The anticipation was building as our odometers clicked through miles and we were nearing town. After a long, slow decent, we came around a corner to...
One would think finally arriving at the end of the road, on a journey of 20 months by bicycle, we would be jumping for joy and ready to throw our bikes out into the ocean and watch them float away. But, I have to be completely honest with you, it's a very mixed bag of emotions. Extremely happy to be lucky enough to combat injuries, sickness, fatigue, exhaustion, extreme weather conditions, and all that fun stuff to make it all the way to the end of the road. But the end of the road was very much like the beginning. We began this journey in June 2016, with no crowds, no cheers, no high-fives, just getting on our bikes and pedaling away heading south on the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. We had packed bikes into boxes and flown up to this tiny oil field town, where no one knew us and so the start was pretty uneventful. The end of the road was very much the same. Solidifying our belief that it is all about the journey, everything between the beginning and the end, that really matters.
Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail that we tackled in 5 months, hiking for one long summer with a vision of an end in sight, this ride would be our lives for nearly 2 years. I remember riding away from Prudhoe Bay and thinking, "OK, this is our lives now" with an excitement for all the people to meet, places to see, and experiences to be had. And at the end, it's just over. We arrived at our planned final destination, and with a happy heart, a full Rolodex, and a mind packed full of memories. Not the richest person in the world could buy all those experiences. And for that very reason, is why we did it. Life is short, so we gotta' pack it all in.
Our last week from Punta Arenas was rough, but our excitement was high. We took a day off in Punta Arenas, buying a ticket for the ferry to Porvenir the following morning. We arrived early at the docks, riding along the straight of Magellan north from town to the ferry, looking across at the land mass and island of Tierra del Fuego where we would be heading by boat. The ferry was beyond packed with people, including a bunch of cyclists and I had to stand out on the deck. One unplanned quirk from this ride we picked up, is both Ville and I have become way more claustrophobic around crowds, people, and crowded places. Too much time spent alone on a bike or with each other I guess. I would have thought seeing all these new cyclists (about 20 a day on the Carretera Austral and south to Ushuaia) would be fun to get to share stories and experiences, but all I can think is, "if you have only a short holiday, why in the hell would you spend it on a bike in pouring down rain in Chile and then being blown off the roads in southern Patagonia?" Argentina has been my least favorite country to bike through and I feel bad when cyclists ask us about it. We lie, say nothing at all, or the go-to is just "good luck on your journey."
The ferry ride was short, and when we went below to retrieve our bikes, I realized my underwear I tied to my bag to dry (it was laundry day and they were still wet) had disappeared. Now, the ferry was packed with lots of truckers, families and cyclists. I hope the families are not that hard up that they would be pantie snatchers. The cyclists are desperate people, but hopefully not that desperate, but truckers...well...yuck. My panties are probably hanging from some truckers rear-view mirror right now. And they were ready to retire by the end of the ride, so I'm not that sad, but, really? Geez. I guess they were just meant to be world travelers. Panties on a mission.
Once we docked, the massive heard of cyclists sprung from the ferry gate and pedaled furiously into the winds. We maintained our distance and stuck with our plan of NO PLAN. The first couple hours before lunch was on a dirt road straight into the wind until the road turned east and then we had excellent tailwinds on the hilly road that hugged the coastline of the Straight of Magellen. The weather is clear skies with freezing winds and so we are now wearing all our clothing, including rain gear and gloves, to bike. The landscape is wide open rolling hills of grasslands, and by day's end we were able to find a stand of a few lone trees to stick our tent behind, but still froze in the screaming winds. By early morning we had only 10 miles to the intersection where we turned off the main road to head south 10 miles on another even worse dirt road to go see the King Penguins. We were elated when we realized the herd of penguins were very close to the viewing area and with a bunch of molting babies. We were able to capture some great photos with our big lens and watch them waddle around. Pretty crazy to see bears, moose and now penguins in the same bike ride.
We rode the 10 miles back north up to the main road and at the intersection we continued east on pavement. Due to a massive road construction project, the cars were routed to the dirt and we had the whole road of pavement to ourselves. And with a massive tailwind to boot! It's what cyclists dreams are made of. We laughed, we cried, we hugged. It was beautiful. We stopped just 8 miles from the Argentinean Border and asked to camp at an Estancia (farm). The farmer was incredibly kind and gave us a small cabin with 2 beds, a wood-fired cookstove, and heaps of wood. Ville got that fire ripping, we cooked our pasta dinner on the stove with about 10 cats meowing outside to get fed, and we slept like babies with the temps dropping well below freezing in the night. The farmer carried a giant carcass past us in the morning and when we asked what it was, he replied, "horse." Guess the horse isn't the cowboy's best friend in these parts.
We rode out once the sun warmed things up a bit and the stamping out of Chile went well (we stocked up on Sahne-Nuss chocolate bars with all our remaining monies) and stamped, for the very last time, into Argentina. Right after the Argentinean Border, we stopped at a ACA Gas Station/Cafe to get some lunch (a pile of fried meat) and rode out. Here is where we finally reached the Atlantic Ocean! What a trip to be riding south with the ocean now on our left. From the time we landed in Porvenir, the landscape had been wide open space with hardly a tree in sight and extreme winds. Lucky for us the winds were still fairly at our back, as the road was now heading south. We stopped at another Estancia, Sara, and a drunk guy told us to camp in the yard near an office building. We met another Spaniard, traveling the world by bike, and slept late to wait for the sun to warm things up. Since we are very early still for our flight, slowing down hasn't happened, but beginning and ending the days early has been an attainable option. Unfortunately for us, the winds had shifted to being straight from the west and we now were weaving all over the road, fighting to keep pedaling in a straight line, as we pushed a long day into Rio Grande.
Rio Grande is a decent sized industrial town, nothing to write home about, but had a fairly inexpensive (for Argentina) hostel we got for a night since the lack of showering was weighing on our marriage. We ate cheaply from the grocery stores (as we have taken to doing for the last few months through Chile and Argentina because it's so damn expensive), and headed out with the skies looking ominously dark. We had a good few hours of decent riding with a smattering of trees beginning to appear hear and there and then the heavens opened up and man did it pour. The traffic all day was horrendous. Don't remember the last time we both were so infuriated by drivers that we screamed at them while flipping them the bird. Watching an oncoming car pass someone already driving at excessive speeds, in the pouring rain while risking everyone's lives, no shoulder, and heading right for you is absolutely nerve wracking. If it doesn't make a nun swear I'd be shocked. Damn Argentinean drivers!
We pedaled furiously into Tolhuin, famous for their excellent bakery, La Union. The owner is well known around these parts for his charity work, as well as being a damn fine baker, and hosts lots of cyclists. We arrived drenched, stripped off all our wet clothes and pretty much had not much else left to put on. Good thing we are almost done! We have taken to Duct Taping, zip-tying and tossing without replacement things that break so we are coasting into the end on fumes folks. Anyone wants to help us out, I could really use some new panties. Just kidding. We slept on bunk beds in a room in the back of the shop, and as per usual, an Argentinean cyclist showed up at about 10pm. Super nice guy, just on a slightly different schedule than us, and then woke us up puking into a mop bucket in the middle of the night. Sleep, who needs it? We asked if he was alright and he acted like that was just his normal every evening routine so, maybe he's just bulimic. We rode out in the morning with a plan to head only 35 miles to Lake Escondido where, word on the street, is there are abandoned cabins cyclists could stay in.
We arrived at the lake, stopped in at a cafe on the side of the road for cake, met a super nice family from Canada/Lebanon/USA/Brazil. They shared wine and food with us and we hope to see them in the world again. Thanks guys! We headed down a dirt road to nearly the end of the road and found three little painted vacant cabins on the shore of the lake. It was awesome! The little pink one had a bed, table, and even a working toilet (with a bucket of water to flush) and someone had obviously painted and kept it up really well. The next day we spent relaxing by the shore in the drizzling rain, reading, took an icy bath in the lake, cooked, and enjoyed processing through the end of the journey since the next day we would arrive at the end. Ushuaia. In the afternoon, a giant blue bus pulled up, a heard of kids piled out and then a bunch more cars and people showed up too. We played a game very similar to Boche Ball, but with wooden discs, with the kids and parents and in chatting with them realized they are the reason this place stayed so beautiful. They live in Ushuaia, and come there often to pick up trash, clean, and enjoy the place. So all you cyclists out there, please pack out your trash, and keep this place special for those coming after you!
That night we hardly slept. Not because the Argentineans were up all night partying til past 3am, but because we were so nervous and excited for the next day. We woke up really early, ate our typical oatmeal, and headed out into the crisp clear beautiful day. I believe it to be no accident that on the day we were to finish this journey, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining on us. We had a long slow climb over the pass and then spectacular views in the mountains which were very unexpected after so much grassland. The anticipation was building as our odometers clicked through miles and we were nearing town. After a long, slow decent, we came around a corner to towering "USHUAIA" pillars on either side of the road. My eyes just instantly began tearing up. I can't believe we actually made it. All those days of rain, sun, wind, climbs, pain, sweat, camping, laughing, growning, pushing, swearing, everything, all of it, all coming back to me at this moment. Ville rode up behind me and we hugged. He snapped a quick photo of me and we had about 4 more miles to the center of town where the "End of the World" sign was.
We pedaled up to the sign, this small wooden sign, and again the tears started flowing. We both climbed off our bikes and started hugging each other. We were laughing, hugging, and crying and it felt pretty damn good. And no one was there. No crowds. No applause. No high-fives. Just us. As we had started this ride so long ago in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, we were now finishing it, just the two of us. With only the two of us knowing what we had been through. We stopped a woman passing by with her kid to snap a pic, and she never said a word, just passed us back the camera and walked away. Surreal. We walked to the waterfront, cracked a small bottle of Champagne we had carried with us to celebrate. Ate crappy sandwich lunch, and found a cafe with spotty WiFi to call our families to tell them. There was lots of tears of joy to go around. We climbed back on our bikes and pushed on down the road. Ushuaia is the town at the end of the world, but the road does not end there. And because these two lunatics started this ride at the most northern point of the Americas with a road, then by golly we were going to finish this ride at the end of the road.
The road turned to dusty gravel, the tourist buses and vans were insane, but we pushed the 13 miles into the Tierra Del Fuego National Park (of course it costs $20US EACH to get into. Argentina sticking it to us to the bitter end) and enjoyed the last climb as the gravel wound past beautiful lakes and rivers and then, well, it ended. And it ended at a sign "Bahia Lapataia" and "Here ends Route 3" "Alaska 17,848 kilometers" (They are WAY off) and a couple American and German tourists were there and said, "Congratulations! You made it!" I got my high-five and they asked us where we started. "Alaska" "What?" Ya, it's kind of a long story. Some were professional photographers and we got some great pics. We walked our bikes out to the end of the pier and looked out to sea. What a ride!
