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!

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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.

 

Life After Ushuaia…

It’s difficult to regroup and move forward after being laser focused on a specific goal for five months.  In Ushuaia, I had time to weigh the pros and cons of several options.  In the end, I decided to continue my ride up the Atlantic coast of Argentina on Route 3 (Ruta 3).  This decision was made primarily because of weather and economical reasons more than anything.

The distances are long, cold, and desolate in this part of Patagonia.  I decided to hitch on and off to move faster up the coast to warmer weather.  Hitching with a bike loaded with gear can be tricky, but this route is full of truckers heading to and from Buenos Aires so I “usually” have pretty good luck.

In Pierdas Buenas I got stuck for several days.  There were simply no trucks passing by. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a woman who had seen me standing by myself on the side of the road in the rain, wind and cold insisted that I come to their house and stay the night and try again the next morning.  An hour later, I was getting out of a hot shower with a delicious meal waiting for me while my clothes were being washed!

The next morning, I tried again.  This time a young French man from Paris who had been riding around the world for two years rolled up and asked if he could hitch with me.  Miraculously, within an hour we had a ride to Cómodora Rivadavia about 340 miles away.

In Comodora Rivadavia, we stayed with my friend Beto who I met near Bariloche.  Beto’s house was the perfect place to relax, eat good food, sight see in a Chevy truck and contemplate the next move.

From here, Matteo continued a three day ride to Trelew (a Welsh immigrant community) while I decided to hitch another ride.

From Trelew, I rode to Puerto Madryn, a modern mid-sized town strung out along the shores of the Nuevo Gulf.  Nothing to do here but walk along the sandy beach, ride my bike along the coast to watch the sea lions and penguins in their natural habitat, and drink mate with my new friend Graciela who is my Couchsurfing host.  It’s obvious that this is my natural habitat as well; those sea lions got nothing over me!

Ran into Matteo again.  So far he is the only other biker that I’ve met on this route.  We decided to ride to the even more remote and inhospitable Peninsula Valdés together (UNESCO site).  We rode out to Punta Norte to see the Orcas.  We were lucky that they finally made an appearance at the end of the day.

Once again Matteo and I parted ways.  New adventures lie ahead for both of us.  You just never know who or what awaits you with each coming day.  The adventure lies in not knowing!

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Animals I’ve seen on my ride so far:  llamas, alpacas, guanacos, maras, foxes, armadillos, rheas, woodpeckers, seals, sea lions, penguins and orcas!

 

Ushuaia!

I made it!  After 4 1/2 months and 4,000 miles (more or less- I lost my odometer) I’m in Ushuaia!!

It’s been an amazing ride.  Every morning I get up in anticipation of a new day filled with discovery, challenge and excitement.  Every evening I arrive in a new place where I’m invited to pitch my tent, lay down my therma-rest, or enjoy a soft comfy mattress.  When I start out the day, I never know how it will end.  There within lies the beauty of travel.  I have learned to be open to the spontaneity of the moment and to trust that all will end well and that I will be taken of.  I think this is called “faith.”

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Just a small example of the hospitality I’ve experienced on this ride occurred over eight consecutive days on my way here to Tierra del Fuego.

Day 1:  Invited to stay in the police dept in Chimen Aike.

Day 2: Estancia (Hacienda) Monte Dinero in the school house.

Day 3 and 4:  Argentinian Armed forces in charge of the lighthouse at Cabo Virgenes.

Day 5:  Estancia Tres de Enero (Third of January) -camped on their property.

Day 6:  Office of Tourism at the port on the Strait of Magellan offered us a room.

Day 7:  The owner of the bakery in Tolhuin housed us for two nights.

Day 8:  We enjoyed an abandoned cabin on the gorgeous “Lago Escondido” (Hidden Lake).

On top of this, we Couchsurfed in Ushuaia for 7 straight days with Raul who had no problem with us staying forever.  This is Argentina for you!  The people are generous, friendly and warm-hearted without measure.  Unbelievable!!

Ushuaia is gorgeous!  The snow capped mountains come down to meet the sea.  While here we walked up to Glacier Martial, went to the Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego (and hiked to the border with Chile) and rented a car and drove to Estancia Moat on Ruta J, the most southern road in Argentina.  We also ate tons of pasteries from the bakery, drank mate until we were green and reminisced about our amazing adventure.

We are now in a hostel enjoying our last day in Ushuaia with other bikers we have ran into several times over the course of 4 1/2 months.  Tonight we will have a final “asado” with our fellow bikers from Brazil, Slovenia, Austria and Holland.  All proud of our individual triumphs.

