Follow our journey: On Facebook - Kristen Grund Jokinen & welostthemap2 AND Instagram - welostthemap And please check back, we are working on the book and we will be hoping to get it in your hot little hands soon! Promise.
We are incredibly humbled by the outpouring of love from everyone after finishing our ride. A massive THANK YOU to all who have congratulated us, given us high-fives, hugs, emails and messages from afar. It feels so special to know so many people have followed us on our journey, in spirit, in person and from all over the world. Thank you.
And guess where we are right now? USHUAIA! That's right, from just two and a half weeks ago after pedaling into this town at the end of our epic bicycle journey, we are now on a giant sailing buffet arriving in style. It's very surreal. Two and a half weeks ago, February 16th, we awoke to a spectacularly sunny day after days of rain. It was no coincidence that all those thoughts and prayers from everyone we know and love had brought us this great day. A crisp, cold morning adorned in our gloves (thank you Robin for bringing us the extra warm pair of gloves!), we had a slow climb up over the pass from the lake at which we camped a couple nights to have a day to reflect on a journey spanning nearly two years. The climb warmed us up and the road wound through the mountainous wilderness at the end of the world, dotted with glittering lakes and rivers. The knot was building in my stomach and the giant smile plastered across my face couldn't be scraped off. As we dropped down out of the mountains, and rounded a bend in the road, there appeared tow giant towers announcing our arrival in "Ushuaia". Tears poured from my eyes and Ville and I climbed off our bikes hugging each other. Wow, what a feeling. All this time, all the memories, all coming back to this moment right now. We pushed on down to the waterfront to get a picture next to the famous "Ushuaia, End of the World" sign with tears in our eyes and giant smiles on our faces.
But this was not the end of the road. We had begun this journey so long ago in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska because it was the most northern most point with a road. And we wanted to bike to the end of the road at the bottom of the world, Lapataia Bay. The next 12 miles climbed into the scenic national park and the road, literally, ended. At a Bahia Lapataia sign and a wooden dock out over the water. We pushed our bikes out there and snapped a couple pics. At the end of the world, the end of a journey biking the Americas and with my best friend in hand. Wow, what a ride! We had a couple glorious days drinking champagne in a hotel bed after hot showers, throwing away all our tattered clothing and taking it all in. And those were a couple very emotional days. The 19th, we spent the day in the yard of our hotel taking apart our bicycles with our hand tools and boxing them up with the help and company of a long-distance motorcyclist, Richard, from Canada. Thanks Richard, have a fantastic and safe journey north.
We were excited to discover that the airline charged us only $20 US per bike for our flights to Buenos Aires and we arrived after a smooth flight. With help from our friends and Warmshowers hosts, Felix and Babun, we were able to book a taxi big enough to pick us, and our bikes in boxes, up and get us safely to another Warmshowers host, Agus. Thanks to our hosts taking us in and showing us the town as friends, we had a very memorable time in Buenos Aires. The first few days were spent on the metro, buses and walking around the city to find affordable clothes to replace our few pairs of ratty bike gear. It was overwhelming. Buenos Aires is similar to New York City in the swirling chaos of noise, activity, traffic, and people in a hurry. Cell phones glaring in everyone's faces, squealing of brakes, dodging of people in a hurry on packed sidewalks, rush hour squeezed into a metro breathing upwards. I was incredibly overwhelmed after just ending a nearly two year mediation in nature on a bicycle in quiet open space for, most, of the journey. It brought on a migraine for me that lasted a few days, but got more use to the rhythm of the city and were able to explore more after that.
Agus, our first host, took us out with friends to see a Tango music band, Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro, and we really enjoyed eating dinner together and learning more about Buenos Aires. Thank you so much Agus for taking us in, allowing us the time to get some much needed rest, and showing us a good time amigo! The next handful of days we went and stayed only a couple blocks away at another Warmshowers host's house, Felix and Babun. Now dressed in only the most fashionable clothes pesos can buy in a few thrift stores in Buenos Aires, we walked all over town checking out the Cultural Center, waterfront shops, downtown, Palermo, Old Town, a few markets, and even the Boca Juniors Stadium. As former football/soccer players, this was a very cool experience for us to get to go stand in the stadium where football greats like Maradona have played. Unfortunately we were unable to score tickets to a game, but approved of their policy of selling tickets to members and the fan club first. Guess we just have to come back someday to see a game.
On the weekend, Felix and Babun, fellow touring cyclists, lent us extra bikes and we leisurely pedaled north along the river, past the River Plate Stadium (another famed soccer team), winding through neighborhoods, stopping at pastry shops to get treats and up to a beach to relax and drink Mate. It felt so nice to be back on bikes, cruiser bikes this time at a leisurely pace and on a sunny day with friends. We stopped on the return for snacks at their favorite spots and even made it back in time to prep for a presentation about our bike ride. Felix and Babun were nice enough to plan a get-together with a small group of friends who were interested to hear about the journey. Thank you both so much for pulling that together and everyone who came to support us!
Thanks to our local hosts, we stopped at numerous tasty food joints in the city to get the best of the best in Buenos Aires cuisine. Everything from empanadas to pizza slices to pastries. Oh boy! Definitely not losing weight anymore. And then on the 28th, we took a taxi with our bikes to the docks to board our Princess Cruise Ship where we would be spending the next 30 days slowly making our way back south around Cape Horn and back up the west coast all the way to Los Angeles! What took us over a year to bike would take only a day to fly but less than a month to sail. We had booked the cruise months before knowing that after an ending to a journey this monstrous, we would need some pampering and a slow return to "reality."
When we walked into our cabin on the ship, we both took hot showers, wrapped ourselves in the complimentary white bath robes, and sprawled out across the most comfortable cushy soft-as-a-cloud bed we have ever laid on. It was heaven. And it would be our very own room for 30 whole days! The most comfortable bed, with the bathroom in the same place, constant hot water shower whenever we want and a buffet table loaded with food at the ready. What could possibly make a couple of cyclists any happier?
After a much needed nap (we are struggling with the late night, early morning routine in Argentina), we headed out for our last night in town to take Tango lessons at Cathedral de Tango. And let's just say, we are natural born dancers. Lots of flair and pzazz! With far more women than men, Ville was passed around the room and a big hit with the ladies. Think there may be some inquiries on my position. And after, our buds, Felix and Babun, met us for a goodbye drink. So grateful to have met you both, thank you for sharing your time with us and we will see each other again! We spent the night on the boat, ran a few last minute errands on shore the next day and made it back to the boat in time to pull anchor and sail out into the big open sea heading for Montevideo, Uruguay.
We awoke in the morning already in Montevideo, happy to not have to have pedaled to it. What a treat. The town itself was much smaller and relaxed than Buenos Aires and we enjoyed walking around town and the shore front. The majority of the Old Town can be seen in an hour, so we headed back to the boat for the buffet. We had OKed having our bike boxes stored somewhere on the boat beforehand, but once arriving on the boat, they realized there was just no space on a giant cruise ship for two small bike boxes, but helped us to squeeze them into our closet and, for the most part, out of the way. Luckily we don't have much for clothes and really, I just think we would miss our bikes too much not being able to see them, at least in the box, every day. It's like a junkie needing to at least know his/her fix is nearby. And after discussing with the staff on board just why we were hauling two bike boxes on board, they offered us a slot of time to do a presentation on board. So we scheduled it for March 7th, the day before arriving back in Ushuaia.
