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November 14, 2006

Playing Catch-Up with the Past


Three sets of new photos posted and don't forget to check the archives - lots of photos lately

New Google Earth kmz file: Peru to Chile!!! Download file (Opens in Google Earth)

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Salta or Waiting for the Bike Part

I arrived in Salta, Argentina expecting to be there for a few days while waiting for a part for my bike. The bike was doing something which I referred to as “wobble” and it was driving me crazy – it was impossible to ride. It turns out that my wobble (low speed and high speed) seems to be due to some combination of materials, part selection, handlebar bag use, and total weight being carried. This baffled me as I was not carrying too much gear. In fact, there was not much extra in there for an extended trip such as this one (OK – there is a lightweight computer and a book or two – but that is only 4 lbs more). It is not a design flaw though – it is simply a limitation of the pieces. My last bike – also a steel frame touring bike – had the exact same problem (and I was carrying much less weight). As it turns out, removing the handlebar bag solved the problem for the time being but I had hoped that a stronger headset would allow me to continue using the oh-so-useful handlebar bag.

Salta is warm and welcoming place after months at high altitudes and cold weather. It is possible to wear (and I did) a tee shirt and occasionally, even shorts. No socks, no long sleeve shirts, no gloves, and last but not least no HAT! I ended up being there a week waiting in vain; the part was sent by US Postal Service rather than Federal Express and arrived three weeks later – long after I had gone. But while I waited, I sat around drinking café con leche on the plaza, listening to the bells and visiting museums – what a hard life,huh?

Salta is a place where you can begin to appreciate Argentine beef and wine. There are some very decent restaurants and bars to while away the hours after you have finished drinking coffee. Some good basic selections are empanadas, bife de lomo with papas fritas or a minuta milanesa. The odd thing is that many of the restaurants appear to be catering to tourists (mostly Argentine), but somehow they manage to serve fantastic food in a cheesey atmosphere. I have no problem with that! Also, it is here where you can get your first taste of those famous Argentine wines especially from the Cafayate and Mendoza regions!


After Salta, I headed South for a few days only to be lured in by the wonders of wine in Cafayate. As I headed out of Salta, I kept passing masses of pilgrims who were on their way into town for a huge festival. One of these lucky devils found my wallet and probably attributed their luck to the Virgin. People were traveling groups or with their families or even sometimes alone. One of the most poignant images I have of the pilgrims is one of an older man walking alone. He was at least 30 km from Salta carrying a small statue of the Virgin. Where was he from? Why did he do this pilgrimage? Did he do it every year? Oh the unanswered questions.

The two day ride to Cafayate was a beautiful one that wound through horse and farm country before becoming drier again. The temperatures are pleasant here in the early Spring and most importantly, there is no rain. The first night I camped for the first time in ages and the next morning I could see the beginnings of the Quebrada de Cafayate – another beautiful and desolate canyon area separating the fertile valley landa from those of the desert.

Cafayate is a great little town to spend a few days in. The majority of the tourists only come in for the day so the evenings are rather quiet. There is wine flavored ice cream to try – Torrentes and Cabernet Sauvignon – both of which go quite well with chocolate! And, yet again, there was delicious steak to eat – a punto – medium rare. The Torrentes grape is what Cafayate is known for, but I cannot recall all of its history right now. I believe that no one else in the world really cultivates this grape or if they do it is used in blends rather than as a varietal. But here, it is the grape of choice and makes an absolutely delightful bottle of wine to drink chilled in the hot afternoon sun.

Tourist-wise I was able to take a side trip to Quilmes – a reconstructed ancient community. It was impressive to see these beautiful stone structures tucked into a natural depression on the side of a mountain. The next day, I spent a morning going horseback riding for the first time in years. It was much as I remembered – the horses were farm horses – pulled from working to carry around tourists. I was given a gaucho hat to wear and off we went up into the hills above Cafayate. The amazing thing is that the hills are just littered with the remains of houses and structures much like those at Quilmes – only they are not reconstructed. You can see dozens of mortar holes (used for grinding grains) in the rocks and everywhere you go there are pottery fragments on the ground.

Cafayate to Mendoza and Meeting Art & Judee

The night before I was to leave Cafayate, I received an email from two cyclists – Art and Judee Wickersham – who had gotten my contact information from a mutual acquaintance in Bolivia (crazy how that works, huh?). I went out to the campground to meet them, was greeted by an energetic couple in their early 60’s, offered a cup of wine and ended up talking for over an hour. It turns out that they are on a 5 year, around the world journey on their bike and were just finishing their first year on the road. They were happy to take me on as a cycling companion for awhile and we agreed to meet the next morning.

