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January 11, 2007

Antarctica Photo Alert

Well, everyone. I have returned to New York City, returned to work, returned. I think that I like travel a lot more that I could have ever imagined and after I get back on my feet financially I will endeavor to work extended travel into my future life. I think that it is possible, don't you. Vacation travel for a month every other year, for 6 months every 5 years or so, moving to another country with children for a little bit. I think that it is possible - if you can dream about it, then you can plan it.

Anyway - the photos from the Antarctic trip are up http://www.steady-as-she-goes.com/photos2 - check them out.

The writing will have to wait. There hasn't been much alone time since my return.

Empanada making for New Year's Eve - with wine from Mendoza of course.
Week 1 - Unpack and try to remember what I actually did on a daily basis: groceries, clothes, cleaning. Ick
Week 2 - that's this week and it's Welcome Back to Work week. Things have not been bad at all - I expected to feel like a caged animal, but it's not so bad. And this weekend is Michelle's wedding. And I though I was stressed!

So you see, I haven't even written one bit in my own personal journal, but all in good time. There are still photos from Buenos Aires to post and of course a little bit of info about Antarctica and Buenos Aires.

December 28, 2006

Leaving Today

Hello again everyone.

Mom and I are wandering around killing time while waiting to get some lunch. Lunch begins at 1pm at the earliest and usually finishes (for those of us just hanging out in foreign cities) but today I will have to watch the clock - the taxi comes at 3pm - my flight is at 6:15pm.

Anyway - I forgot to post the link to some new photos. Still missing are Ushuaia and Antarctica and Buenos Aires.

Enjoy

Relatively new photos posted

December 27, 2006

Buenos Aires to NYC

Merry Christmas everyone!! There are only a few more days left of my trip and Mom and I have been trying to do every tourist things we can here in Buenos Aires.

Her arrival here on the 19th was a little bit nerve wracking – I had been out until late the evening before and then she wasn’t there at the expected time. Not being of sound mind when getting ready to leave for the airport on so little sleep, I neglected to write down all of her flight information. I stood for two hours at the very front of the “Meeting Point” area scanning the face of every single person who arrived to EZE – the international airport of Buenoes Aires. After some time and listening to the people around me it turned out that most of us that had been there awhile were waiting for the same flight – the flight from Miami. Finally she appeared, fresh from immigrations, looking as together and mom-like as always. Hugs and kisses all around and we headed off to explore Buenos Aires together.

As soon as we arrived to the hotel and got settled in we headed out to get a little something to eat and Mom’s first glass of Argentinean wine. Then came a nap – neither one of us normally take naps but after that much travel for her and that little sleep for me it seemed like just the thing. In the afternoon it was off to 3 de Febrerio park where we enjoyed cooling off from the afternoon heat by walking in the shade of the trees on our way to the Evita museum. The museum is very well organized and helps to show, on a very human scale, a little bit about the person known as Evita. Having never seen the Madonna movie, I could say that before I went in I knew nothing about who Evita was and why people either love or hate her but after visiting the museum and seeing all of the programs that she tried to start for the benefit of all Argentineans I began to understand the sense of myth surrounding her.

The next two days we had a combination of walking tours and time spent wandering around on our own. The first walking tour was call Best of BA by www.ba-walking-tours.com and was a very informative event. Our group was split into two smaller groups of 4 and we were with 2 other New Yorkers (I’m convinced that most North American tourists are from New York – at least hear in BsAs because I haven’t met but one person from anywhere else). The two guys who run the company seem willing to help you out with just about bit of information about BsAs but they just don’t seem all that friendly. On day 2 – the “private” tour of La Boca which wasn’t all that informative - I got the same info from the guide books and by just keeping my eyes open and looking around me. We were also told by one of the guides that “tourists often have different tastes then us” when I told them about a restaurant that we were going to in La Boca. First of all, how many tourists make lunch reservations for a restaurant in La Boca and second of all, why make a blanket statement about tourists when you really know nothing about the individual. So the restaurant, Il Matterello, was fantastic – the best pasta I’ve ever had including from Mario Batali (but I think that I will go back there for a comparison tasting!!) – and there were no, let me repeat, no other tourists in the restaurant, and it was full. I don’t know, it sounds like he was being quite judgmental of his bread and butter. But as a final word, the basic tour was really good and I would highly recommend it to visitors to BsAs.

Then there were a few days wandering around on our own – Palermo Viejo, Recoleta, the Recoleta cemetery, Museo de Bellas Artes, ice cream and coffee at Freddo and then Christmas Eve and Christmas were upon us.

