A Travellerspoint blog

Thank you.

40 °C

Final blog – It’s all done and I’m home!

WOW! What an adventure and a dream come true. To cycle the length of the Andes, the world’s longest mountain range from Quito at the Equator to Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America.

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  • 11000km
  • 107 riding days over 4 and a half months
  • 108000m of climbing. This is the equivalent of climbing Mt Everest more than 8 times.

Much of the cycling, especially in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, was at over 3000m so the thin air at altitude added a challenge, but I wanted a challenge and I certainly got that on this trip!

A journey such as this would not be complete without a few ‘thank you’ ‘and reflections on such an amazing time.

Firstly, a thank you goes to my fiancé Erin, for supporting me in the realisation of an 8-year dream to cycle the length of the Andes. I missed you, as you me, but we caught up on Skype when we could. Thanks for loving me. I'm looking forward to our island wedding in November.

To Bike Dreams, for putting together such an amazing and well-organised trip. It was fantastic to be with such a passionate crew. They love long distance cycling and want to share it with others. Despite 4.5 months to do so, I really can’t fault their trip. Everything was excellent. It’s pretty hard to keep a big group happy through sometimes trying times, but they did it. Thanks.

Thanks to all the other cyclists who made my journey better by being a part of it. We became like family, always looking out for and helping each other. You are all amazing in your own ways and added to the melting pot that any international trip is. It was special to be a part of your holiday too and I hope that we all have fond memories. Thanks for the things you did that made my trip better.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who donated to the Kids Cancer Project on my behalf. I’m happy to announce that I reached $1000. Thank you so much. If you’d said you’d donate or thought you would, but haven’t done it yet, (Maybe you were waiting for me to finish?) you still can at http://www.everydayhero.com.au/malcolm_roberts It’s not too late. I think the link will be active for a little while. Include your details and you’ll get a tax receipt too. It certainly made it a little easier through the toughest times on the bike knowing that my efforts were going to a good cause.
Thanks again to those who donated.

I trust that the effort I put into sorting my pictures as I went, then writing and uploading this blog for you has been worthwhile. It would certainly have been easier to just sit and read a book as some others did. I hope that you enjoyed it. I wanted to share my experiences and not just be selfish and keep them to myself.

You can view other photos of mine and I’ll put up some Andes Trail sets too once I sort them. ‘Signs of South America’ is one I’ll do by request. I seem to have got known for photographing the different interesting road signs we passed.
You can find my photos online at Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/malcolmsphotos/

I’ll also post some Andes Trail videos as slideshow compilations, and also some with video taken with my GoPro, to my You Tube handle of TheWandera. I have some videos there already – mostly diving slideshows to music – that you can view until I post some of this trip. (There’s even a video of a stand-up comedy gig I did.) If you go to You Tube and type ‘TheWandera’ in the search field, you’ll get all my video uploads. Enjoy.

The final thanks should go to you. Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Keep smiling and have fun planning YOUR next adventure.

The Andes Trail was a dream come true for me. Like most worthwhile things in life, it took planning to make happen.
What’s your dream?
What steps are you taking now to make it happen?

Posted by TheWandera 02:55 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Ushuaia to home.

A couple of days in Ushuaia then 4 flights home.

16th December – Day in Ushuaia

My smurf hat from La Paz is now entertaining guests in Ushuaia.

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Slept in and then packed my bike into a too-small cardboard box. We’d been provided them by the bike club, but they were tiny. I had to dismantle everything on my bike – both wheels off, forks, handlebars and of course the saddle and pedals. It only fit with me creating a new ‘lid’. I did manage to also squeeze a few light bulky items, such as down jacket and sleeping bag, into in a couple of spaces I found. I have been ruthless with chucking stuff out as I need to get my 57kg arrival weight down below 46kg (2 x23kg allowance) and that doesn’t allow for gift purchases. Everything fit into my backpack and it weighs 13 kg and the bike box is 27 meaning I’ve got it down to 40KG. How did I do that? I said I was ruthless!
That done, a few of us went out for lunch in town. This is my seafood paella.

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This is the view of Ushuaia from Hotel Ushuaia up on the hill. It's an easy walk down to town, but very steep, so with my dodgy knee right now, a taxi back is a better option.