The next few weeks were a blur of camping, conversation, companionship, and wine. Art and Judee are on a tandem and when the going got tough due to winds I would just sit behind the tandem talking to Judee or watching her head swivel from side to side as she found interesting things along the side of the road to point out to Art and I. They were the best cycling companions that I have ever had – we rode approximately the same pace, liked to camp but stayed in the occasional hotel., drank wine, and stopped to see the sites instead of just powering through. I have to say these were among some of the best weeks of my trip!

Some highlights of the weeks with them…
The pass out of Cafayate and the amazing descent from ~2,000 m to approximately ~400 m. The pass was rough going, but not the worst ever. The winds increased closer to the top, buffeting us to the point of almost knocking us over. But reaching the other side was well worth it. The descent to the warmer, fertile valley took three days/two nights. On the second night in Tafi del Valle we were able to enjoy the foods of the area and got pastries and some great goat cheese and jamon for our lunches. The main descent was after Tafi del Valle and was exhilarating. We passed from an alpine valley with horses and cows and goats, to more wooded lands with raging streams below us and sheer walls on either sides, past the “Fin del Mundo”, downwards to the fertile valley on the Western edges of the pampas with rolling hills of green, green, green and as much sugar cane as the eyes could take in.

Somewhere here a few days back into the drier, flatter, windier parts of the terrain a little bug worked its way into my digestive system. I toughed it out for two days, determined not to take any Cipro but on a cooler, windy day, about a quarter of the way up an unexpected pass, it got the better of me and I left Art and Judee to hitch a ride to Catamarca where I felt so very miserable for about two days. There are stories here about the man who gave me a ride and drove me around to look for a cheap hotel, and about trying to send emails to let people know I was ok while needing to, very urgently, run for a bathroom, seeing Art & Judee on the street in Catamarca just as I was wondering where they were, and finally about beginning to feel human again – without the Cipro. I hopped on a bus to La Rioja to meet them and we were back on the road again.

The next week or so was more pleasant riding and a patchwork of details. There were more days of even dustier deserts and heavy winds, vistas looking out over pancakes of nothingingness, the annoying Argentine habits of music at all hours - Cumbia until your eyes crossed, side trip to Valle de la Luna, tourist bus breaking down – naps in the van and then came the final moment - the separation from my beloved riding partners.

We had just spent a few days sightseeing and resting in San Agustin del Valle Fertil. Recovering from the winds, doing laundry, updating journals and lazing about reading. We packed up our stuff after finally having a quiet night at the campground, headed off – me to the hostel to drop off a book and A&J to the edge of town to wait. Judee had said something that morning along the lines of “I wish I had another day to laze about” and as it turns out here wishes were granted. On the edge of town, only meters from hitting the road – their rear hub failed.

We headed to a bike shop to see what could be done and I whipped out the cassette remover tool that I had been lugging around for months. We all stood around and watched while Art and some bike mechanic took apart the pieces of the rear wheel to see what could be done. Long story short, the wheel went to San Juan while we waited, came back in working order, we headed off into a long stretch of desert and after a night of wild camping, the morning dawned with me getting a flat and the hub failing once again but this time in the middle of the desert. I headed off South to Mendoza alone and they spent hours hitching a ride and going on an even more twisted journey that eventually led them to Mendoza on the same day as me.

The Changing Journey

I rode that day and one more by myself and hitched the last hundred kilometers, skirting a huge thunderstorm, to Mendoza. It was at this point that my journey changed drastically – from a journey on bike to one in trucks, planes, buses, and occasionally the bike. Some of this was due to opportunities that came up – Easter Island for example – but some of it was taking a hard look what I wanted to accomplish with the time that I had left and what I enjoyed doing. Two things came out of this contemplation: 1) the distances left to cover are too great to finish by bicycle in the time I have remaining and to try to do so would not allow me to enjoy the sights of the countries I was visiting and 2) I have learned enough about myself to know that when I am lonely and sad and the weather is miserable (rainy or cold and snowy) I do not want to be riding – I could, I just don’t want to.

I suppose that some would say that I have no willpower, no fortitude, but honestly, I don’t care what some would say. What is most important on a journey like this is to look honestly at ones self and to learn. It is your life, no one else’s.

And I do enjoy bicycle touring, but I bit off more that I could chew with South America. This is a big continent and in five months, I have only touched the surface. The longer I stay here the longer I want to be here. And then there is the rest of the world to explore. Bicycle touring is special – it is a slow way to see a place – to absorb the people, the culture, the terrain, the food. I love it, but right now it will not help me fulfill the goals I have set for myself.

