back into Argentina at Paso Roballos instead of ending in Villa O’Higgins.  Spectacular! Best decision ever!!  Paso Roballos is a gravel road running through the heart of Patagonia National Park.  This is the famous swath of land bought up by North Face Founder, Doug Tompkins (more below in hiking).

 

Hiking:  This year we tied our backpacks onto our bike racks and took advantage of some of the amazing hiking along the route.  We backpacked three days in Villa Cerro Castillo.  This area rivals the famous Torres del Paine and El Chalten but its free and relatively quiet in comparison.  We were lucky to have three gorgeous days to do this.  On the third day, the wind picked up and a storm came in so we changed course and headed down.  We also hiked in Parque Pumalin and rode through Parque Nacional Patagonia.  Both of these parks are due to more than two million acres of wilderness that Doug Tomkins (R.I.P) and his wife, Kris McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, bought and then restored through huge conservation projects.  The goal was then to create national parks with the Chilean government eventually taking charge.  This changing of the guard is in process in Parque Pumalin and just happened in January in Patagonian National Park.  My advice would be to see these pristine and well maintained parks fast before the Chilean government has time to screw things up.  Funny how money for parks mysteriously turns up in other places like vacations, houses and cars!

Food:  This year we made a few dietary changes in order to incorporate more protein into our diets and improve energy.  First of all, we bought a small frying pan in Puerto Montt in order to have eggs for breakfast even when camping.  Yes, Nano rode on “ripio” or washboard/gravel with a half-dozen eggs in his pannier nicely swathed in a T-shirt then strategically placed in his clothes bag.  Not one ever broke! We also ate more beans and lentils when possible.  We put the dried beans in a water bottle to soak all day when we knew we would be in a place at night where we could use the kitchen to cook.  And perhaps the best score of all was (drum roll)… Peanut Butter!  Yes, crappy, preservative filled peanut butter, but peanut butter nevertheless.  This was a new discovery for Nano.  In fact, he lived off the pb.  He controlled the pb which gave me leverage to control the chocolate, no-one got hurt and everyone was happy!

Lodging:  The other goal for this year was to spend less money on lodging.  This is a little tricky when it’s raining all the time, but thankfully this year it only rained half of the time instead of all the time.  Out of 54 nights 19 were “free,” 19 were paid lodging ($10-$20 a night) and 16 were paid camping ($5-$15 a night).   Not bad but could be better.  It all depends on the weather!  Some of the places we stayed were a ferry station, abandoned house, abandoned police station (with howling wind and doors banging all night), warm-showers (couchsurfing for bikers), ranch, construction site, fire station, apartment, national parks, hostels and boarding houses.  Every night is an unplanned adventure!

 

The Kindness of Strangers:  Everyone we met was friendly, kind and accommodating.  One day when a man who was fishing with his buddies saw us he walked into the nearby store and bought us a bag full of goodies for our ride.  He told us that the attendant in the store also pitched in when she found out who he was buying the goodies for!

And finally, the last day of our trip was emblematic of the entire ride.  We wanted to hitch back to Buenos Aires, but two bikes and two people getting a ride proved to be almost impossible.  We actually got a ride 450km. to a small town in the middle of the Argentinean steppe called, Piedra de Aguila.  This town was about five blocks long and two blocks wide.  Over the duration of the day, standing on the side of the road during a hellacious wind storm, everyone in town passed us and gawked at least once.  “Yay, we’re crazy,” I wanted to say but instead just looked pathetic.  Thankfully, there was a bus station in town.  About half-way through the day we bowed our heads and shuffled over.  Yes, there was a bus leaving tomorrow at noon but wouldn’t allow our bikes.  Nano worked his magic (as always) and finally the woman agreed that we could box them up and pay as oversized luggage.  Fine, we had no other option, but now we were almost completely broke and had about 20 more hours in town before the bus left.  We walked around the corner to the gas station to share a coffee (gas stations in Argentina have espresso machines and excellent coffee – when I see a YPF gas station, my eyes light up!).   The attendant had seen us the day before and knew our story.  We ordered one small espresso to share but when we went up to pay, he had made us two large expresso’s on the house!  Our plan was to sit in the gas station until dark,  go eat dinner somewhere, then sleep in the bus station so we wouldn’t have to pay for the nights accommodation.   About 8pm we hauled our bikes and our sorry behinds down the block to find a cheap restaurant.  As we were leaning the bikes against the wall, a woman walked by and said, “The restaurant across the street is cheaper and has bigger portions.  Say no more,  before you knew it, we were ordering one plate of chicken Milanese with mashed potatoes and a salad.  The owner walked over to greet us and asked us where we were staying.  When we said the bus station she said, “No, you will be my guests in my hotel tonight.”  When we finished dinner, she gave us directions to the hotel and told us it was all arranged.  The next morning we went to the bus station early to box up our bikes.  We needed to find tape, scissors, and big boxes.  Before we knew it, one shop owner brought us tape and scissors another found us big boxes and another invited us to breakfast.  When the bus finally came, they helped us load up and handed us a bag of home-made bakery goods for the road.  And so, on the road, when you least expect it, amazing things happen!