After Montevideo, we stopped in Puerto Madryn and then the Falkland Islands. Puerto Madryn was mainly just an industrial port town, but many took excursions to see penguins. We utilized WiFi in a cafe on land to prep for our presentation. Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands was a pretty cool place to see. It is about 300 miles east of southern Argentina out in the open sea, and is a British Territory with it's own internal self-governance. Because of their checkered past, it is not possible to fly from Argentina to the Islands and only a few flights even fly there. Therefore we felt privileged to get to go and see it. We walked around the tiny capitol city, to the graveyard, the top of the hill, and after all that walking Ville needed to wet his whistle in a pub. What stood out the most to us, was the stark contrast of British architecture, manicured yards and power lines that looked designed and maintained by electrical engineers. It was pretty posh.
The next day, March 7th, we dressed, had a drink to take the edge off (I thought I was going to pass out from the anxiety), and made our way down to the theater to get ready for our presentation. We appeared on the ship's Morning Show and then in the Princess Patter (daily newsletter) and were not sure how many people on board would actually show up for an 11am show, but we ended up with a packed house. I wasn't too nervous until I peeked out from back stage and saw the 600-seat theater full of people staring up at the stage. Oh geez. We got out there, and this dynamic duo wowed the crowd with a presentation of highlight pictures, maps, and even some videos from the ride. We had a Q & A after with tons of great questions and it went so well they had to cut us off because they needed the theater for the next show. After thinking not many people would even come to our short presentation, we were blown away by the number of people who came and have come up to us after to thank us for speaking. THANK YOU all of you who came to our presentation on board, we are really happy so many of you enjoyed it!
One would think offering ourselves up for all these presentations we just love the limelight, but quite the contrary, we don't think we are that cool (there are WAY cooler people than us) and we get pretty nervous getting on stage. But this is our way of giving back to all those that helped us, followed us and donated. We hope to inspire others to dream big, to be the proof that this world is full of mostly great people helping others, and especially to inspire youth to get out there and travel. If the news focuses on the .0001% of bad in the world, we are a voice for the 99.999% of good in the world. So a big Thank You to Princess Cruises, Matt and Ben for allowing us the opportunity to share our journey with others. And THANK YOU to all of you who came to our presentation and thanked us in person! We are very humbled by all the positive feedback and outpouring of support.
One of the most fun things we discovered about being on this cruise ship, as always on a journey, is the people! We have had the best time and converstations with people from all over the world at dinners, at shows, on shore and all over the boat. Making new friends from all over; Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, England, Mexico and heaps from all over the United States. If we have not had the chance to get your contact info and you would love to keep in touch, get updates about adventure plans, our book, or even get a visit from two yahoos who love to travel the world, please write us! firstname.lastname@example.org. But careful what you wish for, we just might show up at your door step :)
This morning, we walked off our plush cruise ship with big smiles on our faces knowing we would be back in the place of our "end of the road." We walked back to the "Ushuaia", "End of the World" sign and completely unexpectedly I started crying. It's really hard to put into words what it feels like to come back to this place. I'm happy to have moved on to the next chapter of our journey in life, but sad to see the end of the last. And just like a chapter in a book helps weave together a story, the chapter of The Ride weaves into the story of our life and enriches it in ways one cannot explain in words only in memories. So grateful we were able to make the entire journey, and with such a great partner in crime by my side. Cheers to the next chapter! Until next time, keep on keepin' on!
P.S. Ville and I will be leading a spin class (stationary bikes) up in the gym on the cruise every morning at 8am. The class will last for 8 hours. Bring a towel. Just kidding!
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!!!
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...
Because of the rain, my feet slipped off the pedals, and all in slow motion, I landed hard on my bike seat, breaking my tailbone, and was thrown over the handlebars like a rag doll and my 90-pound bike landed on top of me.
Huaraz was everything we had hoped for, a hotel room to rest in. The city itself was nice, nothing to write home about, but we heard it is more a jump-off point for long and short hikes into the Huascaran National Park. After our rough stretch and Ville's bad fall on the way to Huaraz, we wanted nothing more than to sit in a hotel room, rest, and eat. And that's just what we did for 3 whole, glorious days. On our ride out of the city, we pedaled 30 miles south on pavement climbing upwards and south and then took the Pastoruri Road through the National Park heading east. We heard great things and the scenery did not let us down! The photo from above is taken in the park climbing up to the 16,000 ft/4,880m pass.
Our first night we camped in a beautiful spot along a creek, near a meadow, and looking up at these giant peaks reaching for the skies. It was already at 14,000ft/4,270m and quite chilly, but we put on all our layers and managed just fine. The next morning, after a giant breakfast of bacon, eggs, french toast, hot coffee and...Ha ha ha! Man, just daydreaming a bit here. I meant, after our hot breakfast of oatmeal with mashed bananas (had trouble getting the gasoline powered stove going at that elevation), we packed up and continued the slow climb on a very bumpy gravel road meandering up into the big mountains. As we climbed, we occasionally passed small families of indigenous sheep herders living in stacked-rock and grass huts with large braying sheep scattered over the grass lands (not much of anything grows up at these elevations). Friendly people with protective dogs, lots smiled and waved at us as we passed. We only saw a handful of collectivos (shared taxi/bus) that passed us and, for the most part, we were all alone on a single-lane dirt road in the misting/downpour rain.
As we reached the 16,000ft/4,880m pass, the rain had turned to snow and as we slowly jostled down the bumpy one mile stretch of downhill, before the road began a climb again to 16,000ft, I had a terrible and scary fall. My first really bad fall so far on this bike trip. Because of the rain, my feet slipped off the pedals, and all in slow motion, I landed hard on my bike seat, breaking my tailbone, and was thrown over the handlebars like a rag doll and my 90-pound bike landed on top of me. All I saw was stars and Ville rushed to help pick me up. I laid there for a few minutes, and managed to pick myself back up with no known damage other than a broken pannier (I guess I was super jealous deep down that Ville got to break one of his and all that attention it has gotten him), a tear in my jacket, bruises and a broken ass. Knowing personally, many friends who have been hurt doing a hell of a lot less, I know all your prayers, thoughts, and love out there is why I am still alive and biking to tell the story. I think Ville and I have an army of guardian angels out there looking after these two circus freaks, so thanks guardian angels, you all deserve medals. And maybe a raise.
After my scary fall, I climbed back in the saddle and we climbed back up to 16,000ft where the snow/sleet turned into an insane hail storm that blew through us. Not having a single car pass us the entire day, my mind was plagued with thoughts of "what if I had broken my arm, leg, or neck, how the hell would we get to a hospital?" AND I would lay there in the rain, snow and hail with no one to help us. I guess Ville would have had to ride back towards Huaraz to get help, leaving me laying on the road in the snow? Shit. Bad thoughts to be having while moving forwards on a bike tour. Ever so grateful the outcome of my fall was not worse. And also riding in the raging hailstorm wondering why someone does this for fun? After the final 16,000ft climb, we dropped down to the highway, onto real pavement and began our hairpin decent into Huallanca. Our fingers were completely numb even with gloves and riding in all our clothes and we had to brake the entire way down for fear of our fingers not braking and flying off the road. Once in Huallanca, we got a room at a hotel with a promise of a hot shower, and I almost cried when I stood there naked in the shower shivering and the water was cold.
It took most the night wrapped in all my clothes, puffy jacket included and sleeping under 3 wool blankets to get my core body temp back to normal. We had a quick tasteless breakfast and agreed to head north on the 3N "Highway", instead of the direct route, because it was "pavement" and I couldn't take any more shitty, gravel, potholed, washboarded roads. Oh, Peru, you and your sick sense of humor. The decent out of Huallanca was incredibly beautiful along a river with giant, steep rocks engulfing us. As we rolled through La Union, the town was a giant mud pit mess after two straight days of rain and it continued to come down. The "pavement" disappeared and we climbed up out of the gorge in the pouring rain covered in mud. We discovered Ville's squealing front break was because his break pad had disintegrated, changed it on the side of the road for over an hour (discovering now that the bike shop in Orange County had, along with putting all the wrong parts on our bikes and having to change them twice, had put the wrong rotors on and now our brake pads didn't fit and had to be doctored with the Leatherman to make fit), and continued the climb shooting for Chavinillo but decided to ask to camp in a small village 6 miles short.