Tomorrow Nano flies back to Buenos Aires.  I’m super sad to lose my companion on this second half of my journey, but we will meet up again in B.A. before I leave the Southern Hemisphere.  I have decided to ride back to Santiago, Chile.  There is still a lot I’d like to see in both Chile and Argentina before I will fly back to Seattle mid-June.

So, here I go again!  Off on yet a new adventure to distant shores.  After being accompanied for so long, I’m nervous to start off solo once more; although, I know I will be fine once my wheels start rolling.  And so,  with air in my tires, tightened nuts and bolts, and new brake pads, I head north on Sunday.

Tierra del Fuego!

Sorry for the huge gap in time and space!  It’s been difficult to connect to wifi and find time to post.  I get one or the other but never both at the same time.

I finished the Carretera Austral a few weeks ago.  It was both challenging and incredible at the same time.  The last part was especially difficult.  I had to wait in Villa O’Higgens for three days in order for the wind to calm down enough to cross Lago O’Higgens then cross a 12k stretch of dirt road to Chilean immigration then another 7K of mud trails, inundated creeks, and narrow dirt canals to Lago del Desierto and finally 37K more to El Chalten. Whew!  Doing this part of the ride with Mariano (Nano) from Argentina and Massimiliano (Canta) from Italy made it both “fun” and memorable.  Of course, I still had to use martial arts sound effects in order to summon herculan strength.

In El Chalten I threw down my bike, rented a backpack and took off with Nano and Canta to hike 30K in two days around Mt. Fitz Roy.  Spectacular!!

From El Chalted Nano and I rode to Calafate.  We stayed in our first bicycle refuge (La Casa Rosada), an old abandoned house 120K from El Chalten and 98K from Calafate.

We  were going to skip Calafate and the most awesome glacier in the world- Perito Moreno!  Thankfully, at the last minute, we changed our minds.  So glad we did!  Just one word…amazing!!!

From Calafate we headed to Cabo Virgenes – ground zero for Ruta 40 and the most south-western tip of Argentina.  After 105K on dirt road and a mild drizzle, we stopped short of our goal of C. Virgenes at 130k.  We ended up staying the night in the school house at “Estancia Monte Dinero.”  What we might know as a “hacienda” they call an estancia.  Basically, the name of this estancia is called, “Estancia Shit Load of Money.” They usually don’t let in the riff-raff, but they made an exception for our sorry mugs. Never underestimate the power of looking pathetic!  The next day we cruised into C. Virgenes with a cool tailwind at our backs.  Here we stayed for free two nights with the Armed Forces who monitor the light house. Nothing to do here but watch the penguins on the beach, relax, drink coffee and eat desserts at the cafe that overlooks the ocean.  No complaints!

Off to Tierra del Fuego and the final leg south to Ushuaia…

Carretera Austral

After about two months in Argentina on Route 40, I crossed the boarder back into Chile at Futaleufu accompanied by Mariano (Nano) and Guillermo.

We were lucky to get a sunny day after hearing about the long stretch of rainy days.  Nevertheless, at the end of the first day, the rain came out to christen our ride on the infamously wet Carretera Austral (CA).  Luckily, we found refuge in a barn occupied by every farm animal know to man.  I had no idea up until now that these animals talk all night long.  The roosters only slept after they had done their job of keeping us awake all night!

The next day it rained the entire 40 miles.  I was cool with it because it reminded me of home.  The trick is to try to stay dry and not get to cold.  That’s when your troubles begin.

The Carretera Austral (Route 7) is a road that runs through Chile’s remote Patagonia region.  It runs approximately 770 miles (1,240 k) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins.  Construction of the road began in 1976 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and was completed in 2000, although much of it is still not paved.  Military men were sent to do much of the work and populated the towns along the way.  As a result, people in this region are more or less loyal to the former dictator.  In La Junta there is a big sign honoring the former general as you enter the town. The new government in Santiago wanted to take it down, but the people of La Junta rose up in protest and the sign remains.

So far in Chile, I’ve been able to do two spontaneous interviews.  I interviewed a native Chilean from the Indigenous group called, Huilliche, in Southern Chile and a woman from Coyhaique who is a poetic seamstress.  Aha!  I piqued your interest.  Now you will have to watch the official “documentary” to hear what “poetic seamstress” actually means and what Valentin has to say about the world that has developed around him!

Finally, about a month ago, Nano invited me to join him and his friend Guillermo on their ride through the “Siete Lagos” region.  I had a blast with them.  Guillermo left a couple days ago to finish his trip in Santiago and then off to ride through Cuba with his girlfriend.  When he left he gave me his prized possession which I have coveted throughout the ride…his whipala!  A whipala is a flag that represents the original pueblos of the Americas (ok, yes it does slightly look like a gay rights flag.  It’ a two-for-one deal!).  Gracias Guillermo, you’re a doll!