This Christmas Eve was the very first time in remembered history that my mother did not go to church. We were actually going to look for a church, but the hotel was having a toast (El Brindis) at 5pm that just turned into a 3 hour social event with lots of flowing champagne. Everyone actually showed up at about 5:30pm – 5:45pm but that did not bother our North American need for timeliness – we had nothing else to do and absolutely nowhere else to be for another 4 hours until dinner so why not wait. The brindis was great – we got to meet some of our fellow hotel guests including a fellow named Boris who had arrived a day before his girlfriend and there was plenty of champagne for everyone. What more could you ask for on Christmas Eve? Since Borris had nowhere to be for dinner, Mom and I decided to ask him along to our meat feast at La Cabrera Norte. We ended up having two bottles of Rutini Malbec, lots and lots of delicious grilled meat and accompaniments and some more champagne at midnight. It was a wonderful evening that lead up to a somewhat groggy Christmas morning exchange of gifts between Mom and I.

Christmas Day consisted of a woozy stroll around an almost empty neighborhood – we were checking to make sure none of the stores were open (no one should be working in a store on Christmas morning). No cafes were open either during the first stroll but later on in the day when we went to find coffee – some of them were but they were packed (it was a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon). We ended up having a nice café cortado in a restaurant around the corner – we got a table but the down side of being at a restaurant instead of a café was that there was no bubbly water and no little snack – no matter, we were headed for our third and final beef dinner so we didn’t really need the calories. The dinner was delicious – we split an “appetizer” of jamon crudo, aged provolone, and olives and then we split a bife de lomo – it was more than enough food. While we drank our little half bottle of wine I watched a father and daughter devour almost all of huge omelet (really a frittata) and a milanese. I don’t know how they did it. We almost couldn’t finish our split meal. So that was Christmas Day. The first Christmas I have ever spent without a tree and without gifts under the tree and honestly, I didn’t mind. I think that perhaps next year a trip to the beach for Christmas is in order – it is a good way to avoid the consumerism.

Other than that we have filled our days with walking around various parts of the city: the ecological reserve, San Telmo, Palermo, Las Castanitas, Retire, Palermo Chico, Microcenter and fulfilling self-imposed chores. Each day we set off with a task to do and a sightseeing goal and end up walking for hours. Yesterday, we went to find me some wine to take home. The goal was to get some higher end wines (although we have been drinking a $2US white wine from the grocery store that I love) and I had decided to go to a place called Terroir based on the Time Out guide and on the fact that someone at the store posts on egullet.com occasionally. It was an intimidating place – most upscale wine stores are no matter what country you are in – but Alejandro, one of the owners, made us feel immediately welcome. We talked about shipping and how much it costs (too much for me right now but it may be an later) and about how to take the wine onto the plane. Mom is going to be my wine mule because due to the delightful new regulations controlling US flights we can no longer take wine as a carry on. I am not happy about this. Alejandro selected three wines for me based on my tastes – two of each bottle – and packed them for the plane ride.

Then, yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 26th) we began to pack the bike. This was a melancholy moment – it was the true mark of the end of the trip, this adventure. But there will be more trips more adventures farther down the line.

As Mom and I sit in a café drinking New York styled iced coffee I try to just enjoy the last few days of being abroad. I have seen so many things, talked to so many people, had many experience. My point of view has changed or more precisely refocused – things that I though were impossible before have taken on a new accessibility. So tomorrow I leave to return to what some people call “the real world”, back to work, back to routine (not that I didn’t have a routine while traveling) but I return with many ideas of my own to work on, many things to write about, and many things to share with friends.

Thank you, my friends, for making this possible. For giving me the support and the encouragement that I needed to embark on a complete this grand adventure.

December 01, 2006

Drabs and Dribbles - The Return to Argentina

So I last left you in Coyhaique, Chile. Since then I have taken numerous ferries, saw the Cuevas de los Manos, crossed the Chilean-Argentine border about three times, booked a boat to Antarctica (!!!!), hiked on a glacier in Calafate, went horseback riding with a wonderful picnic lunch, backpacked part of the famous “W” in Torres del Paine park and am now sitting in Ushuaia drinking coffee and occasionally looking out the window to glance upon the Beagle Channel – yes – the Beagle Channel. Have I mentioned how wonderful and diverse South American is?

So I finally left Coyhaique after a tense morning waiting for the minibus that was to transport me and my bike to the ferry. It was supposed to show up at 6:30 and moseyed up in front of the hostel at 7:30. This was after they locked me out of the hostel – I had to bang on the door and get them to call the transport company for me. Anyway, off I went hoping that my fellow biker, Nick, was safe and sound and out of the 4 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. I was glad that I made the decision to not ride – I would have been miserable and growing through endurance was not the frame of mind that I was in at that point. Once on the ferry, I sat in the minibus to stay out of the wind and cold and to avoid the huge waves that splashed over the side of the ferry and onto the windshields of our bus (and on my bike which they had lashed to the side of the boat). I was happy not to be out there. We landed and after a few crazy gringa woman sentences and gestures to the captain of the ferry (no one else would look at me) they finally released my bike from the boat. Perhaps someone was hoping that the bike would just be forgotten. Fat chance. Actually, to be more realistic, there was probably just some protocol and paperwork that I was ignorant of and we all really just did what we could – I insisted on my bike in baby Spanish; they insisted that I wait to have someone else bring it off the boat.