While we stood there processing all these emotions, a Chinese woman was frantically trying to get something she had dropped between the planks of the pier. Her son told us she had dropped her glasses and couldn't see without them. I pulled out some string and Ville pulled out the Duct Tape and a carabiner. Ville taped the carabiner to the end of the string, said "MacGyver" to a chuckling audience and was able to fish out the glasses from below. They were on their way to an Antarctic Cruise the next day and she was thrilled to get her glasses back. Leave it to the touring cyclists who carry everything to come to the rescue! We walked down to the shore, and pulling small stones from our pocket that we had plucked from the Arctic Ocean 20 months ago, found a pair to go with them from the Beagle Channel or South Atlantic Ocean. End to end.
We rode a mile or so back and camped in the woods. Our last time setting up our home. We cooked celebratory pasta in our pot and enjoyed this last moment in this life. After this, life would look a lot different. The next morning, our last dang oatmeal breakfast, and we rode back to town in the rain. We were so dang excited to check into a hotel, out of the rain, take hot showers and cracked a bottle of Champagne in bed! And that is where we are, right as I type. Ville went to get some bike boxes in town to start packing our bikes and we have already begun the dump of trashed clothing. Guess we will be naked on the plane to Buenos Aires tomorrow because pretty much everything is sitting in the garbage.
We will be sightseeing and relaxing in Buenos Aires for about a week and then on Feb. 28th, you ready for this, drumroll please. Drumroll.........We are getting on a cruise ship for an entire month heading back to Los Angeles!! That's right! It took us 20 months to bike here and a month to sail back. We decided on a boat because a plane was WAY too fast, we need the time to slowly come back to real life. A massive thank you to Grandpa and Grandma B (watching out for us from above) for the funds to be able to do it. It's our 10 year anniversary together in March and we needed something out of the ordinary (because biking together for 2 years is just the norm). Can you believe what we have packed into 10 years? Am so grateful that I have someone I love in my life that I am able to share this crazy life with. An equal who is as nuts as I am. It is a very special thing to find. I know because I get asked all the time, "How do you spend so much time together? Don't they drive you crazy? I could never do that with my spouse." And I think, I wouldn't want to know this life without him. So thanks Ville, to being such a stupendous partner in crime. For backpacking, hiking, biking and seeing the world together. What's next babe? ;)
Well kids, thanks again for the journey. Thanks for following, reading, donating, helping, giving, cheering, praying, and everything in between. We are incredibly grateful for all of you and without you, we wouldn't have made it a mile. When we return to Bend, we will be signing up to do a lot of speaking presentations. We want to give back by inspiring others to get the travel bug. We will also have a party for all our friends, family, and followers so ALL of you better be there! We are writing a book. Please be patient, it's absolutely in the works, but it WILL BE DONE. We both plan to keep writing the blog. This was not our first rodeo and it definitely will not be the last (those of you that know us know this very much to be true!) And well, that's it for the ride. End of a chapter. So turn the page. Because there is always more...and until next time, keep on, keepin' on!!!
The Answer (AND Ville & Kristen) My Friend Is Blowin' In The Wind - Bob Dylan El Calafate to Punta Arenas, Chile
En route, we witnessed a car driving like an enraged maniac swerving and honking while plowing through a field heading straight for a herd of horses. The horses began running and the car followed chase...
I wasn't sure what the very south would have in store for WiFi, but we were in luck. Score. Some working WiFi. So I thought I would take a minute to sit down and write an update on the happenings of the last stretch. First, I wanted to take a minute to send out a massive Thank You to all of you who have reached out to us to congratulate us, praise us, and thank us for our work on the blog. Without all of you, there would be no journey nor a reason to write a blog. Because it gets read, we keep the need to write. It's a vicious cycle you see. So thank you all for reading. And looking at the pictures. All right, here's the show!
We left Robin, our friend from Bend, Oregon who met us for a week and a half of hiking, in El Calafate. She was heading out to the airport and we were riding west, with tailwind for a change! It was great to have a long break from our bike seats and to rest between hikes, but we felt recharged and ready to tackle this last big stretch of the journey. And after trying to push hard through the north of Argentina at break-neck speeds, we now needed to slow way down to meet our flight on Feb. 19th, and not sit in over-priced Ushuaia for a week. Good luck reining in these racehorses! Once we were back on Ruta 40, the road headed east and veered to the southeast up a giant canyon wall. Because of the tremendous tailwind push from behind, the long climb felt like a breeze. We made a fairly easy 60 miles and opted to camp in another road construction building with two other couples, a couple of kittens, and a wiener dog named Miguelito.
The next morning we pedaled south on gravel and luckily for us, the winds were mild and the chattering of the ripio was our only big challenges of the day. At days end, back on pavement, we scored a room in an abandoned hotel with the positives being it was out of the wind and the negatives being the howling wind blowing all the lead paint, asbestos, and threatening to rip the metal roof off while we slept. Might have to give it only 4 stars on Booking. By the next morning, the wind was howling. Of course in the wrong direction. Once we made it out to the highway, we were forced to walk the bikes for about 3 miles because the gusts were blowing us dangerously into traffic. Even walking the bikes was a challenge with the frame bags and all the panniers acting as sails. When we decided to give the pedaling a go, my gold-star husband offered to ride in front of the entire group of 6, breaking the wind for 20 miles. My husband: looks bangin' in tight shorts, sexy teased helmet hair, scores flat, free camping spots all over the Americas, speaks, like, a lot of languages, can ride a bike without hands for about 10 seconds, makes a mean oatmeal or sandwich and is the best wind breaker around!
When we arrived at the cross section heading west into Chile and the town of Cerro Castillo only 8 miles away on gravel, we opted for an end to the wind for the day. In the Argentinean Immigration stamping out, I leaned down to the glass to speak with the officer, and realized that it wreaked of cigarette on the other side. Only in Argentina would you get away with smoking INSIDE a government office while at work. Stamping into Chile went fine, other than Chile's insanely strict no fruit, vegetable, and animal product policy. Since it will be our last entry into Chile, we are both pretty pumped to be done with having all our bags scanned and then personally dug through. If I had a giant bag of cocaine, they probably wouldn't even bat an eye, but my God, you bring one orange into Chile and they will give you a full cavity search looking for the rest of the oranges!
Once in Chile, as per usual, the desert turned to a green mountainous scenic wonderland. In Cerro Castillo, Ville asked a local cowboy if we could camp on the stage of his rodeo arena. It was protected from the wind, with steps perfect to cook on. We watched the sun set, and enjoyed an exquisite pot of four-cheese, sausage pasta and talked about how these memories are what we love so much about this bike tour. The night was wrestles sleep because the wind howled so loud and shook the stage that it felt like we were in a haunted house. The next morning we had a late start, enjoying tea, coffee and oatmeal in our pot. The first 10 miles was a battle of the wind madness, but then the wind changed directions and we had a glorious tailwind the remaining 30 miles to Puerto Natales.
En route, we witnessed a car driving like an enraged maniac swerving and honking while plowing through a field heading straight for a herd of horses. The horses began running and the car followed chase. As the car roared by us, we realized these local urban auto cowboys were herding the horses, safe from exercise in a warm, dry car with coffees safely in cup holders. I can just see the next western movie like "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" where Clint Eastwood climbs into his Toyota Hilux and peels out after a heard of cattle. Now that's a REAL cowboy.
The road also passed right along the shores of a giant crystal clear lake and after 4 days on the road, we couldn't resist a dip. Stripped to skivies and dove straight in. Made it to Puerto Natales in good time and checked into a pricey (because EVERYTHING is overpriced in Chile and Argentina) Hostel. We opted for a day off here, since we are still too early for our end flight in Ushuaia, and walked around town checking out the sights. We really enjoyed Puerto Natales. Cute little port town with the very first bike lane we saw in all of South America (better late than never I guess), and met a super nice couple, Luciano and Mercedes, at the residencial (similar to a homestay) we stayed at. Thoroughly enjoyed our conversations of politics and history (both are college students from Bariloche and Buenos Aires, Argentina) and have found that we learn more from locals than only relying on news outlets as we travel. Mercedes' family lived at the residencial and her great grandma (in the pic below) is the youngest of 5 ladies, at 100 years old! And even better, she still lies about her age, telling everyone she is 84 (if I even make it close to 84 it will be a miracle). Thanks Luciano and Mercedes for hanging out, hope to see you in Buenos Aires or Oregon!
After riding out of Puerto Natales into the wind, the road headed east and south with mainly tailwind for 2 of the 3 days it took to Punta Arenas. It actually was difficult to slow down. Nearing the end of the first day, I turned around to discover a missing husband. After waiting for nearly an hour and not able to flag down any cars to ask if they had seen him, I began pedaling back into the headwind to search for him. Very soon after he rode up and had stopped a ways back to fix his break that decided to lock up and I had been in the Tailwind Zone and not noticed. Being that we are nearing the end, literally all our things are on their last legs of functioning, Duct tape and glue are keeping us moving forwards at this point. We both were panicked, but were happy to reunite and found an abandoned ranch house near Morro Chico that was actually clean and quiet to camp in.
The next day was rainy, and after battling swirling storm winds all day, we opted to call the day after just 30 miles in Villa Tehuelces. We had coffees at the one restaurant, chatted with bunches of nice motorcyclists heading north on tours, and met up with another cycling duo heading south. We all camped inside food stalls (we greatly lower our standards in the wind), and had a lazy start to what turned into a crappy day. We had thrilling tailwinds for the morning, then bad side-winds the remainder of the day into Punta Arenas. A few rainy storms hit, we struggled to find shelter and then it took hours riding all over town to find a hostel that wasn't booked. Not a fun unplanned 70 mile day, but at least the shower was hot!
And here we are, resting up, with tickets in hand to take the morning ferry to Porvenir tomorrow. For those interested, we have reached the last town in the continental Americas (Ushuaia and the next 260 miles or so are all on an island). We have only about a week left of our ride to Tierra del Fuego (Land of the Fire) and Ushuaia! We are planning to try and see the King Penguins, camp a lot, and are hoping to afford a hotel in Ushaia to get out of the rain and wind to celebrate and pack our bikes into boxes. We hear hotels are wildly expensive there, so we might have to be creative. Our flights are booked, we fly Feb. 19th to Buenos Aires and then we party it up hopefully with some friends and family! Huh, huh, anyone, anyone? I imagine last minute airfare to Buenos Aires as well as time off to do so is impossible for all, but if anyone wants to try and meet us for a celebration, we will be in Buenos Aires Feb. 19-March 1st. Would love to share in the revelry. Otherwise, Bend peeps, see you back home soon. Everyone else we know and love, connect with us. We are always looking for the next travel plan, you just might get a surprise visit ;) Thanks all for following this wild ride, until next time (and for real this time, the next time may just be the last post!), keep on, keepin' on...
