Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)
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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Telling tales!

We named our little silver car Tina.

We hired her for a galavant around some last parts of Patagonia we wanted to explore after the cycling was finished. We named her after the country that we had spent most time in on the whole trip. Argentina. Which means silver. And since our little hire car was silver, and pretty tiny, Tina seemed like the obvious choice.

We loved our adventure in Tina. We sped about the country, listening to Christmas Carols from our ipods, laughing at the ridiculous wind that tried to blow even poor Tina off the road or stop us opening her tinny doors and telling each other stories. Stories of our trip.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The End of the Line

What had begun with a wine fuelled idea in a bar in Hong Kong, grown over a more sober cup of tea with the inspiring Tracy and Andy, been planned in a cyclone of lycra purchasing, bike part assembly and internal panicking and then executed through months of leg spinning and general all round japery, was coming to an end.

We were about to head for the finish and conclude our thin red cycling line.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Time and the hour..

Perhaps it all started with the blizzard.

It was, after all, a fairly Shakespearean moment. There we were biking through the beginnings of the Argentine summer, heading for the sea and sand of the East coast, and being bombarded on the sides of our faces by vicious needles of ice. All around us was excrutiating emptiness. It was Macbeth´s `blasted heath´ writ large. If three broomstick waving witches had hoved into view, chucking frogs into cauldrons and chanting in rhyme I don´t think it could have been any more surreal.

I have often thought of Macbeth on this trip. Not because I feel a particular affinity with the regicidal monarch of Shakespeare´s imagination, but because his character says some pretty useful things.

My favourite, when the going was particularly tough, was ´Come what may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day´. Not perhaps something you want to churn out cheerily to your biking companion (who may hit you for your pompous literary mumblings as they push their bike up the day´s ninth gravel slope) but a quiet internal comfort that, however horrible the conditions, at some point the day would stop and presumably so would we!

10,000km

Finally - FINALLY - we left Sarmiento.

That is no particular reflection on what was the embodiment of your average, smallish, perfectly decent Patagonian town.  But to be brutally frank, there is only so much fulfillment you can get out of such a place.  Especially as we became increasingly conscious of the ever shrinking number weeks left of our trip.  And the sense of claustrophobia in a place like Sarmiento is only exacerbated by our well engrained sense of impotence against that wind.

We left fully five days after arriving.  Not many tourists are treated to such an experience.  There are no open top double decker bus tours of Sarmiento.  There aren't even any double decker buildings - they would get blown over.  After the second night, we had done Sarmiento's restaurants.  The liveliest bar in town peaks at 10.00am, when the gauchos doff their berets to fuel themselves for a day's work with shots of something not far removed from unleaded.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Hitchin' Time Takes Spine

Patagonia, as you may have gathered by now, just wasn´t really designed with bicycles in mind.

Whether it´s good old Zephyrus the rock star, or the Broom of God that we encountered in February in Tierra del Fuego, or the -25c winter temperatures that we have heard about, it does its level best to make two wheels plus two pedals a poor choice of transport.  Either you freeze to death or get blown off the road.

So now that we are right in the thick of it, we are having to resist the temptation to face it off directly.  Swaggering into the teeth of it, with our guns (or paniers) swinging in their holsters, just isn´t an option.  Instead, we are having to outwit it with cunning and stealth and deviousness.  Or at least optimism.

Oh, and motorised vehicles.

The Curious Case of the Padded Pantaloons

Mr Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table.

"Well, Watson, what do you make of it?"

What could Watson make of it? He had been presented with a most singular narrative of which he, at present, could make no sense.

"I am afraid I must desire you to tell me the sorry saga again Holmes. I cannot see any logical explanation."

Holmes drained his coffee cup and placed it carefully upon the saucer. It clinked softly as if to punctuate the silence with a delicacy that directly related to the sensitivity of the matter in question.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Zephyrus

In Greek mythology the god of the west wind is Zephyrus.

Zephyrus is a handsome firm skinned youth with soft curly hair and gossamer gold tipped wings. He is considered generally to be sweet and gentle. He heralds balmy spring days, lightly kisses the cheeks of fair maidens and flutters the fronds of plants and trees in a playful, delicate manner. He is a wind you welcome with open arms.

He is a good wind.

Well, dear lovers of the classics, I have news for you.

NO HE AIN´T!!

He is a bad, bad, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad wind.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Winding it up again

Our poor bikes.  Martin and La Pinguina, our trusty and beloved steeds for over 9,000km to the Mexican border, must have thought it was about time for a proper rest.  OK, so they had a few days puffing and steaming in California whilst we rambled around in a car.  But almost before the stiffness had eased from their spokes and chains, there they were back in another cardboard box; frozen in a couple of aeroplane holds; shoved in and out of Buenos Aires taxis and then - as if all that wasn´t enough - thrown onto an overnight bus down to Patagonia.  We really should be kinder to them.  They have been extraordinarily good to us.

But there is no rest for the wicked, not even the remarkably resilient steel-framed wicked.  Their holiday will have to wait for now.  They did at least get a full overhaul in Bariloche and looked as good as new.  But we are back on the road again.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Back in Argentina? Gorse we are

And so we reached the end of 10 special weeks in North America.

There was so little to dislike, so many truisms and fallacies about that part of the world disproved to us, so much to love about the West Coast.  The bike lanes and considerate drivers, the Pinot Noir and fresh salmon up North, the Giant Redwoods, the drive-thru coffee stands, the great cities of Seattle, Vancouver, San Fran and LA, the raw and underdiscovered coastlines of Oregon and Washington, the beaches of SoCal.  And just that ubiquitous cycling-is-good vibe pervading that side of the USA.  We met a wonderful selection of characters along the way, and caught up with (and indeed introduced each other to!) several of our most important friends who live there.  And then that mad week of Disneyland, Vegas and LA.