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What’s with all this rubbish? I know it’s Sunday, but piles of uncollected garbage bags is not a good look for a tourist town, especially when the dogs get into it.

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Tonight the usual suspects went out again and I had a salmon with Arctic crab in a cream sauce. Tasty, but too rich.

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17th December – Second of two days in Ushuaia.

Today Roffie, Scott and I went on a boat cruise up the Beagle Channel.

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Last nights pouring rain fell as snow just a few metres higher and the mountains around Ushuaia were covered in fresh snow. Very beautiful.

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Read this sign closely, particularly the second paragraph. Very funny if you're not an Argy. Down here, it's best not to mention you're a Pom.

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Or this sign?

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Looking back towards Ushuaia. The snowline is far below the treeline.

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The trip took us along the international border between Chile and Argentina, with Argentina to our north and Chile to the south. It was raining on the Chilean mountains, but not on the Argy ones.

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We visited a seal colony.

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The main goal of our journey was a colony of Magellanic Penguins. They were energetic and comical and fun to watch. Curious, they wandered right up to us as if to say, ‘Who are you?’

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Heading back.

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Again we got lucky as although it was overcast, it didn’t rain all day. It still made for a very dramatic sky and mountains.

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I found out why there were piles of rubbish all over town. The main street was blockaded this afternoon by trucks whose drivers were lending their support for the garbos who were striking for better pay. They had piles of pallets burning and an asado cooking.

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Tonight the final few of the usual suspects still left in town went out for an assado/BBQ dinner. Pork, beef, chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) all graced my plate. I’ll miss the Argentinian asados. It’s the best food they do.

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Icecream for dessert.
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Can you believe this is about 10pm? If it's not overcast it never really gets completely dark at night.

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Getting back to the hotel by taxi was made tricky by multiple roadblocks by the striking workers, but we got there.

18th December – Beginning my journey home.

I Skyped Erin for the last time and we worked out I would be home in 48 hours. Not a short journey!
Not knowing what was happening with the striking workers, I went extra early to the airport in case they’d blocked the road and I had to walk the last bit. They appeared to have ended it as even the main street was now clear of trucks and bonfires. My good-bye to Ushuaia was soured by a taxi driver trying to rip me off by charging more for my bike box. (Yet if I'd filled his cab with 4 passengers, that's no extra charge.) He knocked my hat off and waved his fist at me and threatened to punch me if I didn’t pay his made up additional fare. I paid the right amount and got out. He then threw my bags out. Why do taxis the world over attract unsavoury characters? I noticed that the cabs in Ushuaia all have a sign next to the meter that states, in Spanish and English, that the displayed fare is in pesos not dollars, a difference of 5 times. It tells me that they’d been telling tourists to pay in dollars and ripping them off.

My flight this afternoon is to Buenos Aires, then I have an overnight stop before leaving for Santiago early tomorrow. Then it’s to Sydney and on to Perth. I leave Ushuaia lunchtime on Tuesday and get home at 9:30pm on Thursday. 25 hours of flying over 2.5 days.
The BA Sohotel hotel and room is beautiful. With all the offered facilities and location, it’s a shame I’m not here longer to enjoy it.

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There are a few of us in BA, so the 4 ‘usual suspects’, being Michelle, Tamsin, Adrian and I met up for drinks and dinner. We were joined by two crew members Richard and Jaap. Drinks were had first in our hotel lobby restaurant and then we went out and found somewhere for dinner. We didn’t place our order until after 10:30, but that’s nothing strange for the Argys. I had an excellent steak as my final meal in Argentina, so it ended well.

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We had an excellent last night out together, but, maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up so late as I’m in a cab to the airport at 6am tomorrow.

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BA to Santiago, Santiago to Sydney and then Sydney to home in Perth.
Here's me at Sydney airport.

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Posted by TheWandera 21.12.2012 14:10 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

The FINAL two days - Rio Grande to Ushuaia

Ushuaia - the end of the world and the end of my ride.

14th December Rio Grande to Tolhuin 123km / 632m climbing

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It didn’t rain today, so I’m happy, and it was paved all the way.
How's this sign? They give people gold stars for killing themselves on the road. Their name gets painted on the road next to the sign. Last time I got a gold star it was from a school teacher.