Recollections: Mendoza and Easter Island
The Journey: Heading to the Bottom of the World

November 12, 2006

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I am now in the depths of Chilean Patagonia, holed up in Coyhaique waiting for the weather, waiting for the ferries, waiting for the buses. This section of the world is series of contrasts: wifi in the restaurants but unknown ferry schedules to the border. Estancias accessible only by 4x4 vehicles and pdas. Low-end hostels and beautiful houses.

The last week has been a series of drastic ups and downs. David visited Santiago and Valparaiso and upon his departure and the separation from my other traveling companions of the past few weeks, Art and Judee, I was left in this beautiful, but lonely country sort of floundering. Each day my travel plans change due to mood, weather and schedules, but after a series of fortunate events I am back on track, albeit with not much riding left. I have only one month of travel time to get to Ushuaia and so much, so much to see: Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paines, the Beagle Channel, maybe even Antarctica!

Upon leaving Santiago last Wednesday October 29th (it seems so long ago) I headed to Puerto Montt on an overnight bus with the intention of getting to the island of Chiloe and riding there for a few days. After arriving in Puerto Montt and realizing that buses to Ancud (on Chiloe) left often, I bought a ticket and headed directly to the island. In Ancud I spent a day trying to see the penguin colonies at the Otway Foundation, but this was not to be owing to “malito mer” – “bad seas” or something of the sorts. We couldn’t take the boat out because the seas were rough but I was fortunate enough to be able to see some Magellanic penguins, Steamboat ducks, and sea lions with the aid of binoculars. Mission accomplished – my first wild penguin sighting and I bought a postcard to prove it.

Have I mentioned the rains yet? No, well it rains a lot here and it is the beginning, just barely, of the tourist season. This means that one gets to endure the joys of the maybe yes, maybe no seasonal ferry schedules. According to the tourist information booth in Ancud there was a ferry from Quellon, at the bottom of the island which departed on Wednsdays and Saturdays. Given that it was already Wednesday I decided to make my plans to get to Quellon one way or the other by Friday. I set off riding from Ancud south on November 1st (All Souls Day – with everyone visiting cemeteries and saying “hi” to dead people), in the rain, with a heavy heart. However, the ride was beautiful despite the rain. The island is covered with the beautiful (but malito) flower called Chaquay (maybe) that was “imported” from Ireland. The winds were from the West but the road south is sheltered by high embankments or tree cover on both sides so it wasn’t really a hindrance. The road itself is paved and had many rolling hills. I just pushed on and on, past my initial goal of a campsite (still raining), past Castro (it looked kind of dismal) and onto Chonchi where I had heard of a hostel with internet, a great breakfast, and a quirky owner. This combination drove me to ride about 110km – my best day yet and I arrived soaked through (the raingear only keeps you warm – not dry), tired and happy to have a warm stove to sit by and a kitchen to cook in.

The hostel, Esmeralda by the Sea, is run by Carlos (a Canadian) and is quite the lap of luxury in a tiny town on a relatively remote Chilean island. Luxury is relative here mind you, there are rooms with and without bathrooms and dorms, a kitchen to use, WiFi internet connection, a great view, good company, heat, a killer breakfast, all the information on the island one could use and great walk recommendations. Carlos, while a font of knowledge, does not like to tell you his information sources so a few days later when he informed us that the ferry was leaving Sunday not Saturday he would not really tell us where he got this information. But, it was of no consequence to me, I would get there, Quellon, one way or another so I stayed at the Esmeralda for a few days waiting for the ferry, happy to be someplace nice to question the rest of my travel plans and at this point my entire life. Sounds heavy? It was (and still is). The next day (Thursday) the weather cleared and I went for a nice, little 10 mile walk over to a neighboring island. It was good to go walking, talk to the birds and the cows about life, and breathe some more fresh island air. I hitched a ride from the ferry back to Chonchi and had a fantastic mussel dinner (all by myself Mom – I can eat alone in a restaurant now too!). Carlos made fun of my eating mussels with two fingers and a fork, but this is coming from someone who lives in a country where they eat sandwiches with knives and forks so I don’t know why he was making fun of me!

I spent the next two days rebuilding the Photos part of my website (so you lovely people could view all of my lovely photos) and enjoying the company of the various people who had traveled to Chonchi. We had a marvelous group dinner with salmon, merluza and a fish that one of the other travelers caught, yummy breakfasts of pancakes, and lots and lots of online computer maintenance time. Sunday morning I caught the bus to Quellon and tracked down the truck that was supposed to take my bike over the ferry for me (in order to save some money).