By the time we arrived at LAX on November 14th, complete with our now familiar caravan of cheap/old/unwanted/large suitcases and heavily taped bike boxes, it had almost become a blur.  But one that it was time to move on from.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The first improbability about Las Vegas is that it exists at all. The second is that its name means 'the meadows'.

As we approached it after dark, heading East across the desert, there seemed absolutely no likelihood that a city could exist in the middle of such a desolate area. More pertinently it was impossible that something as lush as a meadow was on the cards. It was all very Wild West. Vast and empty and harsh.

We were heading in the Ford 'Escape' to seek out the riches of this town as part of our six day frolic through the sunny sillinesses of the south western USA. We had visited Disneyland, we were going to Vegas and our final stop was going to be LA. We were enjoying ourselves at the end of our cycling and I was excited to visit Vegas since I had never really seen it.

And I wasn't at all convinced that I was going to now! I really couldn't imagine it being there. However just after we crossed the state line into Nevada from California we got our first hint that a sizable inhabitation was round the corner.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Of Mice and Men

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."
—Walter E. Disney, July 17, 1955 4:43pm

When I was young every child I knew wanted to go to Disneyland.

In the United Kingdom of the 70's however that privilege was reserved for a very select few since it was so far away and so incredibly expensive to get to that only the children you loathed ever got to go. Now of course there is a park just a hop and skip from Paris, and visiting Disneyland is rivalled by all sorts of other amusement parks based on other themes and filled with rides more dramatic and daring than anything it offers.

However, Disneyland California was the second most visited themepark on earth in 2009, second only to Disneyworld in Florida, and nearly 16 million people went. So it still has a bit of cache and I was still VERY excited at the prospect of going when we stopped cycling.

Monday, 22 November 2010

SoCal - So Cool

We've both been a tiny bit conscious, as we've blogged our way through a decent chunk of the Americas this year, that reading our missives our trip may have seemed a bit black or white.  Either we've been enduring abject misery through wind, cold, altitude or lack of decent ice cream; or it's been one long, unremitting whirl of gobsmacking scenery, delectable people, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and the world's best ice cream.  To some degree, we have indeed tried to focus on the more 'interesting' bits, so that has probably come through.  Whilst everything we write is absolutely true, we certainly try to make the subject matter worth reading.

In the case of Southern California, however, even if you wanted to you simply couldn't exaggerate its wonders.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sideways

I think we have mentioned before that for the Pacific Coastal route we had special maps. Maps published by the Adventure Cylcing Association. They told us exactly which road to take, how many miles things were and what services we would pass on the way. More or less we followed their suggested route.

And then shortly after a place called Lompoc we ignored them. We turned left, we went off piste, we went sideways.

We had heard from our friends Garth and Dee of an alternative route to Santa Barbara through the Santa Ynez Valley. This valley was famous for its vineyards. It was the wine country that had featured in the film 'Sideways'. We were promised beautiful rolling hills, row upon row of grapes and one nasty climb out of the valley and back to the coast.

We had been coast hugging for a while and so we felt ripe for a change. Especially when we realised that the route the maps were suggesting was on a reasonably busy section of Highway 101, which would in places become a freeway, and was inland anyway.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

In a Big Sur state of mind

A lot is written about Big Sur.

An awful lot.

A lot is said about it too.

When people found out that we were cycling down the US west coast almost without exception they asked, "Are you going down Big Sur?" Sometimes this question would be followed by a tale, their eyes would light up, their face would become all aglow and they would tell us about the time they too went down Big Sur. Sometimes they had travelled in an open top car, sometimes they had gone by motorbike, occasionally they had gone by bike. "It's beautiful", "It's awesome", "It's stunning" - that was the sort of thing they said.

Waxing lyrical (or lyrical-ish) about this sparsely populated, slightly undefined mountainous region where the Santa Lucia range bursts straight out of the Pacific was clearly de rigueur. Shortly before actually hitting this mythical and fabled section of the road I decided to look it up in the guidebook. This gave it the grandest write up of all. It described Big Sur as 'a state of mind'.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Come Rain or Shine

And lo, it came to pass that on the 114th day of bicycling at last it did rain upon us.  And when it did, yea verily it did so with great vengeance and furious anger, and at one point it appeared that Noah himself may sail past us, such was the volume of the wet stuff falling from the sky.

Until the day we left San Francisco, we had endured negligible rain.  In a trip of nearly 9 months, you could count the number of times we had got wet on the fingers of one hand.  An hour of heavy drizzle in Tierra del Fuego, another outside in San Luis Province, Argentina, and a decent two hour drenching on the Canada/USA border.  And that was it.  Truly, we had led a charmed life.  So by law of averages we were due a decent soaking.

And you couldn't say we hadn't been warned - the weather forecast had given '100% precipitation' chances for our restart date for days beforehand and it had already rained relentlessly for 24 hours.  And so we set off from the sanctuary of the Williamses' wonderful pad, hermetically sealed in our expensive and foolproof rain kit, cheerfully looking forward to unfamiliar conditions and a decent test for Endura's finest materials.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Two diners in one day

We can get very hungry on this trip.

The food monster can catch us unawares at any point. And even though we try and stave it off with a hearty breakfast, a decent size lunch and a several course dinner it can still overwhelm us, causing us to lurch into our panniers rabidly and reach for Lord only knows how many Haribo gummy bears, oat and honey cereal bars or gigantic fistfuls of peanuts.

It seems to really let rip however on our days off. Then we have been known to consume quite obscene numbers of calories in a bid to quiet its stomach growling, light headedness making, jelly leg wobbling rapaciousness.