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It's my second last day on the bike and 5km before lunch, I had a flat tyre. I can’t believe I came so close to not having a puncture on this trip. I hadn’t mentioned it, so I didn’t jinx myself, but got one anyway. Not an intrusion, the tube split down the seam. I went to put my spare tube in, which had been in my saddlebag for the last 11000km. It had a hole where it had rubbed through. Bugger! I have usually ridden alone on this trip, but fortunately I’d been riding next to someone else, so instead of patching it, I got a tube from them and used it for the rest of the day. Two cyclists side by side is safer because it makes the traffic actually go around you and not try and squeeze past. Usually. There was one person who couldn’t wait for the oncoming car and just went for it and forced them of the road in a whirl of gravel, dust and honking horns. Better them than us for once.

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The meeting point at the end of the day was the bakery in Tolhuin, 10km before the campground. Apparently it’s the most famous bakery in Argentina. I mistook ‘famous’ for best. The range of pastries and cakes was less than yesterday and the coffee I’d been looking forward to was from a Nescafe button machine, so I declined. Panaderia of disappointment! Are they famous because they say they are?
This is the flag that would be out each afternoon for us to find the campsite easily. Seeing the flag from a distance was always a nice feeling.

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The campground is by a lake and I erected my tent for the last time!

My last Bike Dreams dinner was awesome! BBQ chicken, asparagus and risotto! Kirstin and Yaap rock! Their dinners have been a highlight of this trip and they often cook under difficult conditions. Here's a few photos taken of our last camp together.

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We had a few beers!

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This is Jonathan's bike with it's strap on. The frame cracked after the first month and since then it's been held together with rachet straps.

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15th December – Rio Grande to Ushuaia 97km / 1060m climbing – My last day on the bike!

My final destination! I made it, but not without a close call that could have gone very badly.

I packed up my tent for the last time and gave it away. I need to lose 11kg in addition to weight of gift purchases. It will be a challenge, but I reckon I can do it. This is the last time I'll see this view.

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The morning ride was good with the flat pampas of the last week becoming mountains and views.

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Even some snow!

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We had a police escort in the form of a few vehicles in front of or behind different people and groups. It was one of these that hit me and knocked me off my bike. I was going uphill on a windy road, which made it difficult for traffic to pass me. There was a police quad bike with two guys on it behind me and some cars behind them. I pulled onto the gravel shoulder to let them pass at the same moment the police thought they’d pass me – on the same gravel shoulder! They took me out, knocking me onto the road in a tangle of bike. Their rear wheel stopped just as it applied pressure to my arm. A few centimetres more before stopping and I’d have a broken arm! I got up and dusted myself off. Everything seemed fine with me and the bike. That was until I rode. My right knee, whilst ungrazed hurt with every rotation of the pedals. In shock still, and with most of the remaining distance downhill, I didn’t struggle to make it to lunch. It didn’t hurt to stand, so I didn’t know what was coming.
Here is our last lunch on the road.

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We’d all waited at lunch so that we could ride together the final 30km into Ushuaia. Any other time, the speed they went at was easy, but I was literally riding with one leg and couldn’t keep up. Every rotation felt like a knife being twisted in my knee, so I had my right leg out straight and my left leg was clipped in and doing all the pedalling. I was happy that it was mostly downhill or flat to Ushuaia, but I was disappointed not to be able to be part of the peloton riding under the finish sign. Determination won the day and I crossed the finish line on my bike. I was probably only a kilometre behind the group and a couple of others were with me too. Thanks for the support.

WOW! I made it!

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It seems so long ago that I left Quito on the equator and embarked on this dream of mine to cycle the length of the Andes to Fin Del Mundo – the end of the world, 55 degrees south in Ushuaia.
4.5 months, 107 riding days, 11000 kilometres, 108 000 vertical metres of climbing, and here I am in Ushuaia. It doesn’t yet seem real that I’ve actually achieved such an undertaking.
Ushuaia - here I am!

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So while it all sank in, we had a celebration on the waterfront. Thanks to the local cycling club, a big blow-up ‘finish’ sign was there and we had an area with food, champagne and music. Place-getters had their moment on the podium and we all had a group photo too.