The nicest people were all gathered around, enjoying Drunken Sunday, and let us sleep in a small room at the school/football (soccer) field. When we pulled out our stove to cook some pasta, a bunch of the locals came to watch us like it was a circus performance. I guess we are circus freaks so it's fitting. A bunch of the kids showed up with footballs (soccer) balls and game on! Only a few of the locals spoke Spanish, most spoke Ketchuan (spoken by indigenous Incan people) and it was so hilarious how the ladies huddled around Ville giggling like school girls with googlie eyes at him. Not sure they see many blonde-haired blue-eyed x-semi-pro football players come strut the schoolyard. Think there may be some inquiries on my position :)
The next morning, we packed up and decided to wait to Chavinillo for breakfast. On the way up, we passed a super cute 9-year-old boy, Eduard, walking to school and I asked him if he wanted a ride. He said, "sure" and hopped on my back rack and off we went. A ways up the road, he pointed to his mom walking on the side of the road and I dropped him off, she thanked us, and as we chugged away, Edu came running after us asking if we wanted to eat some picante de cuy (guinea pig in spicy sauce with white rice). We had been wanting to try it, but just hadn't ordered it yet and agreed. Edu's mom unwrapped a giant colorful blanket tied to her back, pulling out multiple Tupperware containers full of food she was taking to sell at the school. Edu's mom was dressed in very colorful indigenous Incan dress and is one of the majority of people we pass here in Peru climbing in the mountains. They are very "poor" in global standards, growing and eating what they need to survive; pigs, chickens, sheep, burrows, herbs, veggies, turkeys, grains, corn, and guinea pigs. They live in very modest mud huts, with tin, grass, or clay roofs, toilets are a shed separate from the home usually, laundry is washed in buckets, rivers, or a sink outside. Some of the crop is gathered in the morning, tied into brightly colored blankets tied to the ladies backs, sometimes a burrow carries it, and they walk miles to the nearest village to sell their wares. We pass most people all day walking to and from villages on the roads we are riding, or kids walking miles to school and back (what the helicopter parents of America would think of that!), and we are always smiling, waving and saying, "buenos dias." Having only the basic necessities allows for lots of time and happiness, it seems, in the people we pass. Traveling in this manner, by bicycle being a part of the communities of people we pass, quells even the smallest desire to yearn for more material things in life.
We paid Edu's mom $2 for two breakfasts including a giant pitcher of hot tea she poured into our Vargo Titanium Cups (thanks sponsor Vargo!) and the cuy was delicious! Looks like chicken with a tiny arm poking out and tastes like pork. Fed the bones to some dogs (let's get that sweet dog karma back up) and inhaled the food to get Edu to school on time. About a half mile up the road, we dropped Edu off at school and I gave him a package of cookies as a treat. Such a sweet kid! (If your wondering why I am always giving treats to kids, it's because I have willpower to save them for these instances with kids that arise and Ville eats all his treats before we even leave town)
The day was beautiful, had full bellies, the sun was shining, and we met some incredibly kind people. Yes, THIS is why we do this for fun. The experiences and the kind people. If every day was sunshine and we didn't fall off our bikes, what a boring time it would be. Like watching a golf tournament. The remainder of the climb wasn't too bad to Corona Del Inca (The Crown of the Inca) and as we began the 35+ mile decent, the patches of pavement in the mud disappeared completely and the road turned into the worst road we have seen so far on the bike trip. It actually made Honduras's patchwork of bumpy pavement look like a dream! And to top it off, there was a decent amount of traffic flying by us on the single-lane road in their crappy white Toyota Corolla Station-wagons. The Vin Diesel wanna-be's in Peru are basically a cross on the side of the road waiting to happen. In Latin America, when someone dies, usually going off a cliff driving too fast, they put crosses up next to the road. Sometimes with a picture, candles, sodas, memorabilia to honor them. These are all over Baja California and also Peru. Actually, I wonder what the requirements for getting a driver's license even are in Peru? And if most drivers have one. Well, we had to wear our Buffs (thanks sponsor Buff for saving us from 10lbs of dirt in the lungs) over our faces and sunglasses the whole way down which made us look like cranky dog-chased ninjas bouncing down the road. We did have a great stop at a couple's small house/restaurant mid-decent which pulled us out of our funk and they had the cutest little puppy to play with! Awwwwww.
As we neared the bottom of the canyon where it emptied into the valley of sprawling Huanuco, we hit REAL pavement a mile from town and we both yelled shrill screams of joy we were so happy to get off that road and onto flat pavement again. We found a decent hotel, with the little "Peruvian twist" Ville likes to call it when we get a room and the toilet floods water all over the floor, sink doesn't work, shower pressure is a trickle, you know, the usual. And the solution to the flooding toilet is, the nice lady hands Ville a mop. Ha hahhhahah! Not "Oh, gee, the toilet is flooding buckets of water all over the floor, let me call someone to fix it," nope. Here's a mop cutie. Well, it's got working WiFi and we are taking a day off because we both need it! Tomorrow we climb. Word on the street is, it's on pavement. I'll believe it when I ride on it. Until then good people praying for our butts to stay in the saddle, keep on keepin' on!!!
Near Fatal Blow to the Bike Tour: Dog Attacks Ville and Threw Him From the Bike. Huamachuco to Yungay, Peru
Just as I yelled, "DOGS!", Ville rounded the corner and smack into this pack of vicious barking dogs. One of the medium sized dogs lunged at his front tire as he tried to brake, slamming straight into the dog and threw Ville from the bike as he skidded down on the pavement on his knee, side and elbow. I heard the crash, threw my bike down and ran back up the hill to chase off the two remaining barking dogs throwing rocks and screaming. Got Ville up off the road, he was bleeding everywhere, and said he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
The last section was beautiful, had some great experiences with the local Peruvians, some amazing kids, but we also despised the last stretch and you couldn't pay me to bike it again. I would drive it in our old Landcruiser, MAYBE bike it on a mountain bike with fat tires if I was paid, but not bike it again on our heavy, narrow tired tour bikes. Not ever.
After leaving Huamachuco, we had a decent 10 miles of patchy, potholed pavement before we took the only road south keeping us in the mountains and not dropping us west to the coast, unpaved and a total mess of sand and boulders. First, our bikes are heavy. Like around 80-90 lbs. loaded and we have 1.5" tires. These are wider than the standard Tour De France bike tire, but not a mountain bike tire and the tread we have is for road riding. Not a sandy beach. So we had about 65 miles over the next couple days to push through major climbs and descents on these crappy roads. We also lack shocks, so all the boulder riding chatters out your teeth and eyeballs. We made it to Cachicadan by 3, ate at a bar, and decided to push on because the locals said the road to Angasmarca was only a little up hill and the rest down. Not quite. It took us three hours to climb up over the pass and drop into Angasmarca, just at complete darkness and the full moon rising. We got a $10 basic room (this is actually pricey for Peru in the middle of nowhere town), but had a scalding hot shower and I have never loved a shower so much because my hands were frozen and I was SO sore from the road. The next morning we pushed south and up, heading towards Pallasca (only 38-ish miles away) but was even tougher than the day before.
