A Difficult Question

‘Oh would you look at all those dinky little roads Faye-bomb? I bet it’s super dooper quiet down there…’

Faye and I are pouring over the map and planning our assault on the ‘lake district’ area of Chile. An intricate web of small roads weave their way in between large patches of blue on the 2D page in front of us, and we instantly fall in love with the idea of what is to come: deserted wild camp spots on the edge of glacial lakes, rubble trails running between tiny villages, and smiling people. Oh how there will be smiling people, everywhere.

Of course before entering what we perceive to be Chilean utopia, we must cross the Andes mountains, and the inter-country border once more. After zooming down a long hill, we screech to a halt in front of a smartly dressed female Argentinian border guard, who is stood next to a white and orange barrier. Making our way inside to the neat wooden guards’ building we find three more female border dudettes sat at desks. How refreshing, I think, delighted to have happened upon the most femme-friendly of country crossings. The young woman sitting at the desk closest to us looks up, says hello and asks the most taxing question of the day so far: ‘Where are you going?’. Continue reading

The Crossing Of The Andes

‘Errrr… Faye… what in the world is THAT?!’

I am stood outside my tent, midway through brushing my teeth, when a distant rumble distracts me from a love affair with Colgate Triple Stripe.

Around the mountain track in the distance, surrounded by plumes of dust and silhouetted against the early morning sun, come twenty horses. Atop those horses are people, and they are atop them in style – carrying flags, banners and all manner of brassy things which catch and deflect the suns rays. I’m rooted to the spot with my mouth is wide open (collecting its fair share of road dust) when all of a sudden two military trucks appear around the nearest bend, and three men hop out. They nod in our direction, as if finding two white chicks in their pyjamas at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (mouths open, toothbrushes in hands) is perfectly normal, and they begin setting up a video camera. Continue reading

Waterfalls, Glacial Lakes and River Rides

Our hard won, slightly bumbling, battle to re-enter Argentina is well worth the effort. After thanking the biker gang profusely for the offer of joining them for dinner (with or without meat, and or vegetables), we decide it’s still early in the day (4pm) and that’ll we’ll push on for a few more hours yet. There’s more hugs, more cheek kisses, a hefty dose of ‘good luck’s’ wafted in our general direction, before we ride into the mountains beyond.

During our chitter-chattering with the group, we had been reliably informed that the next part of the ride is ‘muy lindo’ (very pretty), and it does not disappoint. Within 20km of leaving the Argentinian immigration building, the landscape has transformed from dusty golden brown to lush green. Waterfalls tumble from the hillside – those that are closest to the road are modest in size and we can stop to drink from them, stick our faces in them and marvel up close at the cool glacial meltwater. The taller more spectacular falls are way up in the mountains, and we can only but stop and stare from a distance at the cascading white lines they cut against a backdrop of slick black rock. Continue reading

‘You May Not Enter Argentina!’

‘You do not have the correct stamp in your passport. You may not enter Argentina.’

The day started in splendid style, we leave our riverside camp spot and begin the rubble-tastic slog up and over the 2,500 metre Paso de Vergara.

The borders here tend to happen in two stages – you get stamped out of one country, then some kilometres later, stamped into the other. I’m not entirely sure who owns the land in between the two, perhaps they share it and use it for inter-country picnics or polo matches on weekends? I can only hope.

On the way up Paso de Vergara, we pull over at the Chilean border. There we greet five guards in uniform who are stood outside, and begin the passport ritual. Among the five amigos is one who speaks some english (his Dad lives in Miami he tells us), and so it becomes a rather lovely border-crossing experience. Despite having the facilities to, the guards don’t make us do the pointless ‘bags through scanner’ ritual, and instead we have extra time to chat politics and weather as Miami-man goes about his paperwork. He hands us back our passports and off we wobble, up the final section of the pass.

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Steep Hills And Slow Days

Today will be all about going uphill, we know that much. We must drag both bodies and bikes from 650m above sea level and up to 3,200m.

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been that high and we’re both eager to get some altitude burn back in our lungs, which (having spent 2 weeks at below 1,000m) have now been dubbed: ‘Lungs of luxury.

After leaving Mendoza last night we found a stellar camp spot just a few kilometres into Route 13. This morning we leave that camp spot in high spirits, and with good reason. We are now less than a week from making it across the Chilean border, and to Santiago. In Santiago there will be two very special people waiting for us. So long as the BA strikes don’t scupper plans, Jamie (aka the most wonderous boy on the planet) is flying in, as is Faye’s mum (one of the two most wonderous mums on the planet. My mum is the other, naturally). When they arrive, we’ll both be be taking two weeks off the bikes, apart, and catching up with those we love. Something that’s definitely worth cycling over a few more mountains for, I’d say. Continue reading

A brush with the law

‘Girls! Girls! Don’t go down that road, it’s dangerous!’