A case in point, our 'sightseeing' day in San Francisco.

Southbound to San Francisco

And so, with the majestic Redwoods behind us for now, it was time to branch off back to the coast and make our acquaintance with Highway 1.  At the little town of Leggett, we turned West, and headed for what many cyclists had made sound like something akin to the Andes of California.  We had heard tell of 22% gradients, altitude sickness, hours and hours of relentless climbing.  We were getting Andean deja vu.

Fortunately, with the Andes still sufficiently recent in our memories, it turned out to be a breeze.  A fantastic 3.5 mile ascent through dense pine forests, up sinuous, almost traffic-free roads.  Although the sunny patches were steamy and sweaty, the intoxicating smell of pine and eucalyptus in the cooler shadier parts helped us to the top with little trouble.  We patted ourselves smugly on the back.  We thought the climbing was done for the day...

Monday, 25 October 2010

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Do you remember the Cadbury Flake adverts from the 1980s? A woman reclines in a wonderfully bubbly bubble bath, lying back and really luxuriating in it and then reaches for the ultimate indulgence, a deliriously crumbly, flakey milk chocolate bar that Cadbury have cunningly crafted in the shape of a log.

Well, I felt like that woman when I woke up the other morning in a treehouse.

I was not, of course, in a bath at forty seven feet above the ground (although we did have a fully functioning shower suite in this treehouse). Nor was I eating chocolate first thing in the morning (although that isn't impossible) but rather I was luxuriating in splendour and I was eyeing up with gobsmacked awe a real log of rather more epic proportions.

Phil and I were being treated by the neverendingly lovely Nancy Blessing to a night at her 'favourite treehouse hotel'.

Now, that is a good statement to start with. To have visited a treehouse hotel at all is fairly unusual, but to have a 'favourite' one is pretty splendid and then to be lovely enough to treat us, and my Mum and Dad, to a visit to it confirms Nancy as one of the absolute highlights of our trip.

And so it was that Phil and I found ourselves spending a night in the 'Majestree'.This was one of several treehouses in the 'Treesort' of 'Out N' About', inland from the Oregon Coast up the gloriously forested Smith River.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Pioneers and Adventurers

We have had both good maps and bad maps on this trip.

Some have been driving atlases with big scale bare-bones information, some have been topographical plans indicating worrying climbs or thrilling descents and some have been drawn on little scraps of paper by helpful locals and more or less accurate depending on their knowledge.

We spend hours looking at them and trying to work out which route to take calculating how different maps compare. We try to work out distances, where major stops should be, what might be viable in any one day and what we will pass en route that we might want to stop at. It is one of our most basic activities. We look at our route maps every single day.

We have had some hilarious nonsenses. In Bolivia and Peru the maps we used often indicated places that no longer existed (or perhaps never actually existed at all) and utterly failed to mention others that were significantly large and very definitely there. So we have always had to use several maps and supplement them with internet research and local knowledge and a healthy dose of guess work. No one map ever did it all.

Until now that is.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

We're in Quite a State.

[I do hereby declare that I am in no way receiving financial or other remuneration from the Oregon Tourist Board for the words laid out below - honest!]

I am sitting in a duplex apartment in Port Orford, 70 miles North of the Californian border.  Through the windows, I am watching small fishing boats bobbing as they await winching by crane into their 'dry' harbour.  Behind them, the Pacific: fringed by rugs of pine forests, it is studded with giant lava stacks surging out of the water and speckled with frisky white horses.  Late afternoon sunshine is bathing the whole scene in gentle light.  And in amongst the whole scene jets of water are spurting periodically from the backs of giant grey whales, surfacing during their 12,000 mile migration South from the Arctic to Mexico.  They are just a few hundred yards away.  We keep seeing them.  It's a tough gig, this long distance cycling game.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Blessings

It is 6.15pm.

We are cycling towards a campsite in a Washington State Park.

We had hoped to be there by now.

We still have 15 miles to go.

We are slightly wearily realising that we are probably going to have to bike the last part of the day in the dark, pitch our tent in the dark and make our dinner in the dark.

We are girding our loins to be stoic and hardy.

A lady flags us down.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Vaneattle and Seacouver

And so to North America...

We arrived in Seattle nearly two weeks ago now, and have been soaking up just about as much of the USA's Washington State and Canada's British Columbia as a fortnight would allow.  We spent more than seven months in Latin America in the end.  But our madcap rush to Lima, the epic 31 hour bus journey to Ecuador, and our final few extraordinary days in the Galapagos Islands, meant that the emotions, impressions and impact of our transition to the Northern Hemisphere have taken a while to form.

Certainly, as we sweatily rushed about Guayaquil airport late into the evening, wrapping bike boxes and negotiating seat allocations with Galapagos sand still between our toes, there was little opportunity for reflection.  Even on Delta's excellent (business class for barely more than economy!) flights to Atlanta and then on to Seattle, we were still rather zombied out.

Suddenly, there we were in the Seattle Airport arrivals area - confronted by trolleys costing the same $4.00 to rent as dinner for two on the Bolivian altiplano, and a taxi ride into town costing the same as a 31 hour international bus journey.  Even in our sleep deprived state, this was a wake up call.  The gentle metaphorsis that we had originally envisaged as we moved serenely from South, through Central, and into North America had suddenly mutated into an instantaneous cultural caffeine fix in a mere puff of jetfuel.

The Origin of Species

There are places on earth you never think you'll visit.

You see them on the telly, you coo over photos in the 'Sundays' magazines, you glance surreptiously at guidebooks about them amongst guidebooks of more sensible and economically viable places that you are actually travelling to, but you NEVER think you will find yourself there. Never.

For me the Galapagos was one of those places.

