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!

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 2017

Happy New Year!  I’m back on the grid for a minute.  Please forgive my sporadic posts (My last post did not link to FB; feel free to go directly to my blog to check it out).  It’s difficult to be on a schedule when my days and wifi are unpredictable 😬.

I continue to ride on Route 40 which starts on the boarder with Bolivia and ends in Ushuaia.  A 5,000+ kilometer road traversing the entire continent of Argentina from head to toe. The three components of this trip that make this adventure exciting and unpredictable are the views, the people I meet along the way, and the places I end up staying at night.  When I pack up and leave in the morning, I have in mind my destination for the day, but it is only a rough estimation.  Weather, road conditions, or the people I meet could change everything in a nano-second and often do.  I have learned not to hang on tight to any pre-conceived plans but rather to let lose and let serendipity guide me.

In the town of Pareditas, I returned to sporadic patches of the dreaded “ripio.”  From there I rode to a small fishing village called, Agua del Toro.  Since I was the only woman in town, I decided to pay a visit to the small police dispatch to see if I could camp on their property.  Sergio, the only policeman assigned to this location, invited me to sleep in the dorm room while he slept on the couch.  In the morning he had breakfast ready for me before I took off for the day!

Two days later, I was pushing my bike up a hill in some of the strongest headwinds that I have encountered so far.  I simply was not progressing.  Pablo and his family saw my struggle and invited me to stay on their farm for the night and try again early the next morning before the winds picked up.  Again, I ate dinner with them, breakfast the next morning and they packed me a “to go” lunch.  I am moved beyond words each time by this unbelievable hospitality and generosity towards strangers.

In Buta Ranquil, I met the first bikers since Bolivia – a Swiss couple and an Argentinian man.  I had the pleasure of riding with them for a couple days.  The first day we camped out in someone’s back yard and the second day we made it to the municipal campground in town.  It was fun to share stories, a meal and company.

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The Swiss continued on to Chile just over the pass and I continued on Route 40 with Mariano, the Argentinian.

After a week of riding together with a similar pace,  Mariano invited me to join him with his friend Guillermo whom he was on the way to meet in Zapala.  On the morning we met Guillermo, the local news came alone and asked if they could interview us.  We were thrilled!  Of course, I was afraid of making a fool out of myself with my awful Spanish.  Oh well, that was inevitable!  Note to self…always comb your hair before leaving your tent/hostel/school/church/wherever/ in the morning.

The three of us decided to veer off Route 40 for a while and ride a more scenic, if not more challenging route around the Seven Lakes district set in the gorgeous Andes Mts.  Well worth the effort so far!  We spent the first two days fighting horrible heads winds  which caused us to stop short of our destinations most days causing a ripple effect of never exactly reaching our destinations on time.  No worries!  The first night we slept in a magical cave, the second night the military invited us to stay in their guest rooms (The building and setting straight out of “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson), the next night we camped out along a gorgeous river and the following  night a couple we passed on the road in Junin de los Andes invited us to their house for water and then eventually to stay the night!  I had my first Argentinian asado with them…Yummy!

We finally made it to Villa Angostura for New Years Eve about 50 miles short of our original destination of Bariloche, but not bad considering weather conditions, washboards and sand roads, Mariano getting sick from the water we drank from the river (went to the hospital in the ambulance from our camp site then had to continue riding because of the rain) and general lack of sleep!

Tomorrow we will finally ride into the ever elusive Bariloche.  I’m super excited to begin 2017 on my bike with new friends.  Life is sweet!

Wishing you and yours the best in 2017! Un abrazo fuerte!!

PS. If you’d like to see the interview, you can find it on my FB page or on YouTube at YouTube/TV Coop Zapala

Chapter Two: Going Solo

“We can’t have courage and comfort at the same time.” Brene Brown

It’s been difficult breaking free of the San Juan/Mendoza wine vortex.  Every time I get ready to leave a force more powerful than my bike pulls me back into its wine tasting, partying to all hours center.  I’ve learned to just go with the momentum as you would a rip tide.  Why try to fight it?!

In San Juan, a friend from Issaquah visited for  three days while he was vacationing in Argentina.  So fun and strange to see a friend from home!  In Mendoza, I stayed in the same hostel where he had become a party legend only a few days earlier.  Needless to say, at the mere mention of his name, I was instantly invited into the hip and trendy international crowd.  Even more important than riding my bike through some of the harshest terrain on the planet, I proved I can party with the best of them until 5:30 in the morning and still get up for the free breakfast before 10am.  Heck ya!

Wouldnt you know it, the morning I left Mendoza I stopped at my favorite gas station to use their clean restroom right before I got back on Route 40 to continue south.  Just as I jumped on my bike, a man came over to me to ask what I was doing.  Turns out he was from Bellingham, WA and had bought a vineyard nearby six years ago.  He invited me to stay at his vineyard in his adobe house and guess what I said?  That’s right!  Pulled right back into the vortex.

Okay, to be fair, I did plan to have a little down time in Mendoza.  It is the wine producing capital of South America (Malbec) and the biggest city I’ve been in since La Paz.  And,  it’s beautiful and entertaining.  But, more than that, I wanted a marked transition between my trip with Dana-and the mean streets of Bolivia and Northern Route 40-and my newly independent status.  A before and after if you will!

Another reason (if I indeed need any reason at all) for hanging out in Mendoza a few days longer than anticipated is that I had a opportunity to interview a few very interesting woman.

Let me back up for a minute…I’ve sort of alluded to this here and there, but I’ve never shouted it out.  I decided that instead of just riding along the surface of the towns and communities I roll through, I’d dig my tire treads in a little deeper and learn about the industries, culture, and realities of the place by interviewing women who are doing innovative, non-traditional or brave work in their cities, communities or homes.  If I have at least 24hrs in a place, I start telling people what I’m doing and ask if they can make an introduction for me.  Sometimes I know exactly who I’m looking for and other times I’m open to anyone.  Magic has happened!  These interviews have been transformative on a number of levels.  I’m learning a ton about the places I pass through.  I’m learning about the barriers women face in these regions and how they are defying the odds.  I’m learning that (or I am reminded) that everyone has a story to tell and everyone wants to be heard.  I am reminded over and over on the importance of listening and baring witness.  And, perhaps most personally, I am learning that I don’t have to be perfect to do this.  I’m not a documentary film maker or Barbara Walters or Katie Couric (although I pretend to be all of that!), but I am a person who is sincere in her interest and commitment to this deeper understanding.  I am learning to “Show up” even though I’m not ready because quite frankly, I’ll never be ready!

 

Featured photo was taken about 70 miles south of Mendoza by a motorcycle friend riding a similar route.