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.’

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Patience Is A Virtue 

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.

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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

‘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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A Return To The Wild

It’s our third day back on the road and we unzip our tents to find that the skies are still shrouded in a murky smoke-filled haze.

It’s a hot and humid morning and both of us confess that we’re finding it hard to get going. There’s an underlying lethargy that festers in my bones, I can’t stop yawning and everything feels a little, well – flat. Of course that’s okay, and entirely understandable when getting back into the swing of things. We’ve both admitted to some anxieties about returning to life on the bikes, about shrugging off the comfort blanket of familiarity, and pedalling back into the unknown.

So I take today as my mind and body’s way of readying itself slowly. That said, I can’t help but feel that the oppressive skies aren’t playing a part too. Ever have those days when you look out of the window at a cloudy sky, and feel a little cloudy inside too? Continue reading

Robbed But Resolute

Someone stole my purse today.

It was our final morning in Santiago, I’d left Faye packing up the apartment, and headed down to the local coffee shop to finish off an article that was due. I wrapped my lips around the usual treat of a cortado (con muffin) before submerging my face in the laptop for a few hours.

I was sat on a long bench that ran up against the back wall, with a small round table in front of me. After half an hour of key tapping and face screwing, I became aware of a woman who had plonked herself next to me on the bench. I say plonked because that’s exactly what she did. She slam-dunked her butt cheeks down onto the wooden surface so quickly and so close to my own, that she actually sat partially on my bag. Not wanting to appear rude, I didn’t look at her directly, but instead pulled my bag in a little closer, thinking that perhaps I’d spread my bits n’ bobs out just that little too far and wide, as usual.

Article complete, I thought I’d be naughty and get one more coffee for the road. Only, when I went to pay for the coffee, my purse wasn’t in my bag. It wasn’t on the table where I’d been sitting or in the pocket of my jumper. I searched everywhere for it, and then I remembered the woman and her slam-dunking, and it all made sense.

She’d seen an opportunity, a stupid tourist engrossed in a laptop and taken my little tattered pale blue purse with a yellow duck holding a white umbrella. Thankfully I’m in the habit of stowing my debit/credit cards in my pannier bags (not in my purse) just in case I lose it, and so they weren’t taken. But I had just got out a wodge of pesos for the road, and so the thief had made off with the equivalent of £80. A big blow to this month’s budget, but it could have been a lot worse.

I now try to explain to the nice man behind the counter what’s happened, and why I can’t pay for the coffee he has lovingly made me. He keeps repeating ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’, but all I want to do is get out of here.

I feel saddened, let down, a bit teary and above all violated. I would gladly pay £80 to take away the fact that there is someone who would target and steal like that. An inexplicable feeling of icky-ness fills my veins.

I didn’t actually want to share this story, because I don’t want to do anything to perpetuate the belief that the world is full of thieves and bandits and evil do-ers. We can flick on the news or read a paper to get a shot glass full of that. But I have chosen to share it because a) You lot get the whole story warts n’ all and b) because I am resolute: I will not let the f**kers grind me down. I cannot control whether or not my belongings get stolen, but I can control my beliefs, and I’m not letting them steal those too.

On the walk back to the apartment, I think about the woman’s motives. Perhaps she was desperate and needed the money, perhaps she just saw a chance too good to pass up, perhaps she just didn’t care about the impact of her actions on another human bean. Either way, I conclude that she is probably far from the happiest person on the planet, and although she is now strolling the streets of Santiago with my packet of pesos, that surely makes her poor.

I still have my riches – they exist in my heart and in my mind, places where no thief may ever go.

If I were Braveheart and if this were a Hollywood blockbuster, I would now hold my new money carrying device (a ziplock bag) aloft and shout: “You can take my duck puuuursee, but you won’t take my faith in mankiiiinnddd!”

Sleepless Nights And Sex Noises

“McNuff! There are four boys in our room, and they smell!”

It’s 10pm and I’m making my way home across the city of Santiago, when a message from Faye pops up on my phone. I’ve just left a lovely wine and bolognese session with one of my best friend’s Emma. Emma is about to begin her own 3 month cycle tour through Chile and so I have played the role of the packing ‘dragon’ and helped her throw out all unnecessary things. This mostly involves me telling her that she will feel so beautiful and happy in her cycling rags that she won’t want that make up, and questioning the need for enough spices to stock a Michelin starred restaurant.

Anyway, I digress. I reply to Faye’s message about the room invasion:

“Oh cripes, I knew it was too good to be true to have the room to ourselves. How smelly are we talking here? On a scale of one to vomit-inducing?”

“I’m dry retching!!” she replies.

Being on a budget and spending a few days longer in the city this time around, Faye and I opted for two spots in a six bed dorm room. We’d been lucky enough to have the dorm to ourselves for two whole nights, but tonight, our final night, was to be another matter. Continue reading