In total we rode 1,760km (1,072mi), met people from all over the world, enjoyed many days of sun, hiked, drank craft beer and never-ending supply of crappy coffee with powdered milk, got colds but never got hurt of robbed.  I’d call that a huge success and loads of fun!  Until the next adventure…adios amigos!!

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Instagram:  If you are interested in seeing photos of my trip, you can find me on instagram at deelafountaine.

 

 

 

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New Year; New Adventures!

“If you can’t be with the (bike) you love; love the (bike) you’re with.”  – Stephen Stills

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Happy New Year! 2017 was epic and now I have my sights set for an equally awesome and challenging 2018.  To start things off, I bought a new bike in Buenos Aires.  After Mariano (Nano) and I reviewed the used bike site “Mercado Libre” a handful of times and checked out a number of bikes stores (used bike stores don’t exist), I finally decided on an Argentinian made bike called, “Olmo.”  It’s a 27 gear Mt. bike with middle of the road Shimano components (sorry bike geeks that’s all I’ve got for you at the moment!  As usual, I was more focused on the colors).  I’m not totally in love with this bad boy (yet?).  I need time to process this new relationship.  To help the transition, I brought the same Schwalbe tires that I used on my Surly last year, and a friend (Jain!) who is coming to Argentina this month graciously agreed to bring my beloved pedals…who knew you could fall in love with pedals?

In Argentina, you can’t try out bikes before you buy them and you can’t bring them back if they don’t work.  All I could do was sit on it in the store and get a general idea of the fit. Along with the bike, I also needed a rear rack, fenders, water bottle cage and a new  adjustable stem for the handlebars.  When it came time to pay, I handed the cashier a wad of crisp $100 bills that I brought just for this occasion.  Nano told the owner that I didn’t need a receipt.  Suddenly, this transaction became a whole lot sweeter.  The owner threw in all the extras, and I walked out paying only the price of the bike.  This generous exchange helped ratchet up the love factor just a bit!

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Maiden Voyage January 2018

With that part of the adventure over,  we are now trying to figure out how we will get to the start of our trip.  We want to start either in Bariloche or San Marin de Los Andes, both situated along the spine of the Andes in the western edge of Argentina.  Both are about a 20hr drive from BsAs.  Painful!  We looked into flying (2hrs) but the price was outrageous for us ($240 one way!! That’s equal to three weeks of travel for me.).  We are hoping for some sort of carpooling or ride-share situation but will also consider a bus (20 freaking hours on a bus!!) or hitchhiking.  Realistically, no one is going to pick up two people with two bikes and tons of gear leaving BsAs, but never say never.

Before we start our bike adventure at the end of January,  we are taking Nano’s 13yr.old son on a two-week road trip about 1,100Km west into the Andes region starting in Mendoza and working our way south.  We plan to do a lot of camping, hiking, swimming and exploring.  Buenos Aires is merciless at this time of year in terms of the heat and humidity.  It’s one thing if you can refresh in cool water or escape to a higher elevation, but in Buenos Aires Provence those options do not exist.  We will visit the mountain areas of Mendoza, Soneando and Malargue along Route 40.  This zone is also scorching hot, but escape into the higher elevations in the foothills of the Andes offers occasional mountain lakes, rivers and cooler temperatures.

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Mendoza along Route 40

Oh ya, Christmas and New Year’s Eve were super fun with Nano’s very warm and welcoming family.   The traditions here in Latin America and more specifically Argentina are very different from the USA.  To get an idea, folks start to gather around 10:00pm and eat dinner around 11pm.   Then, and this is my favorite part, they eat ice-cream! Here, because of the heat, instead of sitting by the fire drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols, you sit outside on the patio, eat ice-cream and listen to Electronica or whatever is hip at the time.  Buenos Aires has delicious ice-cream.  On Christmas Eve and New Years Eve all the ice-cream stores are filled with people buying quarts of ice-cream. Brilliant!