Winning women.
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Champagne sprays!
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Winning men.
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The crew.
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The Aussies.
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Michelle took over the job of DJ, beginning with Peaches by Presidents of USA. It's been a recurring song on this trip.
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Didier, our driver/medic with his favourite beret.
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We were dubbed ‘The lucky weather edition’, and it continued through until the end. It didn’t rain much today on the bike and was fine and sunny for us on the boulevard. The weather has been so kind to us and kept making the crew look like liars after they would warn us how bad a certain section had been previous years and then we’d be there and the wind, blizzard or whatever had troubled them previously was absent.
No sooner had the celebrations finished and we returned to the hotel and the rain set in for the night.

Recognise the smurf? I bought it in La Paz and it's spent the last 3 months hidden in the bowels of the truck. We thought it was lost, until the truck got emptied and there it was. I've put it on the counter of the hotel here in Ushuaia. The world's most well-travelled smurf?

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We met at 8pm and, wearing jackets, walked into town in the rain for our last group dinner together. Buffet dinner with BBQ meats from a passionate asado man and a few beers to complement it.

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Gilly shared the last few new verses of the song she's been making up for us along the way. We all know the chorus by now and sang along.
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Here's Jonathan giving the speech in which he gave all the crew a book signed by all of us.
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This sticker says that Ushuaia is the capital of the Falkland Islands for the last 30 years. That would be when they lost their short-lived invasion wasn't it? Strange thing to celebrate.

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We left at midnight and kicked on to the Irish pub, aptly named Dublin. We had a few pints of the locally brewed beer called Beagle and I went back to the hotel at 3am. Fun last night. I still can't believe I'm actually here in Ushuaia at the end of my journey.

Posted by TheWandera 18.12.2012 13:45 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Torres Del Paine to Rio Grande

Southern Chile and across to Tierra Del Fuego. This trip is fast drawing to a close!

7th December – Torres Del Paine to Puerto Natales 99km / 1246 climbing

It seems like Patagonia is in catch-up mode with a smashing wind during the night, but my tent is good. (I bought it for this trip with these winds as a benchmark requirement for purchase.)
I saw this red fox before leaving camp.

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Just as we went to leave it started to rain. Bugger! I’d left my waterproof pants in my lunch bag in the now-locked truck. It rained, or should I say drizzled, all morning.

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The magic views that I knew were there were hidden by the grey clouds. This photo is from a viewpoint called Mirador Grey. How apt when this photo is 50 shades of grey?

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It rained all morning and the road was unpaved and muddy. My mudguards worked, but it was passing traffic that did a better job of making me dirty. By the time I got to lunch, I was wet and numb and over it. The rain didn’t let up during lunch, so I got changed into warm clothes and went in the truck the rest of the day. The bonus with this option is that we stopped at the cave of the Milodon on our way to Puerto Natales. It’s a huge cave in which a 10000 year old milodon skeleton and skin was found in 1890. The plastic life-sized replica is worth the entrance fee alone!

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Fred and Harry use the fire in a cafe next to the cafe to dry their clothes before continuing to ride in the rain to Puerto Natales.
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What's this I see? A wooden slide. What cruel person made this? Mummy! Mummy! I have splinters in my bum!
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Puerto Natales is a cold windy town. The weather changes frequently. It was sunny when I went for a shower and by the time I came out, my nearly-dry clothing was getting wet again.
We had a lovely Bike Dreams salmon dinner indoors tonight.

8th December – Puerto Natales to Villa Tehuelches 148km / 1024m climbing

It was raining when we went to leave and I had no desire to start wet and cold and stay that way, so I took the truck to lunch which was at 65km, waited for awhile and then set off in the hope that it cleared. It did clear vand there was a strong tail wind. It was so strong that I was riding at 40kph on the flat without peddaling. Then a gust would push you up to 45kph. Accelerating without peddaling! It was too good to last. After doing 35 km in an hour, the road changed direction and I now had a brutal cross wind. It took me two more hours to do the next 35 km.

Windblown trees.
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How’s this picture that Paul took of his son Sander? I was riding on the same angle just to not get blown across the road.
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I had my fruit break in this little bus shelter. I would usually eat it whilst riding, but with this wind, I needed both hands on the handlebar. The shelter was shaking from the wind.
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We had a ‘bush camp’ on the edge of a two shop town. It wasn’t in the bush, but we didn’t have any facilities.
Tonight was my last time on the evening meal dish roster! At breakfast we wash our own, but at night 5 of us get it all done.