Four years ago or so I watched (with dinner on my lap and a lump in my throat) the lush and wonderful BBC series on the Islands. It was magical. The swirling overhead photography of those volcanic outcrops bursting audaciously out of the sea, the glorious underwater footage of sealions and whales, the fabulous images of creatures weirder than imagination could create all accompanied by the honey dripped tones of Tilda Swinton (who sounded as if she was eating the islands rather than narrating a documentary about them) seemed all about a place so remote and extraordinary that I imagined I could only dream of going.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Thru Peru

Peru was the fourth South American country we visited.

Coming fourth is the just about worst position in any competition and so it was for Peru.

It suffered. It suffered from our inevitable state of comparison. It suffered from being, in our minds, either more or less.

Its roadside shops were more ordered than those in Bolivia, but less so than those in Argentina or Chile. Its road surfaces were more consistently bike-able than most of those in Bolivia but less so than those there that had been flash and new. It had more agreeable sanitation than Bolivia but much less so than Chile. When it was deserted it was more deserted than Argentina but its outposts when you came across them felt pleasantly less remote. It had more ATM machines than we had seen for an age but many fewer than we had been used to when we had started. There was a much more cosmopolitan and abundant feeling than in the remote Andes but then when people had less they seemed to have much, much less.

More or less, it was more or less.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Race to Lima

The more observant reader of our Pedalling North drivellings may have noticed that we find ourselves in Vancouver, Canada.  Does this mean that our recent blog drought was on account of a frantic spurt of cycling 400km per day for a month?  Erm, actually no.  The really observant reader may have spotted that the blog has been rechristened as 'Pedalling (from the) North'.  A bit of explanation may be in order...

In mid-August, sitting in a hotel room in Camana, Peru, we did some sums.  It became apparent that Delta's (cheap!) Ecuador-Seattle flight schedule came to an end for the rest of 2010 on September 6th.  We had already decided that the US would be better tackled from North to South (prevailing winds and all that...), so this effectively set us a deadline for our main South American leg.  If we were to squeeze in a few days in the Galapagos Islands before leaving the southern hemisphere, we had to haul our *sses to Lima, as an interim finishing point, in double quick time.  From there we would be able to take the bikes and ourselves to Ecuador by bus.  So it dawned on us... we needed to cover a little over 800km from Camana to Lima in 10 days.  And so began our Race to Lima.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Get that Guinea Pig a Coffee

[This blog was started in mid-August, but alas only just finished...] Since we left the culinary delights of Bolivia in late July (think: strict functionality taking precedence over pleasure or subtlety), Peru's fare raised our collective eyebrows in a number of ways. And they weren't all good. Or, by any means, bad.


For one thing, we were back in the Land of the Menu. In Bolivia, you eat what you are given, with all three courses arriving pretty much simultaneously and the only real choice coming between a single brand of beer versus a variety of improbably coloured liquids masquerading as 'fruit' drinks. In Peru, by contrast, menus are often long and mouthwatering. The problem comes when you actually order something: somewhat like the ubiquitous slot machines in Peruvian towns, it can take a number of efforts before any 'cherries' actually come up, and we frequently discovered that whole sections of menus were unavailable. Take the first night in seaside Camana, where we discovered first that there was no fish at all, and then - even more inconceivable - that there was no pisco!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Twin Peaks

`Who killed Laura Palmer?´...

....was the question on the lips of my friends and I in late 1990 when a cult television show from America obsessed everyone my age.

Twin Peaks.

This surreal drama series centered around a community of odd balls in small town USA where a teenage beauty queen had been murdered.

All the protagonists were unusual and wacky characters. There was a detective with a coffee and cherry pie addiction, a woman who always carried a log in her arms, a man who couldn't stop dancing and singing and an unusually high per-population number of dark secrets, physical quirks and tendencies to violent solutions.The plot twists were bizarre, their daily lives unimaginable. Surely nowhere on earth was this weird?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Cobresol: 1 Bolognesi: 0

It is important to state right at the outset that I am NOT an expert on football.

I am strictly a light weight ´World Cup watching´ sort and even then I am as happy passing round the crisps and sarnies as I am being glued to the box. I have been to exactly two live football matches in my life. A Boxing Day game watching Watford play someone (!) back in the late 1990s and a trip to the Emirates Stadium to watch Liverpool v Arsenal in around 2001. On that last occassion I went with a Liverpool fan but we had to sit with all the Arsenal supporters and so the whole match was spent trying to stop my companion cheering at the wrong moment or punch the surrounding humans when they were celebrating.

So, as you can see a childhood spent watching cricket, rugby and ice dancing little prepared me for my latest experience in Peru. A live football match in Moguequa between the home side and that of the town two biking days back down the road, Tacna.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Desert Rats

Well, we're into Peru.  At the border, amongst a milling group of self-appointed bicycle guardian angels, we met a small, shuffling bespectacled bear, clad in an incongruous duffle coat, a rather unusual felt hat and wellington boots, and clutching a battered old suitcase.  He welcomed us in typically warm Peruvian fashion and insisted that we enjoy a number of his favourite foods whilst we are in his country.  Since that border, now a few days ago, we have run into welcomes of consistently Paddingtonesque warmth and have indeed launched into his favourite marmalade sandwiches among other delicacies.

But there's been more to it than bespectacled bears.

Monday, 2 August 2010

ABC

A B C , Its easy as
1 2 3 , as simple as
do re mi, A B C
That´s how easy a trip should be!

Argentina, Bolivia, Chile. What a shame that Denmark, Dubai or the Dominican Republic aren´t next. Still Darkest Peru is and then Ecuador so I suppose we are not doing too badly on the alphabetti spaghetti.