...we were standing in the front of the boat with our bikes and witnessed a bowling ball of a guy on shore (who worked for the ferry company), waving the ferry to come straight back onto the dock. The ferry obliged by gunning it and slamming straight into a giant lamp post on the shore and leveling it with wires spewing out everywhere...
Well, well, well, last blog post I left you all with a cliff hanger! What to do, what to do? Continue down the Carretera Austral to Villa O'Higgins and catch two different ferries, pushing bikes on a long trail and pop out at El Chalten OR head back to Argentina and battle the maddening winds down Highway 40 to El Chalten....
Last post we were lounging a day, with the sun finally gracing us with it's presence, in Coyhaique, Chile. Catching up on rest, blog, to-dos, and hanging with our friends Roy and Lana from Canada. After our day of rest, we rode south, with the sun shining and a plan to make it to a campground in the national forest. The day turned into a solid day of climbing up a canyon with biting horse flies and when we were still a bit from the campground, petering out on steam, Ville opted to ask a nearby farmer to camp in their field. Lana insisted she could push on to the campground, but Ville suggested we ask a nearby farmer to camp in their field. I think Lana and Roy were not as excited about it at first, but after having a field all to ourselves (with no other noisy campers nearby) and stunning views back down the canyon we had just climbed, I think they were sold.
The next day, as we finished the last push up the climb, Ville pulled over to help a Brazilian couple with a broken rack, and ended up with one of their giant panniers strapped to his bike until the next town where they might be able to fix the rack. What a guy. Luckily for my husband, he has built himself quite the pair of thunder thighs and I don't even think the extra weight fazed him :) The long, slow decent opened into valleys covered in sprawling wildflowers with a clear stream cut through meandering along the road. We wound down the "infamous" switchbacks and down to Villa Cerro Castillo. Unfortunately for us, word on the street from northbound cyclists was that the ferry in Villa O'Higgins had been broken for a month (and we are still in Latin America, so let's be honest, that thing will be broken all season) and only a small ferry had taken it's place with a long line of cyclists waiting to cross. After further research, we decided with a date set to meet our friend, Robin from Bend, we were not willing to risk missing her and made the decision to head back to Argentina. We took another day off in Cerro Castillo with our buds, got a sweet cabana for our last night together, and made a feast to celebrate our last night on the road together.
The next morning, we hugged our goodbyes as they rode south to the gravel, and we headed back north to the cross section dropping us down, with epic tailwinds for a change, to the town of Puerto Ibanez. There we missed the only ferry that crosses Lago Gral Carrera by an hour, and had to stay overnight in a dump motel and wait for the next ferry, at 6pm the following day. The all day sit at the lake shore promenade, only stirred questions of why anyone would choose to live in a gusty, windblown town of 50 or so residents with not much else to do. We were thrilled, however, to get off the hitchhiker/backpacker/cyclist freeway of Carretera Austral. After not seeing hardly ONE cyclist since busy Baja, we were hugely overwhelmed by the lack of quiet camping spots and the attitudes of the locals left in the wake of the chaos of travelers was less than kind. Not so cool for us.
We met a nice backpacker, David, from England to chat with for the day and made it onto the packed ferry that evening. Upon our arrival to the boat ramp of Chile Chico, we were standing in the front of the boat with our bikes and witnessed a bowling ball of a guy on shore (who worked for the ferry company), waving the ferry straight to come straight back onto the dock. The ferry obliged by gunning it and slamming straight into a giant lamp post on the shore and leveling it with wires spewing out everywhere. Since bikes were the first to disembark, we had a front row seat of the action! Both Ville and I were hysterically laughing, not able to hold it in, and they just proceeded to unload cars like this just happens everyday. Safety, schmafty, who cares if people get electrocuted. That's a risk they are just fine taking. I still wonder how long that lamp post will sit there before someone gets around to fixing it. Probably never.
The south shore of Lago Gral Carrera was blustery, and we opted to pay for an overcrowded campground because it had a bit of shelter. The next morning we rode to the Chilean Border, stamped out, and had about 5 miles to ride to the Argentinean border where we would stamp into Argentina. We passed hoards of backpackers carrying giant packs the 5 miles, unable to hitch rides. One of the few times we were grateful to be on bikes and not walking. Stamped into Argentina and the first town we rode through, Los Antiguos, was a circus!
As we had done on the entire bike trip, one of us always watched the bikes, while the other ran the errands (we have everything to lose if we took the risk of leaving them even locked up). This time it was my turn, so I watched our bikes out front as Ville hit the market and ATM. Standing there I was able to witnessed the "People of WalMart" Reunion happening around me. I saw a woman in leopard-print Daisy-dukes WAY too short for her portly self sashay by with her pooch, a guy with a "Top Best" shirt roll by with tiny legs and a massive upper body walking as if he were carrying oranges in his armpits with his matching son in tow, a cop car squeeze by with 3 handcuffed, frazzled and wasted looking dudes in the back, a man about 17 months pregnant with triplets and a rockin' mullet saunter by, man it was a show! Every single campground was packed to the max and we were pumped to be riding out of town. There was even a line of people waiting to take their selfie with a crappy paper-mache looking statue of a hand holding cherries. I wanted a selfie with the people waiting in line, but Ville said no.
If we had sails attached to the bikes, we would have made it to Perito Moreno in minutes. The ride was along the shore of Lago Gral Carrera, and the waves on the east bank were surf-able curls from the wind. In Perito Moreno, Ville's tooth pain was becoming nearly unbearable and luckily the tourist information lady directed Ville to a dentist who was able to get Ville in right away. After he Ductaped his tooth in place, just kidding, he actually fixed it for a mere $25 (take that US overpriced medical) and we opted to camp at Mini Camping Raul nearby for the night. And what an experience that was! Raul happens to be the real life Latino Kramer (Seinfeld T.V. Show character) and one of the kindest, generous Tasmanian Devils around. He talks non-stop, with a very thick Buenos Aries accent (lots of "che", "sho", in place of the double ll or y in the spanish language) and about everything and nothing. I would find myself zoning out and completely miss that he had just asked me a question and really, it didn't matter. It was best to just sit back, listen, and let the man pile food on your plate ("no" and "no gracias" is not in his vocabulary). "You want eggs?", ""No, gracias" , ""You want eggs?", "No, gracias", "I'll make you some eggs". Alright, Raul, how about some eggs.
Now on a schedule to meet our friend Robin in El Chalten, we had some miles to do. We spent the next 6 days fighting hurricane force winds swirling in all directions in the boring Argentinean desert. We saw only the occasional armadillo scitter across the road, get blown over by the speeding traffic, and had to be very creative with camping spots out of the wind. We realized that to ride the 60 miles straight to El Chalten off Highway 40 would be into straight headwind and opted to push on south to El Calafate, where Robin would fly into, and was only 20 miles off Highway 40 into headwind. We made it just in time for Robin to arrive and boy was it great to see a friend from home!
Robin rented a car and we zipped back north to El Chalten with even the rental car being blown all over the road. We stayed for the last week in El Chalten doing day hikes, eating tons of good food, ice cream, staying in cabanas and relaxing. We had fantastic weather, were completely spoiled and lived like kings. We heard from our friends, Roy and Lana, that the Chilean sky cried when we left them for over a week and now that another storm has blown in, the ferry will not be sailing again for a while and they are stuck in Villa O'Higgins (VERY relieved we opted to bail out of Chile early or we surly would have missed our friend). However, the handful of nice days we had brought some luckily cyclists through and we ran into a friend on the hiking trails who told us a whopper of a tail. You ready?
Remember how I had spoken of the stray Chilean dogs that follow people around looking for a home? If, not, check out our last blog post. Well, when we had left a pizza place back in Chaiten, we hopped on our bikes in the rain, and were heading up the road a ways to the ferry dock. There was a small, brown, mangy Spaniel mix breed dog that took off after us and chased us all the way to the ferry. This savvy little whipper snapper waited until they waved us onto the ferry to follow us on board. It waited as we situated our bikes down below, and followed us up the stairs into the main cabin of the ship like a boss. Once inside, it split to mosey around giving puppy-dog eyes to all the passengers begging for food and attention. Once the ferry sailed, we heard the staff asking around who the dog belonged to. That's when they realized it didn't belong to anyone and it was too late to kick it off. It even took a dump in the middle of the floor that someone cleaned up. By the time we docked, the nice Finnish family we met on board had kids that begged to keep the dog and at least Dad was nice enough to take the dog off the ferry. Once onshore, this nice lady that owns a big resort in town, took a shining to the pup, but was flying back to the States and unable to take it with her. Last seen, pup was a wandering around Raul de Balmaceda making friends with all the locals.
Update: Same pup followed two other cyclists for unknown distance down the road, and then met up with our British cycling friend, whom it then followed for 60 k/40 miles down the road scoring a sandwich. Traveling pup last seen on the Carretera Austral looking for cycling friends to share in the journey. A pup with a traveling soul :)
The plan, we arrived by car back in El Calafate this afternoon and Ville spent the day putting new chains on the bikes. Robin relaxed and I punched some keys to bring this latest update to your hot little hands (screens). Tomorrow we plan to drive up to see the Perito Moreno Glacier and pack up. Robin leaves day after tomorrow back to Bend (we can't tell you how grateful we both are to have a friend come see us and spoil us rotten for a whole week. It will give us the charged batteries we need to charge back into the desert. Thank you Robin, see you again so soon in Bend my friend). From there we continue back to Highway 40 and battle the winds another couple weeks south. We have a flight from Ushuaia booked for Feb. 19th to Buenos Aires, and will shoot to arrive before then.
So folks, this might be it. Our last post before the end. We are hoping to find WiFi one more time before we get to Ushuaia, but in case we don't, keep us in your thoughts, say some prayers, we thank you all for following this journey, supporting us in all the ways everyone could and see you at the end of the world! Out into the winds we will go...to keep on keepin' on!
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Years to everyone! Hope you made it through with smooth sailing and are charging ahead on all the new resolutions you made. Go get em' tigers!
These two loonie bins are still moving south, if you can believe it. We had quite a long stretch of "rough patch," but the sun came out yesterday and today and things are looking up. Our last update from Entre Lagos, Chile, we were celebrating Christmas Eve together in a cabin with it raining outside, but were happy to be warm and dry for a day. On Christmas day, we ventured out heading south and east around Llanquihue Lake (just north of Puerto Montt), to a farm on the south of the lake near Puerto Varas. Our friends Paul and Sarah were there for a wedding and invited us to join them for Christmas dinner. It poured on us the entire ride, but was nice to have a roof over our heads and some friends to give us some love at the end of the day. Thanks so much for taking us in guys and we really enjoyed the evening with the family! See you soon in Bend :)
The next day, our friends headed out and we hopped back on bikes and rode back to Ensenada and south on the V-69 with some semi-decent weather and views, camping at the mouth of the Rio Petrohue where it dumps into the Estero Reloncavi. The next day was our one nice sunny day (if we had known it would be our last for a couple weeks, we would have rejoiced in it far more than we did), and biking through the tiny town of Cochamo we had stunning views of all the surrounding snow-capped volcanoes while eating our lunch at the shoreline. The road that hugged the east bank of the estuary was gravel and a roller-coaster of steep ups and downs, but incredibly scenic and almost hot! By the evening, we stopped in Puelo to cook dinner and quickly found shelter as the skies opened up and poured on us. We rode a ways further and then Ville asked a farmer if we could camp in his barn and he offered us the tool shed because he said it was way more "hygienic" than the barn full of poop and animals. Little did he know our standards are very low by now, especially when it rains!