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Nardi Family New Year’s 2018!

To end the year, I was looking over photos and video from last year and found this interview archive from Tornquist, Argentina.  I decided to post it here although it is in Spanish.  The radio host asked me questions super fast then barely gave me time to answer, so I had to speak in Spanish as fast as I could.  It’s not pretty.  If you speak Spanish, it will no doubt make you laugh.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you will laugh just the same!

http://noticiastornquist.com.ar/noticias/2017/04/05/una-docente-estadounidense-recorre-varios-paises-en-bici-y-paso-por-nuestra-ciudad/

Wishing everyone exciting adventures in the New Year whether it be exploring what your neighborhood has to offer or stepping into uncharted territory.  Discovery at any level is life affirming!

Best,

Denise

 

Back in the Southern Hemisphere…

Hola from Argentina!  I’ve stepped back through the portal into the alternate reality which is South America and more specifically, Argentina.  I’m starting to regain my equilibrium after feeling a bit discombobulated the first couple days.  Bouncing back and forth between hemispheres can be challenging.  You have to get your head around a different language, culture, climate, time zone, cuisine, and season.  Thankfully, I adapt relatively easily.

What am I doing?  Why am I back here?  What’s your plan you ask?  All good questions!  I’ll give you the short answer.  During my epic Bolivia to Ushuaia bike ride, I met a like-minded “chico” from Buenos Aires (BsAs), Argentina.  We rode together for a couple of months. Life was good.  After six months apart, we decided that we play well together and that we’d like to re-ride the Carretera Austral in southern Chile this time in slow-motion adding backpacking to the mix.  So, long story short…here I am!

As it’s spring in the southern hemisphere, I’m enjoying warm temperatures, walks along the Rio de la Plata, the Mar de Plata International Film Festival (415k south of BsAs) and long weekend road trips.

Last week we hiked “Cerro de Tres Picos.”  At 1,239m (4,064ft.) it is the highest peak in Buenos Aires Province which is as flat as a pancake in the rest of the province.  The “mountain” is 540k southwest of Buenos Aires (BsAs), basically a seven hour drive with breaks included. We hiked to the “Cueva de Los Guanacos” (cave of the Guanacos) and camped out.  The following morning we hid our packs and summited.  Buenisimo to be outside in nature again after being in the big city for nearly three weeks.

 

We also visited the once submerged city of Epecuen.  In 1985, the city was flooded with water from Lake Epecuen.  Residents evacuated never to return.   There is a great little video of a free-style biker named Danny MacAskil (from Scotland) who rides over the ruins.  Definitely worth watching.  It’s like ballet on two wheels over eerie ruins.  Must see T.V!

Along our route, we stopped and marveled at the architecture of Francisco Salamone.  Francisco is an Italian-Argentinian (1897-1959) who was commissioned from 1936-1940 to go out into the rural farming communities in the interior of the province of BsAs and built imposing Art Deco structures in the most unlikely of places.  The hope was that the sophisticated folks of the capital would want to move out and populate the frontier towns when they saw the mighty architectural marvels.  This plan never worked.  Today when you drive through these small towns you’re rewarded with the sheer delight of finding these hidden gems of power and authority in the “middle of nowhere.”

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In addition to what I’ve been up to, I plan to add a little cultural or geographical note to each blog (forever the teacher).   I’ll start with the “Rio de la Plata” or “River Plate” as they say in English.  The Rio de la Plata is about 10 blocks east of  Mariano’s (Nano) apt. here in the Neighborhood of Vicente Lopez.  It is the widest river in the world at a maximum of 140 miles wide.   The Parana River, the second longest river in South America after the Amazon, and the Uruguay River both flow into this silty beast.  The big tease for me, being a huge fan of water, is that you can’t swim in it; it’s too polluted.  That said, it’s still nice to walk to the river’s edge or along it’s twists and turns and enjoy a mate under a Jacaranda tree.   (Oh ya, in case you’re a soccer fan, one of Argentina’s biggest soccer teams is called, “River Plate” after this river.)