I loaded up and set out for my very short ride to Los Antiguos – back into Argentina. It felt good to be on the bike, if only for what I though was to be a 7km ride but turned out to be a 15km ride (about ½ on gravel) due to road construction. I rode on pavement, in the chilly but not rainy weather to the Chilean border – this was a stop sign (PARE) in the middle of the road – with no parking area – I guess they don’t get much traffic at this crossing. After rousing the police and aduana from their lunches I breezed through the border in about 5 minutes. Wow. Then I headed off onto what the GPS said was a secondary road toward my beloved Argentina. I pedaled and pedaled and even flagged down a passing truck to see if I was going in the right direction. I was – they had just changed the road! Breezed through the border and hopped onto an, oh so convenient bus that was headed to Perito Moreno (changed my mind about riding the next day – worried about bus schedules).

Perito Moreno was the perfect example of how open and helpful Argentinean people can be. There was one company offering travel to El Calafate (my next major destination) and while it wasn’t Chalten Travel (who didn’t bother to email me back about ticket purchases) and didn’t go down the famous Ruta 40 it was transportation, they would take my bike AND it was cheaper. The ticket seller got me a bus for the next day, called a travel agent to help me arrange a trip to Cuevas de los Manos and between the two of them discussed places for me to sleep. The travel agent piled my bike and gear into her truck and off we went to find a bed. This is about the third time that someone has driven me around city or town and helped me find a decently priced, clean bed to sleep in. I am just constantly amazed by this (and it’s all been in Argentina!!). Bed found, we unloaded my stuff, she drove me to town, showed me the banks, grocery stores, and internet and after agreeing to pick me up at 6am for the Caves, we parted.

The next morning dawned very early – somehow I had managed to stay up until midnight – packing my bags for the 20 hour bus ride that I would embark on almost as soon as we returned from the caves and read for a bit. I’m reading more again now – when I don’t stay in hostels. Hostels are sometimes dangerous places – too much socializing and not enough reflection and writing. Bad Nif (but I have met some fascinating people – and some really stupid ones too).

You know – I am leaving for Antarctica tomorrow and have realized that I would like to actually describe the events of the past few weeks in detail and I do not have the time right now, this evening to dedicate to another 10 pages of tedious detail. But, I should have time on the boat – I share a cabin with one other person. I hope that I have the self-discepline to actually focus on writing. It will be sort of like a prison; on a boat there won’t actually be anywhere to go. Ahhh, but that is not true – apparently the operations deck is open and we can badger them about navigation and GPS and all that fun stuff. I’m looking forward to it. And to all of the wildlife that I am supposed to potentially see. And to set foot on Antarctica!!!!

November 14, 2006

Playing Catch-Up with the Past

First...

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!


Cafayate

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.

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

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...

http://www.steady-as-she-goes.com/photos2

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.

October 28, 2006

From the abyss...

So how far am I behind? Let me count the weeks…

There are many, many new photos, but there is a problem with the photo part of the website that dear Carl is trying to help me to fix...

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

David has just left Santiago, Chile and is most likely getting on a plane while I attempt to document the past, let’s see, month and a half – well, I actually have only documented the past week – the week in Valparaiso and Santiago with David.

David arrived last Saturday after very, very long trip which involved two planes and a taxi. He arrived in Valparaiso tired but happy to have finally arrived. We didn’t do much that evening except a simple walk around the neighbor hood and a decent dinner at the hotel. The next day though we tried to tie a little of vacation for him and sightseeing for me into a plan. The Brighton B&B is a very well-placed, but somewhat mis-run establishment. The prices for our room were advertised as $39 but we paid $65 per night. What happened there? And don’t get me started on the shower – it was about the size of a matchbox and only sometimes had hot water. But as it was located on Cerro Conception about El Plan and had a fantastic view of the harbor and the other hills. Each morning we would take our breakfast on the deck overlooking the city and eat our pancita and drink our café (which in this rare case in Chile was not Nescafe).

