Thursday, 13 October 2011

Mendoza to Los Andes,

After a week relaxing at a campsite after my little mountain adventure I was keen to get going again. The bike shop was unable to fix my bike and I had finally met the mad Spaniard I had kept hearing about. The campsite was huge and he pitched his tent next to mine and then refused to speak to me!?! On the way back from the shower I narrowed my eyes at him and scowled he quickly turned away, not quick enough I caught the smile on his face.

I set off with a heavy heart Argentina had been good fun and it would be a while till I would be back. I spent the last of my money in a small shop on some biscuits and set off with a few pence (I would draw money out in Chile; I had plenty of food and water on the bike). I soon noticed the amount of traffic; this was the main pass between Argentina and Chile. A small valley meant that only a narrow road could be built. I was constantly having to pull over because of the lorries it was sure there where more than normal but I put it down to the road being narrow. The worst bit was the small tunnels I would peddle as fast as I could to try and get out before I got squashed. Soon I was riding through snow and where the valley opened out a bit there where ski slopes, people would stop and look at me. It became clear as well that I wasn't going to be able to find anywhere to camp, I didn't have anything to clear the snow away and I didn't know where the river was (last thing I wanted to do was step in it by accident). I came across a ski lodge and I went and asked for a room, luckily they had one but I had to pay full ski season rate for it. I was chatting to the guy and said a lot of lorries on the road, he told me as it’s the main pass 4000 a day come through. It was strange to see people walking around dressed for skiing, it hadn't really sunk in that I had cycled so far.

The next morning I had a headwind and I was climbing again soon I was really feeling the altitude. I had to start pushing as there was snow on the road, all the cars had snow chains on. My tyres were just slipping all over the place. A couple of people stopped and offered me a lift but I declined there was no way after all I had been through I was going to accept a lift now. When I got to the highest point it’s a tunnel, it’s a few kilometres long and has a toll booth and police. They told me cycling was strictly forbidden as it was too dangerous with it being so narrow and the lorries. I had to put my bike on the shuttle van and be driven through. I was sad I had lost my tyre track but I there wasn't anything I could do. The van driver was a Chilean who drove about a foot away from the car in front half way through the tunnel you enter Chile the van driver pointed it out and flashed his lights and started beeping his horn to make the point. The driver in front must have panicked and braked just cause us to very nearly tail end him.

The other side of the tunnel was the customs point, this was a combined Argentina and Chile, normally I go through one and then the other. I went in got the argentine desk and got given a form I filled it out and then went to the Chilean desk asked if it was ok and the just went si and stamped me into Chile and took my Argentina visa. Unfortunately I had missed a stage I was stamped into Chile but technically I was still in Argentina, I explained to the guy from Argentina what had happened I had to go into an office were the manager gave me a temporary visa to exit Chile, the guy from Argentina stamped my passport and then I gave the visa back, it was totally ridiculous.
After I had had my bike searched for fruit I was back on the road in Chile, it was all downhill. The road was hairpin bend after hairpin bend the edge of the road had no barrier and was just shear drop for thousands of feet. In some places the road was even crumbling at the edge, with the snow and all the lorries it was terrifying. Soon the snow gave way to green and before long I was starting to feel warm. Soon I was riding past lemon trees, I could see olive groves. The change was incredibly quick. The next day I was in shorts and tee shirt, I was flying along, I thought to myself an early start tomorrow and I could possibly do a 100 mile day. That's something I had not thought for a very long time.

Monday, 4 July 2011

7 days in Tibet,

I had an enjoyable run to Mendoza it was nice to see such a change in scenery, I was now traveling through vineyards. Finding campsites was impossible they are all shut and it's a bit more tricky to hide up. I had pitched in a field when two lady's walked passed they just said good evening and ignored me. The ride into Mendoza was slow it was busy and typical city riding. I got to the center, abstained from getting either a hotel or Mac Donald’s truth is I didn't want to leave my bike outside. This was the same for the bank, Ahh sod it I though there is a campsite listed 6km northwest go and pitch there and then come back later. By the time I found the campsite it was getting late, it had also closed down ages ago, I was in a bit of a bad mood by now I had a rear tire that was slowly deflating but I didn't want to change it so I had to keep pumping it up. I had a look at my map and guide book I could go back into Mendoza and pick up route 7 (motorway, everyone rides down the hard shoulder in fact I passed a woman pushing a pram down the hard shoulder) or take the high mountain pass to the north, this looked more fun it was full of natural springs and some thermal ones said the guide book plus it’s the area where they filmed most of '7 years in Tibet', It’s got to be I thought.