We met a giant group of school kids in a one-building town and they were asking heaps of questions and taking lots of pictures. The landscape was beautiful, giant grassland rolling hills, lots of small villages of sheep and cattle farms. All with only a dirt road and hardly any cars passing through. The cars that did pass were 4-wheel-drive and tore up the roads pretty bad leaving us peeling out and pushing through deep sand on some extremely hard hills and descents. We agreed that it was likely worse than the Dalton Highway and maybe even the southern Ecuador stretch because of the climbs and distance we had of sand our tires were not equipped for. In a small town just before a giant descent and climb into Pallasca, we hit glorious pavement again and squealed like school girls we were so happy! We made it to Pallasca again right at dark on a steep climb up into town and got a shitty room at a Hospedaje, too tired to shower and just crashed. The next morning we rode out early PUMPED for the day's extreme downhill descent along the canyon for 50 or so miles! Sadly, didn't end up so great.
On the steep decent, all trees, brush, signs of life, fell away and it looked like the surface of Mars. Hot, wide-open desert. The side of the road was littered here and there with vacant houses crumbling and looking abandoned. The road was a single lane, dropping off with no guardrail in many places way down to the river cutting the gorge below. As I rounded a corner passing an abandoned looking shack, I heard a pack of dogs, I had just alerted in my passing, begin barking and charging behind me. Just as I yelled, "DOGS!", Ville rounded the corner and smack into this pack of vicious barking dogs. One of the medium sized dogs lunged at his front tire as he tried to brake, slamming straight into the dog and threw Ville from the bike as he skidded down on the pavement on his knee, side and elbow. I heard the crash, threw my bike down and ran back up the hill to chase off the two remaining barking dogs throwing rocks and screaming. Got Ville up off the road, he was bleeding everywhere, and said he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
LUCKILY, he was able to limp over to a well and we washed off his wounds, picked out a bunch of gravel, and a lady from a couple houses up the hill walked down to help. She was nice enough to offer to have us come to her house and clean Ville up, but being that he could barely move and the bike was in a heap, I just pulled out the medical stuff we carry and covered everything with Antibacterial Hand Cleanser (Ville screamed like a big baby) and then coated everything in Antibiotic Ointment. His knee was really swollen, but nothing appeared to be broken, and the dogs (because Ville had hit the dog square in the side coming down the hill, it died pretty quick), the others continued to bark at us from the porch. After a bit more rock throwing and yelling, the owner, a young girl probably scared to death at how pissed I was, came out, laughed, and took the remaining dogs inside. The bike had to be tinkered with to get it riding straight again, and one of the pannier's clips is broken, so we roped it on and Ville was able to get back on and we continued down the hill. As we came to the bottom of the canyon, we hit an insane headwind that was rushing up the canyon and made for some pretty rough "downhill" riding. When we came to the intersection at Chuquicara, we ate at a super dumpy town and decided camping was better than staying there, and started biking east and southeast up the canyon towards Huaraz. We made it 10 miles before dark and stopped at a house along the road with an orchard (an oasis in a sea of sand) and a group of incredibly sweet kids came out to greet us and help us find a place to camp in the yard.
Ana and Sammy were sisters, and Paul and Maricielo were neighbors. They were SO excited to help set up the tent and were really worried for Ville after seeing all his gaping wounds. I pulled out more gauze, bandages, tape and ointment and they went to work doctoring Ville up. They helped set up the tent, blow up our mattresses and then asked if they could sleep with us. Our 2-person tent would not accommodate 4 extra kids, so they sadly went in the house to sleep, but were right there peeking into the tent first thing in the morning (after the roosters woke us at 4 am). We gave them cookies, stickers (they held these like they were the most special thing they had been given ever), I wrote them papers of Spanish-English words to practice, clipped their nails with my nail clippers (they asked me to), oiled them with some peppermint oil I carry for headaches, and gifted them with some red tail hawk feathers I prized from my collection (I collect feathers on the road and tape them to my bike) and they couldn't believe they came all the way from the United States! Ana and Sammy were so cute, they collected some chicken and duck feathers from the yard and gifted them to me for my bike. I will cherish those poopy feathers forever :)
As we waved goodbye to our new friends, heading south up the canyon, we struggled through around 30 miles to the first town to eat some lunch and made it only 8 more miles to Huallanca where I begged Ville to get a room as the temps hit nearly 100 in the afternoon heat and we were desperate for a shower, to clean up Ville's wounds, and rest! We were both so worked after the last few days. We found another crappy, overpriced dump to stay and got cold showers and a bed to rest. Heading out early, we were able to climb in the coolness of the morning and passed through Canon Del Pato, the tunnel section, which was spectacular! Tunnel after tunnel (35 tunnels in all) cut into the rock with the road winding up the steep rock gorge and the river raging below. The route had numerous waterfalls cascading down over the road or across the gorge, and by the time the sun reached up high in the sky, we had climbed a decent amount in elevation, to about 8,000 ft, so it was much cooler. We stopped in Caraz for lunch, a jump-off point for tourists doing hikes up into the snow-capped wilderness above, and decided to continue to Yungay where it may be a bit cheaper.
As we rode into Caraz and beyond, the steep rock canyon has opened up to a lush valley green with farms and fields. We saw a woman on the side of the road roasting quinoa, and she asked us for some water for her kid who was baking there in the sun while she worked. Giving her a bottle, we felt bad for how hard so many of the people we pass work in the fields, bent over, back-breaking labor for barely any money. Almost all of them women. The men are the awful bus, taxi, collectivo and moto-taxi drivers. We have had the few super nice drivers who give us room and wait for a passing truck to go around, but for the most part, as the road is getting more busy (tourist areas), the drivers have gotten worse and worse. Yungay is a small nice town, haven't seen any tourists yet, and a nice place to relax a bit. Tomorrow we will ride the 35 miles south to Huaraz and take another day or two off there depending how the town is. Word on the street is it's nice.
Thanks all for the outpouring of concern for Ville. It was really scary and we are both thrilled he is ok, with minor scrapes, a bum knee, and a cracked rib. It so easily could have ended our ride. And possibly him. So happy to walk away from it, and although we had some great suggestions of pepper spray, bug spray, bear spray, guns, etc. we are in a third-world country still where it is challenging to find a toothbrush let alone sprays for animals. We had a pepper spray we had to ditch on the flight to Colombia and we really could use it now, but we will just ride slower, and are getting better at rock throwing. This is where fences in the U.S. are much appreciated. Dogs can bark all they want, chase up and down a fence, but they can't get at you. We haven't had this bad of dogs AT ALL in any other Latin American countries. Only southern Ecuador and Peru. Hoping the problem gets better as we go south, but talking soothingly to a pissed, vicious, protective dog is like trying to do that to a mother bear with cubs in Canada. Good luck with that! The bears were actually nicer, and so are all the people luckily. People in Peru don't mean to have vicious, attack dogs, they just want protective animals in a country lacking alarm systems and enough police protection in rural areas. So many people offered to help. So thanks everyone for checking in on us. I just told Ville, "Suck it up you big, fat baby!" and he said, "who you calling fat?" So we will keep on keepin' on and those dogs better back off! This traveling circus needs to make it to Ushuaia, Argentina in one piece!!!
Helped Along by Locals, Hardest "Push" Through Southern Ecuador into Peru : Cuenca, Ecuador to Jaen, Peru
Literally pushing fully loaded tour bikes up sloppy, muddy, rutted, bolder littered single lane "road" with the rain pouring and soaked through, one would have to wonder, "What in the hell are we doing here?" Guess we both are, truly, clinically insane...