Sunday we got up relatively late – a treat for both David and I – and headed out to the weekly antiques/handicraft market. We took our time walking and browsing, difficult for two non-native New Yorkers. Sauntering is just so difficult. We looked at the books, and antiques, and old prints, and knick-knacks and even purchased a few things for the house and for gifts. Later in the afternoon we visited the Lukas Museo – it is a museum dedicated to the comic art of a man who went by the pseudonym Lukas – and is pretty good. The museum is located in the house atop Cerro Conception where he lived and worked. Other than the museum, the next most memorable part of the day was eating dinner and listening to a couple from the US try to decide what to eat. She was from Washington, D.C. and he was from the Lower East Side, New York. If they weren’t being so intolerant they would have been sort of fun to talk to. It seems that they had some interesting run-ins with Chileans and henceforth proclaimed all Chileans to be weird. On the beach, some man had rolled over the sand towards the woman and freaked her out, someone else insisted on speaking to her in French even though her Spanish was better (she looks Polynesian – i.e. French speaking), and then there was something that they though was weird about the dogs. The thing that made them annoying was that they were the new version of “typical Americans” – loud, judgmental, and now young and hip looking. But we enjoyed our pizza (Valparaiso has a lot of Italians in it’s history) and drinks and headed home after exchanging “happy travels”.

Monday and Tuesday were more days of walking around. Valparaiso is a great city for walking. It is reminiscent of San Francisco with the old and architecturally varied buildings, the decay, the earthquakes, the water. It smells more like Venice though, with flowers, sewage, the ocean, and food. We rode ascensors up and down the hills, visited the Naval Museum (which was only ok – lots of costumes and stuff from military ships that had sunk). I looked for cool North Arrows on the maps in the museums and David looked for dioramas and information on the battles and attacks that occurred. In the afternoon on Monday, while we were eating an afternoon snack of Camembert cheese and olives and a glass of wine (for me only – it was VERY bad wine) Art and Judee, my cycling friends appeared at the top of the stairs of the Brighton and I went running over to them with hugs and kissing and general American Beauty Pageant squealing. It was so very good to see them again after splitting up from them in Mendoza. They had had their wallets stolen and I headed off to Easter Island. We agreed to meet for dinner. Monday’s dinner was at a place called J. Cruz Museo (recommended by the loud D.C. woman) and when we walked in we were our eyes were presented with a chaotic vision of curio cabinets filled to the brim with curios and walls covered with knick knacks of all sorts Every other surface was covered with bright colored writing and graffiti, most of which was illegible. And our ears were serenade by an accordion and song. We sat down, asked for a menu and were promptly told that the establishment only sold one thing – chorrillana (for 2 or 3)– which is a sort of drunk food consisting of a huge mound of greasy fries, topped by onions sautéed with a little bit of scrambled egg, topped by a small mound of gristly, cubed meat. Since we were drunk or well on our way to getting there (Judee and I were splitting a bottle of wine, David and Art were drinking beers and we had all partaken of A & J’s wine aperitif before heading out to dinner) it was the perfect food for the moment. After that, to make a greasy dinner even lie heavier on the stomach, we headed off to find ice cream. And yes, we found it, ate it, and stumbled to our respective hotels to sleep it off.

Dinner on Tuesday was much more elegant but started once again with a wine from a box aperitif with Art and Judee – very fitting for our last dinner together given the meals we shared while riding. We ate at Café Turri - a beautiful restaurant, slightly touristy, that overlooks the ocean and the harbor. The sun was setting when we arrived and we were, as usual for us, the only people in the restaurant at 8:30pm. It was very nice to have dinner in a beautiful location, with linen napkins, real china and crystal, delicious food and most importantly, good friends. We each chose an entrée (which was rare for Art and Judee – they have been splitting entrees lately): David – Congrio (Conger Eel – famous in Chile), Me – Pastel de Jaiba (crab mush – so unlike me), Judee – Sea Bass (I think) and Art – Steak with Gorgonzola. A real treat for all of us. The wine of Chile that I have taken to drinking is called Carmenere – well the grape is called Carmenere (with some accent that I don’t know where to place) and it has a strong, rich scent and flavor similar to Syrahs but a little less spicy. Very yummy. We dined and drank and talked and enjoyed relaxing in a beautiful, comfortable setting.

The big change to Santiago came on Wednesday when we checked out of our expensive hotel and took an expensive cab ride to the big city. It was easier to take a cab than to try to figure out how to get the bike and all of our luggage into a bus – the taxi would pick us up from the Brighton and take us directly to our hotel, Chilhotel in the Provedencia neighborhood of Santiago.

A brief interlude while I watch some stupid horror movie on the T.V. in the hotel room – dead teenagers and all that.

Again, much of the first day here was spent walking about. After four months of traveling – I have found that this is the very best way to get to know an area. The first initial excursion is short – only a few blocks away from where you are staying then a return. Next, you branch out in a spiral pattern so that you don’t loose your way. After that, it’s a free for all and you can pretty much go in any direction you want (as long as you have a map). Actually, even without a map it is fun to explore and by going in circles it is difficult to become very lost.

