My alarm goes at 5am and I am wrenched from my dreams to the present. Where am I? I think. Why (oh why) is Birdy’s Skinny Love (my longstanding alarm song of choice) going off at this UNGODLY hour? And then I remember…
The previous day had been full of all of the many joys that come with a pedal through the Chilean lake district. We packed up from our forest camp spot, hoiked bags and bikes back over the fence onto the main road, and began pedalling off down a dirt road. Yes comrades, after many many ribbons of baby smooth tarmac – we at last found some familiar dusty tracks once again.
In fact, these dusty tracks are the dustiest we have encountered thus far. Dustier than Dusty Springfield, dustier than a dust-buster – dustier, even, than Dusty from the Three Amigos (and boy is that dusty). Car upon car would plough past and cake us from head to toe in a fine grey mist. Every now and then, I would run my tongue over the surface of my front teeth and find there to be enough for a three course meal.
At times Faye, riding in front of me, would disappear entirely in a puff of road-smoke. When one particular car drove by and kicked up the usual floor-cloud I honestly thought she’d been swept under its wheels and dragged out of sight. Straining my eyes, coughing and spluttering, I couldn’t see her for love nor money. At last I glimpsed the reflective panels on her panniers, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
In the middle of the afternoon, looking like two balls of dust on wheels, me still chewing on clumps of congealed dirt secreted around my mouth, we rolled into the small lakeside town of Puerto Fuy. We were on a mission to cross over the Andes once again, and this time we had opted for the most exciting border crossing we could find – via ferry across lake Pirohueico. Ooo la la.
‘They don’t have any space’ says Faye, emerging from the ticket office. I look up from my phone.
‘What? No space? Just for two people with bikes?!’
‘Nope. She said we can get the ferry at 7am tomorrow. I think. I didn’t really understand…’
‘Okay. Well – did you get tickets for tomorrow then?’
‘No. She says we can’t buy them until tomorrow. I think. I didn’t really understand…’
‘I know, it sucks. Do you want to go in and try? I could have misinterpreted everything…’
And so, armed with my best friend Google Translate I go in and speak to the lady behind the desk. I say speak. She mainly speaks very fast, and I mainly flash her a variety of words from my Google Translate app, which when you turn the phone sideways makes the words ten times the usual size – so I may, at points, have appeared to have been shouting at her, via the medium of CAPITAL LETTERS on my phone. Still, it does the trick and I manage to ascertain that we must to rock up pre-6am the following morning to make sure we get a spot on the first ferry crossing.
I emerge from the ticket office and break the news to Faye. Fair play to Faye – she sees the silver lining immediately. ‘Oh well, I suppose we’ll camp by the lake and just … relax.’
I on the other hand, find the outcome difficult to accept. Cycling day in day out for 8 hours at a time, exercise has become a drug. Today we had planned to get the 3pm ferry and then pedal for another couple of hours the other side. We had not planned to stop after just a few hours of cycling, and upon receiving the news, my body is rather upset about it. It craves movement, it doesn’t want to sit still – I have energy fizzing in my legs, adrenaline coursing through my veins. And so I jiggle and wriggle like a restless caged animal for the next two hours as we sit in a nearby cafe. At one point I consider going for a run along the shores of the lake, but at last, in the early evening my body receives the memo to chill the fudge out, and I succumb to a state of calm.
We spend the evening camped by the lake, I go for an icy swim in its glacial waters and we take advantage of a little 3G connectivity to check in with friends and family. All in all it is a rather lovely, unexpected treat.
The following morning we get up at 5am, pack up in the dark, make our way back along the lake trail, stand in line at the terminal building, venture some Spanish to buy the tickets and shimmy onto the HuaHum crossing ferry. I did take some exception to them charging us the price for having two ‘motorbikes’, but hey to the ho – we are all aboard and that’ll do for now.
It’s freezing cold as we pull away from the dock, I can see my breath on the air and the tip of my nose begins to go numb. Pulling on my Elmo hat, I watch as the sun begins to rise, casting out a striking orange glow across the lake. We float through the early morning mist, gliding silently past low hanging clouds wrapped around steep grey cliffs. Now I’m grateful we are on this boat, at what feels like such a peaceful time of the day. I always find it humbling to be among nature and to remind myself that nature pays no attention to the presence of mankind, and that it was here long before we were. I turn to Faye:
‘Isn’t it bonkers to think that that these cliffs have been here for thousands, maybe even millions of years?’
‘Yeah. Those things are old. Like, old-old.’
‘And those trees up there… don’t you think they look like broccoli florets?’
‘Yeah. I do love a good broccoli tree.’
Metres ascended on bikes so far: 67,237m
Live track us as we go in search of more broccoli trees here: http://z6z.co/AndesAdventure