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9th December – Villa Tehuelches to Punta Arenas 101km / 588m climbing

The morning involved travelling south-east, so the wind was mostly a 45 degree tail wind, but sometimes was a proper tail wind and sometimes a full-on side wind. After lunch, the road turned south-west and my howling wind was now a head-wind, cross wind or 45 degrees. With 20km to go, the road met the coast, then turned westwards towards Punta Arenas. The water was choppy and covered in whitecaps. The headwind made it hard work, but the cross winds made it tricky trying not to get blown into oncoming traffic. This car was travelling parallel to my sealed road on gravel and the cross wind has blown it into the gutter.

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The sheep even avoided the wind. There are only shrubs about 50cm high, but rather than stand and be blown about, the sheep were sitting hiding in the lee of a shrub. One sheep per shrub.
Tonight we celebrated 3 birthdays. Michelle's and Sander's were today and Harry's is on Tuesday. We all met in the hostel at 5pm and had drinks until 7 before heading out.

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It was Sunday night and it made it very hard to find somewhere open. One of the few places open was a burger restaurant, but they didn’t sell chips. I thought that was illegal not to sell chips with burgers.

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We then kicked onto somewhere else and had too many beers until 3am. Woops! I’m glad it’s a rest day tomorrow.

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How's this sign as of a busting toilet-goer?
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10th December – Rest day in Punta Arenas

After last nights effort, today was quite a sleep-in. For once, my rest day really was. At lunch time I went for a walk with Roffie and found a nice coffee. Their menu wasn’t true, as when we tried to order, we were told, ‘We only have tuna.’ The next café wasn’t much better. The menu of the day was soup, chicken and rhubarb crumble. We ordered 2 and waited. After awhile the waitress informed us that they only had 1 left!
We wandered the streets of PA, but didn’t find much of interest. The howling wind of yesterday was nowhere to be seen. Late in the arvo, 4 of us played cards until we headed out for dinner in an underground/basement bar, but it was disappointing. For the third time today, they waited until I tried to order and then told me, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any salmon.’ Grrr! The steak I ordered wasn’t good, had no sauce or seasoning, and ¾ of the plate being chips didn’t make it better. I’m looking forward to sharing some good meals with Erin when I get home.

11th December – Punta Arenas to bushcamp on Tiera Del Fuego 91km / 735m climbing

Today was a much better day than it looked at lunch. We began early and rode 15 minutes from our hostel to the ferry in time to arrive by 8am as our ferry left at 9. It took many trucks, including our 2, and cars and 30 bicycles.

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How's this sign on a giant sea container? Super heavy! Really? Who'd have thought?
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The journey across the Straits of Magellan took 2.5 hours, so I was glad to have a book and music. The book is appropriately called ‘Adventures in the Patagonian Andes’. It’s about early settlement and exploration of this region. I like this comment by an early engineer named Robert Crawford, ‘ …our tired eyes beheld a view so grand and magnificent that our fatigue was replaced by awe and wonderment. They were the Andes! Every instant the scene changed, and each transformation brought with it a beauty that hitherto had not been captured. It was impossible not to be deeply moved by this view, or to find words to capture it.’ He says perfectly what I’ve been trying to tell you for the last 4 months – the Andes are amazing!

There was no wind yet this morning, so the journey wasn’t rough. The whitecaps and angry water I’d seen on Sunday was nowhere to be seen. On disembarking in Porvenir, we had lunch and continued our riding. It was now noon and we’d only ridden 10km. It took me 4 hours to ride the remaining 80km to camp. The wind picked up, but our direction meant it was more helpful than not.

We rode with the coast next to us. The only 'habitation' were these remote fishermen's huts.
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Guanacos.
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Tonight is our last bushcamp. By bushcamp, I mean a free camp as opposed to a campground.