As it turns out this was the beginning of things looking brighter for me. The truck that was to help me turned out to be no ordinary truck, it was “The Beast” and is driven by a superbien British couple Greg and Alexis. (Please visit their website www.beastlyadventure.com to see what they are up to with their journey.) Greg stashed my bike and gear in the back and then invited me in. As we waited and waited to board the ferry (yes it left on Sunday but just a little behind schedule due to who knows what) we got to talking and the plan of the day was to breeze through Chaiten and head to some hot springs for the night – Termas del Amarillo. Since I love hot springs, I asked to come along and was surprised by the level of welcome that Greg and Alexis gave me. I don’t think that they realized how much I didn’t want to be alone, but they didn’t question anything and over the next day listened to my changing plans – they even offered to let me ride with them to Ushuaia. Anyway, we enjoyed a great evening of hot springs in one of my top ten settings and then a crappy dinner (the food of the day is another story altogether) and then three bottles of wine and an evening of playing Shithead – a card game that I actually enjoy. Finally, a card game I enjoy and cannot wait to teach everyone at home to play (if they don’t already know).

The next morning (I had decided not to ride anymore and was going to Ushuaia to see if I could get on a boat to Antarctica) we set out along the Carreterra Austral. Despite the off and on rain it was a beautiful drive and we saw one of the last great wildernesses and a few glaciers along the way. The road conditions ranged from crappy to okay (with the most crappy to come then next day!) but the Beast, while being an sturdy ex-Army Landrover with a long history, does not have the best shocks and cannot barrel over rough ground like the slick pick-ups and 4x4s that passed us constantly on the road. Finally after about 250km of driving we pulled into an idyllic campsite on the side of a lake. Standing there in the falling darkness was a guy listening to a minidisk player and drinking a cup of cocoa. As it turns out, this guy, Nicholas, was riding a bike – well you can imagine how the wheels (in my head that is) started spinning again.

We all spent a great night eating curry courtesy of The Beastlies and playing more Shithead and talking. It turns out that both Greg and Nick speak fluent French – Greg got packed off to an expensive boarding school that “changed his life” and Nick went to the Alliance Francaise in Chile – lucky guys – and I’m not kidding here. The next morning dawned (after two bottles of wine) bright and blue and with an abrupt change in heart that I am becoming used to, I asked Nick if I could join him riding. He agreed, happily and after a breakfast of yes, oatmeal; I packed allll of my crap back up and started riding. It was a glorious two days of riding – bright, beautiful – all the best one could wish for on the Carreterra Austral. We met the Beastlies about 17km down the really bad gravel road for some snacks and mate and Nick had the chance to put on his new Marathon XR tire (courtesy of me – someone should use it!) after discovering that his tire was flat.

The next two days were great. Later that first day we hit pavement (much of this area is being paved bit by bit) which was actually a good thing. Just 30km of the worst road Nick had seen was enough for my very sore nether regions (but it was worth every saddle sore!). The first day was a huge adventure: wire basket rides over the river we were following, drinking water from the river (which was later to give us both acute gastrointestinal sickness), the most beautiful camping site ever, a great dinner and good companionship. The following day – all on pavement – was more the same great scenery and a goal to get to Coyhaique. Nick had contacts here and I was jonesing for the internet (sometimes you just need to be in contact with the rest of the world). We made it in good time – over a beautiful mini pass – and one of the best moments of the trip: a TAILWIND, birds playing above my head, a beautiful vista, huge wind turbines (which I think are beautiful), and Radiohead on the ipod.

So now I have been here in Coyhaique for four days, two of which were spent quite ill due to that delicious river water that we drank without filtering and the next two (today included) were spent killing time. Now after reviewing the weather forecast for the next two days, I will disappoint Nick and all of you at home with my decision to take a bus to Puerto Ibanez. It was to be a great two day ride, but given the weather forecast of a high of 47, winds between 13 – 26 mph, and some snow and rain, why torture myself? Also, if I can get to Ushuaia before December 1st it looks like I can get a walk-on rate on a cruise to Antarctica (if there is space)!!!

Over and out from Chilean Patagonia.

November 04, 2006

Photos from the abyss...

So this isn't really a blog entry - but it is an means to let you know that I've finally fixed the photos page and posted a whole bunch of new photos. There are 6 new sets of photos! And I have 5 more to post!!

One note of caution - please use the navigation bar a the top of the main site to get to the photos page or use this link...


I am currently on the island of Chiloe in Chile waiting for a ferry (which is now a day delayed) to take me back to the mainland and the Carreterra Austral. I have ridden one day on Chiloe and hike a good 10 miles another (for fun). I'm itching to get riding again. This will be my last bit of solititude of the trip - there are no other cyclists that I know of, David has returned home and my friends have all gone their separate ways. But I will do what I can and enjoy to beauty of the road and think about the present and the future and maybe even the past.

I know that there are so many other stories to convey to you all, but not tonight. Tonight I sleep and listen to the waves lapping outside my window as the tide rises in the night.


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