Cuenca was a touring cyclists dream! Really stunning Colonial architecture, large enough to score dishes of Indian food, liters of real gelato ice-cream (oh yes we polished one off together every day we were there), pizza, but not so large we were lost in the chaos. We ripped off the Band-Aid and loaded up and headed south. Back on the road, ready for what was next around the bend. It took us about two and a half days to roller coaster the hills to Loja. The scenery was pretty distracting, even while climbing. Our first night out, we found a great spot under a giant tree a little ways from the road to camp and watched the sun set and shadows creep up the giant mountains in front of us. We scored breakfast at a gas station/restaurant in a small town the next morning and continued south stopping just before dark near La Chorera. We were struggling to find a place to camp as the hills had become so steep there was not good flat spots well hidden for a tent. As we chugged slowly up a hill, there was a family waving at us from their yard next to the road.
Ville rode over and asked if it were possible to camp in their yard and they welcomed us right away. The older couple, who's modest home it was, told us to sleep on the porch under the roof in case it rained. Sadly, we timed most of the ride in Ecuador through tons of wind and rain, so it was a challenge for our night camping as well as days of being soaked. The couple's nephew, his wife, and their two young kids were there and it was really special to be able to chat with them and get to know about their village. Then the local priest arrived and we were invited to Catholic mass down the hill, which of course we accepted. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as we sat in our pew with about 15 people from town, right next to 3 young boys trying so hard not to stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at us. They were so curious! And when I asked their names, they became so shy they cowered behind each other.
After mass, we were given fresh, hot home-made tamales and coffee and watched the firework show in celebration of Virgen De La Cisne. Getting to play with kids and be treated as friends was incredibly special and both of us were so grateful (as we repeatedly are on this journey) to meet so many kind and generous people. Even though, by both our countries standards, these people were very poor and had "nothing", the feeling of community, love, and acceptance of each other was felt very deeply while we were there. The kids were happy, kind to each other, and looked out for one another. The mothers gave them the space to play without helicoptering around their every move. The older ones took care of the younger ones. Watching people, families, and communities and questioning "normal" is one of the greatest gifts of travel.
Early morning, as we waved goodbye to the family and up into the mist, we had a long day of misty, wet riding that took us by noon dropping down into Loja. We checked into a hotel, got showered and were slightly disappointed to discover Loja was not quite what we hoped or heard about as a city. It had been compared to Cuenca, just smaller, but was not at all as cool. It did however have a newly built castle that looked eerily like the one at Disneyland on the way into the city. We spent a day and headed on our way, not having great expectations for the next stretch to the boarder of Peru. We had heard from two separate cycling friends that this next stretch would be rough and it far exceeded those terrible expectations I'm afraid.
You know it's going to be bad when the "Road Construction Update" billboard on the side of the road is super faded as if it was thought about and long forgotten. That being said, the traffic began to drop off after the Gringo-filled town of Vilcabamba (yet another "eternal spring" cities that claims everyone lives forever) and we got a cheap room in a local woman's house in the tiny town of Yangana. The next day we climbed up into the National Park Yacuri, the scenery was fantastic and we were almost all alone in it! As we reached the top of the park, birds, waterfalls, butterflies everywhere we had to stop to take in all the views. Followed by a thrilling winding downhill that took us way down, down, down a canyon as the road slowly began to disappear and magically turn into not-car-graded gravel and dirt steeps. After again struggling to find a good camp spot with such steep hills, we pulled over to chat with a family in a three house, one church town, Canada.
The father, Stalin, was kind enough to open up the church and let us sleep inside. We enjoyed chatting with his three daughters, whom all helped grow, dry, and bag coffee beans. I got in the habit long ago of carrying everything from lollipops to cookies and stickers for kids and was able to share some with the girls and they were super excited. They were very shy around us, but were so cute running and playing with each other. All I could think was what a horrible little fighting sister I was and that I had not realized at their age how lucky they were to have each other. They obviously realized it.
Feeling good, with Google telling us we only had about 22 miles to the border, we rode out early all pumped and ready for Peru! Well, well, well, that's not quite how smooth sailing it went. First the pavement disappeared after a mile. Then as we crested the hill, the downhill was the the steepest we had yet experienced on this ride, stopping multiple times to give our hands a break from breaking so hard, fearing hitting boulders that would throw us over the handlebars, the occasional passing truck kicking rocks into our faces, all to look straight across the mountain at the jagged dirt road cut straight up the side of the mountain across from us in the baking sun. And, yes, that is where we crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon, kicked down to our lowest gear, and cranked for over an hour to get up the hill. By the time we reached Zumba on the other side of the mountain, with just over 22 miles for the day, nowhere near the border, and a splitting migraine, we had to get a hotel room and re-hydrate.
(STAY TUNED FOR MORE PHOTOS, WIFI IS NOT COOPERATING)
For some terrible reason, I have taken to getting migraines a lot and especially when I'm dehydrated. After wringing out my Buff a handful of times of sweat, it was apparent we were not taking in enough water for as much as we were losing and stopping was a great plan. I crawled into a dark room and we tried to get some sleep. The next day, my migraine was still full-on, it poured rain all night making the dirt road sloppy, and we contemplated staying put another night. Wanting so much to get through this nightmare and get to the promised land, Peru (where we heard rumors of pavement and normal grades again), I downed a bunch of Aspirin, ate some crappy food, and we saddled up.
We had a rough day of two more big hill climbs and descents in the pouring rain, a handful of times we had to literally push our bikes up sloppy, muddy, bolder-littered single-track "road" with flashbacks of the fun-filled Dalton Highway in Alaska in our memories from so long ago (if you missed that, read it HERE). Brakes squealing, we came straight down the hill into the border of Peru. After an easy stamp out, bike across the river and stamp into Peru, we were thrilled to discover the rumors of pavement were true! We got a room to dry off and clean off the mud in Nambale, 4 miles from the border. The prices in Peru have been some of the best we have seen, $3 for both our lunches and $6 a night for a hotel! And the people are super friendly here as well.
We had a glorious next day climbing to San Ignacio on pavement, followed by a giant sweeping downhill into a wide open valley, bright green rice paddies with giant mountains in the backdrop. And where the road in southern Ecuador went straight over mountains, the road in Peru followed rivers and canyons allowing for pretty sweet biking grades. The scenery in Peru was a full day of fireworks and as the sun began to fade, we pulled over at a small cafe on the river to get dinner and ask the super nice couple, Jose and Melva, who owned the place if we could camp. They were kind enough to let us camp on the floor of the open air cafe (there was not a sole there) and I was able to play with their baby chicks that were running around the place. Awwwwwww cute. Melva made us a giant rice and eggs breakfast and waved us on our way. We had a a pretty chill 40 miles today, hot now that we have dropped down and are hovering around 2,000 ft., but enjoyed a stop at one of the many roadside fresh-squeezed juice stops, and arrived in the busy city of Jaen.
We checked into a nice hotel, $11. Got showers, food $3. Getting blogged up. And planning a day off tomorrow to rest, recharge, catch-up with parents, and then we do what we do, keep on keepin' on! Oh, and in case I forgot to tell, my parents, Mango and Magoo, have airplane tickets booked and are meeting us in Cusco, Peru mid-October. We are PUMPED to get some family love and to get to check out Machu Pichu with those two recently retired wackos! YAY! We recently connected with our good friend, John, who has opened the coolest and best bicycle shop in Bend, Project Bike, who will be our go-to shop for goods and is sending some much needed parts down with my parents. If there is anything anyone wants to get to us. Like, maybe a motor for my bike, a pony, or a Farrari, please get in touch with us or my parents and they can bring it when they come. All right ya'll, off to bed. Thanks for following and being a part of our journey!