Patagonia!

 

I’m in the Argentinian side of Patagonia.  I’ve been here for about three weeks, since I crossed into the province of Neuquén after Mendoza.  But only for the past week, as I rode through Villa Pehuenia, San Martin de los Andes, Villa Angostura, Bariloche, and El Bolsón have I been surrounded by mountains, rivers, and lakes emblematic of Patagonia.

Along with enjoying gorgeous vistas, experiencing daily weather changes and anticipating unexpected sleeping configurations every night, I have been slowly adjusting to the daily rhythm of riding with Argentinians.  I met Mariano from Buenos Aires about a month ago.  One week later, we met up with his friend, Guillermo.  Since then we have met up with a couple from Mendoza and a chico from the southern coast of Argentina.  I’m trying to have a “When in Rome” attitude, but I would be lying if I said it isn’t a challenge.  Here are some of the differences that I have observed and experienced so far…

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Christmas Eve at the campsite with new Argentinian friends.

First of all, I have to say Argentinians are some of the friendliest and most giving people I’ve ever met.  In a short time, I feel like family.  The well-being of the group mentality in Latin America vs the figure-it-out-on-your-own individualist mentality of the United States is definitely alive and well here!

FOOD: Argentinians like their meat!  Asados on the parilla (grilled meat on the grill), or a la braza (on coals or wood) is a daily occurrence.  If meat for one meal is good, two meals is better.  My dear companion, Guillermo, heads for the supermarket at the end of most days to buy his slab of meat.

Bread is consumed in mass quantities for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  This is not Mexico; tortillas are not part of the cuisine.  We are talking straight-up white bread. It’s good stuff.  I’m turning into the Pillsbury dough girl!

Dulce de leche!  This carmel-like substance is killing me.  Why eat real food when you could just eat dulce de leche all day?  I now have an extra stomach roll dedicated just to products made with this maravilla…ice-cream, cookies, cakes, chocolates.  Whatever, I give up long ago!

DRINKS:  No-brainer here…Yerba mate is king!  It’s a special tea drank from a special gourd with a special silver “straw.”  What I have found out is that it’s not so much the tea itself that is important but rather the ceremony behind the tea.  Mate is almost always shared.  It can be enjoyed any time of day, but the most common time is late afternoon.  Someone pours the hot water from a thermos over the mate and drinks the first round then the mate (gourd) is refilled and given to the next person and so on depending on how many people are present.  What I love most about this tradition is that it’s an opportunity to drop everything and communicate directly/build personal relationships everyday.  I have talked to entrepreneurs, professionals and parents from every walk of life and all agree that this personal time is sacred and much anticipated.  Okay, maybe Mate cuts Argentinas GNP in half but who cares?  What matters is that friends and family are tight!

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SCHEDULE:  Here’s where things start to get difficult.

Breakfast:  Argentinians eat a very small breakfast which usually consists of coffee or tea and bread with jam and butter or simply cookies.  That’s it!

Lunch:  Lunch is usually full on. Similar to a small dinner.  This can be anytime around  1-3pm.  (So far this isn’t too crazy).

Mereinder (snack):  This is usually where you have your mate and more bread or cookies with family/friends.  This usually takes place anytime from 6-9pm.

Dinner:  Still with me? This is where it gets crazy…dinner is anywhere between 9pm, on the early side, and midnight!  Yep, I was awakened from a deep sleep by Argentinian neighbors in my camp site who invited me to their asado (remember? Grilled meat!) at midnight.

Since my body can’t make sense of this schedule, but I really want to fit in and keep up, I find myself eating on my American schedule and then making the quick turnaround to eat on my host countries schedule.  This bridging the cultural gap gesture is definitely taking a toll on my already compromised waist-line.  I now call it my wasted-line !

The other repercussion of this schedule is that everyone is taking their siesta between 1-5pm daily, and restaurants usually don’t start serving dinner or even open until 9pm, so even if you want to follow your own schedule you’re screwed.

I could go on forever, but I’ll stop.

Tomorrow I start making my way to the Chilean boarder.  By this time next week I’ll be on the Carretera Austral in the Chilean side of Patagonia.  This is where the idea for this trip began!  It will be super remote, challenging and isolated, but I’m definitely up for it.  Marino, from Buenos Aires, decided to detour from Route 40 in Argentina and accompany me for a while.  Excited to have a friend ride along!

Thanks for following my journey!  I will post again as soon as wifi permits.

Lots of love,

Denise