On the way i kept stopping at small shops to get some water none had any bottles and they refused to fill my bottles instead trying to sell me coke, I refused and just carried on I had a small amount of water and would find some from somewhere. As it was late I got about 20 km north and found somewhere to camp the next morning it wasn't as cold as normal I had dropped considerably into Mendoza. I set off without breakfast I hadn't had dinner the night before either but I was confident something would come up, soon I was climbing I came across a park rangers office and filled up with 2 and a half liters of water plus as much as I could drink as I filled them I was now in a national park camping and fires was strictly prohibited, I thought I'll just get out of sight of here and then cook some pasta. I was confident I would reach the town I was heading to that evening. A few miles later just as I was about to stop I came across a restaurant I had 20 pesos (about £3) I asked the lady if I could have a sandwich for that, she did me two massive ham sandwiches I stood outside and stuffed them both down. Back on my way, I was climbing, really climbing hairpin after hairpin I switched the Garmin on I had climbed almost 1000 meters (I was now at about 1800 meters) I didn't stop climbing all day, I was exhausted 2 ham sandwiches in 24 hours and this climbing was killing me I had to push my bike in the steeper parts I was also getting through my water. Don't worry I was thinking I'll summit soon and then it's all downhill. It was at 6 pm at 2890 meters I realized there was no way I could summit, the sun had dropped below the tops of the mountains and the last of my water had frozen solid hours before. The temperature plunges when the light starts to go and it was already well below freezing I knew I had to get my tent up and get in it. The big problem was where? It was just sheer drops and cliff faces soon I came to a small area that had been carved by a river in years gone by I could be seen but at this point I almost wanted to be found by the rangers and taken somewhere warm. I had long ago lost feeling in my fingers even with ski gloves and liners on. It took all my concentration just to open the pannier clips I was getting into trouble, getting that tent up was one of the hardest things I have done on this trip, just hooking a bit of elastic around a tent peg was a huge task. When I finally got in I just got straight into my two sleeping bags fully clothed. I don’t think I got more than a few hours’ sleep and it defiantly goes down as one of the worst nights ever, I have no idea what the temperature dropped to, I was just curled up shivering the whole time.

The next morning was a struggle to get packed up I hadn't fully regained feeling in my fingers, I set off and was immediately struggling I could only push the bike about 10 meters before I was completely out of breath (like I had just sprinted as hard as I could) and I felt sick and kept feeling like I was going to faint. I put it down to lack of food and exhaustion, I was also getting dehydrated as well. It crossed my mind it could be altitude sickness, nah I thought, that's stupid people go skiing higher than this. After hours of struggling I summited at 3000 meters and started the descent it was hard, there were no safety barriers and the road just crumbled at the edges with drops that would kill me if I went over. With frozen hands I made my way down slowly, eventually I got to the town (upsalata). I have no feeling in the tips of my fingers yet even though my hands are warm and two of my toes are really hurting. The sickness has gone, I don't know if the half kilo of biscuits and pasta cured it. I later found out altitude sickness can affect people climbing up to and over 2500 meters in a fast ascent, especially those under stress. Hungry, dehydrated and pushing a 60 kilo bike would tick all the boxes!

I'm going to have a day or two off and stay at the campsite here before I attempt the big pass into Chile. Though I have been warned it can close for weeks at a time in the winter with the snow.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Chasing sunshine

Chasing sunshine,

Its cold at night, the outer zip on my tent has broken so the wind and frost get in. My sleeping bag and foam mat, the self-inflating one got ruined ages ago and binned, are not really up to this so I am going to get a cheap sleeping bag to go in my other sleeping bag. I find I wake up all through the night having strange dreams only to realise I am actually still in my little tent in south America, its one crazy dream straight into another. Yesterday it rained I got soaked the wind made the rain sting, I pitched the tent early the desert floor just became mud that stuck to everything soon everything was covered and I was feeling wet, cold and pretty miserable. The next morning was hard to get packed up and into wet clothes in freezing conditions. I pack up in the dark and get going as soon as there is enough light, today I was lucky there was no wind and soon the sun came up it started to get warm really warm I dried all my stuff out and soon I was down to just shorts, top and arm and leg warmers. I'm hoping I'm far enough north now to catch the odd warm day.