Chile. How lovely that has been. We are only going to have resided in Chile for five days when we speed off to Peru today. Peru which is a mere twenty kilometres away but if you listen to any Chilean cab driver is a world apart. Cross border rivalry and general all round grumbling seems alive and well which is extremely amusing and oddly reassuring.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Balancing Bolivia

When it was fashionable for men in the City of London to wear Bowlers, did they ever struggle to keep them on? Perhaps they never rushed, or the wind never inconveniently blew, but I don't remember photos of those purposeful gentlemen with one hand on their hats to stop them from escaping or images of them reaching to the ground to pick one up. I'm sure those Bowlers were fitted, that they were made to measure.

If you are a Chola lady in Bolivia the key to wearing your Bowler is not to have it firmly attached. They favour balancing them precariously on their heads so that any movement too violent sends them flying or someone else who is keen on owning one can simply grab it and run. It makes an already unusual outfit seem even trickier to live in. I saw women stuggling with their bowlers as they mounted buses, finding it impossible to keep them on as they harvested potatoes, battling with them in the brutal altiplano winds. It is a real art sporting that headgear.

And yet this precarious balancing act is the perfect analogy when weighing up Bolivia as a whole. From the calm perspective of a sojourn in Chile it seems a place juggling different worlds, where life exists in extremes, where so many things seem to be teetering on the edge.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Conquering the Andes

We were in Bolivia for a little over a month in the end. It felt like a lifetime. The last few weeks have been, in every sense, a ride. Think of all the other old travel writing cliches about rollercoasters and 'countries of contrasts', and then add a few yourself.  From the scarcity of blogs that we've managed to write, you have probably interpreted that high technology - and, indeed, most other 'normal' creature comforts - have been in low supply.  We will not be forgetting Bolivia in a hurry.

We are now down at the Pacific coast, revelling in Chilean civilisation.  On a trip like this, you try very hard to take all situations alike, and like a sports interview 'take the positives' out of all predicaments, however tough.  But hell it's nice to be back for a brief stint in a land of shops and real coffee and ATM machines and night temperatures in double figures on the comfortable side of the zero mark.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Salacious Stories

We knew we were in trouble when the punning began.

We biked towards the Uyuni salt flats and the white emptiness started to stretch out before us. It played with our minds. Almost immediately we were joking about our impending assault? Would it be plain saline? Were we salivating at the prospect? How would we cope with this simply collosal challenge? And on and tragically on.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Other Cyclists Took the Train

We had been warned.  The various websites and local accounts we had paid attention to had told us in no uncertain terms that the "road" from Tupiza to Uyuni was a brute.  Indeed, one blog, written by a man who had been cycling for 4 years, said it was the worst road he had experienced.  So we shouldn´t really have been surprised.  But the last five days have been Tough.  If we are tested any more sternly than the last 300km, we might just hang up our cycling shoes.  Or just take the train, like most other cyclists we´ve met going this way.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Follow the yellow dust road (or pink or grey)

We´re not in Kansas anymore. A tornado has blown this Dorothy and Toto (you decide!) away from their `home´of the last four months somewhere over the rainbow.

We´d only been in Bolivia for three minutes when Phil was attacked by the Wicked Witch of the West. Admittedly she was a rather small, ancient version and not actually green but it was still quite a shock to look up from my bike by the public toilets, yards from the border post, to see Phil batting a old lady off as gently as he could as she tore and grabbed at his jacket. It was rather like watching a bemused Great Dane being attacked by a Chihuahua. Apparently the public toilets were not public, but her personal preserve, and she wanted him to pay for his privilege. So far, so faaaaar!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Don't cry for me Argentina

I have a confession. In 1986 when I was 12 and Argentina last won the World Cup I was not listening on my christmas present radio cassette player to Madonna, or Wham or, heaven forfend, AHA. Such coolness was the preserve of those 'in the know' at school. I would nod and glance nervously during conversations about their relative merits and hope that the subject would change quickly enough for me not to have to reveal a complete ignorance of what exactly 'Papa' might be preaching about. I was way behind the times, dreaming of a career in musical theatre and listening with devotion and all-lyric-knowing geekiness to the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Oh yes. I knew every single word of 'Evita' and would quite merrily sing away to myself 'I'd be surprisingly good for you' blissfully clueless to it's potentially dubious connotations.

I was pretty clueless generally really. Certainly about Argentina. It was a country we had had a war with not very long ago, it was the place that Evita came from and sang a lot about and there was some man called Maradona with a godlike hand who had done something extremely bad recently that wouldn't be forgotten for a VERY LONG TIME.

And there time froze. Because when Phil first mentioned the idea of this trip late last year and explained that we would begin in Argentina I'm afraid, to my eternal shame, I didn't know a great deal more than that.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Up

Since Liz´s last post, we´ve been getting high.  Really high, man.  Nothing illegal - we haven´t even resorted to the all pervasive cheek pouches of coca leaves to alleviate the symptoms that come with higher altitudes.  No, it´s just been all about climbing on our trusty steeds.  Up and up and up.  And then more up.  We even crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, which had us reaching for our Geography textbooks.  Yesterday, as the last vestiges of daylight disappeared, we descended into Abra Pampa (altitude: 3454m) - or to those of a statistical/geographical bent, just a little further above sea level than Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike stacked on top of each other.

We knew yesterday would be a big one.  In fact, we reckoned on it possibly being the toughest day of our trip.  But I don´t think either of us quite reckoned on what was in store.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Shouts of Joy

It´s an odd feeling being stared at by plants. Deep in the valley `Quebrada de Humahuaca´, we looked up and saw lines of cacti leering ominously down at us. Their limbs raised in a mixture of alarm and attack it felt rather like being ambushed.