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I used the time between putting up my tent and dinner to do what I hope is my last bike maintenance. With Richard’s help, I put on a new chain and rear cassette. I had them as spares, so I may as well change them here than go home with worn out parts on my bike. Speaking of worn out, things are starting to reach the end of their lives. Zips are breaking and other things are starting to fall apart. I just hope it’s not me that falls apart!
This photo is taken at 11pm. It's been weird in the evenings when it's light and someone mentions the time and you're like, 'Really?' So different from the start of the trip near the equator where the days were almost equal length day and night.
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12th December Bushcamp to Rio Grande 158km / 505m climbing

My last bushcamp tent pull down.
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Tierra Del Fuego dawn.
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Another day on the bike ahead.
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You think I'm joking about the Patagonian wind?
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Today was literally two days in one. BD combined stages 104 and 105 and we had an unplanned rest day in Rio Grande, once we arrived. Apparently the place we were supposed to stay at the end of 104 didn’t exist. This was a better option.

Goucho herding cattle.
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Grey fox.
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Guanacos in the pampas and guanaco on road warning sign. Look closely. I love the facial detail.
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We left Chile today and crossed the border into Argentina. That was my last border crossing for this trip. I’ve had a lot of ‘lasts’ this ‘last’ week!
I liked this sign just after the border as it’s the first one with Ushuaia and a distance to go. The end is within reach.
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This sign says that the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina. Really? I don’t think that the UK would agree. I thought they’d settled that one in 1982.
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I had a long, but good day on the bike. It was windy, but not rotten. I could see this storm ahead and wondered if the road would meet it.

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It did meet the rain, kind of. I just missed it in that the road went from dry to underwater, but it had just stopped raining. I put on my jacket and continued, but I got wetter from passing trucks sponging up the water than I did from the rain. I’d caught up with Tamsin when it started which was with 20km to go. We rode the rest of the way, but my average speed was diminishing. I did the day in 6 hours. Not bad for 100 miles hey? The first part was unpaved, my last for this trip. YAY!

This set-up is outside a military base on the edge of Rio Grande. Same thing- The Islas Malvinas ( Falklands) our ours. Not last time I checked.
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The campsite was on the Rio Grande, but it was still raining and I was glad that I’d agreed to get a room in town with Roffie. He’d scoured town and grabbed the first place that wasn’t full. Called the Hostal Rio Grande, there was nothing grand about it, but it was warm, dry and out of the wind, which wouldn’t have been the case if I’d camped.
We caught a cab back to the campsite which was on the edge of town, for the Bike Dreams BBQ dinner. As I said, their meals are usually better than what I’ve bought in restaurants.

This is the twilight view over the Rio Grande.
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13th December – Rest day in Rio Grande.

After breakfast and a Skype session with Erin, Roffie and I patronised the café/bakery across the road. WOW! So many beautiful pastries it was hard to choose, but I got one that was chocolate brownie sandwich with caramel between and then chocolate dipped. Coffee was good too.

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We then wandered RG looking for gaffer tape and plastic ties to box up our bikes for going home. It doesn’t seem like 4.5 months, but in just two riding days I’ll be in Ushuaia.

With a list of restaurants in hand, we wandered town looking for somewhere for lunch and also to scope out a target for dinner. It was harder to find than you’d think in a city of 55 thousand. Eventually we ended up at a little place full of locals. No menu, so I just pointed to someone else’s spaghetti and said, ‘I’ll have that’. I got a beautiful Italian home-style meal of slow-cooked beef in tomato sauce with spaghetti. It reminded me of dinners at my sister-in-law’s nonna’s house. I don’t need fancy food, just food cooked with love. Rustic and tasty, this meal hit the spot.
I tried to find something nice about Rio Grande this afternoon, but failed. It’s a grey town that reminds me of places I Russia I’ve been to. Grey skies and buildings to match. It’s an industrial city, so it’s surrounded by factories and warehouses.

My afternoon wanderings still hunting for a restaurant for tonight did turn up a random hand-made pottery place tucked away. I saw something that made me think of Erin (It happens all the time.) so I bought two. I’d tell you more, but it’s a secret.
I like the Sinead O’Connor song ‘All kinds of everything’ and appropriately it was on my music player yesterday. “Winds that go howling, breezes that sigh. Sunshine and holidays – postcards to write. Grey skies or blue. All kinds of everything remind me of you.” Only one week and I’ll be back home with Erin. Where has the last 5 months gone?
An heladeraia / ice cream shop followed. Roffie can’t speak Spanish, but he knows all the Spanish ice cream flavours. Mascarpone and red berry ice cream? Count me in.