Flying down a hill enjoying the bright green patchwork hills littered with black and white dairy cows and local farmers working the fields, when a streak of brown fur latched onto the back of Ville's shoe and clamped down hard. When Ville tried to shake it, it went for his heel. That's when Ville lost his temper...
Hey folks! Ville here, I'm giving K.G a break from writing so she can enjoy her ice-cream here in Cuenca, Ecuador. Like she declared in the last post, we did go hike the 2 mountains Pasochoa and Ruminahui and what a fun, exhausting time it was!
The first mountain, Pasochoa, we tackled around noon after heading east out of Quito with our good buddy Freddy. We reached the summit using a different route than most of the people climbing it use. Freddy is like 'The Godfather' in the mountains, and he knew a farmer who let us hike through his property. The farmer was excited to see Freddy again and we tipped him about the location of one his runaway cows. Both K.G and I were a bit worried about how our bodies would deal with the high elevation (4,200 meters / 13, 779 ft ) but were happy to discover that our bodies had already acclimatized after a week and a half in the high country. The entire way to the top and back Freddy explained us things about the local flora & fauna while we bombarded him with questions about his expeditions to mountains like Denali and Aconcagua. And when we arrived at the summit, the clouds parted for us to look down into the giant crater of lush green native plants.
After reaching the top and spending few minutes soaking in the views and taking pictures we headed down. Freddy had reserved us tent sites at a nice hostel in the foothills of Pasochoa Mountain. From the hostel we had great views of one of Ecuador's highest peaks Cotopaxi ( 5,897 m / 19, 347 ft ). A couple of years ago the mountain/volcano became active again so at the moment you can't climb to the top. It's not spewing lava, but it's creating some pretty dangerous gases that could kill the happy climber, similar gases can be found in one of the gas station toilets along the Pan American Highway.
The hostel price included all the meals, which were fantastic. We've been eating a lot of chicken, rice and beans lately so it was nice to get dishes like quiche and hamburgers. The next day we took off to summit Ruminahui ( 4,721m / 15,488ft ), unfortunately the first few hours of the climb we were inside the clouds and could not see more that 60 ft in front of us. After getting closer to the summit it started to clear more and now we could see more of the amazing views. Getting to the top required some scrambling and on the very top we were almost bouldering. Reaching the top felt pretty amazing, we were happy to be there with a great friend like Freddy whom we owe huge thanks to showing us around in his country and taking us to these places that without him we probably would've never seen.
Getting down the mountain proved out to be harder than getting up it, as some of you know I've had 5 surgeries done on my knees thanks to soccer/football so to say the least I was the slowest one coming down. After getting back to the hostel, Freddy and K.G headed to the natural water jacuzzi while I took a shower and studied the guidebooks for Peru.
The next day was a rude awakening getting back on the bikes and continuing South, the last few days of intense hiking had taken it's toll and we were hurting on the uphills. Luckily day by day the views were getting more and more amazing enabling us to to forget our achy legs. The towns and cities along the way were almost as beautiful as the surrounding landscape they were in. We stopped in places like Ambato and Cajabamba where we were definitely the only "Gringos" in town judging by the looks we got, the looks were not negative like a lot of the ones we got in Central America but more curious and friendly.
One of our favorite places between Quito and Cuenca was the small town of Cunchi where we got to enjoy some amazing views of the clouds below us and the sun setting behind the mountains. The downtown area was beautiful and the people extremely friendly. Al the these amazing views did not come for free, it's been constant up and down. Some hills are steeper and some more mellow graded but none of them are small, they're all 5-20 miles in length. To add to the work out, Mother Earth has given us some intense and cold headwinds to battle with complete with mist and rainshowers! Oh boy!
Now that I've told you guys all the positive things about Ecuador I have to be honest and say that the dogs have been the worst on the trip so far. There is a lot of them around, some of them are stray and some have a collar. The stray dogs don't seem to care too much about us, they might have gotten beaten up too many times that they seem pretty timid, or they are too busy scrounging for food to waste energy on us. The worst ones we have problems with are the ones from people's yards, a lot of the times they chase us and try to bite our tires or even worse, they jump in front of us when we are bombing 40 miles per hour downhill. Most of them are not small ones either since they are used as guard dogs, they don't look like they ever get petted or loved a lot, just thrown in the yard to guard the place. Man's best friend here is something else, not the cute mutt in the yard.
Yesterday we passed a house while slugging slowly uphill and a dog took off after us, in a few seconds it was biting the heel of my shoe and it had a pretty good hold of it. I freaked out because if it would've gotten hold of my Achilles heel with it's razor sharp rabies infested teeth that would've been the end of the trip for me. I kicked the dog the best I could once it lost it's hold but that only got him more angry. I stopped the bike and picked up a rock the size of my fist, as soon as I did this the dog started running back to the yard. I ran after it with fury, once I got inside the yard there was a small girl looking at me with eyes wide open and full of fear. I tried to explain to the girl that the dog attacked me and now it was time for him to learn a lesson about biting passing cyclists. The girl ran inside the house and left me standing in the yard feeling bad about it. The dog was standing in the doorway and I swear it was giving me the middle finger.
The rest of the day I carried 2-3 rocks at hand all the time, I'm planning to make a stick out of some limber sapling so I'm ready the next time when overly aggressive Lassie wants to chew my leg. We've seen all kinds of protective gear against the dogs among the cyclist that we've met, anything from pepper spray to a full size whip ( or maybe that was for the bedroom?)
We made it to Cuenca yesterday and we are planning to take couple of days off here. It seems so far like a really cool city, we've heard that there's a lot of retired Canadians and US citizens living here. Like Cuernavaca in Mexico and Medellin in Colombia, Cuenca is also called the city of eternal spring due to it's temperate climate. We're staying with a warmshowers host Jacobo who is originally from Venezuela, his place is on the outskirts of the city but there's an awesome bus system here so right now we're sitting in a cafe sipping coffee and telling stories to you fine folks. We're planning to continue south to Loja on Sunday and after Loja we're heading to the border of Peru. Right now our bodies are aching from all the climbing we did on and off the bikes here in Ecuador so we'll be taking it easy here in the eternal spring. Until next time, as Ron Burgundy says it " You stay classy San Diego!"
Ville couldn't refuse the opportunity to pluck one of the giant, wiggling, 4-inch-long live larvae from the bowl of squirming critters and stick it in his mouth, biting off the head, chewing the meat and swallowing it down alive...
Pasto, Colombia was a great stop for a couple days rest. We stayed at the Koala Hotel in downtown and although on the high end of our budget, the couple that own and run the place are incredibly kind and made some tasty pancakes complete with diced fruit to give us some extra juice to continue the climb south. We also met a super nice French couple, Leo and Virginie, whom we ended up riding on and off with on the next stretch to Quito, Ecuador.
Riding out of Pasto was a short long climb, followed by a gigantic easy, "whatcycling dreams are made of", downhill for 15 miles! Where Pasto was rainy, cold and chilly, we dropped all the way down to sunshine and some warm weather again. The road then climbed ever so slowly up along a meandering river in a deep gorge and we took in some stunning scenery the entire day to Ipiales. Ipiales was another crappy border town with not much to see but a place to sleep. We and the Frenchies woke up early and were at the border by 6:30 am only to find that the systems were down and with a gigantic line already waiting to get in or out of Colombia. For those not following the news, Venezuela is in a pretty chaotic state right now and two days prior to our arrival at the border, Colombia granted temporary visas to Venezuelans, making for a complete chaos at Immigration and a complete shut-down of the systems. Really sad and sorry for all the struggles the Venezuelan people are going through and have been struggling through! To lose everything you have worked so hard for in your life and to have your money so devalued you can't even buy food, is a very sad place to be for so many of these people.