So Santiago…the first full day was spent traipsing around the center of town. Ok. I have to say that Santiago is actually not the best city to visit if you want to spend a week in. It is not a beautiful city. The mountains are often fully or partially obscured by smog and haze. I was lucky to be able to see the Andes from the city and was able to enjoy the city without the traffic and without the people. And there are a lot of people here who just don’t understand the New York rules of walking on the sidewalk – keep moving, no groups more than 2 across, etc. They have the economy, but they have not figured out how to walk on the nice wide sidewalks yet.

The center does hold lots of attractions. The San Francisco church which was toppled in an earthquake in 1906 (I think, but don’t quote me on this) has been rebuilt with big stone walls and a beautiful (although much restored) wooden ceiling. This church is near a little neighborhood that looks a bit like some weird conglomerate European city. The buildings are a mishmash of styles but the streets are ever so quaintly cobbled – it’s sort of the pre-runner to some weird Disney version of Europe. The main peatonal of the city is a little disturbing. It is a huge shopping location with a few actual malls included and a Falabella on every corner, but the stores have the look of the 70’s – sort of rundown and seedy looking while presenting the face of a strong economy. I was shopping for a digital camera and the model are about 6-9 months behind while the prices are twice as much. I hope my camera holds out for another two months.

But the two shining stars of downtown Santiago are the Pre-columbian Art Museum and the Mercado. The museum has many of the same things that other museums of this type have, but truthfully, there is a much better selection and the special exhibit, which is about head coverings, is fantastic. They have developed a method of display that uses a shadowbox technique to show the impression of a figure on a screen wearing one of the hats. It is pretty impressive and I’m sure my description has not given it justice. In both the main and the temporary exhibit, the descriptions are given in English and Spanish, but somehow the Spanish descriptions are about two times as long as the English ones. I don’t think that it is all in the translation. However, there is usually enough information to give you the general idea of the display. The next great thing about Santiago is the Mercado. There are so many freaky kinds of fish on display and everyone in the restaurants tries to get you to come to theirs. We went to Yiyi, which was actually recommended by a New York Times article (if I were not lazy I would put a link to the article here!). It turns out to be a pretty good place with a limited but decent menu. I tried (and you would be so proud of me Michelle) Piala Maricosa which is pretty much seafood soup. There were clams, mussels, white fish, pink fish, some unidentifiable pink chewy things, and some weird gray things. The broth was surprisingly dull, with a lemongrass smell, but not a strong flavor of anything. It needed salt and the chili sauce that is on every table. But, even while trying it was something that I needed to do and I did enjoy the savor of the different types of seafood. David had fried merluz with rice and an onion/chili salad. It was great and the waiter was wonderful – he talked to me about the choices and explained all the other items on the menu. I had hoped to go back to try the other stuff, but have not, maybe in Chiloe.

The next day, Friday, we walked and walked and ended up in the Bellavista neighborhood. We had had dinner here the evening we arrived – an awful dinner at some restaurant that was supposed to be “authentic Peruvian” and “lively” and “great service” and it was none of these. The ceviche was way, way too acidic and I didn’t like the fish. But the company was great, an Englishman named David whom we met in Valpariso was celebrating his last night in Chile with dinner out and while the food was only ok, the company was great.

We took the funicular up to visit the Virgin on the hill who was happily settled amongst lots and lots of media antenna and then we took a round trip venture on some sky cars (forgive me, I cannot remember what they are really called) – ferrocarils, from one side of the hill to the other. Since the day was very cloudy you could not see the mountains, but this ride would provide an excellent view of the Andes otherwise – that is if you are fearless about the 1” gap in the doorway of the hanging car. You are pretty high up.

And then the great evening out – Astrid y Gaston – a restaurant that has garnered both yeahs and boos from the egullet.com crowd. It was a great experience – the waiters put up with our baby Spanish and chatted with us in English when our Spanish failed. It turns out that the staff from Astrid y Gaston play futbol with the staff from Puento Fuy – the other great restaurant that I’ve been to in Santiago. And they trade recipes. Who knew? We had a great meal that I will describe in another post as I am now ½ a bottle of wine down, watching really bad horror movies and thinking about sleep.

Just a little update on my timeline:

Salta and waiting for the bike part
Cafayate and meeting Art & Judee
Sickness in Catamarca
Breakdowns and Flats in San Agustin del Valle Fertil
Mendoza and wine, wine, wine
Easter Island and statues and horseback riding
Valpariso & Santiago and David’s visit

September 24, 2006

Moving along in Argentina

Finally, finally a new entry....