The next day we rode out in the drizzle, and had stellar views of the surrounding volcanoes and estuary, littered with salmon fish farms all along the shore. When we reached Caleta Puelche, where the ferry ports from the north, we merged onto pavement of the infamous Carretera Austral. We pedaled hard to the next town in the pouring rain, and ate lunch in a bus shelter chatting with all the locals waiting for buses. A sweet old lady told us if we came to her house, off our route, on the shore, she would make us hot cocoa. We declined, hoping to get to Hornopiren in time to catch the ferry to Caleta Gonzalo and make it to Chaiten in time for my birthday. The one wish I had for my day of birth was to NOT be on my bike seat. We made friends with the sweetest black lab sisters, and when we pedaled off into the rain, they followed right behind us. Realizing at the bus stop that they were homeless, following all the passengers getting off in the hopes of a warm meal and bed to sleep, they realized we were their only hope. We let them follow us a while, thinking they would get bored and turn around at some point, but after over 15 miles, and heading ever deeper into the thick woods with hardly any civilization, we were stressing about these poor dogs. The rain was a complete downpour, the road was suppose to be paved, but the entire 30 miles was under construction, deep loose mud from the rain, cars flying by and splattering us with mud, insanely steep hills that many we had to walk pushing bikes up the steep hills because of the thick mud, and the dogs would dive into the brush to dodge the mud flying as cars passed, but stayed right at our heals as we slowly chugged on. Were we regretting not taking up the sweet old lady's offer of hot cocoa by now? You better believe it! Idiots.
Nearing twenty miles on the road, Ville was beginning to stress how we would ever find a place to camp with two labs and was trying to ditch them. It was the scene right out of the movie, Old Yeller, where the boy is having to yell at the dog he loves because it gets rabies. OK, not exactly the same, but it really tore my heart out having to try and ditch these two sweet pups that were just looking for someone to love them. Really sucked and I was traumatized by it for days after. When we finally got a long downhill, we pedaled hard trying to lose them and I looked back to see them still running as fast as they could trying to keep up. Just stab my heart through with a knife. UGH! We made it into Hornopiren at 9pm and walked into the first market we saw dripping all over the floor. Needing desperately to strip down and dry our things, we couldn't just find camping, we needed a hostal or hospedaje, but couldn't afford the $40 USD for one.
Just then, a middle-aged man walked into the store, took one look at us, shook his head and laughed. He asked us, in English, "what do you need?" All I could respond was, "I don't know" because I was still so in shock. He said, "come with me" and I just followed him out the door. He led us next door into the home improvement shop and rolled open the shop to put our bikes. We were SO grateful and started to hang our things to dry on shelving, when he led us upstairs into his house to hang things next to a stove. He showed us the shower and made us hot tea! I was so humbled by his kindness and so grateful I asked to hug him. After we showered, he set us up in a spare room to sleep. The next morning, as the rain continued to come down in sheets, we dressed and made our plans to catch the next ferry when our savior, Aldo, came in and said that we should stay another night because of the weather. It did not take convincing, while looking out the window at the pouring rain. When Ville told him it was my birthday the next day, he demanded we stay another day as well. Turns out Aldo is an incredible cook and planned a mouth watering meal of pork ribs, potatoes, and sangria for my birthday! He was tickled watching us lick our plates. We planned to roll out the next day, but of course it was New Years Eve and Aldo asked us to stay and celebrate with him. Not going to say no, we had another late night asado, grilled meat, (very popular in Argentina and Chile and usually finished up around 1am) and watched the boat flares rocket into the sky all over town at midnight. What a great place to end an entire YEAR on bikes!
The next morning, it was time to go. We could have stayed with Aldo for weeks he was such a great guy, super kind and with a great sense of humor, but we needed to move on. We caught the day ferry to Caleta Gonzalo and rode only 6 miles before it started raining and pitched a tent to sleep and stay dry for at least one night. The next day's 35 mile ride was in a downpour again, and by the time we arrived in Chaiten in the evening to wait for our night ferry to Puerto Marin Balmaceda, we were soaked and in sour moods. We tried to dry out in a cold coffee shop, offended all the other patrons by stripping off our wet socks and shoes in the place, but what are you going to do? We jumped on our bikes, and as we rode off towards the ferry, a small brown cocker spaniel looking pooch took off running after us. What is with us and dogs? We were put on the ferry before the cars and this smart little pooch jumped onto the ferry like it was with us and no one questioned it. Then it waited until we tied up our bikes and when we walked up the stairs into the lounge, it followed us like a boss. It wasn't until we were all loaded and moving south at 11pm, that the guys working on the boat realized the roving dog didn't belong to anyone. However, this smart little whipper snapper knew just how to bat it's eyes at all the passengers, especially the kids, to get some snacks. It even got carried off the ferry by a family and was last seen looking for a new home in Puerto Marin Balmaceda. (For all of you wondering why we didn't take the labs to a shelter, or what poor family is missing this pup, there are no shelters and there are hundreds of roving homeless mutts all over Chile and they are ALL homeless looking for homes. It's quite depressing)
On the ferry we met the coolest Canadian couple, also cyclists, heading down the Carretera Austral sitting next to us, Roy and Lana. Because this was a special ferry, added only because there was a massive landslide that took out three sections of the Highway 7 and the town of Santa Lucia, we didn't have to pay for it. But when we arrived in the early morning at Puerto Marin Balmaceda, the winds and rain were so bad we had to stay on the ferry out in the bay and wait four more hours for the weather to get decent enough to embark. Once we arrived, Roy, Lana, Ville and I rode straight to a hostel and checked in for the night. Forty dollars or not, we could not ride 50 miles up a crappy mud pit road in the pouring rain another day. We opted to be broke and dry. We had a fantastic day chatting with a Finnish family we met on the ferry (careful speaking Finnish cause you never know where those Finns will pop up!), and hanging with Roy and Lana sharing some laughs. By the evening the sun popped out for a minute for us to take a short stroll down the beach and we all agreed to take another ferry to the next town, Puerto Cisnes, since the weather forecast looked horrible and we would be able to catch better road from there.
When we hopped onto this ferry, we were very quickly disappointed to learn that this one would be like riding a Greyhound Bus across the US. The majority of the people on board were mainly men, lots of missing teeth, pot bellies, du-rags (tight head caps), and staring types. I was fully clothed in rain gear and was gawked at like I was in lingerie. I refused to let Ville leave me alone. And they put on some real stellar films, such as Too Fast Too Furious 8 and The Shallows. There was an obnoxious family with two young kids in front of us and just watching the Dad swear at his kids while being deeply engrossed in the films (he was drooling every time Vin Diesel came on the screen), made me want to vomit. We eventually changed seats to try and get some sleep and found ourselves right next to another boisterous family playing video games at full volume. After not sleeping a wink, we docked at 3:30 am and pitched our tents in the rain under a shelter right on the main boardwalk of a less than happening town. We woke up early to the chattering people waiting at the bus stop right next to our tent and headed out in the drizzle of rain east on, at least, pavement. The views were amazing, even if we could only see glimpses through the rain and clouds. The waterfalls were going off thanks to all the rain.
From Puerto Cisne, we rode up to the cross section where it connects with the Carretera Austral again, and climbed up to Villa Amenguel. Lana and Roy have done a few different bike packing trips, but being early in this current journey, Lana was struggling with the aches and pains associated with being all day on a bike and we were thrilled to take it more easy and stick with our new pals. We grabbed coffee in a bus cafe and then opted to stay at a hostel out of the rain. The next morning we, yet again, rode out in the rain and had peek-a-boo views through the clouds of the epic Patagonia scenery. In Manihuales, we found a decent campground in town, with working hot showers, and a boisterous latino posse rolled in right at dark to break branches, light a bonfire, and drink loudly all night. I know we all travel for the experiences of cultural differences, but we are getting a bit anxious to have a break from the latino culture for a while.
From there we rode, in rain, to a bus stop for lunch out of the rain, and made it to a nice campground 20 miles out from Coyhaique, where we opted for a sheltered place to camp out of the rain together. Lana and Ville are coffee addicts and have enjoyed making their crack in the mornings to get them on the road. We were SHOCKED to wake up to a sunny blue sky and were overwhelmed to ride 20 whole miles climbing with spectacular views into Coyhaique! We took today off the bikes in town, catching up on laundry (although the rain has washed us and all our stuff every day), this blog and some food resupply. We are struggling a bit with some logistical planning. We really want to continue south down the Carretera Austral, finishing it in Villa O'Higgins where we would take a very overpriced ferry ($125 each is word on the street) to get to El Chalten. The views would be far better than those in the desert of Argentina, but we would have to push bikes a ways on a trail at the end and weather permitting, this can be hell if you are doing it in rain, the ferry is out-of-our-budget expensive, and the ferry doesn't run in bad weather. And well, let's just say it's been raining a bit. If the crappy weather continues, we may not be able to catch a ferry and meet our friend Robin in El Chalten. And we need to decide soon because we will lose our options of routes back to Argentina soon so gotta make a plan.
Well folks, not sure when we will score some decent WiFi again. If we head south in Chile, the road will turn to dirt and we hear we will lose WiFi access. If we end up heading back to Argentina and moving south, we may have options. So, hang tight, we promise another update at our next able stop. And thanks everyone for still following this wild ride! Until next time, keep on keepin' on...
All of a sudden, Ville started wildly jabbering in Finnish, flailing his arms, waving his cell phone around, acting like a mad man and then the drunk patted Ville on the back trying to calm him down and stumbled away.
Happy Holidays friends, family, and followers! Hope this reaches you all enjoying heaps of food with your wacky family with some time away from work. We are, as per usual, still plugging away heading south and zig-zagging between Argentina and Chile. We have had a very rough stretch, with some terrible luck in weather, but are hoping our luck is turning around really soon.