 

Last but not least, I have a dilemma.  Perhaps you have words of wisdom for me?  I did not bring my bike with me this time.  It cost a ton of money – around $600 – to schlep it back and forth, so I decided to just buy one here.  Ha! Easier said than done.  Bikes here are expensive and kinda crappy.  Buying a used bike is also expense and then you get a real crappy bike.  I can get a better deal in Chile, but I have to go to Chile to get the deal.  We wanted to start to ride before Chile which complicates things even more.

…So, I’m throwing positive bike vides your way…if you have any ideas or know of anyone who has a decent bike they want to sell here in BsAs or even Mendoza, Argentina please pass along the contact.  If you know of anyone who would like to donate a bike or sponsor me in exchange for awesome photos and video that would be pretty spectacular as well.  I have a sponsor letter if anyone is interested.  I wrote to a local bike company but haven’t received a response YET.  You never know!

En fin, as they say in Argentina, hugs from the far side.  Stay tuned for the next episode.

Love,

Denise

 

After Life…

“A permanent reference point does not exist.”  Author unknown

Reflections:

Finally, I’m catching my breath long enough to sit down and write a post-script.  I’m finding that processing is a continuous process (imagine that!).  In other words, this is what I’ve concluded up until today – tomorrow may change!

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To start with, I hit the ground running.  I was only home about five days before I started back working full-time during the summer.  This was perfect; it’s what I asked for and needed to do, but I found that I was constantly asking myself, “Did I just finish a mega-ride through South America, or did I make that up?”  My worn-out clothes, trashed muscles, and broken down bike tell me that it was all very real.

Quickly, I learned that there are two Denise’s that live inside this sturdy frame.  The Denise of travel who is observant, curious, laid back and open to what comes her way and then there’s the Denise of “back-home” who is fast-paced, task-oriented, impatient and just wants to get shit done.  It’s like a switch is flipped in the plane somewhere around 30,000ft. altitude both coming and going.

I know also know for sure that you can indeed do anything, as they say, if you really want to.  Something happens at the cellular level when you start to believe in your own dreams, ability, worth, and desires.  It’s almost as if you can feel the vibrations become a reality in your bones.  It’s crazy cool!

I’ve learned that once decisions are made and the die is cast, so to speak, then you must simply “lean-in” to the discomfort, uncertainty and fear that instantly sets in.  From here on out it’s a matter of shear faith in the process (plus preparedness, of course).  As soon as you know that the little demons of doubt are intentionally messing with you, you  can just give them a little pat on the rear and send them along their merry way, or just outright tell them to go to hell.

Finally, as we all know…it really does take a village!  I, without doubt, know in my heart that it was the power of all the believers and supporters out there (yep, I mean YOU!) that gave me the energy, motivation and courage to continue on.  Blog likes, comments, emails, FB likes, donations, personal contacts, sharing my info, instagram likes, whatsapp messages all equal LOVE.  Honestly, I totally felt the support and it touched me profoundly!  Thank you!!

All in all it was the most awesome adventure of my life!  Every morning I got up (aching bones and all) with a huge grin on my face ready to take on a new day.  Miraculously, nothing bad ever happened.  I fell a million times in the gravel and washboard roads but never seriously hurt myself, I was never robbed and never even lost anything (except for a sun hat).  Everyone I met along the way was kind and generous.  People always smiled and waved at me as I passed through their street, village, town or city.  I was often offered food, water and shelter.  Honestly, the ride completely restored my faith in humanity on the community level and constantly reminded me of the urgent need to honor our amazing planet which is showing signs of abuse and destruction even in the most remote corners.

Post Trip Fall-out:

  • An article about my adventure was published in the Kitsap Sun (Bremerton Newspaper).
  • I did a two-day photo shoot with R.E.I to advertise their new line of R.E.I Co-op bicycles.
  • I told a story at “The Moth” about my trip.
  • Adventure Cycling put a link to my blog in their “Bike Bits” email.
  • I did a Ten day self-contained bike trip up to Victoria, Canada via the San Juan’s sleeping in my tent every night just to confirm how much I love a real bed.

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Next time?

Bike/supplies – I have to say that I’m pretty happy with everything I brought along and super happy with my little Surely Long-Haul Disk Trucker.  The only thing I would have done differently is have a quick drying towel (couldn’t find mine at the last minute and didn’t want to buy another one) and probably buy a Brooks Saddle, otherwise no complaints on equipment.