But first...

Two sets of new photos posted

New Google Earth kmz file of my current route (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!!

Back to the journey...

It has been difficult in the past few weeks to try to keep up with the journal and the web site updating. Going from the Gringo Trail back to riding has been fantastic and I am now riding with a wonderful couple from Ohio/California – Art & Judy – who got a hold of me through a mutual acquaintance in Uyuni, Caroline. Riding in Argentina has been just fantastic despite the crazy headwinds that I seem to hit in every canyon. The riding has been beautiful, the people open and friendly, and the food fantastic.

The first two day of riding in Argentina were spent riding in the Puna which is the Argentinean equivalent of the altiplano. The sun is hot, the air is cold, the terrain is mostly level with a slight descent as you head south and it was very “tranquile” riding. The drivers in Argentina smile and wave and beep at me to give me support in my endeavors. It is a change from Peru where the beeping is a mechanism to a) get your attention or b) to warn you and driver coming in the other direction that there is an obstacle (me) in the road ahead. It is pleasant.

The wind started picking up on the second day of riding as I entered the Qebrada (the Gorge) and left the Puna. The scenery, beginning in Tres Cruces (along with the nice police check point) is very dramatic. The mountains have been folded into waves and over the eons the rocks have worn away to present multicolored hills topped by massive slabs of rock jutting into the sky as high mountains. The mountains are deceiving, they don’t look very high, but they disappear into the haze as the day ages and you cannot focus on them because of their heights. The Quebrada is sort of a gorge which forms the link between the Puna high altiplano and the valley where the department capitol of San Salvador de Jujuy is located. As the day progressed and I rode towards Humahuaca, the wind began to pick up and I brought out the headphones.

Normally, I don’t like to ride with headphones because you cannot hear the wind and the birds not to mention the cars behind you, but this wind, this wind was beginning to become difficult to ride in. The music can help to get your through the difficult parts as will as provide memory clues later to remind you of certain moments and the struggle that you went through in those moments. For instance DARE by Gorillaz came on as I was beginning to curse the wind, but the song gave me the urge to keep pedaling, and the there was The White Stripes – White Blood Cells, the Humpers – Live Forever or Die Trying, Johnny Cash, The Gotan Project, Dwight Yokam, and the list goes on. Each song was perfect for the part of the road that I was on - a struggle, but a good struggle. It felt good to be riding again, wind or no wind.

As I arrived in Humahuaca the afternoon had progressed to 4 pm and I sat perched on the top of the hill above town and debated descending into town or attempting to try to find a place to camp above town where there would be few amenities, the fringe element to deal with and no internet. Yikes, no internet? I headed down into town and followed the signs to Hostel Azul which was located about a mile down a dirt road – obviously not catering to tired bike tourists and…it was siesta time. There was no one at the desk and after peering through the window and seeing that a single room cost 100 pesos (about $34) I headed across the street to an International Hostelling location called Posada El Sol and got a bed in a very nice smelling, pretty dorm room. It was refreshing to have a nice smelling room even if, especially if, it was a dorm room. The next morning I had breakfast with the two Spanish women who were spending a month traveling around Argentina and the owner of hostel practicing my Spanish and learning about their travels.

Humahuaca to Puramarca was a distressing day of beautiful scenery and just incredibly awful headwinds. These were days spent alone in my head, listening to music to get me through the day. The wind must blow hard up the Quebrada all of the time – the trees grow bent – in the opposite direction that I was traveling. Another interesting thing about this stretch of road was that there were absolutely no distance signs along the way for about 50km. Normally, this would not be a problem, but with diversions needed due to the wind, it became an obsession.. As I approached Tilcara, a place where everyone suggested visiting, I realized that it was again siesta time. The archaeological museum that I had wanted to visit was closed, the stores were closed and the wind was increasing. I sat and ate dulce de leche on bread and orange and decided to push onward to Puramarca – location of “The Hill of Seven Colors” or some name like that. After a grueling 15km of being pushed backwards while pedaling downhill I reached the turn off for town. It was a brief 3 km uphill, but the dreadful wind lessened as I gratefully moved away from the main valley.

In Purmamarca, at the Pastos Chicos hostel I met the most wonderful people, ranging from the man at reception who ended up cooking all of us a delicious dinner of empanadas my second night there to Adriana and Monica, two Argentinean women traveling with their daughters. Also in Puramarca I got my first real interaction with Argentine men. As I was sitting in a little restaurant on the square, minding my own business drinking a café con leche in the afternoon after the “Day of Viento” the waiter came up to me and said something. Now, I actually understood the gist of what he said, but I decided that playing ignorant would make him stop – it’s very hard for me to take a compliment – so I had him write down what he said. Bad move. The note that I got read as follows, “Nunca vi una mujer tan Hermosa com usted.” This approximately translates to,”Never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you” Okay, very nice, but how does one handle this florid compliment gracefully? By playing dumb and saying thank you and getting the hell out of there was my method. As I said, I don’t handle compliments well, but it did make me feel good!