South of Mendoza was, guess what? A bunch more boring desert! With a giant section of Highway 40 a washboard gravel road. Was a total blast. We did, however, get to ride through Malarque, which turned out to be a very developed city with even a Columbia Outfitters store. We stopped only to grab food and ice cream, but were offered a place to sleep in a yard of an incredibly kind family we met. Shocked to have been offered hospitality (this has been a very rare occurrence in Argentina), but we were on a mission to keep pushing to get out of the desert and biked on. In Buta Ranquil, we camped in the parking lot of a police station, and when we woke up in the morning and went inside to use the toilet, it dawned on me just how weird and random our lives right now really are. The cops were having a pow-wow in the break room and welcomed us in to use the toilet, like its not weird that two random people are camping on your parking lot and using your toilet in the morning.
The scenery between Buta Ranquil and Chos Malal was more scenic and in Chos Malal we found a beautiful campground on the river that reminded us a lot of the Deschutes River in Bend. Just south of the town, we posed for pics at the Mid-way of Highway 40 in Argentina and basically our "halfway" of Argentina already done! The next hundred miles of crappy desert and headwinds brought us to Las Lajas, where we found an overpriced campground right on the river and Ville and I scored a new puppy friend. This cute puppy played with us the whole time we were there and even slept right outside our tent. I had to check our bags when we left to make sure Ville didn't take her with him. From there we left good ol' 40, and decided to head west on the 242 to Chile to get some change of scenery. We had even more hellish headwinds biking up and over the pass to Chile and at the border crossing they threw away most of our food (we thought it was just fruits and vegetables, but it's all animal products too they do not allow being brought into Chile) which is a bit rough when your biking with no food until the next town. Luckily the next town was close and when we arrived in Liucura, we were standing outside a market when a crazy drunk walked up and started hassling us. All of a sudden, Ville started wildly jabbering in Finnish, flailing his arms, waving his cell phone around, acting like a mad man and then the drunk patted Ville on the back trying to calm him down and stumbled away. Apparently, Ville has this great philosophy that you just need to act more crazy than the crazy and they will leave you alone. And it worked! What a genius I'm married to.
We camped in a field and woke up the next morning to some pretty black clouds that opened up and poured on us the entire next day with wind gusts that blew us over. Twenty miles took us a good portion of the day, with every passing car spraying us with rocks and water, and when we limped into Icalma, with the plan to camp on the lake, we opted instead to spend too much money on a cabin on the lake because we were completely soaked through and freezing (the snow level had dropped to just above us). The cabin was amazing!! It even had a stove that Ville stuffed with wood to get us and our stuff dry as we listened to the storm howl outside and the wind threaten to rip the roof off the place. We asked the owner if this weather was normal and of course he said, "No, it's normally really hot now." Of course it is. The next morning was freezing, a bunch of snow had covered the mountains, but dry and we climbed back up to the border of Argentina heading south. When we came to the border this time (it's like Christmas, you never know what your going to get), the long haired dude came out to "look through" just our frame bags for some reason and pulled everything out of them. I had to hold in my laughter when he pulled out a rag I use as toilet paper when I pee (I wash it out all the time, but it keeps from littering toilet paper everywhere) and rolled it around in his hands, probably checking for drugs. Ville gave me a sideways glance and I felt finally redeemed for all the hassle those numb-nuts give us at every border crossing. :)
The next few days were incredibly scenic and we had fantastic weather! Quite a bit of the road was washboard-shit-gravel, but the scenery was nice and we tried to take it slow. We even had a couple suburb camp spots on the river and a dip or two during the day. These were the moments we dreamed about when planning the bike trip. The scenery, strangely, looks exactly like the Warm Springs area of Central Oregon; dry, sagebrush, rocky canyon with a giant fish filled river cutting through it. The drivers are awful, absolutely no concept of slowing down as they fly by us spewing rocks and dirt in our faces. Peruvians, I expected not to know any better, but Argentinians, come on!! After Ville had a chat with one driver, it was apparent that they were not mean, simply had no idea that flying by us at over 60 miles an hour on gravel was maybe not the best idea. After I thought on it for a while, it made sense. We never see people in Argentina exercising; biking, hiking, walking, nada. So if your only driving everywhere, guess you would have no idea what its like to be on a road when a car flies by you.
We stopped in Alumine just to resupply groceries, and then camped at a campground on the river in Junin de los Andes that was beautiful but obscenely expensive to be in our tent on the ground ($30 for 2 people, but Ville talked them down a bit). After a night we rode through San Martin de los Andes which was one of the weirdest towns we have been in in Argentina. Super expensive, ritzy, Aspen wanna-be, ski town that even had shops with English names like Chill Spot, Casino Magic and even a Crux Brewery! (for real) For those not in Bend, this is a very loved friend's brew pub in our hometown. We ate some cold chicken from the grocery store and pushed on up a decent climb into the mountains where we found a spot off the road to camp. Our intake of food has been severely suffering since Argentina (and before) because everything is wildly expensive and never open, so we have had to cook a lot of pasta, make sandwiches, skip snacks, and are always ravenous. And basically 2 bags of bones on wheels.
In the middle of the night, everything froze, even our water, and poor Ville got really sick (probably the cold chicken) and spent the night in and out of the tent with it coming out both ends. Not fun when you are at home in your own bed, but a real bummer in a tent on the ground with it freezing outside. By morning, he was lacking energy, feeling a bit better, and we had to keep going. The weather warmed up during the day and the scenery of the Ruta de los 7 Lagos (route of 7 lakes) was really beautiful. The crazy thing is though, it all looks exactly like the Pacific Northwest! This is the most visited area of Argentina, everyone had rave things to say about it as we headed south, and now riding though it we both feel like we are riding the Cascade Lakes Highway at home. Although home is a LOT closer than Argentina. The more places and corners of the world we ride through in the world, it's nice to feel like we live in a pretty kick-ass place in Bend, Oregon.
We had planned to go slowly through the Ruta de los 7 Lagos, but we got word that our Bend friends are nearby in Chile, on our route south, and here for a wedding so if we arrive before the 26th, we can hang. Also, we stopped to check about camping at a farm, but paying a bunch for literally nothing but a spot to throw our tent down made no sense, so we have opted to stealth camp almost every night in bushes and such just off the road. As we rode west to head over the pass to Chile again, the border patrol warned us that the pass was really bad and recommended we turn around. We were on a mission to see friends and it's not like we have other options, we are lacking an alternative mode of transport, so we pushed on anyways. As the drizzling rain turned to pouring rain, we stamped out of Argentina and began the 10 mile climb up over the pass. The sky cleared for a while as we climbed, we started to get our hopes up, but then the rain pored again and turned to snow. By the time we made the decent on the other side a ways to where the weather subsided and the sun came out a bit we were shivering and soaked. We have had the worst luck at border crossings as of late.
We made it as far as Entre Lagos in Chile, and made the stupid call to just drink the tap water because we are in the mountains and the water should be clean, right? Nope. Guess not. Because then I was the sickest I have ever been in my life all night with it coming out both ends. Ville was a champ and made me chicken soup the next day to ease me back to life. We made the call to stay another night here in Entre Lagos at a spendy cabin because it's Christmas, it's raining outside, and we want to spend the holiday together dry, sleeping in beds with a roof over our heads, with a hot shower and happy! We plan to leave here Christmas Day (tomorrow) and ride about 60 miles to Puerto Varas where our friends are staying on a farm to get some friend love on Christmas. From there, we plan to ride south on the Carretera Austral, Highway 7. We just got word of the massive landslide in Chile, which is a giant section of the Carretera Austral where we plan to go south. The landslide buried an entire village, killed 11 people and has made it a big challenge for traffic trying to pass through. Very sorry for those living in the village, and grateful that we were not there during the slide. Doing some research now on how to work around it. Always an adventure!!
Thanks so much all of you for following our journey, writing us, donating, supporting, helping, praying, and loving us along the way. We know it is what keeps us going! Hoping everyone has very happy holidays, a fabulous day on my, K.G.'s day of birth (Dec. 30th) and a rockin' new year full of resolutions that are sure to come true. Until next time friends, keep on keepin' on!!!
Since we were engrossed in the movie, we hadn't noticed anything weird (not even that our sleeping pads began to feel like a water bed), until I went to get up to pee and looked out and my shoes were floating away! We sat up and the water was at the very top of the waterproofing of our tent, just about to spill in at over 5" deep!
We finally limped into Mendoza, Argentina and are excited to check off that 1/3 of the country is now finished! As Ville posted in the last update, this last month has been really tough. Since we left my parents in Cusco, Peru just over a month ago, we have struggled with food challenges, a wide open spans of desert allowing for hellish headwinds and lacking water, pushes of 75-85 miles between town stops (that is a LOT of miles for loaded touring bikes), no showers, no affordable accommodations resulting in one day off in over a month, and a deterioration of our bodies. I quit writing my doctor back home because the list of my health problems has grown so large I know she will highly suggest I rest (not possible) or quit riding (also not possible), so we are pushing on and hoping to get to Ushuaia in one piece. That's the plan anyways.
After riding with Kungfu Ninja PacMan from Buenos Aires for almost two weeks, listening to his incessant, "well, in Argentina" this and "well, in Argentina" that we had gotten our hopes up so high that we almost believed by simply crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina we would enter an oasis never been seen or felt before. So that was a gigantic disappointment when we crossed over, the road went from a giant 4'+ bike lane/shoulder to none, the more well-off Argentinians drove more cars at much higher speeds right next to our ears without a care of moving over, the headwind went to barely able to pedal forwards, and where we once could ask to camp anywhere with, "sure. no problem" we had to ask multiple people with "No. Can't camp here. This is private property." It reminded me of the scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber, where a giant bus of Hawaiian Tropic Girls pull up to Harry and Loyd and say they are looking for 2 oil boys to grease them up before competitions and the boys say, "well, your in luck! There is a town, 10 miles that way where I'm sure you'll find 2 oil boys there." We would ask an average of 7 different farmers, ranchers, even a cop! that we were tired and needed a place to sleep and were always directed up the road a ways. Great, thanks for nothing.
At least the grocery stores are stocked with more food. That's a plus. If they are ever open. Usually not. We pack a lot of food with us and make lots of sandwiches and pasta. We have FINALLY begun to meet nice people along the way here in Argentina. We met a nice couple who owned a hostel in a middle-of-nowhere town along Route 40 who gave us some wine they had made and treated us like their kids. Then, just north of San Juan we were desperate for a place to sleep out of the rain and two extremely nice construction workers welcomed us into their field station to sleep. We asked to camp under an awning with road equipment and they showed us into their barracks, gave us beds and a shower and even shared food with us. I was SO thrilled I think I made them uncomfortable with how many times I hugged them! The night before had been very eventful so maybe I was still traumatized.