Health/Nutrition – I rode hard and long most days which worked at least for the first half of the trip (three months).  My diet got worse over time and my pre and post stretching dwindled down to nothing which slowly affected my overall stamina and contributed to on-going aches and pain (duh!).  On my way up to Buenos Aires, I really felt the strain.  I didn’t have the same energy I had at the beginning of my trip.  In this situation, I flooded my body with caffeine, threw in a multi-vitamin and bullied it into high gear.  It grudgingly obliged.  When I got back to Seattle, I went to a sports doctor who basically said that I’d depleted my nutricional reserves and as a result, my body was kicking and screaming.  Now, I’m eating well, taking supplements, doing a lot of yoga and swimming and giving my body a well-deserved rest.  Well, that is after commuting to work all summer on my bike.  Anyhow, next time I will incorporate real food into my diet – things like fruit and vegetables, do a bit more stretching and maybe even take more breaks off the bike.  Crazy talk I know!

Next Steps…

  • I really want to edit the videos I took along the ride (Good Lord, why am I procrastinating so much? Oh, maybe because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing?)
  • I really really want to write some articles/essays about different aspects of this experience.
  • And…drum roll… I want to go again!! This time farther and longer.  It’s addicting.  Frankly, I never wanted to get off my trusty steed.  I wanted to ride all the way back up to Seattle, and then beyond that.  So, maybe, next time I will!

Final Note...Oh ya, in case you were wondering, She-RA is alive and well.  Unbeknownst to me, she fell off my bike along Route 40 in Argentina. Her leg fell off and she was run over by a car.  A couple on bikes saw her and picked her up.  They ran into me a couple hours later and asked if she were mine!! I duck taped her leg back, fixed her matted hair and clean-up her bruised body.  She is happily still with me today.

*New photos in this blog post taken by Dana Hansen.  I just saw them for the first time!

 

 

 

It’s a Wrap! 

“Travel is often a Petri dish for both our character defects and our finer qualities.”

My grand adventure is coming to a fast close.  It has been everything I had hoped for and more.  At the moment, I’m in Santiago, Chile.  I’m delighted to meet a (second) cousin who married a Chilean and now lives in Santiago.  I’ve been fortunate enough to stay with them and hear great stories from her side of the LaFountaine family. 


I took Santiago by storm! I think I went to every museum of interest, took several tours, talked to tons of people about politics, the economy, food, culture, environment and natural disasters (Chile is in the “Ring of Fire”).  I took a bus to Vaparaiso and hung out for three days and from there a day trip to Viña Del Mar.  All in all, these last 10 days allowed me to be a “normal” tourist and to reflect on the countries I have traveled through on this trip and how they have “grown-up” over the years.

    
My first trip to Latin America was in 1988.  At that time I travelled overland for nine months.  If you remember back to 1988, that was before email, texting, FB, blogs, and in Latin America, almost before the telephone.  I wrote and received hand written letters sent to “post restant” the main post office of the major cities that I would pass through.  

Back in the day, almost every county in Latin America was under a dictatorship or just coming out of some heinous dirty war.  Ecuador was in a severe economic crisis; In Peru, the Shining Path were in their heyday; in Chile, Pinochet was still in power; in Argentina, the dirty war had been over for five years but the bad guys were still running lose; Uruguay had followed suit; and in Bolivia, the power imbalance between the majority indigenous peoples and the ruling white oligarchy was in full force. 

Today, things are dramatically different.  Democracy is alive and well in the Southern Hemisphere.  Both Argentina and Chile have had, or continue to have, women presidents.  In Chile, Michelle Bachelet is in her second term (2006-2010/2014-Present).  In Argentina, Cristina Kirchner presided from 2007-2015.  In Uruguay, people still put Jose (Pepe) Mújica on a pedastol.  He legalized marijuana, lived in his own house during the presidency, drove his VW Beetle, and donated 90% of his salary to charity.  Evo Morales has been in power in Bolivia since 2006.  He is the first democratically elected indigenous president in the world.  He has given voice to the majority indigenous population, decreased poverty and increased universal education. 

During my first trip to Latin America back in 1988, as a result of all the political turmoil, traveling was hectic.  In Ecuador, the military police barged into my room in the middle of the night looking for rebels.  I was robbed three different times between Ecuador and Bolivia.  There were multiply blackouts and curfews in Peru, and I got caught in a stand-off between the President of Argentina and the military outside the Casa Rosada (equivalent to White House) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  But, without a doubt, the event that marked that trip more than anything was the fact that I contacted Typhoid fever in Potosi, Bolivia.  Thankfully, over about ten days of agonizing travel, I made it to Buenos Aires where I was eventually hospitalized for close to a month.  Now, on this trip, I revisited the hospital where I was treated.  It is the largest hospital for infectious diseases in Latin America – Hospital Muñiz.  The section I was housed in is now in ruin (it was in ruin when I was there as well; trust me on that one!).  I went to the administrative office  to ask to see the archives to make sure this wasn’t some cruel past life memory.  Low and behold they found my name, date, and room number – unbelievable!