Anyway, upon my return I met Monica and Adriana who very kindly invited me out to dinner with them. I had a great time; they made me feel very welcome into their little group. While the dinner wasn’t so great – locro (a stew made with beans, corn, and bacon type meat) the humitos (tamales with corn and cheese) were delicious. Adriana invited me to spend the following day with her and the girls on a grand adventure to the Hot Pools at Termas de Reyes. After three days of wind I decided why not – I could just afford another night at the not so cheap hostel.

The next day really was a grand adventure. After gulping down my breakfast (the ubiquitous café con leche and round, biscuit-like crackers with mermalada) I tried to get money from the ATM, but I had none left. Unfortunately, David was out of town and could not get money into my account and my Visa secret code apparently doesn’t work - so much for setting that up ahead of time. The four of us, Adriana, the two girls, and I, headed down to the bus station to get the bus headed towards Jujuy. The deal was that we were to get off somewhere outside of town and get another bus, a micro, which would take up to the Termas. This information was only obtained through Adriana asking everyone she could find for directions to the Termas. First, we had to wait about an hour for the bus so we wandered around the plaza where at 9:30am there already were bus loads of Argentine tourists buying up everything in sight much like a bus load of American tourists at Wall Drug. When the bus finally came, we rode down into the valley looking out of the windows like a couple of kids and then we were dropped off, unceremoniously, on the side of the road at an interchange with the instructions to cross over to the bus stop and wait for the micro. Many a micro passed while we waited, none of them heading to the thermas. Finally, after getting waiting times of 5 minutes, 1 hour, 2.5 hours a cab passed and agreed to take the four of us up for the same price of the bus.

Upon arrival we secured lunch with a semi-surly man at the food stand and hit the pools. The air was cool, but the water very warm and there was a great view of the mountainside in the valley. I have to admit, it doesn’t beat my best hot springs experience ever – New Mexico in the winter, waterfall, watching the snow fall onto the mountains – but it certainly hit the spot. We swam, lunched on meat and salad, and returned to lounge in the water some more barely catching the micro headed to Jujuy. In town, we had a fortuitous connection and immediately go on a bus back to Puramarca. There was some tension for if we had missed the micro we would have been stuck in Jujuy for the evening. That evening for dinner, the guy at the hotel (I’m embarrassed that I cannot remember his name) made dinner for all 5 of us and his family (wife and a beautiful little girl) and we sat around and had some nice wine and conversation and delicious empanadas until we were all nodding off to sleep. Monica had had just as much of an adventure heading of into the salt flats near the Chilean border. She returned happy, exhausted, and bright red – her sunscreen wasn’t enough protection against the bright, altiplan sunlight. I slept like a rock that night.

The bike ride to Jujuy the next day was uneventful except for the fantastic descent into the Valley. The winds were not so bad out of Puramarca in the morning and I was battling with my frame wobble until I decided to just remove the very convenient handlebar bag. Surprise, surprise, once the bag was strapped to the back I had very little wobble. What a bummer because that meant the I would lose the convenience of the bag – camera had to be packed, snacks had to be packed, everything had to be packed, but if it would stop the wobble until I got my new headset (which finally arrived two weeks late on 23/9/06) so be it.

I don’t really know how to describe these descents from the Andes. They are incredible, exhilarating, long downhills where the wind truly whistles in your ears, you can see the terrain laid out below you, the flora changes drastically, and you just feel an incredible sense of elation as you glide around the curves keeping speed with the cars - just amazing. Once in the valley, I now knew the back way into Jujuy, thanks to the bus ride on the prior day, so I took that to avoid the freeway. As I was gazing back at the mountains that I had just descended, too quickly from, I glanced out of the corner of my eye, a couple riding North on the freeway parallel to my back road. I shouted out in English and Spanish, but they were gone. I found out later that they were most likely an American couple heading northwards.

