Playing Frozen Footsie With Mount Fitz Roy

‘Ummm, Faye. I’m worried I might have gone mental.’

‘Huh? Why?’ Says Faye absently mindedly from the bed adjacent to mine.

‘Well, my toes are itchy. They were itchy last night, and they’re itching now.’

‘What kind of itchy?’ Faye enquires.

‘Like a stingy, burny kind of itchy…’

‘Get your sock off then, let’s have a look.’

Sitting on a bed in a hostel, in the town of El Chaltén, I remove my left sock.

‘Woah!’ Says Faye, leaning in to get a closer look. ‘Mate – that is not good.’

Staring back at us from behind my recently removed left sock are four puffy, red, swollen toes. The skin on them has taken on a shiny quality, on account of it being stretched rather thin. Only my biggest toe seems to have escaped the plight.

I think back to the previous day’s events: wading through icy rivers, followed by six hours spent shivering at the dockside ferry shack. Evidently my toes took a battering. There was no hope of playing ‘this little piggy went to market’, because all of the piggies were ice blocks. Continue reading

The real secret to lighting a fire (it’s not what Ray Mears would say)

‘It’s going to go out, it’s going to go out, it’s going to… Oh bugger It’s gone out.’ I slouch backwards and sigh.

Faye and I are sat outside our tents around our MSR Whisperlite stove willing it not to die on us. Our green soup cups are half-filled with dried mashed potato flakes, cold cut up sausages lay dormant on the upturned soup cup lids, and a slab of cheese has been delicately carved into chunks – patiently waiting to be plunged into a steaming pile of mashed potato.

Alas, there sits the water in the pan, cold still, over a flame that simply will not stay lit. We unscrew the red petrol canister and peer inside. There seems to be rather a lot of ‘black stuff’ and so we conclude that the fuel will filled up with in Coyhaique must been of a less than ideal quality. Continue reading

Me, Robinson Crusoe and the O’Higgins Glacier

Today we went glacier hunting.

I am slumped over the railings on the top floor of the ‘Robinson Crusoe’. The boat is rolling from side to side, causing me to brace my legs against the slippery white deck. My stomach feels like a washing machine set to spin mode. Bile is mixing with this morning’s breakfast of eggs, cheese, bacon and orange juice. Each sideways lurch is mirrored in my stomach as the contents slosh back and forth.

I change tact and try to concentrate on my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. I focus on the feeling of the cold wind across the back of my neck and over my bare hands, but it’s no use. Peeling open my eyes, I lift my head to see if looking at the horizon will help. A wave of nausea soon hits the back of my throat, and so I quickly stuff my head back down between my arms. I swear that I am going to vomit any second now

‘Why, oh why, did you agree to come on this sodding boat, Anna?’ I ask myself. ‘You know you ALWAYS get sea sick.’ Continue reading

How to make a 30th birthday ‘special’ on the road?

It’s 8am on a Friday in northern Patagonia and I am deeply engrossed in this morning’s top secret mission: operation birthday surprise.

I am doing my best to keep any noise to a minimum. Faye is still asleep in the tent next door as I delicately unwrap the sponge cake I have been carrying in secret for the past few days. As I ease it out of its plastic coated case, the packaging threatens to reach decibel danger level. I wince and pause to listen for any noise from next door. I am rewarded with a light snore – phew! Princess Faye is still sleeping.

I set about stuffing glacé cherries deep into the buttery cake, and finish off the sponge-sculpture with a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. I consider shoving half a banana in the top of it to add some ‘depth’ to my creation, but decide that all good artists must know when to leave a masterpiece alone.

Taking care not to drop the cake and cause an explosion of rainbow coloured sugar, I ease open the zip on my tent porch and creep a few steps forwards until I am just outside Faye’s tent. The crunch of my bare feet on the gravel surface seems to pierce through the morning silence, but at last I am in position. I inhale deeply… Continue reading

Chile’s legendary Careterra Austral: When hype doesn’t equal reality.

Ah the Careterra Austral. These are two words both Faye and I had never heard until we began cycling in South America. But everywhere we went, and from every cycle tourist we met who learned of our route south, the question was the same: ‘So you’re going to DO the Careterra Austral, right?’

Based on these conversations (and our tendency to perform minimal research into route options) it seemed as if there were only one way to travel through Northern Patagonia. And so ‘DO’ the Careterra Austral, we would.

In the words of the Lonely Planet: ‘The Carretera Austral begins where Chile’s Lakes District ends, snaking south for 1240km into a land of dense forests, snow-tipped mountains, glacial streams, islands and swift-flowing rivers’ Continue reading