The night before, the manager at the gas station in Jachal was nice enough to let us camp in the yard next to the station. The last few nights we had thunderstorms, and a big one was brewing. As we pitched the tent near the back of the property, away from the street noise, and climbed in to watch the movie Spinal Tap on Ville's cell phone, the storm hit and it POURED. Since we were engrossed in the movie, we hadn't noticed anything weird (not even that our sleeping pads began to feel like a water bed), until I went to get up to pee and looked out and my shoes were floating away! We sat up and the water was at the very top of the waterproofing of our tent, just about to spill in at over 5" deep! Histerically laughing, we hiked up our pants and slogged through the water carrying all our stuff to higher ground. Guess we had pitched the tent in the lowest spot in the yard where all the drainage pipes dumped out. Oooooops. Thankfully we had just been given a new waterproof tent from Ville's family and so the water had actually stayed out long enough for us to move to higher ground. Thanks Jokinens!!
In San Juan, we were desperate for a break and we looked at "the cheapest place in town" which was an eclectic room that smelled like cat pee for $45/night. Pass. We opted for a hostel for $35 and took a day off because my back was beginning to seize up from all the headwind. It would be our first full day off the bikes in a month. And the first night there, we met a group of Argentinean dudes from Buenos Aires, Tucuman, and San Juan, who worked in the mines up in the mountains as environmental scientists and were on a few days break. They rolled in with one of the biggest hunks of beef we had ever seen three guys plan to eat at once, stick it on the grill and after 3 hours and multiple beers and stories later, we feasted at midnight. And then they left us the leftover slab, with bread and these two thrifty bikers made it into sandwiches for lunch the next day. Thanks a million boys for your kindness!!
The red rock canyon between Salta and Cafayate was beautiful. And there was a lush green tropical forest beteen Jujuy and Salta, but otherwise, the scenery has been drab. It has allowed tons of time to zone out and actually remember back to countries, places and people we have met, enjoyed and loved along the way. I often wish we would not have committed to biking all the miles from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia and would take buses through the boring or challenging stretches, but then, it makes the great stuff really great. When we biked through 3 straight weeks of rain in Oregon and Northern California, it was the pits, but then when the sun came out finally in Fort Bragg, man was it surreal! We know at the end of this painful desert, there will be beauty coming soon. Actually, when we finally dropped down from the high plains of Bolivia to some greenery in Argentina, we could smell the plants and life growing out of the dirt. It was wild!
San Juan is a big city with 105 miles to Mendoza, also a big city. Of course there was no shoulder, but a lot of very fast, very unfriendly traffic killing everything from dogs, donkeys, owls, etc lying bloating in the sun along the road. There was a bit more greenery along the road and we are staying with Mauro and his brother Nico, Warmshowers hosts, who are awesome! Mauro just returned from a year long bicycle journey in Europe 3 months ago and has been a great guy to chat with about the trials and tribulations of cycling. He even just handed me a new t-shirt after seeing the 30-some odd holes in mine. What a guy!
Ville and I are planning to take at least 2 or 3 days off here. We desperately need the rest. And Ville's back rim is all bent up. The last month put a bunch of strain on it and we are having to wait and try and replace it with something that will make it the rest of the journey. A massive, heartfelt thank you to my cousin Jeff and his wife Vikki for their kind donation for our ride. The money is going to fix Ville's bike, pay for the renewal of this website and to take a few days much needed rest. Your generosity has helped us more than you know!
We had originally planned to bike over to Santiago, Chile to see a friend, but realized we don't have time. We are now pushing south to meet up with our friend, Robin, from Bend in El Chalten to backpack together. For us that is 1,650 miles and a month and a half away. It will be a push, but we are really excited to see a friend from home who is making the journey down to see us! Thanks so much everyone for writing us, following us, supporting us, and just being so rad. We love you all. Until next time, keep on keepin' on kids!!!
By the way, how would you say one rides a train on these tracks? Thoughts? Suggestions? Food for thought.
Hola good people, Ville here bringing you the next scoop on our Northern Argentina adventures.
For our last full day in Bolivia we had a clear plan: ride till we got close enough to the border of Argentina to cross it early the next day. The first half of the day was spent cruising slightly downhill in a beautiful river canyon, the second half was spent climbing for 15 miles back to the high plains where the winds were ripping. We camped before dark in a giant open sand pit on someone's big property and I got a flat tire from the many thorns everywhere. While patching my tube I decided to change my tire since it was getting pretty bald. I had gotten a new tire in Cusco thanks to the good people at Project Bike Bend for tracking down my size and a huge thanks to K.G's parents for bringing it to me in Peru! I gave my old tire to our friend Camilo, he's been dealing with multiple broken spokes since we've met him and we were hoping my wider tire would help him.
The next day we scarfed breakfast and raced the remaining 10 miles to the border to get to the promised land! We had heard so many great things about Argentina and to be honest Bolivia was not our favorite place. Bolivia has a couple of things that make it hard for touring cyclists : Numero uno, it doesn't have a lot of options for food (rice & chicken or chicken & rice IF you can find a food place in the ghost towns we seldom pass by). Two, the distances between towns are long so you have to haul a lot of food and water with you. Three, It's not that special when it comes to the views, sure Salar de Uyuni (World's largest salt flat) was nice but that's pretty much it.
When we were crossing the border we noticed one thing that bothered K.G and I quite a bit:
When we were greeted nicely and welcomed to Argentina with open arms and big smiles, our Colombian friend Camilo got the third degree from the Masters of the Stamps. " How much money do you have? What do you do for work? How long are you going to stay in Argentina?" We got none of these questions. Camilo is an engineer from Bogota, Colombia...to be honest he's way less of a bum than we are. It's crazy how many more doors a blue or a burgundy passport opens.
On the other side of the border we immediately sensed that Argentina is different from Bolivia and Peru. Less hassle, less animals running around the streets, less honking of the horn, more detail in the architecture (K.G. noticed right away that the windows here are glass set into wood opening windows in contrast to Peru and Bolivia's non-opening glass windows if they could afford the glass), more food and more education. The first thing we needed to find was a bank to get some local currency and so we proceeded to ask some teenagers since they know everything...or at least I did when I was their age. The answers we got were finely articulated and you could sense that the level of education was higher here. After a quick run to the ATM and pockets full of bills( Argentinian fiscal history is a roller coaster) we were heading out of the border town, La Quiaca, since the towns close to the border are pretty dumpy. From the first mile on we were met with an intense headwind, we had to fight this bastard for the next 250 miles until Salta. After a few miles, we took a break at a bus stop and lit some fireworks that I had purchased in Bolivia to celebrate making it to Argentina. As we were lighting them I could sense that this was no longer the part of good old South America where one could do anything and no one would say anything even if you were shooting your automatic rifle into the air.
Argentinians have declared themselves as the Europe of South America...as a European, I have to disagree. Don't get me wrong, they're doing pretty good in South American standards, but there's a lot of room for improvement. Maybe better roads with a shoulder for starters. Roads are better in most parts of Africa. Argentinians seem to trash talk a lot about their neighbors and have their nose up in the air, but right now there is not a lot to boast about. In 2 years the Argentinian peso has lost half of it's value against the mighty US green back. Even Greece has a better central bank! Hopefully I didn't hurt too many feelings in Argentina or Greece.
Our first 12 days in Argentina have been filled with the most boring/repetitive/long/terrible riding of our entire trip, but for the next few paragraphs I'm going to try to focus on the positive things. It's not Argentina's fault that the Northern part of the country is filled with nothing but desert and headwinds from hell. Not bad if your in an air conditioned car driving at excessive speeds, but horrid if your on a bicycle moving as fast as a snail.
Before entering Argentina, our friend Pac-Man (aka Ninja Kicks) and many other Argentinians told us about how much meat they eat and how cheap it is, this has proven to be true. Even if you don't visit the restaurants to see it for yourself, you can witness it on the peoples bodies. Argentinians got way more "Junk in the trunk" if you know what I mean. This has been good and bad for us. We are not border-line starving anymore, but there's only so much red meat you can eat! We're dreaming of salads and seafood but they seem to be only a myth here.
A lot of the towns we've visited seem to be centered around areas that have water, usually we spot the towns from 5 miles distance because they look like an oasis with tall trees and green areas. The small town of Cafayate, south of Salta, was one of these places. Littered with vineyards and cafes that cater to the many passing gringos traveling by car or motorcycle. Since then, Chilecito, was a decent sized town at the base of a giant mountain with year-round snow, so a pretty cool town with water and over-priced hotels. We have struggled with the increase in prices for hotels and hostels to get showers, so we have occasionally opted for the expensive campground (they cost around $12, what we use to get a hotel room for in many other Latin American countries) and have opted to mainly stealth camp in scrub brush sin showers. Sometimes we bathe in gas station sinks. We have also been pushing way too many miles without rest trying to make it through this desert stretch and our health has been suffering.
And my final rant, Argentina, how do function when you are NEVER OPEN??? Literally, we are constantly told that something will open at 8 am. Which is a total lie. We have been lucky if we find anything open by 9 or 10 am. This includes all breakfast places, grocery stores, and the like. Just tell us the truth, that you will roll in and open your shop whenever your butt rolls out of bed. If they are open, breakfast is a tiny grilled cheese sandwich on white bread for over $5. Then, we continually hit towns looking for a place to get lunch or even lunch things, and they are closed for siesta! What hours are siesta? Well, seems like anytime from 1pm-6pm. You want to eat, better save your appetite for after 6pm when things begin to open for the day. Then stuff your jowls with a bunch of meat, hop on your motorscooter that looks like it's being eaten by your ass and head home for your night siesta.
Are we ready for some rest, less sun, less heat, more lakes, rivers, towns and healthy food or what? We plan to hit Mendoza in a few days, hope to take a day off at a Warmshowers host's house and then begin the climb west over the Andes (again and right next to the highest point in the Andes) to drop to Santiago, Chile. Hope that by our next post we have heaps of great things to say about the views, open shops, less heat and water! Until next time, stay classy!
BOLIVIA: High altitude plains, stunning sunsets, and the poorest country yet Juliaca, Peru to Tupiza, Bolivia
Having Mango and Magoo (my parents) in Cusco for two weeks of relaxation and exploration was fabulous! And when it came to an end, we were both sad to see them leave, but happy to know we were getting closer to the end of the ride with some pretty scenic places in front of us. Thanks to parents that love us, my parents gave us a little spending money to upgrade from chicken bus to tourist bus to get back to Juliaca. And Ville's parents sent us a brand new tent that didn't leak water! Thanks Moms and Dads!
The bus back to Juliaca was way more pleasant, didn't have to listen to sales pitches and preachers the entire ride, got to recline the seat and pig out. Once back in Juliaca, we spent a day (with great help from another Argentinean cyclist, Pac-Man) changing out much needed bike parts my parents had brought to us (and thanks John and Project Bike Bend for rounding up all our parts!). Back in the saddles, heading northeast around Lake Titicaca with new friend Pac-Man in tow, we were on our way to Bolivia. Winding around the lake was beautiful and the north side of the lake made for much less traffic, but we timed it during some crazy holiday and every town was closed up save for the one tienda that had cold beer and hordes of drunk guys beckoning us to come party. Almost no one has a refrigerator at home and there isn't bars in tiny towns, so guys (because we never once saw a woman) hang outside the corner market where the beer is kept in a fridge and just keep chugging. Stacking up the empties at the curb. Makes sense right?