We did find a spot for dinner and met the ‘usual suspects’ there. Annoyingly, there was no indication what time they opened. We got there at 8 and they didn’t open until 9, but sick of standing in the cold wind, we asked to be let in at 8:30. My seafood paella was tasty. This town might be crap, but the food is good.

Posted by TheWandera 16.12.2012 11:24 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

El Calafate to Torres Del Paine NP

Is Torres Del Paine the jewel in Patagonia's crown?

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3rd December – El Calafate to bush camp 126km / 1393m climbing

We were told ‘The wind in Patagonia always blows from the west.’ Heading east this morning we were therefore surprised to find an unwanted easterly head wind. We almost always head south, or west so would have loved it another day. Oh well! It was quite a slog and the drizzle was annoying. We were also told that, ‘It never rains around here.’ Four of us rode as a small group until the 600m hill at 50km when we spread out like honey on a hot crumpet. It got cooler as I climbed, but with the exertion, I got hot under my waterproof top. I had to keep it on as it was drizzling. Not enough to wet me, but enough to make me keep my waterproof jacket on.
The wind was a big part of today’s challenge.
Lunch was at 75km, and the warm truck was a welcome respite from the cold. The paved road became unpaved, and with the rain around, it had gone muddy.
The campsite is a new one for BD, but it was a large flat grassy field. We’ve had worse staying in paid camping. There was plenty of room for everyone to spread out and some took it to extremes.

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Dinner tonight was late. Both cooks fell asleep in the afternoon and thought the other would wake them up to finish off dinner!
It’s been cold all day, but tonight is freezing. There were down jackets out in force tonight, but we had a lovely campfire using a stack of wood spotted by the side of the road earlier in the day. There are no trees on the pampas, just clumps of grass.

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I won’t miss the pampas, one early explorer described it as, ‘A thousand miles of what could be the least interesting country in the world.’ I wouldn’t go that far, there’s always something of interest if you care to look, but I wouldn’t describe the Argentinian Patagonian pampas as spectacular. I can’t wait to get back into the mountains tomorrow when we go to Chile.

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4th December – Bushcamp to Cerro Castilo 92km / 349m climbing

Today we crossed another border. First thing though was to ride. 35km of rotten unpaved road first up. Imagine a European cobblestone road. Now sprinkle it generously with round rocks ranging in size from marbles to oranges. That’s what we rode on. On reaching the sealed Route 40, we turned right and the cross wind became a headwind. We’ve been lucky with wind generally, but Patagonia is playing catch up. It was really tough. Hidden behind a shed, lunch was a welcome respite from the wind. If the thought of continuing crossed my mind, I only had to step out of the wind shadow of the shed to reconsider!
Crossing the border out of Argy was annoying. First 50 teenagers on a bus got queue-jumped in front of the 10 of us, then we had to fill in paperwork to LEAVE. I’d expected it on entering, but got none, but now we have to tell them who we WERE as we try to leave. The map of Argentina on the wall was funny in that it had the Falkland Islands with ‘(Arg.)’ written next to it. I’m sure that Great Britain would disagree.
Unsurprisingly, the wind continued into Chile where we’re camping in the little town next to the border. There’s no campground, but we’ve taken over someone’s generous-sized back yard. One shower for 30 people meant a wait, but at least it was hot. It’s so consistently windy from the west that the trees have grown crooked.

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We had a nice fire tonight.

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5th December Cerro Castilo to Torres Del Paine 78km / 839m climbing

Today was special.
The wind here is relentless. Finally Patagonia is doing what it should, but it’s wearing us down. It began cold and windy and everyone who’s usually slower than me bailed out before starting and went in the truck.
Here's my tent being flattened as we packed up in the morning. The 'campsite' is really someone's back yard.

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Dressed and ready for a cold day on the bike. I've never worn so much whilst cycling.