As I mentioned in a previous post, it will take me time to process this whole adventure, but one thing that I’ve learned along the way that seems pertinent now more than ever is the issue of the environment.

 No one here in Argentina, Chile or Bolivia has a doubt that we’re in the midst of an environmental crisis due to our own making.  Everywhere I’ve been, folks from all walks of life can concretely tell you how climate change has effected them and their communities.  There is less snow or snow in the wrong months; it never rains or it rains all the time; winters are colder and summers are hotter; there are more bugs and less plants, and the list goes on.  The feedback is consistent wherever I go.  Not one person denies climate change – not even políticans!  What they can’t agree on is what to do about it…and so they do almost nothing.  But, to their credit, they have all signed onto the Paris agreement! 

I’m heading back to the US, but will continue my blog at least for a couple months.  My goal is to post some of the edited interviews I did along the way and keep you in the loop for new travel plans.  Thanks for following me on this amazing journey; it has given me strength and motivation knowing I had your support.  Hopefully, you were able to “travel” along with me and get a real sense of the magnitud of our beautiful planet and the generous folks who inhabit her space. 
 

Buenos Aires and Beyond…

I’m still alive and still in South America.  Buenos Aires to be exact.  I’m having a great time visiting friends, exploring the city and discovering new places outside of the grand metropolis like Cerro Champaqi in Córdoba, Parque National El Palmer north of BsAs province and Uruguay. 

It was strange and scary riding into Buenos Aires after being alone on long stretches of nothingness along Ruta 3.  Of course, I rode into and crossed the entire city in the dark of night.  Holy crap, exactly what I didn’t want to do! I was prepared to use my TV version of Kung-fu moves along with sound effects if need be, but thankfully I didn’t have to play that card. 
Buenos Aires is BIG!  3,000 in the city proper and 16,000 including outlying areas.  It takes me about 2 hrs to cross from north to south in bus!  There are bike paths throughout the city that I’ve used several times.  These “ciclovias” are generally safe and in good shape.  They call BsAs the Paris of South America and they are probably right.  Definitely a French vibe here although the population is around 50% Italian heritage and maybe 40% Spanish.   They basically consider themselves Europeans with a Latin flair.  


I arrived in BsAs just in time to join a small group of “Porteños” (Name given to people from Buenos Aires which is a major “Port” city) to climb the highest mountain in the province of Córdoba in the interior of the country.  It was super fun!  We hiked to base camp first day then up to the peak and back the second day and back down to the car on the third day.  Apart from the wide expanse of views, underground water sources and endless blue sky, my favorite part was the dance in the refuge on Sunday night fully equipped with fog, disco lights and blaring Latin music.  Who would have ever expected a disco at 10,000 ft.??


After El Cerro Champaqui, I rested one day before jumping back on my trusted steed and heading over to Uruguay.  Thankfully, there is a one hour ferry ride that connects BsAs to Colonia, Uruguay that allows bikes.  I spent ten days touring the coast from Colonia to Punta Del Este, including a few days in Montevideo.  I learned a ton about this small but mighty country in a short time.  If anyone wants to drink a glass of wine and talk about the merits of Uruguay let me know!  Jose “Pepe” Mújica represent!!

En Fin, as they say in Argentina, I’ve been blessed to have these awesome experiences.  Haven’t really had time to slow down and process all this new information.  I suspect that will take months or perhaps even years.  Next week I leave Argentina and all the generous and welcoming people I’ve met here.  I’m sad, but also happy to be moving on to Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile where I will have new adventures and meet other amazing people.  It ain’t over until it’s over!

Still Rolling Along

 

I’m finding out that not having a “goal” per se affords a entirely different riding experience. The old adage, “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there,” definitely holds true for bike touring – in the most positive sense possible. North Americans are so goal driven (including me!). If we’re not heading towards something big, we’re wasting time. Not so in Argentina.  Here, in Latin America, there is value in discovery, slowing down, conversation, relaxing, and just letting things unfold without a plan. While noble on the surface, these concepts are hard to embrace and adapt to (can you guys just bust a move for f#*k sake and get on with the plan). Fortunately, after about six months, I think I’m starting to understand the beauty in this other way of being.  By letting go of a fixed outcome, I’m allowing other experiences in that I would have missed before.  Who’d thunk!