The border crossing was a joke, in a small village, one young kid and a toothless wonder in a military jacket checked our passports and took my $160 USD to get a damn visa, good for 10 years. Guess it's to be expected when the US requires expensive visa fees and rules on everyone else, that I get hit with it going the other way (only US Citizens have to pay for this visa, so Ville was saved), but when they began asking for immunization records I thought it was a joke. Luckily my smooth talking husband made up some "hers was stolen" excuse real quick and we got out of there quick. Now if you saw and experienced Bolivia, you would laugh too at the request for immunization records. Bolivia, really???
We opted to skip La Paz, capitol of Bolivia, because we heard it was a cyclists nightmare and took a long, bumpy dirt road detour instead. It was incredibly scenic with a giant mountain range resembling the Tetons to the east. When again hit pavement, Ville realized his back tire was out of true (wobbling). Luckily, Pac-Man came to our rescue (the guy literally carries everything you can think of on his bike) and fixed the wheel enough to continue. And after setting up to camp for the night in a field, we met another cyclist, Camilo, from Bogota, Columbia.
Now a real traveling circus, party of 4, we spent a couple days riding the flat wide open desert, fighting winds from every direction at over 13,000ft, enjoying the cool high altitude temps, and struggling to find food and water. If the Peruvian mountain people were living on the bare essentials of life, the Bolivians have drastically less. I read that Bolivia is made up of over 60% indigenous people with most people living on the altiplano and so our days were passed by waving at sheep, llama, goat, and pig herders in the fields minding and moving the flocks. Very kind people, allowing us to camp in their fields and leaving us alone, but not much else. Towns looked like ghost towns in the States, with disintegrating sand-blocked buildings, caved-in roofs, garbage blowing down streets, but with people living in them. One of the families we asked about camping we realized lived in a tiny tarped van in the yard with a handful of kids, their 4-walled house had no roof. We gave the kids stickers and wished we could give them a house.
Food has also been a huge challenge, there doesn't appear to be any except for a few of the large cities in the country. Every town we ride through, we have to stop at at least 10 different tiendas (corner markets) to scrounge up enough things to cook ourselves to eat. We basically ate spaghetti and oatmeal the entire way through Bolivia (YUMMY!!). Oruro, we all four shared a room in this dump of a city, enjoyed the hot shower after a week without one, resupplied some food stores, had a failed attempt at working WiFi, and moved on. After a four day stretch on the open plains (afternoon rain showers and thunderstorms being the norm), we enjoyed the camping, stunning sunsets, laughing at each other and made it to the Salar de Uyuni.
The night before, we chose to camp in a lookout tower with views of the salt flat (if your thinking that someone of authority might kick us out, we are in Bolivia, so not a chance), but at first light were awoken by a giant tour bus that arrived with a bus load of tourists to see the view. You should have seen their faces to see a bunch of non-bathed, stinky, pajama wearing, dirt-ball cyclists greeting them from our sleeping bags strewn about the tower! Priceless. Most opted to not even get out of the bus. I didn't blame them. The winds were freezing and good ol' Pac-Man was putting a camera in their face. Little backstory on Pac-Man, he's a character. Nicest guy, gave Ville some clothes since his are all falling apart, fixed Ville's and Camilo's bikes as they are also falling apart and shares all his food with everyone. He does have a thing for doing ninja kicks all over the place (he IS 41, not 8), has a Buenos Aires accent non of us can understand, will one-up ANY story (usually with stories of ninja kicks) and can talk an ear off of ANYTHING! We watched one night as Camilo went to his tent, turned on his music, zipped his tent closed to go to sleep, and Pac-Man didn't skip a beat, just talked to the outside of Camilo's tent. Hilarious guy. He moved on a couple days ago when we opted for a hotel and shower so may or may not run into him again.
We did spend the next day on the Salar, biking across the wide open radiating-ly white salt, taking some fun pics of ourselves and ruining my eyes with the boy's stark white nudity. Felt very lucky to get to ride on the salt (it's packed like riding on pavement unless it rains), because the very next day it rained and it was likely not ride-able. We pushed on to Uyuni (originally opting to avoid the over-priced tourist trap), but were desperate for a shower. This was where Pac-Man rode on and we got another dumpy room in a crappy town that would not exist except for the salt.
The last two days have been rough. The road that had been so flat and fairly easy miles, became more mountainous and under serious construction, where they are paving a giant road (which had previously been only dirt trails) for about 180 miles. When we had pavement, it was new, glorious pavement. For many sections, there were bulldozers, dump trucks, backhoes, and kamikaze "Too Fast Too Furious" crew throwing dirt in our faces as we tried to navigate deep sand with thin tired, heavy bikes. Last night we made it just outside Tupiza (about 55 miles shy of the Argentinean border), Camilo rolling into camp just before dark and realized Ville's sleeping pad was missing. Shit! Can't live without that. We pieced together that it must have fallen behind a giant rock Ville had set it on at lunch in the middle of a giant hail storm, he had not seen it then when packing up. We both squeezed onto my sleeping pad last night for some pretty crappy sleep.
This morning, Camilo was nice enough to hitch a ride with Ville and a coca chewing, coffee/cognac slurping, cocaine snorting dump truck driver picked them up and gave them a ride 25-30 miles back up the road to go look for the pad. I remained in camp cleaning and fixing stuff, when the boys showed up a few hours later without the pad, but with word that one of the construction guys had picked it up and taken it back to camp. We packed up, rode to Tupiza, got a hotel room, showered (this is only our 3rd shower in 2 weeks folks), caught up on laundry and the boys took a death-defying taxi ride 10 miles back up the road to camp to track down the pad. Just 10 minutes ago, Ville and Camilo waltzed into the room with pad and booze in hand!! YAY!!! They both said the taxi ride was like being in the Dakar Rally, the most dangerous thing either of them have done on this trip yet (that says a LOT). The guy drove with his foot to the floor in a little Toyota Corolla on loose gravel through streams, fishtailing, and when out of nowhere a car pulled out in front of them while doing 50 miles an hour, the guy hit and locked up the brakes and almost killed everyone. NOT sorry I missed that ride!
Tomorrow we push on. One day more (fingers crossed) to get out of Bolivia and into Argentina! Another 250 miles from there we should reach Salta. Sorry for the massive delay in a post folks, there is horse-poopy non-existent WiFi throughout all of Bolivia and we just got connected again. Hope all you fine friends are doing great, thanks to all of you who have commented, messaged, emailed, and stayed in touch. It means a lot when we feel really out of touch with everyone. Until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll!
Finally, a much needed two week rest off bikes in Cusco, Peru and surrounding Sacred Valley, with Mango and Magoo (Kristen's parents). Who knew hiking muscles were different than biking ones, so Ville and I spent a few days waddling around exploring.
My parent's had a whirlwind of flights from Bend, Oregon to get to Cusco leaving on the 16th and arriving on the 17th of October. Ville and I ended up on a circus of a bus from Juliaca (where we left our bikes at a Warmshowers house), arriving a day before my parents and wandered around in search of a hotel. After spending over 2 months in Peru in mountain towns, it was a hard pill to swallow how drastically more expensive places to stay in Cusco, Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) and Ollantaytambo have been. As in, about double what we have paid for anything else. My parents had 17+ hours of travel time and when they arrived, sadly, their luggage did not. My mom was nice enough to carry on a bag with all our bike parts we had needed them to bring, just in case they lost luggage, our ride wouldn't be screwed. And then they lost their luggage, poor mom!
Luckily, the luggage showed up the next day after numerous calls (weird, in Peru even the airlines don't call you to tell you anything after losing your luggage *sarcasm*) and we spent a day checking out Cusco before our 4-hour train early the next day to Aguas Calientes. The train was plush! And watching the scenery fly-by at high speeds compared to cycling was awesome! We got fed, watched the scenery through giant sky-windows, and even chatted with a nice guy in an "Alaska" hat, Daniel, who had lived in Fairbanks for a handful of years. When we arrived in Disneylandesque Aguas Calientes, we found a hotel room for the night and caught an early bus up the hill to Machu Picchu. The ruins were spectacular! Having seen so many pictures of them, as we both know by now from all the years of travel, pictures do not do justice to wandering through the sprawling city atop giant, lush mountains surrounded in clouds. Having talked about visiting Machu Picchu before even beginning our ride, this was a huge milestone for us to actually make it here biking the entire way from Alaska and having my parents here to share the moment! So special.
My Dad, nicknamed Mango (this comes from Chris Catan's Saturday Night Live skit), opted to hang out with Daniel (our new friend from the train) at the bar at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, while Ville, Mom, and I hiked the 1.2 mile up all steep stairs to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. When we made it back to the Lodge, Daniel treated us to a fantastic lunch, and we felt so spoiled to be among people that bathe regularly, smell nice, dress well and eating tasty food that wasn't plain white rice with chicken! Thanks a million times over Daniel for such a memorable day for our family and the company. Plan a visit to New York in the near future for sure!
The next day we puttered around the town, waiting for our afternoon train to Ollantaytambo where we found a clean room with views of the ruins and had a nice dinner at a place with American dishes like veggie burgers. This may not sound that cool to those in Canada, Europe and the US with a wide variety of food options, but for two starving cyclists who have been eating the SAME FOOD for months, it's like sex in prison. We wandered around the ruins in town the next day, climbing up and down bunches of stairs and I can't even tell you how sore my legs were from climbing Machu Picchu Mountain! One would think after biking every day for a year and a half my legs would be so solid, we could do anything. But, no. Climbing stairs uses different muscles that have apparently atrophied by now and so I could barely lift my legs to climb and waddled around like a duck. Ville faired a tad better, but was also moving real slow.
We spent one more night in Ollantaytambo before jumping in a taxi headed back to Cusco. We opted to stop at Salinas de Maras (salt mines), Moray and Chincheros on our way back to town. We enjoyed seeing the ruins, but were almost more excited to be driven there in the drizzling rain and not biking in it! Biking through the mountains of Peru weaved us through mostly very small villages and only the occasional big city, so to be at an amusement park packed full of tourists and hawkers (and this is the low season!), was a bit rough to push through and overwhelming. But winding back through the mountains and a few small villages was really fun to have my parents get to see and experience a piece of what we have been riding through all this time. After a day in Peru, my Dad was losing his mind over all the honking the Peruvian drivers love to do so much. We pointed out just how fun being in their kamikaze path on a bicycle all day for months being honked at and nearly run off roads has been. Maybe Bolivian drivers won't have horns, wanna-be race cars, or dogs. One can dream!