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Leaving town and slogging it uphill into a headwind I wondered if I had made the right choice. Then I saw something that made my heart sing. As I crested the hill, there were 5 condors circling together not far away. I stopped and watched them for about 10 minutes and in that time they did not flap their wings once, despite the roaring wind. Condors are such amazing flyers. I rode on inspired and knowing that I’d made the right choice to be on the bike and amongst these mountains so I can stop and soak it in whenever I want.
There are condors in each of these photos.

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I saw many guanacos, some hares and a red fox too. These are guanacos.

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It wasn’t too long into the ride when I got my first glimpse of the rock towers that give the park its name. They and the ‘horns’ would be in sight for the rest of the day. WOW! I did take lots of photos, but you expect that of me.

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Stopping later at a designated lake view for a photo I saw another group of 5 condors. Today keeps getting better, or maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon. After lunch, with ‘only’ 25km to go, the wind got stronger and the road got steeper. It consisted of short very steep ups and downs. With the wind and gravity against you and a loose road beneath you, many people admitted that, like me, they’d walked their bikes at times today. It was impossible to stay on at times as the wind got funnelled in places and would have blown you off, which happened to some.
How windy is this? It makes my shell look like a down jacket!

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I rode with ‘little’ Rob after lunch, so we both had company. I don’t use music when with others, but with the howling wind I couldn’t have heard it anyway. Glacial lakes added to the views this afternoon and the stunning peaks of Torres Del Paine just kept getting closer. We are camped at a place with a beautiful view of ‘the horns’ with a glacier to the left.

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Here’s a tourist advertising slogan for Chilean or Argentinian Patagonia, ‘Beautiful Patagonia – it will blow you away.’
I’d dreamt about cycling through the Andes since I came to Torres Del Paine 8 years ago. (This bit and the Inca Trail hike.) Today was a fulfilment of that dream. It was one of my favourite days, but also tough. There’s not supposed to be a link, but many of the most spectacular days have been challenging cycling. I guess that’s much easier to bear than tough cycling and boring scenery.

We had our usual Bike Dreams dinner together in our campsite, then went to the restaurant/bar to do Sinta Claus, the Dutch version of Santa and they do it on the 5th of December. It’s a ‘secret santa’ so we each had someone to buy for. We then wrote a poem to go with it. The person reads their poem, opens their gift and then gives one from the pile to the next person. It was a bunch of fun and it’s nice to know I’m far from the only poet in the group!

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6th December – Rest day in Torres Del Paine NP

In keeping with it being a rest day, I didn’t get up at 6am for the day hike to the towers. I did it in 2004 when I was here and would love to do it with Erin one day when we come here, which we will because it’s so beautiful that it’s worth the effort. I still think so on my second visit.
This is the view from our campground.
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This bird is a caracara.
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In the morning I rode to a nearby hotel and Skyped Erin before returning to camp for lunch in the restaurant.
I took these photos on the way there.

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This is the view from the hotel.

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In the afternoon, 4 of us swapped one saddle for another and went horse riding for a couple of hours. It was just outside the park with the same aspect of the peaks that we have here. We had a great time riding and the scenery was spectacular.

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This is the lake next to our campsite.
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I mustn’t get enough exercise on a daily basis, because on returning to camp I went for a 90 minute hike up a nearby hill to a condor’s nest. You can’t see it from the top, but what you can see is an impressive 360 degree view of the park. I thought it was windy here in camp, but the winds up there were brutal. The path was 45 degrees and with the wind howling behind me, it pushed me up hill. The return started with a knock-me-down wind that put me on my ass. I had to lean so far forward into the wind that it felt weird, but it was the only way not to get blown over again.

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There was a fire through the park a few years ago and in such a fragile environment, it hasn't regenerated. It was from a campfire that got away and unbelievably, they still allow fires. You'd think they'd learn.
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How's this for close-knit travel. This is a bus with 20 Germans that sleep in the bit on the back. Like a Japaese capsule hotel, each person slides into their 1m x 1m high and wide bed and they're stacked 3 high. Is it really your own space when there's someone snoring and farting above, below and next to you?
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Dinner was in the restaurant here in the campground. It was identical to what I had at lunch, but with BBQ chicken instead of steak. It was a set menu with the same soup and desserts, rice, potatoes and pasta as lunch. I’m glad the protein was tasty as the rest was boring.

Posted by TheWandera 10.12.2012 13:12 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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