After 5 hours of waiting in an ever increasingly agitated line, ONE AGENT WORKING even though there were 7 booths (inefficiency at it's finest), locked gates to keep the hoards of people outside until they could be filtered into the line, we made it to the front of the line and got stamped out of Colombia. Yipee! And biked about 100 yards to the Ecuadorian Immigration were we were stamped into Ecuador in about 2 minutes. Loving Ecuador already. From the border we could already tell the roads were amazing, multiple lanes, recently paved, and decent biking grades. We stopped at the first overpriced restaurant we could find to get lunch together and then pushed on up the hill passing rolling hills of green checkerboard pastures littered with colorful cows. It was beautiful, very similar to the countryside in France the Frenchies said.
First night in Ecuador we spent in San Gabriel, a decent sized little town high in the mountains with a cute central square, beautiful old buildings and a long walking street market. With the change in elevation (hovering around 9,000 ft/ 2,750 meters roughly), we have been biking in pants, layers and rain jackets for the mist, but very much enjoying the biking in cooler temps. Nights drop in temps enough to get to sport our new puffy jackets (we picked up warmer puffies in Bend to tackle the Andies). From San Gabriel we continued southwest through some beautiful misty countryside and even had the return of pretty extreme winds (we haven't had wind like this since Baja!). As Ibarra came into view, we were confused but excited that the elevation chart must have been wrong because we were almost in town and had a decent day of riding, until the road took a sharp left turn into a switchback and we began to climb. Luckily, the climbs in Ecuador have been really easy grades with switchbacks so far and we were in Ibarra earlier than planned. Debating to push on, we decided to get a room and have time to put our feet up and relax a bit before pushing on.
From Ibarra we had a very scenic and easy day of oscillating hills where we came around a turn to see Cayambe's snow-capped Mountain reaching into the clear blue skies. We find ourselves stopping constantly to get pictures or video of the scenery here in Ecuador it's so beautiful. In the early afternoon we passed Otavalo, a small town in the Andean highlands surrounded by volcanoes and where traditionally clad indigenous twonspeople sell colorful textiles and handicrafts. We stopped and sat to have some coffee while the world walked by, but are always so sad to not have the room/space to buy anything to pack along. Somehow , with the roads easy riding and the climbs easier to tackle than Colombian roads, we managed to get all the way to Guayllabamba, one long climb (and only 15 miles) away from Quito.
With an early start, we pushed the long, slow climb to Quito and met our good friend Freddy, whom we met just before beginning this bike ride from Alaska to Argentina, in Myanmar while traveling. What a great feeling to see an old friend after so long on the road! Freddy took us to his beautiful home right in the heart of the city and convinced us to drop our stuff and head with him on an adventure. Freddy is one of the oldest and most fantastic trekking/mountaineering guides from Quito (http://sierranevada.ec/en/home), and who has traveled all over the country and world climbing mountains. Freddy had to drive over 5 hours to the Amazon to pick up some students and bring them back to the city, but had a great plan for us to drive up into the mountains to Papallacta where there was hot springs to soak and stay the night in a hotel, then continue to Puerto Misahualli the next morning to pick up the students in the Amazon and drive back to the city together. And who is not more down for a fun adventure than these two wackos?!
First, we headed out of the city to drop down an insanely steep road into a ravine, cross a river and then climb all the way up to 12,000 ft over the Andean Pass and then dropped down to a beautiful lake where we found a hotel with thermal pools in back all to ourselves to relax and soak our soar muscles. The next morning, surrounded by the Andes, we could see Cotopaxi covered in pure white snow towering high above us. Back in the car, we dropped far down along the river and eventually turned up another highway climbing up and winding into the cloud forest. Having loads of rain, many places in the road had been previously washed away or were still scattered with debris. Lucky for us, Freddy is a sure-footed driver and we dropped back down as the heat and humidity of the Amazon Jungle engulfed us.
In Puerto Misahualli, we stopped for a quick lunch and to stretch our legs, where one of the local ladies was selling giant LIVE larvae to eat. Apparently a local delicacy, Ville couldn't refuse to try something that crazy, and picked one out of the bowl of squirming, wiggling 4 inch long critters and popped it into his mouth! I was so disgusted by them, I try a lot of things, but there was no way I was going to eat one of those! I took the video instead. We managed to find the two students, pack up their things, and back up the way we came we headed, arriving back in Quito around 7 pm for a walk around the hood, a bite to eat, and crash.
While soaking in the hot springs, Freddy had mentioned he really wanted to get to go do some hiking with us while we are here, and so this morning we laid out some plans. We are planning to leave tomorrow morning up to the El Boliche National Recreation Area to hike and summit Pasochoa Mountain (4,200 meters/ 13,779 ft.) and then camp at the base of Cotopaxi, summitting Ruminahui Mountain (4,721 meters/ 15,488 ft) the next day. From there we will get ourselves back to the Panamerican Highway and continue south towards Cuenca, which will be our next planned stop. Freddy has to come back to Quito for an appointment, but is hoping to meet us on the road with his bike to bike a few days with us. Very excited to have such a fantastic friend in Ecuador wanting to show us his beautiful country! If you have any interest in outdoor adventures in Ecuador or beyond, we very highly recommend Freddy at Sierra Nevada Expeditions (his website). Until next time ya'll keep on keepin' on...
Here is is for your viewing entertainment. Part 1 of our Alaska to Argentina Bike Journey. This begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends at our halfway(ish) of Costa Rica. Please comment, email us, share us, let us know what you think! We hope to get feedback for Part 2...(click link below or copy and paste into browser)
I was cycling along, minding my own business, thrilled to be heading out of Medellin on a Sunday where the city closed down two lanes of an entire highway for over 20 miles for cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, etc. when all of a sudden, I see out of the corner of my eye at the last second something large fly straight at me and landed smack down on my tongue. I spastic-ally grabbed at it and realized it was a giant beetle with hooks on its feet clinging to my tongue and by the time I ripped it off and threw it aside, my tongue had been coated with some sticky, foul tasting gunk and my tongue slowly began to numb. Oh crap.
We stayed only a couple days to rest in Medellin, spending an entire day on the blog and then a day sightseeing at the Botero Museum, downtown and the trendy Bolivariana area for beers at a newly opened micro brewery (felt like being at home). Getting the chance to go to see some of these art museums in the home countries of these artists like Botero here in Colombia and Freda Kahlo in Mexico has been a very special experience for us. It just isn't the same to only see art in textbooks at school. Heading out of Medellin on a Sunday, we had a great time with thousands of other cyclists riding on a two-lane highway closed on Sundays only to cyclists for almost the entire length of the city. Apparently I ride with my mouth gaping wide open, because a giant beetle flew straight onto my tongue and left a foul tasting stuff that numbed my tongue. Luckily it wore off after a few hours, and I was probably just drooling on myself and talking with a speech impediment for a while. Big huge thanks to Pedro, Diana, Daniel, and Manuel Gomez (our Warmshowers hosts) for having us and showing us around your great town!
The climb out of Medellin was a slow easy climb of only 3,810 ft (an easy climb for Colombian standards) and when we reached the summit, we rolled in front of a restaurant to get a snack and were given a standing ovation by a few cycling groups out for their Sunday ride. It was amazing! And they all wanted to get pics on our bikes, try their hand at lifting the bikes (Ville's bike is so heavy most people can't lift it), and the staff threw down two giant plates of food for us. Only when we went to pay did we realize one of the cycling groups had already paid for our meals and left. Colombians! What a great bunch! Thank you so much Bicicletas Ramon Hoyos & Servibike!!