Back in our hotel, Retama's Hotel, we were excited to be back where Peruvians were nice, kind and helpful again. Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo have been ruined by the obscene tourism, the amount of money that circulates would have to make anyone who lives in these towns millionaires by Peruvian standards, and they talk to us only to harass us to buy crap. Once back in Cusco, we spent the last week walking around town, sightseeing, eating, latte drinking, and spending quality time enjoying my parents. Family that knows you so well, you don't have to retell your life story first while getting to know each other. My poor mom caught a bad cold on the plane that hit once back in Cusco, but she has been a trooper and walking all day anyway. Wonder where I get my stubbornness from? It has been great to be off bike seats, sleeping in, staying up late, and waking up in the same place for a while. To feel like we have a "home" for a minute.
Today is our last day with Mango and Magoo (my mom's nickname), their flight home is this evening. It will be really tough to say "goodbye," but somehow four months left of our ride feels like nothing compared to how long we have been riding. We are looking forwards to the Salar de Uyuni and lots of places in Argentina that we hear how beautiful they are. We also hear tales of working WiFi, variations of food, less garbage all over the place, and plenty of open spaces to camp without barking dogs or roosters in a far away land called Argentina. We will be taking another crappy bus back to Juliaca, fixing our bikes, and heading north around Lake Titicaca for about 2 days before crossing into Bolivia. We hear Bolivia will be more challenging, even less WiFi, remote, less food options (not sure how that's possible after Peru), and the roads in the south are all under construction with detours so...we'll see. At least it's only a few weeks to Argentina. Thanks Mom and Dad for taking the time and expense of flying all the way down here to see us and spend time together. For bringing us needed bike parts and goodies. We love you both and will see you, hopefully, in Argentina at the end!! And thanks all you followers and supporters out there for following, until next time, keep on keepin' on!
The Grand Finale of Peru: Giant Roller Coaster to the High Plains Ayacucho to Cusco to Juliaca, Peru
True story, when Ville left me with our bikes at a police hut to go get money from an ATM, I was questioned by the cops if we had kids. When I said, "no," the one cop (believing I didn't understand him I'm sure) asked if I wanted to go get beers with him and he promised he could get me pregnant.
Howdy ho good people out there! Kristen here and tis' time for a new update! Felt like a year ago from our last update, although we haven't made a ton of distance when looking at a map, we sure have put in some butt sculpting climbs and descents between Ayacucho and Cusco!! We had 5 massive nearly 14,000ft climbs in 350 miles, met heaps of super nice people, and had some good times.
Ayacucho was not our favorite town, really crowded with bad traffic to navigate by bike, but we scored a decent and cheap place near the airport (could climb to the roof and watch the planes take off) and decided to take 3 whole glorious days off because both of us really needed it. After the last stretch and bad fall I took crossing a river, my knees were pretty banged up and swollen. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure a doc would have told me to rest instead of pushing on in the Andes. The rest helped us both and once back on our hogs, we climbed up to 14,000ft in 22 miles, passing some of the friendliest Peruvians in villages along the way. We had a 20 mile flat-ish ride on the plateau (I always seem to get dizzy and space out in the high elevations so always a fun time) before a long decent on the backside. We opted to ask a few teenagers to camp who were herding sheep, and they let us camp next to their wood pile. It continually blows my mind how young so many Latin American girls are with babies strapped to their backs or toddlers in tow. I could barely put sentences together at their age, let alone have sex and become mothers and fathers at around 12 years old. God knows Ville IS still a child, so we will just stick to taking care of bikes.
In our extensive experiences in Latin America, we have found it to be culturally of very high importance to reproduce, even and especially at very young ages. From Mexico south, but especially here in Peru, Ville and I are asked just about every single day by multiple people if we have children. The most asked question is, "where are you from?" followed right after by, "do you have children?" When we say no, they are always very saddened as if it's because we cannot make them, not that we are choosing not to have them. If our choice to not have children is "different" by US or Finnish standards, it's downright blasphemy for Latin Americans! True story, when Ville left me with our bikes at a police hut to go get money from an ATM, I was questioned by the cops if we had kids. When I said, "no," the one cop (believing I didn't understand him I'm sure) asked if I wanted to go get beers with him and he promised he could get me pregnant. He was sure there was an obvious problem if we are 36 and without kids. Oh WOW, thanks for the offer buddy! Gee Goly, I've always dreamed of having unprotected sex with some random cop in Peru while my husband was at the bank, how did he know?!
Back to camp, we were struggling with our stove because it was low on gasoline (we have a canister we fill with auto gasoline and it's finicky) and a young boy came out with a bowl of fried pork and corn for us, super kind of the family! On our decent to the canyon the next day, it was apparent I was getting sick, and by the time we crossed the river and began our very long accent of the next giant mountain, I could barely make it 12 miles up to the next town. We scored an overpriced dump (shower was cold and nothing worked), and I crawled into bed with a high fever. By the next day, wanting to get out of that crappy place and make a few more miles, we rode about 7 more miles up to the next town where we got a decent room and rested some more. We had both built iron immune systems and hadn't gotten sick since Mexico, but my luck had finally run out. Luckily, the following day I felt good enough to charge on up the mountain, summit-ed, and had a giant decent to Andahuaylas.
Andahuaylas was a wealthier, more western influenced town, full of trendy clothes shops and bars. Very noticeable the changes in wealth and education as we are getting closer to Cusco, compared to the last two months of remote mountain climbing where most Peruvians are simply surviving. We had coined the term "Peru: Sticking to the Status Quo" for it seemed everyone we had met, until reaching Cusco, was just simply surviving, but not striving for any kind of change in their lives. Taking a day off, Peru's football (soccer) team had a big game between Argentina for the World Cup Qualifier and we watched it in a hotel because we were rooting for Argentina and didn't want to be hung in the square when loudly cheering for the other team. The sad tie game moved Peru forwards to the next qualifying game with Colombia and the town was wild with excitement. The next giant climb took us two days up a canyon, over another 13,500ft pass and a steep decent down to Abancay where we only paused to eat and continued up the next very steep climb another 12 miles to lessen the mileage for the next day.
We stopped at what appeared to be a very nice house or recreation site (people rent these on weekends for parties and they are all over Peru), and asked to camp. The lady next door told us it was fine to camp in the dirt driveway next to the wood pile, and as it got dark, a very nasty storm rolled in. As lightning flashed and gale force winds began to blow, our tent was getting flattened with us inside, and Ville started to stack wood from the wood pile outside to try and protect the tent somewhat from the wind (where he threw his back out and is still struggling with muscle relaxers to keep plugging along). Just then, a car pulled into the driveway and when Ville asked the driver if we could possibly camp under the awning in the yard, the owner of the house, Ronald, insisted we sleep on the 2nd floor of the house where it was warmer. This beautiful house was his second home, he lived in Abancay, and he had come up just to drop off a piece of furniture. He turned off the alarm system, set us up in the house, and left. We couldn't believe our luck! We were being blown away in our leaky tent and moments later we were sleeping in a villa, on our blow up mattresses, with giant windows and city views of Abancay. The next morning, Ronald, showed up with his friend to bring us water, snacks and give us hugs before we left to continue the climb. A million thanks Ronald!
The remainder of the climb was a tough one. Steep with non-stop hair-pin turns. As we finally crested the summit of the pass, where we were rewarded with sweeping giant snow-capped mountain views! And yet another very long and winding decent followed, where the temperature rose as we dropped in elevation to Curahuasi, a small town on the decent where it was incredibly random to see a handful of tourists. We stayed a night there before continuing the decent to the river, and as we had been so accustomed to in the Andes, crossed the river and the road followed the river upstream before beginning the last gauntlet of giant hair-pinned turn-filled climb before we would arrive on the altiplano at 13,500 ft. As we climbed, we were surrounded by farm after wealthier farm complete with more expensive homes. The majority of the homes in the Peruvian mountains are mudbricked huts, no windows, heat, running water, and with corrugated metal roofs. The homes we were now passing still were mudbricked or even brick, but with a coat of paint on the street faced side, had windows and even clay roofs. We stayed a night in Limatambo, and completed the last of the climb, reaching the high plains (altiplano) and then flying with giant smiles on our faces, (and it really feels like flying when you have done nothing but climb and descend for months) almost all the way to Cusco.
We stayed a night in Izcuchaca, just west of Cusco, and climbed to Cusco the next day with the plan to ride through the city and continue all the way to Juliaca. It was a three day ride (about 220 miles) on the high plains, one slow climb to 14,250ish ft complete with the weirdest tourist trap at the top (lots of tourist buses stop between Cusco and Lake Titicaca at this summit to buy all kinds of crap: llama fur rugs, hats, boots, blankets, clothes, basically nothing we have seen anyone in Peru actually wear, just sell to tourists at this trap) and made it into Juliaca just before the skies opened up and it poured rain. And Juliaca is a dump, where we rode past a giant dump where people lived on the way into town. Streets were unpaved, massive puddles and mud everywhere, and no real sense for a central square or architecture. Least attractive city we have visited in Peru so far. We stayed a day at a Casa de Ciclistas there where we met the coolest group of cyclists! Jorge from Sao Paulo, Brasil, Romain and Manou from Nantes, France and Geovanni who runs the place were all a fantastic group to hang with on a day spent in Juliaca as it poured rain, flooded the streets, but we were spoiled by the Frenchies who made chocolate mousse and pan perdu (french toast) and pizza from Jorge. Hoping to see Jorge in Cusco as he rides north a while and the Frenchies again somewhere as they head south. Thanks for the fun times kids, let's do it again soon!
Yesterday, Ville and I left bikes safely at the Casa de Ciclistas and hopped a bus back to Cusco where this morning we picked up my parents! YAY! Mango and Magoo have finally arrived! The bus here was an adventure, as always. Hoped to get a nice bus, got on one that, well, at least it had wheels and a driver. It took 7 hours to get back to Cusco where we were able to listen to some random Peruvian preach about some magical elixir he was selling out of his duffel bag that cures anything that ales you followed by a lady preaching about the Lord. Well thank God I had good headphones and tunes. We had a mad search for a hotel, Cusco is a massive tourist destination and so hotels are far more expensive than anything we had stayed in yet in all of Peru. Thanks to my thrifty guy, Ville found us a nice place, and we splurged the couple extra bucks to get towels, toilet paper, and soap. Only the best for the Grunds!
My Mom and Dad arrived this morning , sadly their luggage did not, and we spent the day walking in town, eating and catching up on some very needed family time. It has been hard to be so far from friends and family as we continue south moving further and further from them, so this next two weeks we are planning some fun sightseeing, time off bikes, and just enjoying having my parents here. We are hopeful their luggage will show up tomorrow, my mom was nice enough to carry on the bag with our bike parts so they wouldn't get lost and of course the airline loses their stuff. At least they made it! Well guys, thanks for continuing to follow our journey, thank you all SO very much who sent goodies to us through my parents, your kindness is always appreciated and will go a long way, and until next time, keep on keepin' on!!
K.G. & Ville
In Ushuaia, at the end of the World!
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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