To continue with a chronology of my ride…

I’m continuing up the Atlantic coast of Argentina.  Long-ass distances all the way.  For example, from my jumping off point in Puerto Madryn, I rode 88 miles to the first one-horse town and then another 75miles the second day to my destination of  Las Grutas.  And, I was lucky there was a tiny hamlet in between.  Often times it’s just continuous pampas and you pitch your tent under the stars (hoping there are stars that night) or, in a best case scenario, you find an abandoned house or structure with a roof to protect you against the elements.  I have to say that I really enjoy these long rides and the nights in between.  Although, contradictory, I often sleep like crap in my tent (was that a person, a bird, or big-foot I just heard about five inches away from my head?).

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Las Grutas

Las Grutas is a summer beach-resort hangout.  I’m now biking in the Southern Hemisphere’s fall which equals… NO ONE HERE.  Love it! My French friend, Matteo, texted me to tell me he had a hostel all to himself.  We were literally alone in this huge hostel for three days.  This means a take-over of the kitchen, my own room in which to freely run around butt- naked, and my own bathroom to wash my dirty clothes.  To a biker who is always sharing space, or simply has no space, this is freaking paradise!

From Las Grutas, Matteo and I rode two days together up the coast to Viedma, again, two long riding days stopping in the middle of nowhere to pass the night.  This time in an old abandoned farm house (honestly, I don’t do this often by myself.  My imagination is extremely vivid. To much Twlight Zone when I was a kid!).

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Abandoned shed (for sure there is a dead body buried around here somewhere!).

Viedma is a town on the boarder between Buenos Aires Province and Rio Negro Province.  The river Rio Negro divides the two provinces.  I was excited to see that people were really active in and around the river.  Most of the time, people in these parts work on their farms and extra-curriculum exercise is not part of their lives, but these are city folk and; therefore, different rules apply.   Although Viedma has its charm, the hostel couldn’t compete with Las Grutas, so we only stayed a night and took off the next morning for Bahia Blanca.

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Cramped quarters in Bahia Blanca

From Bahia Blanca (the biggest city I’ve been in since Mendoza about three months ago), Matteo and I part ways once again.  He went on to follow the coast line to Buenos Aires, and I headed up to the hill country.

Tornquist, Villa Ventana and Sierra de la Ventana are towns in the Sierras of Buenos Aires Province.  Tornquist is a town establish by the son of a German immigrant in the early 1800’s.  This fellow bought up a lot of the land in this region and built his farm or Estancia which included the highest “hill” in the province, Cerro de Tres Picos.  I wanted to hike to the top of this hill (cerro) but was getting all kinds of conflicting information on how to do this, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and just ride out to the estancia and ask first hand.  Bueno, that didn’t really work either! On Tuesday morning, after a 15k ride on some of the worst “ripio” (gravel/washboard) to date, I was told that I could only hike the Mt. from Thus – Sun. and that I couldn’t stay at the Estancia or pitch my tent on their grounds because I wasn’t German and I didn’t make my reservation from Buenos Aires…really?  Apparently, old rules die hard in this neck of the woods.  The German vacationers at the estancia offered to pay for me and find me space, but, alas, burocracy trumps spontaneity, so I headed back to Tornquist to regroup.

On Wednesday morning, the receptionist at the hotel I stayed in called the radio station to alert them to the fact that there was an outsider in their midst.  Ten minutes later, I found myself being interviewed live on the local station.  Let’s just say that my life will never be the same!  Suddenly, I have a faint idea of what it feels like to be “famous!”  Seriously, the rest of the day I was pulled over on the side of the road to talk, people messaged me on FB, a young boy ran to get his dad when he saw me coming and a couple invited me to coffee.  It was exhausting!  Whew, I’m glad that day is over!

Now, after a good rest, fresh air, and beautiful scenery, I’m ready to put my head down and go forth into the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires where threats of thieves, thick traffic and polluted air wait to suck me up and spit me out.  And the adventure continues…

Note:  If anyone can help me post photos and the interview here on this blog post from my email, I would be eternally grateful!  If I knew a teenager, my problems would be solved in a Nano-second.