Today I was going to get to a small town according to the map and small it was I almost cycled past it thinking it was a farm; it was a grand total of three buildings. The old petrol pumps caught my eye. It was the first place I had seen in four days. Outside the petrol station/general stores was a man standing in a suit, a dark navy blue suit, double breasted with great big gold buttons and flares. It must have been 30/40 years old this suit. Next to him was a stick, a hat, a small leather satchel and a rolled up duvet. I cycled over and said hello as I went past "where are you from" he asked in very good English, England I said and asked where he was from, Germany. I asked him is that seriously all your stuff for travelling pointing to his four things "yes... but I have too much" he said. He explained he had got rid of everything to achieve total independence and freedom. He had been stuck in this place for days waiting for a lorry or car to take him on his way. I didn't point out that he was now completely dependent on others and as a result had lost his freedom. He may have turned his nose up at all off my possessions, but all I need is some fuel for my stove and food (and maybe a 70s suit, it was pretty cool).

Inside the petrol station/general stores was exactly how you imagine a small store out here to be. (Outside was a bar to tie your horse to, people do still use horses as transport out here, I leant my steed of steel against it). There were shelves with packets of food where some that had been in the sun had faded compared to the rest and tins with spots of rust on. You could buy spares for your saddle and calendars of 2009. I loaded up with food that probably went out of date years ago and got back on my way.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

They Paved Paradise and Put Up A Visitors Centre

They Paved Paradise and Put Up A Visitors Centre

Glacier Perito Moreno,

Note after 3 days in El Calafate my bike is now fixed.

I decided to take a small detour and see the Perito Moreno glacier. By the time I had picked my bike up and loaded up it was 11.30, still it was only 50 miles to the glacier I wasn't worried. I was fighting a headwind, one of the worst since I had been out here, and it took me 4 hours to do 25 miles. I was just crawling along, soon I was in the Andes this helped break the headwind but now I was climbing and descending. It was almost 6pm by the time I arrived I had about 1/2 hour of daylight left, I’ll find somewhere to sleep I thought and see the glacier in the morning. It became apparent I wasn't going to be able to camp, I had been told when I bought my ticket absolutely no camping. I figured I might be able to hide somewhere but there was nowhere, it was either mountain or open and I would be seen. Oh well I thought I’ll have to go to the hotel, this turned out to be closed (it’s now out of season here). I went back to the visitors centre, by now everyone had gone apart from a guy cleaning. I ran through my options, I can't camp, hotel is closed, all the buses have gone and there is no way I can do 50miles back to El Calafate tonight. There was a large sheltered area between the gift shop and cafe I was sheltered by three walls and I had a roof over me. I got in my sleeping bag I was warm it would do.

At about 10pm a ranger found me and asked me what I was doing "waiting for the gift shop to open" I replied. I explained I had nowhere else to go and I was sleeping here unless he let me put my tent up "no camping no no no" he said. I shrugged and pulled the draw cord on my sleeping bag so only my face was looking out. He stood there "but it will get cold" he said, I shrugged again (I would be alright but I was hoping he would let me pitch my tent). He walked off and then came back and said "ok ill open the toilets you can sleep in there". Even better I had shelter, lights and heat!

The next morning I spent ages at the edge of the glacier, the front is 5k wide and 60 metres tall, massive chunks of ice fall off the front with loud cracks and booms as the glacier grows (up to 2 metres a day sometimes). All throughout the night I could hear it.

I was ready to leave and was just having a coffee when a different ranger found me and asked me to leave the park, I couldn't believe it, I was being thrown out. It wasn't my fault, there was just no way I could do 100 miles with a headwind and mountainous climbing in one day. On the way back it was easy the wind was still strong but a tail wind for me now the only downside was it was pouring with rain and I got soaked.

Tomorrow I start heading north again.