Our senses are definitely under assault. We are in the northern province of Jujuy, our final province of Argentina and we are only 200 kilometres from Bolivia. Jujuy means `Shout of Joy´ and this landscape invites whoops and ah´s and ´look at thats´ by the bucketload. We have one particularly enormous shout of joy brewing, one that will see us able to bike on from a place that we are currently stuck..but more of that later.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Climb On, Climb Up, Chill Out, Fall Off

We've been doing some of each.  You could say equal quantities of each, although I would defend myself that there has been less of the last bit than the other three.  More of that later.  One way or another, whilst Argentina reaches a collective fever pitch of 'albiceleste' frenzy in the lead up to the Mundial (World Cup), hot on the heels of the bicentenary celebrations, we've been reaching our own frenzy of appreciation of tarmac and 'civilisation' in Argentina before heading up into the high Andean Cordillera tomorrow.  In our sky blue and white striped replica shirts, of course.


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The National Capital of the Goat and other Patriotic Talewinds

If you have a trumpet blow it, if you have a drum bang it, if you have a flag wave it. This is the week to be patriotic in Argentina, to stand up and be counted, to shout 'viva la patria' with the best of them and to drink copiously in your country's name. This week 'somos todos Argentinos'.

On the 25th May 1810, a group of Buenos Aires luminaries, declared independence from a Napoleon addled Spain. There had long been dissatisfaction with rule from afar and most had had enough of sending hard earned wealth back to Europe. This kicked off 'The Argentine War of Independence' which was finally concluded six years later with a formal declaration which Spain was forced to swallow.

So, this week saw the 'Bicentenario' of those events, with a four day weekend, endless pale blue and white decorations contorted into bunting, bannering and ballooning, monumental monument unveilings and us cycling through the middle of it all.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Cruz del Eje - would we ever leave?

With all the fun and frolics of recent weeks - the thousands of kilometres NOT on bikes (sorry!), the social whirl of Buenos Aires, the spectaculars of Salta and Iguazu, the weddings, christenings, parental visitations and all the rest alluded to in Liz's last blog - there has been one constant.  Cruz del Eje.

We first freewheeled in well over a month ago, hot, exhausted and bitten by ants, having earmarked it on the map as a decent strategic spot to dump our bikes and kit - at an imaginary location as yet unidentified - and head off for a couple of weeks R&R.  My how that snowballed.  That first late summer afternoon, we pottered into town on bikes that were also panting for a rest, and hardly warmed to the place.  No, it was worse than that.  We could see nothing remotely appealing about this little railway hub - now seemingly dead - that had had its day.  It felt like Argentina's answer to a Welsh mining town whose mines had long since closed.  We scampered back from the centre to the motel that we had found right on the main junction, whose 'highlights' were a couple of service stations, a set of traffic lights, a hot dog van and a selection of motley strays padding around.

Monday, 17 May 2010

24

24 hours to go.

24 hours until we re-mount our bikes and head north from Cruz del Eje. 24 hours in which to cram in food shopping, pannier re-packing, bike chain oiling and other vaguely familiar tasks. All rather distant memories after our 5 recovery weeks off.

5 weeks during which we have travelled over 10,000kms of Argentina by car, by bus, by foot. But absolutely nowhere by bike.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

The leaves are turning, the grapes are being crushed, the days are shortening with the heat of the sun dimming, and all around us people are gathering, picking, plucking and reaping the rewards of the labours of spring and summer. Autumn has arrived in Argentina.

And so have my parents.

Waiting for them at Mendoza airport had a slightly surreal quality. We had washed ninety nine percent of our clothes earlier in the day and so had to manifest ourselves in outfits very definitely on the damp side of dry and quite certainly on the wrong side of weird. I have surely started a racy new fashion trend with my windproof biking jacket and sarong combination, to say nothing of Phil's down jacket and shorts number. The glamour.

Monday, 12 April 2010

School´s Out!

We are in a state of high excitement. Liz´s parents arrive tomorrow, and that means ´Holiday Time´! We are rewarding ourselves with a week off. This may sound a bit odd. ´But they´re on holiday anyway, aren´t they?!´ Well, kind of. But we´d been warned by those wiser and more experienced than us in this long distance cycling lark that after a while on the road, it becomes almost like a day job. You get into a routine of sorts, you spend the day in the same old seat, going through similar tasks. The difference is that the telephone doesn´t ring and the commute is built in. The days off become a naughty treat, to be looked forward to (not least by our legs) with almost indecent levels of excitement.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Small town fun, facial hair and The Fuzz

General Alvear seemed to us like a pretty big place. A pretty big place before yet more 'Nada´.

It really doesn´t though to the teenage son of Ana Maria and Nestor, our physio and her husband, who so kindly had us over for dinner. In the midst of what was a wonderfully homely evening - joining the family round the table for homecooked dinner, great chat, maps out for our route ahead, three lovely sons messing about and hovering around us very politely and proudly showing us their World Cup planners, pets barking and meeowing, Facebook glowing away from the computer in the corner -they were describing just what a tranquil a place it is and just why they chose to settle there, when their middle son chimed in ´yeah...it´s WAY too tranquil´! with the gusto of one who can´t wait to get out.

Well, he would have just loved the places we´ve been since.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

All things bright and beautiful..

All creatures that do crawl
All those flies so plentiful
I´d like to crush them all...