We knew we had a thrilling decent in front of us, but as a giant storm approached, we opted to get a room in Santa Barbara for the night and watched as an insane rain/thunderstorm blew through and washed rivers down the streets. Our room even had a giant naked pic of Kim Kardashian over our bed, what a treat. In the morning we had a nice breakfast, (in Colombia it has been usually eggs, rice, beans, plantains, and meat with a steaming cup of hot cocoa or coffee) and had a wild decent all the way down to a giant river where the road then slowly climbed along the river and thick, green hills and non-stop road construction. The plans for road widening were already underway, but the recent storm had also brought a bunch of debris into the road and we had to stop about every mile the entire day to wait to pass large sections of road construction. Although, we had lots of road workers to chat with, and were given some water by one guy.
We made it as far as El Rodeo for the night, got a cheap $6 room in a trucker motel on the river, and headed out early with the plan to make it to Chinchina where we would stay at a Warmshowers apartment. The day was yet another insane day of climbing back into the clouds, and by the time we cranked uphill into town, it was pouring rain and we were both beat. The climbs in Colombia have been steep and long, and it has not helped that since my sickness in Bend and taking time off, we have felt in a rush to get miles in to be able to finish in Argentina in decent weather so we have been pushing hard to crank out miles. We met a sweet group of boys on the street corner when asking for directions and Ville said three of them were trying to distract him while the one boy was hitting on me (they were like 10 years old mind you). Yep, I still got it!
We decided on a day off in Chinchina only for a day to rest the legs and do the much needed research for our travel route through Peru (mountains vs coast), and when leaving the coffee shop, Stephan, the owner, insisted we pick a meal off his menu he wanted to make us for dinner for free. Man, the love we have received here in Colombia is incredibly humbling. After a day of rest and trying to pick back up our spirits, we had a pretty beautiful day of riding the "road of coffee" surrounded by coffee plantations and made it all the way into Contente (a fork in the road with a restaurant and sex motel) where we got a room for the night, complete with mirrors on all the walls and even murals of photographers aiming their lenses at us like celebrities. "Only the best for my wife," Ville likes to remind me every time we get these super classy joints. Lucky me.
The next day's stretch was a very pleasant downhill through a very plush neighborhood into the wide open fields of sugar plantains stretching for as far as the eye could see. We were passed many times a day by giant semi trucks pulling 5+ trailers loaded full of sugar cane. The drivers here in Colombia have been incredibly nice for the most part and always smiling or waving so at least if the steep climbs get you down, the people bring you up. But on the flats, we rolled through some easy miles and made it early to our Warmshowers host, Jonathan's, home just south of Buga. A Colombian who has done a decent amount of bike touring in South America, he was a great resource for info and had a beautiful home he said they rent for $500 a year! WHAT?!?! In Bend, you might be able to rent a cardboard box under the Colombia Street Bridge for $500 a month.
At a lunch stop the previous day we had met a super nice couple, Jorge and Laura, who were motorcycle touring and headed home to Cali and invited us to stay if we wanted to make the trip into the city, but hearing the horror stories of bad traffic, we opted to bypass the city and continued south to Santander de Quilichao on flat open stretches of road through "bad neighborhoods" which we just made the assumption meant that they were towns made up of lots of black people so they were bad. So this happens not just in America, but Colombia too huh? All we encountered were tons of smiles from people who obviously have less than most. We also had a nice guy, Juan Carlos, pull over and give us water, chat a bit about the ride, and pull over a second time to give us bananas and mandarins. Colombians.
In Santander de Quilichao we had a delicious dinner of chicken soup, complete with chicken feet, neck, liver and heart, followed by fried half a chicken and rice. If I weren't on a bike trip biking all day, I would be the size of a bean bag chair from all the crazy food we eat. The next day we had a long day, lots of scenery but more climbing out of the flat land and into the hills to reach Popayan very late in the day, exhausted, yet again. Even though it was again a Sunday, the traffic became intense as we neared town and knowing that Sunday is a HUGE drinking day in all Latin American countries, it is unnerving to be on the road late. Just before town we passed a huge fairground where it must have been a motocross convention or gathering of some kind with lots of crowds and then just past it, as the traffic became insane, we rolled past a huge car accident where a car had turned in front of a motorcyclist and giant crowd of people were gathered to help. The guy appeared to hopefully be ok, and having a crowd already there to help, we passed and continued to town. We found a cheap hotel right off the highway and crashed for the night.
With another early start, (we sadly didn't realize Popayan was a city worth seeing until later down the road) we made headway south with an elevation chart for the day that was so far off base it was hysterical. We imagined a day of oscillating hills that involved a large downhill and flats but instead we found ourselves climbing straight up for 5 miles, white knuckled descent for 5 miles, lowest gear climb for 5 and found the first hotel in El Bordo after a 60 mile day, to crash. Although challenging terrain, it makes for some spectacular scenery, slow moving sparse amounts of traffic, friendly small villages, and rarely seeing tourists. While passing through a tiny town at the top of a pass, we passed a small group of kids on their way to school who decided to run with us for about a mile and asked a million questions about where we were going, our names, where we were from, our bikes, they were such kind-heart-ed curious kids it was heart warming. At the bottom of one hill we stopped to try an "Energy Juice" from these kind local ladies complete with fresh squeezed oranges, quail eggs, and mystery fuel. They even gave us a bunch of oranges to carry up the climb.
From El Bordo, after Ville had to change a flat tire, we were surprised to meet another cycle-touring group from France, 3 adults and 2 kids, who were biking some of Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. We chatted a bit in the morning and headed down the road where we had a really pleasant long, winding descent into another "dangerous area" of, again, towns of black people who were unbelievably kind, chatty, waving and cheering us on as we passed. The day was amazing, slowly rolling hills ever dropping, dropping, dropping until we found ourselves in desert surrounded by flowering cactus and temps reaching over 110 degrees by noon! And then we hit more tire troubles with Ville's front tire.
After sitting on the side of the road, twice, in the baking sun trying to dig shards of metal from the tire, Ville was able to pump it and hobble into Cumbitara where there was a tire shop where we ate lunch and worked on the tire for a couple hours in the heat before Ville finally found a giant metal shard lodged inside the tire. For those who haven't toured, or not long enough to wear down some tires, these metal shards are a nightmare. They are from old car and semi truck tires exploded on the road and the interior radial of the tire is left in tiny (the size of a needle about 1/4" in length) fragments undetected by the cyclists eye on the road. They lodge into our tires, put tiny holes in our tubes, and they can only be fixed with time sitting on the side of the road, usually with no shoulder and speeding traffic whizzing by, with pliers digging out these lovely metal pieces and patching the tube. A total joy.
We powered up past Cumbitara a ways, found a room for the night in a room the temp of your oven, and had an early start to an insanely long climb up, down, and up, up, up to Pasto where we reached it in the rain and checked into Koala Inn, highly recommended by other cyclists. Absolutely stunning views on the way up to Pasto and even past a town, Chachagui, with tons of giant homes with pools and gated communities. We are taking a couple days to rest, blog-up, change cassettes and chains (so it's been 5,000 miles since the last change) before we have about a 5-day climb over the border of Colombia into Ecuador where our next stop is Quito and visiting a friend, Freddy, whom we met while backpacking in Myanmar. Although very challenging for the mind and spirit, Colombia has been a great place to bike because of the diverse scenery and unbelievable outpouring of generosity of the Colombian people. Will be sad to leave, but excited to begin yet another country. Until next time ya'll, keep on keepin' on...
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“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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