Getting back into the swing of things

Getting back into the swing of things,

The part was meant to turn up for my bike on the Thursday before Easter, nothing came and everything closes down at Easter in Chile, the Monday was not a bank holiday so I decided to go and ask at Chile express if there was a parcel for me. I knew UPS had used a third party but I didn't know who it was. "No, no parcel for Robert joy" I was told. I went back to the hostel and sat in my room wondering what to do when there was a knock at the door, it was the mother of the family looking all excited "parcel here" she said "here at the hostel" I replied "no, but here" I wasn't sure what she meant by that so I said" Chile express?”, “yes" she replied. Still didn't make much sense I had just come from there I decided to go back and ask again. This time she produced the missing parcel.

I quickly fitted everything back on to the bike as I was putting it together it became clear the rear derailler was bent. I went to the bike shop he didn't have one which would fit as I walked back I thought there is no way I can spend another week or so here. I borrowed a vice and hammer off the guy who owns the hostel and started to gingerly tap it back to shape it took all of about 2 minutes before I lost my temper and started to hit it as hard as I could. It was a state but I could get three gears it will do I thought.

By now it was 3pm I might as well set off first thing tomorrow I thought (only 3 hours of daylight).I went and had dinner in the cafe and said goodbye to my favourite waitress. The next morning it was raining I didn't care, I was back on the road. By lunchtime my legs were killing, I was just climbing and with only three gears it was taking everything I had. I realised that I hadn't peddled for one month that's the longest break off a bike in years, my knee was starting to hurt from pushing a big gear in the climbs. After 8 hours I could do no more I was exhausted I set up camp and fell asleep. The next morning I shook the ice off my panniers and wiped the frost of my saddle, it was going to be a cold day. I started climbing again and was soon riding through patches of snow, not for the first time I wondered if my kit was up to this. I could only manage a short day my knee was killing me and the cold was getting to me. I was starting to feel ill my legs were shaking and I had no strength, I would have struggled to walk up stairs at that point. I made a large pan of pasta enough for the morning as well and went sleep. It rained heavily during the night but was clear in the morning, then my route turned to dirt track with all the rain the night before it was a sticky mess I was stopping every 100 metres or so and having to dig mud out from between the wheels and frame with a tire lever, in the end I started pushing the bike, without my weight I was actually going quicker, it took me all day to cover 50k and again tonight I'm exhausted.

You may think I'm moaning, I'm not. I'm just telling you how it is, frustratingly slow and hard. But I am so happy to be back on the road even the cold and the problems are better than being stuck. I'm in my little tent right now typing this and there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times,

If you are a keen reader of this blog you might be aware my bike is broken and I am waiting for the part to turn up (a rear mech hanger). This means staying in a hostel (hence the worst of times) with absolutely nothing to do. I've been consuming vast quantities of Chilean wine (hence the best of times). I woke one morning from a vivid dream to find myself fully clothed on the floor, I must have looked like a character from inception. I had spilt red wine everywhere, down my trousers and all over the floor. I washed my trousers and left the floor, I doubted anyone was going to notice with all the dirt and stains already there. The hostel is £6.50 a night; it’s not too bad, I've stayed in worse. After a few days I had to by an air freshener for the room, the wine in the carpet was making an awful smell.

Now here follows the saga that is the missing part,

The part was ordered from chain reaction cycles, they offered a 4 day DHL express delivery for £30, that's not too bad I thought, £30 and I'm on my way. I might as well relax for a few days. On the Friday it was due to be delivered I got a phone call on the hostel landline, the guy didn't speak English, I got the gist it was in Punta Arenas and will be with me by 6pm. I spent the afternoon sitting out the front reading a book, 6pm came and went. Oh well I thought maybe the driver couldn't make it round and it will be here tomorrow. The next day nothing, a few days later I realise it’s not going to turn up, it had been signed for therefore according to DHL I must have it. Chain reaction weren't doing much at their end to find it. Dejected I loaded everything up I was going to start walking, I really wanted to start moving again. The next morning I had a chat with my friend Matthew he convinced me to stay put and got on to the case he got a new part sent to him and made me up a box with some goodies in (new socks, inner tubes etc.) and what a star got a full refund out of chain reaction, thanks mate.