As usual, the ride in was not nearly as sketchy and difficult as it looked like from a bus or a car and I had no problem making it into town. For the first time since I arrived, I utilized the local tourist information center to find myself a hotel. And it turns out they had all the prices of all the hotels and the one I had been planning on using had upped their prices – probably due to their presence in the travel guides (it’s a problem). I ended up in a very pleasant, not exorbitant, real hotel in the heart of the city and even got directions out for the next days ride. After showering, getting a beer and eating a sandwich and cookies, I set out to try to convert travelers’ cheques only to discover that in Jujuy, all the banks were closed to customers after 2pm. This was a little embarrassing when the men in the bank wagged their fingers at me in a “no, no, no you bad little girl” kind of way. I had no cash and David still had not been able to get my deposit through. My only option seemed to be to wait for the banks to open at 9am the next morning until I discovered a little kiosk that would change my US dollars (which I was also running out of). But money is money and the nice man fortunately, they did not ream me on commission and they really only kept a few pesos. I celebrated with a café con leche and a marathon journal writing session. The next day to Salta would be a long one, my longest yet, and I wanted to be refreshed for the journey, so I stopped worrying about calling MBNA collect (the street phones would not let me make international collect calls), stopped worrying about the headset that was to be in Salta when I arrived, and stopped worrying about money since I now had some. I relaxed and enjoyed the coffee and the hotel and the warm evening air.

September 03, 2006

New Photos and a Brief (I think) Update

Hello all. I have not gotten my massive, descriptive blog entry ready for posting but I though that I'd fill you in on a little bit of what I've been doing.

Two sets of new photos posted

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

Having given up riding for Bolivia due to altitude I decided to take some side trips. The Salar de Uyuni was a fantastic journey into the largest salt lake in the world. During the dry season, which is now, there is no water on it, but that is a good thing as we got three flat tires. Imagine how that would be in a few centimeters of water. Just last week they had a snowstorm out there with people being left at the border without food, jeeps turning over, and drivers not being able to see where they are going. I'm glad I went the week before!!

I left my gear in Uyuni and went light for about a week and traveled to Sucre which is just a wonderful city to hang out in. I saw the dinosaur footprints that were discovered at at cement factroy and are the largest collection of footprints of different species in the world. Are you noticing a trend here? Largest, highest - Bolivia has a lot of very cool things but the Bolivian people are very, very poor - at least most of them.

After chilling in Sucre for a few days I retraced my steps and visited Potosi. I have to admit that I was museumed out but did go on a tour of the mines - which is one of the main attractions in Potosi. It was a little weird seeing these men push three quarter ton carts filled with ore through the mines. They do this 10 times a day over a distance of 3 km to and from the drop off point. The conditions aren't very safe either - ladders go up and down all over the place with only a "watch the hole" to warn you. I went becasue my grandfather was a coal miner. Well, I also went because I wanted to.

The bumpy ride back to Uyuni was delayed by a day by a nationwide traffic strike so I ate my way through the day with a nice English couple, John and Lucy. It was fun. The ride back to Uyuni was pretty miserable without the nice Frenchman and his family to talk with so I amused myself by watching a woman from Buenos Aires harass the Amayran woman sitting in the aisle. The woman in the aisle was leaning on the woman on the seat which would have annoyed me too, but I probably would have grunted and made gestures and asked her to move a little bit. This woman, who even speaks Spanish, just kept shoving her packpack into the woman. It was really quite sad and I periodically glared at the woman in the seat. Wimpy, I know. Sitting in the aisles is illegal too.

The I arrived back in Uyuni, which at that point didn't have any power due, most likely, to the high winds blowing over a pole somewhere, bought a train ticket for a 2:30am (!!!) train and settled down at the Minuteman restaurant (run by a fellow American and a wonderful place to get delicious pizza, cookies, cakes and to have some good company for a few hours). While there I met Catherine (from Copacabana), Emma and a few others and we traded Salar stories and kept each other awake while waiting for the train. When the Minuteman closed we headed to the dark station to wait out the next three hours. I think we all fell asleep with out heads on the table. Emma ended up in a sleeping bag on the floor.

The train ride to the border had some great views (when I finally woke up at about 6:30 when they turned the tv on at high volumn). Once we arrived at the border town of Villazon, I collected my crap off of the train - yet again the bike made it safely and Emma and I headed to the border of Bolivia and Argentina. We breezed through leaving Bolivia, but it took 3.5 hours to get into Argentina. We could not figure out why, but we think that the immigrations guards took a siesta. The border is supposed to be open all day, but I guess you are not going to hassle an immigrations officer. When I finally got to the window I was laughing as I though that they, like all other immigrations officials here, felt the need to cram another stamp onto the only two pages with stamps on it (they actually didn't) but the official was very creepy and made fun of me laughing. Whatever. I'm in Argentina now with 90 days.

There is an immediately different feel in La Quiaca - the building are made of brick and concrete, there are stores with things in them, the bread is different, breakfast is crackers and jam, dinner is really after 8pm.

My first two days of riding have been great. I am now in a little town called Humahuaca after riding about 82km downhill, but against the wind for much of the afternoon. I found the internet cafe, uploaded pictures, did a little update and now my friend, I am going to drink a well deserved beer!

Take care.

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