We are stood over our bikes on the outskirts of Mendoza, when a man in his late twenties on a white and green motorbike dices with death and swerves around oncoming traffic to accost us, and bring us the news that we are headed in a dodgy direction.

‘Errr…. hola!” I say, smiling, if a little confused as the man pulls up next to us. He continues to repeat “Peligoroso! Peligroso!” (Dangerous! Dangerous!) before going on to explain in Spanish, or to the the best of our understanding, that we should not go across the lights here and down the dirt track we intend to take.

That dirt track will lead us out of the city and on to Route 13, through the mountains and to the town of Uspallata (oos-pie-ya-ta. I spell it for you only only because, phonetically at least, it includes the word PIE.)

We have two choices of route from Mendoza to Uspallata. The first is to take the rough and ready Route 13, which leads us up to 3,000 metres and over two remote mountain passes on what we know will be challenging terrain. But we also know that it will be traffic free and a darn sight more adventurous than taking the paved Route 7: a route that will be crammed with heavy trucks and fast moving cars that pass within a cat’s whisker of our bikes. In our mind, and at this point, Route 7 is the dangerous option. Continue reading

False Hope and Unexpected Cake

It was a day of false hope and unexpected cake.

When staring down the barrel of seven hours in the saddle, I break the day into manageable chunks – looking ahead to the next turn off, the next town, or if we’re lucky: the next shop and cold Fanta hit. Yes, my name’s Anna, and I have Fanta problems.

Two days have passed since getting myself in a dehydrated pickle on Christmas day, and I begin the morning in an excited state (most unusual). I am excited because we have reason to believe, nay are sure, that there is a petrol station with a shop just 20km down the road. Alas we are misinformed. Within those 20km, hopes are shattered and dreams are dashed. There is an empty patch of dirt where the petrol station should be and an empty void in my stomach where the Fanta should be. We trundle on.

I am at least buoyed by knowledge that there is DEFINITELY a small town at the end of today’s ride – Niquivil a mere 80km away.

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A Christmas gift of heat exhaustion

I am lying face down on the table at the visitors centre in Talampaya National park. I feel distinctly nauseous and as if my head is on fire. As I drift in and out of sleep, I can hear Faye encouraging me to drink some water. I raise my head a little and glug some from the already unscrewed bottle in my right hand, before returning my face firmly to where it belongs – the table top.

It is Christmas day. And although it is customary to succumb to unwelcome bouts of narcolepsy in the afternoon, today has been rather unforgettable: on all counts.

The festivities for my amiga and I began at bang on midnight. I hadn’t been able to sleep. It was going to be Christmas after all, and I was so VERY excited about it. I’m not sure why, as a 32 year old in the middle of nowhere, I was quite so excited. I think it was the knowledge that everyone I loved at home would be well fed and happy that day. That, or it is ‘Christmas residue’ – excess excitement leftover from years of exeberuence as a child. In which case I have a well of Christmas residue deep enough to last me into my seventies…

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Christmas Day on the road

By the time you see this here post, my adventure amiga Faye and I will likely be somewhere on the way to Talampaya national park. There’s rumoured to be a camp spot with a beautiful swimming hole, so we’ve loaded up on 4 days worth of food and are hoping for a mixture of feasting and cycling today.

This here, is my Santa impression. While I sadly do not posess his rotund belly, I do have a belly à la water-bladder. Our bikes are the heaviest they’ve been with 17 litres strapped on board for the next few days. The weight not helped by me slipping in several ‘extra’ treats for Christmas meal times. Serranco ham, cheese, marshmallows, orange juice… we’re
even going to try making popcorn on the fire!!

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Meet Rody

I’d like to introduce you all to Rody.

We’ve met so many friendly people in Argentina, but most of our interactions are fleeting. A little hello, a goodbye, a brief chit-chat about where we’re from – largely due to our limited grasp of the language, that’s usually as far a we get. This man right here, Rody – he took things to a whole new level.

Rolf in cart.JPG

Rody owns a small restaurant with lodging called ‘El Viejo Molino’ (The old mill) in the backstreets of Chilecito. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, the entrance hidden beneath the bows of several large trees. Above the restaurant are two bright rooms with squishy beds and hot showers – both of which Faye and I have hugely appreciated throughout the short stop here.

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