With nothing to do for few days, I tried to find some cheap trainers and shorts so at least I could go running. They all cost more than I was prepared to pay. I normally just go for a walk along the coast and take my stove to cook something for later on. Today I went to my normal cafe for lunch hoping the waitress I like would be serving, she is surly but pretty, she was. I wondered if she noticed I had been wearing the same clothes for five days in a row. Maybe she could smell I had, I am struggling to get stuff dry, it’s not much above freezing and my room is damp. I'm looking forward to getting back into my tent.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

The last cyclist,

The last cyclist,

A Belgian girl told me I was the last cyclist; she was cycling with her boyfriend to Ushuaia. They hadn't seen anyone going the other way for days, I had set off late I was going to experience winter in the Andes. Well I was going to have to experience it at some point! But I liked that term 'the last cyclist'. I was still thinking about it when a dog started running alongside me.

It’s not uncommon to have stray dogs running alongside with you, this one kept it up for about 20/25 miles all I did was look at her and occasionally speak to her, yeah I know I've been on my own for 50 days I'm happy talking to a dog. I arrived at the Chilean border I pointed out to the guard that a stray dog was following me, he just shrugged and motioned me to go on. In Argentina it was different, the guard came out and roared with laughter "ha ha ha HA HA HA Dog follow Dog follow ha ha ha" he even called his mates out to see. I cycled on, I got about 15km up the road when there was a crunch and the rear derailleur came round from the back. The rear hanger had snapped, I stopped and tried to do a fix. I took a spare chain out and tried to make it into a single speed but I couldn't get the chain tight enough, I pushed the bike for a few km. I was running out of daylight so I just found a somewhere out of sight to pitch my tent. I got the stove going my new companion sat a few feet away looking at me. Ok, I know I shouldn't, but I fed her some pasta.

I got In my tent that evening the wind was terrible it was raining as well, I hardly slept, the noise of the tent flapping was too much. In the morning I unzipped the tent to find a soaked shivering dog curled up by the entrance. It wasn't much above freezing, snow in the hills, she licked my hand. Ahh crap I felt bad, but what could do? I packed up and set off, she ran with me. She would run after dark people carriers it didn't take much to figure she had been dumped, how someone could do that I don't know. I sent a picture to my friend Matt, his girlfriend, Liz, named her Dixie.

As I got near to Rio Turbio Dixie ran out into the road to chase a car, there was a big crump as she was hit at about 50mph by a car in the other direction. The car just carried on, I couldn't go back if she was still alive what could I do? Put her out of her misery like Will Smith in I am legend? Nah I couldn't do that. I just went on, it had been 24 hours and she had been fed, she died happy I hoped.

I got to Rio Turbio, a strange town I don't know if the mine is still working but the town is dead even if the mine isn't. It’s mostly closed down businesses, empty buildings and peeling paint. Only one hotel, tried to charge me 300 Argentina dollars I poorly haggled to 250, Eric idle would have shaken his head and said "one born every minute". I went into the supermarket and bought some bottles of Stella, I spent evening chatting to my mate John and drinking a few beers.

The next morning I got up and set off to find a bike shop I walked round the corner and felt a familiar poking of a small nose against my leg. I looked down to see Dixie, limping badly, how she survived and crawled into town I’ll never know. After a while it became apparent that there were no bike shops here, I was going to have to go back to Chile. I stayed in the hotel another night and got up early, no sign of Dixie. I went and had breakfast, came back, and there she was waiting outside. I pushed my bike for 9 and a half hours back to the border. I went across the Argentina border post and as I got to Chile the guard said you can't come into Chile with a dog, “it’s not mine” I said. “Nothing to do with me, It follows you it’s your problem, take it back to Argentina" he said, I tried to explain even if I did that my bike is broken so I couldn't out run the dog. I went back into no man’s land and screamed at Dixie to go away she just put her tail between her legs and cowered down, I felt bad but she couldn't come with me. She stayed long enough for me to walk back and then ran to me just as I was about to go through the guards said try that again and they picked up stones and pieces of wood to throw at her. I went back and did the same again 4 guards stood in a line throwing stones and bits of wood at her. It was the strangest way I have ever entered a country. It didn't work she ran straight into Chile, an Argentinian family who were going the other way back to Argentina agreed to take her and chuck her out of the car the other side of the border I felt bad but what could I do? I hoped they took pity and kept her.

In the end I couldn't get the bit from the bike shop and will have to wait for a new one to arrive from England. That means I will also go back across the border were Dixie was left, I have a funny feeling this might not be over.