With Love, From Germany

We begin to chatting to German couple Anja and Radko on the roadside just outside the Chilean village of Chaitén. I’d first seen them an hour earlier, as we zoomed past a duo taking shelter and eating lunch under a roadside bus stop. It was too wet (and we were too cold) to stop then, but thankfully the rain has now subsided and so Faye and I have taken the opportunity to pull over for our usual lunchtime snackette of cold hot dogs in tortilla wraps (avec ketchup). Mid lunch-munch, Anja and Radko appear on the road behind us, and pull over to where we are sat.
Anja has blonde hair, bright eyes and an even brighter smile. She is extremely friendly and begins putting us to shame with her near perfect grasp of English. Radko has opted for a more traditional unshaven ‘adventure look’ and is sporting a well-worn, and no doubt much loved, bright yellow long sleeve with black stripes down the arm and a small black eagle on his chest.
The four of us get along rather well and so we elect to spend the rest of the afternoon cycling together. It’s nice for Faye and I to have the chance to talk to others, and so we eagerly embrace this departure from our usual, sometimes stayed, conversation. There are only so many times you can ask one another how well you slept and how your morning poo was, after all.
Now an awesome foursome, we begin cruising along side by side under blue skies and past lush green surrounds. When I ask Anja how her and Radko came to be cycling around the world with one another, she takes a deep breath and I can tell there’s a good story coming…

Continue reading

A Dog Bite And A Rabies Scare

We’ve been in Puerto Montt now for 3 days and are packing up our things to leave. We’d stopped a little longer than usual in town to wait for some packages to arrive from the UK (one of which contains some new shorts for Faye’s now permanently exposed buttocks). Alas, there seems to be no sign of the packages, and so we prepare to leave, hoping that they can be sent on. We go to bid our host Corina farewell. Corina is just shy of 5ft, with dark brown eyes, crop cut brown hair and an exuberance of energy makes her seem 7ft tall. She is surprised at our plans to depart:
‘You are going today?!’ Corina asks

‘Sadly yes. We have to be getting on’ Faye says.

‘But the plane that brings the post will arrive tomorrow.’

‘Will it?!’ This is news to us, and possibly something lost in translation during the previous days’ thrilling and repetitive ’are the packages here yet?’ chit-chat.

‘Yes, the plane comes in on Wednesday each week.’ Corina confirms.

Faye and I look at one another. After 3 full days off the bikes, cabin fever has well and truly set in. Although I opted to go for runs along the lakeshore on some of those days, my body is craving more movement. I am like a caged (bicycle) tiger, and I cannot wait to hit the road again. But it now seems foolish to leave when just one more day could save Faye’s bum from it’s naked fate. And what harm could one more day do? Continue reading

Down But Not Out

Today we had our first crash.

We are heading for the Chilean town of Puerto Montt on our fifth day since leaving San Martin de los Andes, and it is wet, wet, wet. As Marti Pellow so beautifully put it: ‘I feel it in fingers, I feel it in my toes…’ except, actually I don’t. Because I can’t really feel my fingers and toes anymore. I am instead just making circular motions with my thigh muscles in the hope that they drag my feet behind them. I am also steering and breaking ‘by sight’, as I can no longer feel whether or not my hands are in contact with the bars or brake levers.

With everything we own being sopping wet, we are forced to put yesterdays wet clothes back on for today’s ride. It’s not the most fun day on the bike, and so we choose to take a more direct route into town, via the main road.

Faye and I have just entered the very awkward situation of arriving at a highway toll-booth. The surprised attendant in his little booth-shack (who has boldly paired a hi-viz jacket with a floral shirt) waves us through without charge – largely because they haven’t developed a tariff for cyclists. We pull away from the booths and towards a sign which reads ‘Puerto Montt 2km’. We both whoop in delight and at the prospect of transporting our sodden shaking bodies to somewhere warm and dry. Zooming past the sign, we begin to go down a little hill. Continue reading

The Battle of Bettina

Today was all about Bettina.
We’ve just left a lunchtime break on an Argentinian lake shore. Today it isn’t raining, which is an unexpected treat given the hail storm of yesterday. We are gunning it along the road, using the wind and warm air to dry our pants and socks off the back of the bikes, when we spot a cycle tourist standing at the side of the road. She is next to a golden yellow bike, looks to be in her sixties, with a strong build (calves you could crack walnuts on) and short grey hair.
We pull over and begin to venture a few words of greeting. Seeing as we never know where in the world other travellers are going to be from, it’s always best to start in Spanish and go from there. After a couple of spanglish sentences, we detect a German accent, and the lady rumbles that we are English. Now in (in a more natural English language) I ask her where she’s going.
‘Well, I’m going into Chile, but I was thinking I might stop here and hitch a ride. I haven’t really got enough food, and there’s nothing for a while to get any along here’ she says.
We’re carrying the bare minimum on supplies for this stretch and haven’t got any spare food to give her, but I reach into my front bar pouches and pull out two toffees.
‘Have some toffee power!’ I say, handing over the goodies.
‘Oh thank you!’ She falls silent for a moment, and begins chewing on a toffee. ‘It’s a big mountain to get over you know’ she adds, motioning to the road ahead towards Paso Cardenal Antonio Samoré. ‘And I don’t think I can do it.’

Continue reading

Caught Between A Storm And A Mushroom

We pedal out of the alpine-chic ski bum town of San Martin de Los Andes at 1pm. We exchange a small hi-five in the supermarket carpark on the way out, congratulating ourselves for such an ‘early’ departure. Usually, we aim to leave towns at 10am and roll out at 4pm, and so a lunchtime getaway is a real triumph.