Never trust a creature that is in segments. Never. Anything that looks as though it has been assembled by a six year old using their Lego Technik kit, and has a number of articulating parts, should be greeted on the offensive. To all those who said there was ´nada, nada, nada´in the desert, I robustly say ´yada, yada, yada´. Those sun baked plains bedecked with ´nowt but thorn bushes are positively alive with life.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Campaign of the Desert

Phew.  We have now had a couple of days of recovery from what was probably the toughest leg of our journey so far.  Liberal doses of ice cream, air conditioned cafes, steak and cold, cheap red wine have combined to leave us feeling considerably more human than when we arrived in General Alvear.  That afternoon, it felt as though we were cycling over the glowing coals of an asado; now we know how those steaks feel.  Any hotter and I think one of us might have actually burst into flames.  As it was, I could have sworn I saw whisps of smoke coming out of Liz's ears in the last few kilometres into town.  In places, you could push your thumb into the black asphalt that we cycled over.  So, how had it come to this?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A Bike-By leg wax and other contradictions

I am tapping away on our laptop from a green leather crescent chair, in a wonderful 1970's cafe in central Neuquen, sipping a delicious coffee, nibbling in a ladylike manner on a sugar covered croissant and aware that in a matter of hours I will be erecting our green nylon (or teflon or rayon or krypton) tent, blowing up my own bed and preparing for a wet wipe shower somewhere unknown, shortly into 604 kilometres (I like to be very specific) of near perfect emptiness.

Such are the contrasts of this trip. Each day is a mini Odyssey, without, in the main, the Homeresque thunder bolt wielding gods, nymphs or six headed monsters, but with plenty of rough and smooth.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

On one of our early bus journeys South from Buenos Aires, Liz mentioned that Kate Adie's autobiography is called The Kindness of Strangers.  The name was taken from her experiences of complete strangers showing extraordinary generosity to her during her times in improbable (usually war stricken) places.  This phrase stuck in my head.  It has somehow resonated in recent weeks each time we've been on the receiving end of yet another unsolicited kindness through Argentina - which, incidentally, is not a warzone.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Rip'n it up....

Ah yes...it really was an amazing week last week (see Phil's blog). The romantic 'Route of the Seven Lakes'. We looked up by day at the dramatic sheer cliffs that towered above us, and by night at a ludicrous number of stars, we looked through moss dripping trees, past sudden explosions of bright orange flowers, to rivers of the blueiest blue rushing by in glacial coldness, we looked out from out tent at white sand campsites and across the waters of these extraordinary lakes, and we looked into the eyes of birds of prey, of geese and swifts and the occasional loping canine. And we looked down. Down at the road surface. We looked down, A LOT!!

Because last week we experienced....Ripio. Gravel Roads. Roads not made of tarmac but of gravel. We travelled by bike over 50k of them.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Ruta de los 7 Lagos

We have had a magical week.  Since the last update, we have left the joys of Bariloche, and done a full working week of cycling.  About time, you cry in unison.  We know, we know - it has been a somewhat stuttering start, what with having to move North from the gales of Tierra del Fuego and then a bit of convalescence time in Bariloche, but we now feel that we are properly underway.  We (and the bikes!) have completed our first 450km.  We are getting fitter and more used to life on the bikes, and are starting to feel better about telling people what we are doing.  This week, we did 190km along the Ruta de los 7 Lagos, from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes.  More about that in a moment.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Life gets sweeter and sweeter

Our story resumes since we made the decision to call off the battle against the wind in Tierra del Fuego - to be resumed later in the year.  Watch this space.

Since then, it has been by no means all wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Yes, we theoretically wanted to do the route in one dollop, but we always knew we'd need to be flexible, whether in the early weeks, or several months in.  We have at least learnt early, as Liz suggested in the last blog, that certain elements are not to be trifled with.  Going with the wind, when sensible and viable, will make for a far more enjoyable trip.  And joining the dots, to try to cover the entire route, remains more than feasible.  The dotted red line may yet be of a decent length.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

It's elemental...


This week we have been more than made aware of the power of the elements. Dominating the airwaves, and the conversation here is news of the terrible earthquake in Chile. As the death toll rises, and the tensions mount it becomes an increasingly sobering picture of how helpless we can be when nature exercises it's power. With Haiti so recent and the incredible storms in Europe this week, there are reminders everywhere.

Our own difficulties with the elements are therefore put into perspective. When we left Rio Grande last week to head on up Tierra del Fuego and back onto the mainland we went headlong into a series of challenges. First came a puncture on Phil's bike only about 3k into the journey. Then a side wind so strong that it kept pushing us off the road and when any sizable lorries went past (and there were an enormous number) we almost completely lost control. 9k in and we realised we were risking our lives and so when we saw what we thought was an Estancia we decided to seek shelter until the wind abated a bit. It didn't.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Sleeping around

Who'd have guessed the first three nights on the road would be in beaver country, in a bakery and at a crime scene?

Well, as Liz's recent updates have already told you, we are under way.  On bikes.  Properly.  The bikes work, we appear to work, and we've tucked away a decent distance - getting on for halfway across Tierra del Fuego (even writing that feels rather exciting somehow - we're so lucky to be here!).  Liz has, I think, defied her expectations and worst fears and has gone from 'embryonic' cyclist to fully fledged ciclista in very few days.  She's outpaced me for good chunks, which doesn't in itself mean she's the next Lance Armstrong (and my excuse for some of it was a slow puncture!), but it does mean we seem well matched for going a long way on our steeds.

[Incidentally, she has now christened her bike: Winifred la Pinguina - named after her late grandmother and her favourite of the animals we've encountered so far... in that order]

The broom of God

Yesterday we went into our first headwind. Or, as the locals call it, we faced 'The broom of God'. I can tell you that if the good Lord was planning to sweep through a person, rootle about in the depths of their soul and leave absolutely no corner of them unblown or unexplored, he succeeded with a vengeance. I ended the day feeling as if I had cycled 50k up the steepest hill imaginable and with the novel understanding of what it is like to have to pedal as hard as you can to go downhill. I was as purged as a person can be and had a face like a beetroot. I can strongly recommend it for anyone feeling pentinent.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The first 100k..

Well, actually the first 105k...have been completed!!

It wasn't Julie Andrews in the end who got me through but, to Phil´s horror, the lovely Dolly Parton who saw me up a cruel end of the day hill yesterday evening with ´Baby I´m Burning´ which my thighs certainly were. We slept like the dead last night, after a big second day, in the back room of a huge bakery in Tolhuin surrounded by flour sacks and the smells of Empanada preparation.

We set off finally on Friday lunchtime, after a small back brake delay, fully loaded and heading for the hills. It was made very special for us because Mark, Sarah and Steve came and saw us off and made a real occasion of it. It was so lovely of them all and we have a hilarious little film of the actual moment which we will post at some point.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Climb every mountain...

Today, I will climb my first ever mountain on a bike. My first ever. I do not predict a Julie Andrews like twirling and singing but more a thigh busting grind and a lot of walking. As Phil referred to in his blog, Ushuaia turned out to have a little surprise waiting for us. And so, the start is not flat, but very very uphill! I am properly nervous.

I think I will resemble Julie in squeeky clean, new kittedness though. This is like the first day at school, when you have your shiny new pencil case and a crinkly and fractionally too big skirt. All the kit is clean and lovely, all the clothes smell nice. I am embryonic, unformed, unfit and amateur!! As we have sorted ourselves out in this glorious, Edelweiss town filled with adventurous types this has been all too obvious.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

It´s the End of the World...

I mentioned today to Liz, as we paddled symbolically on a stony beach opposite Ushuaia´s harbour, that something ´wasn´t the end of the world´.  And then I realised, actually it is.  We are here.  You can´t go any further South without taking to the southern oceans and heading for Antarctica.  And yet, looking at the last couple of days, it´s about as unbleak as you can get.  Until the clouds rolled over the snow capped peaks that form the backdrop to surely one of the world´s most stunning city locations, we hadn´t seen a cloud in two days since leaving Rio Gallegos.  Whilst I worked this morning on extricating our bikes from by now two rather tatty cardboard bike boxes, it was properly hot.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The wheels on the bus...

went round and round for many hours! We have so far completed 34, sixty minute stretches of glam 'Andesmar' bus transportation in order to get to the biking start line. On Tuesday we will add another 12. And boy is it glam. On the first journey we were able to lie back completely flat, on the second almost the whole way and it was all really very comfy. (Additional space was made for the unnecessarily tall Mr Philip Bingham with the cunning use of bike panniers behind his head). This outstanding luxury was supplemented by regular feedings and onboard DVD entertainment.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Heading South

[Phil] I'm writing this as we sit in comfort in the 'Coche Cama' section of a bus heading through sunny Patagonia to Rio Gallegos; team policy is not to slum it too much yet. I cannot recall a corner or a tree since we left the outskirts of Trelew a couple of hours ago, nor can I see that changing for some time. Extending out to the horizon on both sides is an endless expanse of nothing. Barren, dry scrub land, dotted uniformly with a carpet of only the hardiest scrubby shrubs and tufty grass. Nothing can be bothered to grow above waist high. But there is wildlife. I just spotted a couple of nandus – emu like rhea birds which stand about 4ft high and trot around minding their own business in these parts.

Friday, 12 February 2010

'It looks a bit like Glasgow...'

After hours of dead to the world sleep on the plane, this was my less than profound assessment of Sao Paulo as it hoved into view en route to Buenos Aires. I blame the chronic lack of rest in the build up to leaving for my mental barrenness! Seconds later the plane turned and I realised that the city scape of tower blocks and housing was nestling amongst improbably large, dark green lush hills and I got my first taste of South America.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Off we go...

We are currently sitting in the Heathrow Terminal 5 business lounge, enjoying the last vestiges of Northern Hemisphere hospitality, after a comically, idiotically frantic last few days of preparation.  It was always going to be like this, but neither of us had quite envisaged that we would be facing an overnight flight with Liz having slept the grand total of 10 minutes (on the Metropolitan Line) since Monday night.  Indeed, with the taxi gunning the engine outside, poor Liz came out with the immortal line, 'Ah, shoes - I don't have any shoes to put on'.  At that point we realised: we are weary.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Martin the Bicycle

Several people have asked whether our bikes will have names. The answer is yes. Liz's steed is yet to be christened officially (watch this space), but mine will go by the name of Martin. This is for two reasons: first, rather grandly, after José de San Martín, national hero of Argentina, an 18th-century general and the main leader of the southern part of South America's struggle for independence from Spain. But more importantly - and more relevantly - it is in honour of Martin the Donkey.

Monday, 25 January 2010

'Are you two police officers?'

There have been a number of novel experiences over the last few weeks but being mistaken for a law enforcer by a jaw gaped young man, out in his kayak on the grand union canal, was one of the surrealer. Phil and I braved the wilds of west London on Saturday and tested our 'kit'. It would seem that the overall effect of ten tons of merino wool, high performance 'stealth wicking' stuff and sleek pannier attachments is to make us look as if we're just patrolling the beat...hey ho. The good residents of South America are in for a treat.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Depleting London's expedition stocks

Two weeks into January, and Liz and I are getting a definite sense that we are nearing D-day.  It's now less than 3 weeks till we fly to Argentina.  We have been having to divide and rule with the task list, as Liz is still working (snow permitting...).  I have been spending the days getting really stuck in to buying up most of London's cycling and outdoor kit.  We always knew this would be The Expensive Bit, but wow.  The lesson to learn is that it hurts less to make one big outlay than several really quite big ones!

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year's Day...

It's New Year's Day, and Phil and Liz have just over a month until they disappear off on a bit of a bike ride.  This is Phil testing whether he has the remotest clue as to how to post a blog.  January's going to be a busy one... here goes!