Pedalling away from traffic, restaurants and cafés we wind our way around the shores of Lago Lácar, just as the mercury tips 38 degrees celsius. At this temperature, Faye is like a pig in poop because despite being a redhead, she absolutely adores the heat. I on the other hand reach optimum heat-appreciation at around 27 degrees. Anything more than that I feel is just plain unnecessary. Excessive heat for me means sweating out all available bodily salts and a requirement to drink gallons of water, water which I must of course carry on my bike. See? Unnecessary.

‘It’s so hot!!!’ Says Faye, plugging away on her pedals behind me.
‘I know, It’s so hot! Too hot!! I’m dying here.
‘I LOVE it!! She exclaims
‘I’ll remind you of that when it’s too hot to sleep tonight and you’re lying in pools of your own sweat’ I retort – a vain attempt on my part to dampen her chipper approach to what I consider to be fiery hell-like conditions.

We stop at a few lakeside ‘miradors’ (lookouts) of which there are plenty on a road that is leading us through the ‘seven lakes’ region. A region where there are, wait for it… six lakes. I’m kidding, there’s seven. On the fourth lookout we begin to note a slight shift in the skies. Dark, bulbous clouds have gathered on the horizon. Looking back towards San Martin, I can see that it is now caked in what looks like from here to be a fine grey mist, but I know must mean a deluge in town.

‘Eeeek. I hope that doesn’t head our way…’ says Faye, pointing at the ominous cloud-wall of black and grey.
‘Nah, we’ll be fine.’ says I, optimistic (read: deluded) as always.

Thirty minutes later we begin to feel the light pitter patter of raindrops on our shoulders. Thunder rumbles overhead and there’s a flash of lightening in the mountains in front of us.

‘Woah! Did you see that?! SO COOOOLLL!!!’ I shout at Faye.
‘I don’t like it!’ she yells back. Poor Faye-Bomb. She is like a household pet when it comes to storms. She would far rather be inside snuggled up next to the fire than dancing with potential lightning death.

The rain gets a little heavier and, seeing as how Faye is in a strappy vest and I am in a t-shirt, we decide to pull over to put our rain jackets on, which (of course) are at the bottom of both our panniers. The storm sees it’s chance. It spots two stupid optimistic, englanders scantily clad, rummaging around in their panniers with the contents strewn across the grassy verge and it strikes, with vengeance. The heavens open and we are soaked to the skin within a minute. At least we both just about manage to get our jackets on before the hail starts.

‘Awwww! Ouch! Ow!’ I yelp, as the first few ice bullets make contact with my rather shocked body.

This is no ordinary hail, this is marble sized, evil Patagonian hail. It feels worse, far worse, than the time I went paint balling and decided to go ‘over the top’ of the Blue team’s trench. A block of ice thuds into the back of my neck, another onto my hand, a third on my thigh and Faye and I can begin dancing like cats on a hot tin roof.

‘Where are you going???’ she yells as I begin a dart across the road.
‘To find shelter!! To a tree! To… anywhere!!!’

I spot a roadside shrine with a corrugated metal roof and we scamper across towards it, ditch our bikes most unceremoniously at the roadside and take cover under the shrine. It is bedlam. Passing cars have also stopped and are seeking shelter from the hail by driving onto the verge and under trees as it smashes mercilessly onto their windshields.

For twenty minutes we stand under our flimsy metal roof, any conversation drowned out by the deafening sound of ice colliding with metal just inches above our head. The hail gets harder, and the balls grow larger until the whole road is carpeted in white marbles. Both of us begin to shiver – the icy rain has now made it through to our base layers and reached our skin.

There’s a bright flash of lightening, swiftly followed by a loud rumble of thunder, which seems to be right overhead.

‘Errr Anna…!’ Faye hollars at me.
‘What are we supposed to do in lightening? Are we safe here?’
‘Well, umm… we’re lower than the trees around us, I guess. But we are under a metal roof…”
‘I don’t think metal roofs are good, are they?’
‘I’m not sure. I read something about getting low to the ground. Let’s mushroom?’

And so we both crouch on our heels, tucked up like little cold wet, wild mushrooms, hoping against hope that the lightening doesn’t choose our shrine sanctuary a its passage to earth. Ten more minutes pass and eventually the hail turns back to rain. We breathe a small sigh of relief and slowly uncoil from our individual mushrooms. We are 20km short of our scheduled daily mileage, but we’re both beginning to get rather cold and don’t fancy cycling on through the wall of water, so we decide to set up camp somewhere nearby. We turn to look at a flat patch of grass, just behind the shrine:

‘Here?’ Faye says.
‘Here will do!’ It’s not the most glamorous spot, right next to the road, but for tonight: it’s paradise.

And so we dance around a little more in the rain, wrestling with tents and pegs and poles before crawling into our makeshift homes and peeling off layers of sodden clothing. We both get tucked up in our sleeping bags and listen to the thunder rage on. The excitement seems to have taken its toll because what was supposed to be a little nap before dinner, turns into us both falling asleep for the night at 6pm. An adventurer’s bedtime by all accounts.

Metres ascended on bikes so far: 68,597m

Live track us as we continue to hail-dodge through Patagonia here: