Monday, 28 February 2011

For Hugh grant in love actually its airports, for me its services stations, ok there's no love, but they all have food, cold drinks and they are always open. Most have cafes or seating areas, I enjoy sitting and watching the people come and go. It’s always a welcome sight to see a service station.

Or it was, I had a slight tiny problem, I ran out of money I had about £1.70 left I hadn't been to a town big enough to have a cash dispenser (I can't draw cash out over the counter like an Argentinian can, only big towns have cash dispensers) I do have a backup 50 American dollars which I am sure someone will take.

I had been camping for 6 nights in a row, the ground is dust that gets on everything, and I’m filthy when I put sun cream on with the dirt on my skin it just turns into a paste. I was looking forward to a hotel room and a shower.

I only have two patches left out of the twenty I bought out. All three spare tubes have punchers as well; I am going to need to find a bike shop very soon.

I stopped at a service station there wasn't really anything I could buy but hot water I had a couple of coffees standing there cursing myself for being so stupid, I should have checked I could get money out. The next big town was just over 100 miles away I still had some fuel and some dried pasta. A big day and I would reach the town or worst case be there next morning, I would go hungry but it was possible to do. I set off.

If you go to any internet forum or read books on cycling in Patagonia, they all ways go on about the wind, its strong, you have to lean into it and suddenly it will drop just as you stop leaning it comes back and pushes you of the edge of the road because there was an 1" or so drop I couldn't bump back up it without risking breaking a spoke so I would have to stop and get back on the road slowly. This happened hundreds of times and was so frustrating. At lunchtime I cooked some pasta it wasn't very nice but I had to eat something. It started raining with the wind it got very cold I had most of my winter gear on but was still shivering at 6 o'clock I had only done about 50miles but I was so cold, wet and tired I knew I needed to stop, pitching my tent in that wind with numb hands was so slow and frustrating. The next day I got up and got on again the wind was fierce and I was climbing I hadn't eaten, I needed to reach the town by the evening, it was painfully slow going it was still wet and cold as I stopped by the side of the road behind a pile of earth out of the wind I noticed my breath was condensing it was cold, how I thought? A week ago it was mid-thirties it can't get that cold that quick. The Garmin said I was 2500 ft. above sea level I knew at my current pace I would never make the town by nightfall I was going to try though. With about an hour of usable daylight I had 26 kilometres to go, I couldn't do it. Oh well I'm not far out now one more night in the tent. I was suddenly treated to 12k of descending it was fantastic the views were immense; I didn't take a single picture my hands had been numb for so long I couldn't open the pannier to get the camera out. On the way down I saw a cyclist loaded up going the other way I stopped and we chatted he was from Argentina he was on his way back from the south, he was in full winter gear, his lips where all chapped and he had more stuff than me. He asked where the next supply point was I told him he had almost 100 km, I offered him the last of my water he declined "I'm always running out" he said "I just stand in the road and stop cars, they always let me have water" suddenly I didn't feel too bad about running out. After about 20min I pushed on, no way I could make town tonight. It was also hard to find somewhere to camp as it was outskirts of an industrial city. I saw a sign for camping, I got there pitched tent I was just 6 miles away from town. I fell asleep quickly looking forward to eating something the next day.

In the morning I got up about 8, packed up and set off. As I got into the town it was about 10 I was starving I saw a sign for a cash dispenser I went and drew out 1000 dollars next to me was a big building I could see a cafe type place and a sign for sandwiches I went straight over some school kids were differing about so I rudely pushed passed them 'sorry I have to eat' was all I could say. The woman serving looked confused I get that a lot people don't expect to see someone in cycling gear covered in mud. I ordered 3 ham and cheese rolls and a family pack of biscuits and went and sat down for 15min all I did was eat. After a while I looked around the place was full of school kids "hmm must be a school nearby I thought" it took about 5 more minutes before, I guess sugar to get into my blood and me to realise I had just walked straight into a secondary school and was sitting in the canteen. Oops well I wasn't hungry anymore.

I spent the next two days in Comodoro Rivadavia, it had warmed up again the sun was shining I spent a bit of time thinking, I realised I had to change what I was doing I need to cook more and plan better. I am going to be doing this for a long time.

Today I set off again, I'm keen to get back on the road. I was nice to have a break but I don't like being still for too long.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Photos on Facebook

I have uploaded some photos to Facebook and made it a viewable to everybody, please feel free to have a look.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What a difference a day makes,

What a difference a day makes,

After my tough couple of days I decided a full days rest off the bike was needed, I booked into a hotel in San Antonio Oeste. It’s a small town and I enjoyed just sitting in cafes drinking coffee and watching the world go by, I had a nice lunch and went to the supermarket my first though was, how many complaints would Tesco get if they played music this loud? I enjoyed walking round the supermarket and just seeing the differences, I got a few supplies and a wooden spoon. On the way back to the hotel I spotted a bike shop I couldn't believe I had missed it earlier, that night I went through my kit again (by the way I will do another kit list of what stayed on my next rest day). I couldn't bring myself to get rid of my chain set I'm going to need it at some point. I decided my fleece liner would go it only cost £20 and I could get another one shipped out. The next morning I went to the bike shop and got a full service on my gears and everything oiled up, I then got 12 litres of water, I wasn't going to run out, the wheels might collapse but I wasn't going to run out of water. I chomped through the miles and camped just before Sierra Grande, the next day the scenery changed it was rolling ground and hills it was stunning. It was great to be climbing again buoyed on by this I stormed down to Puerto Madryn. I had two punchers today that's 4 in total now, it’s the plants every single one has spikes.

On the way down at about 2pm I saw a restaurant by the side of the road I wasn't sure if it was open I decided to go and have a look, to say the building needed decorating would be kind it looked like it was about to fall down. I went in, there were quite a lot of people in their eating I went and took a seat at the window so I could keep an eye on my bike. An old man stooped over, shuffled up to the table, I asked for a menu in Spanish, he gave me a blank look I resorted to signs I pointed to the people next to me eating and motioned I wanted the same. He understood I had ordered something, he cleared up two tables were people had left both had half full dishes of bread he emptied one into the other and placed it on my table. I was guessing he didn't have a certificate of hygiene hanging in the kitchen. This was a real Argentinian working man’s place to eat. After a while he put an empty plate on my table and shuffled off and came back with a pot I had seen him with before. It dawned on me there was no choice you had one dish, he piled my plate with a mixture of pasta, beef and a few vegetables. I tucked in I couldn't manage it all and paid the pricey sum of £2 for it, as I walked outside I smiled for I knew for certain my leftovers would have gone straight back into that pot.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Suffering and the kindness of strangers,

Suffering and the kindness of strangers,

The last few days have been tough, I knew it would get tough, I had no idea it would be so soon. It started on my way to viedma I stopped for the night in a small town the next morning It was dead I had nowhere to get any water oh well I still had 1/2 a litre something would come up soon. Nothing came up for miles I was really dehydrated that when I finally got to a shop when I took a swig of water I was just sick straight away I lay in the shade outside sipping water till I had the strength to carry on.

I got to Videma and got a hotel room I splashed out and got one with air con I needed to recover, I drank plenty of water and had a nice meal. The next morning I set off two guys in pickup trucks asked if I wanted a lift I politely declined I wanted to cycle this, a couple stopped and gave me some bananas they also gave me there address and insisted I stay with them when I get further south (they are on holiday in the north). By lunchtime I was starting to feel awful again my water had heated up and made me gag as I drank it I realised I hadn't fully recovered from the previous day and here I was back in the heat with no shade, still I had no option to push on. At about 6pm I was really suffering I had only done about 50 miles the headwind and exhaustion had broken me, I turned off to go and find a town 12k off route 3 after about an hour nothing the garmin told me I had gone past it but there was nothing there, I hadn't had a mobile signal for hours or I would have given someone at home my lat and long and got them to look on google earth for me I saw a turning with what looked to be some buildings in the distance I was in luck it was a farm there was a guy outside 'excuse me sir may I have some water' I shouted "si" he filled my bottles up from a stand pipe, I eyed the water tower there was no way he could be on mains out here. So far on this trip I had only drunk bottled water of sod it I thought time to stop being such a wuss, these people are alive, so I just drank straight out of the bottle when he handed it back to me. I rode just out of sight of the buildings and pitched my tent between some bushes it took forever the surface was about 1" of dust with what felt like concrete underneath, I searched for ages for a rock to knock the tent pegs in but couldn't find anything bigger than a pebble. I fell into my tent only to scream as some spiky plant dug straight into my back I stamped it flat with my shoe lay back to rest for a few minutes, when I opened my eyes it was the next morning. I got up eager to find this town before it got to hot, I rode around for about an hour there was nothing, other than the farm I hadn't seen anyone since I had turned off I decided to get back on route 3 at least that had people going past in case something happened. I could see from the garmin and the compass that the track I was on was heading back to route 3 I wasn't far away when cruelly the track came to a dead end just some big concrete pipe sticking out of the ground in the distance I saw a bus I was about a mile away, I threw my panniers over the fence there was no way I was going back. It took me about an hour I couldn't cycle the dust was to deep the spiky plants had scratched my legs to pieces, I had long finished my water by now. When I eventually got on to the main road I realised I was going to have to ask for help, a camper van went past slowly I grabbed my water bottle and waved it in the air the van pulled over two young guys they gave me 2litres of frozen water I couldn't believe it, I wish I could have thanked them better. The ice was melting so tantalising slow even In the heat, I was going to cut the top open and smash the ice so it would melt quicker, I decided against it at least this way it would stop me drinking it all to soon. I was about to strap it to my bike when I suddenly thought off the tour de france riders and stuck it down my shirt against my back every kilometre mark I would talk it out and have a mouthful. 3 or 4 times I pulled over and made myself as small as I could in the shade of my bike unable to carry on in the heat I would stay like that for 1/2 an hour or more when I stood up I felt dizzy and it was an effort to get the bike going again. The strange thing was, there were small storm cells floating about, 3 times it rained on me I kept my collapsible sink in my jersey pocket and every time it rained (only for about 60 seconds then everything would be dry again) I would get it out and collect as much rain water as I could it was hardly anything I would just slurp it out of the bottom and off the plastic bag on the back off my bike.

With 45 kilometres to go to San Antonio I saw a farm about a mile away I decided to go and ask for water, I cycled to the gate then took my bottles in I was greeted by 5 scruffy looking dogs who jumped around barking, a guy came out of a building to see what was going on I explained I was cycling and may I have some water, he pumped 5 litres of water out of the well for me it was brown and tasted of mud I thanked him and I had drunk 1 1/2 litres by the time I had got back to the bike. By the time I got back to the main road I was starting to feel better, I had something to eat drank some more, put in my ipod and set of a different person than one I had been 20 minutes before, my strength was back and spirits were high again, I powered into san antonio drinking brown water like it was champagne.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

My headwind is somebody's tailwind,

My headwind is somebody's tailwind,

I stayed in a campsite at a lagoon last night it was good to have a bit of human interaction. I was immediately surrounded by people and bombarded with questions,
"Where are you from"
"Where are you going"
"Why are you cycling"
"Do you have a job"
"How old are you"
"Are you married"

I got my main map of south America out to show them my route, an old guy poked me in the ribs and then pointed to the Falklands, oh god here we go I thought. So I pointed out Maradonna hand of god - Falklands = it’s a fair trade. After I had shown the guys everything electrical and I had and let all the women kiss me on the cheek I was left in peace. I set up the tent and went for a walk about, a young guy came up to me and asked if I was the cycling guy I said yes he said ahh come and join us for a drink he was with two Americans, a South African and an Irish guy. They had come out to fix a gas turbine but where waiting for parts so they were passing the time at the lagoon wind surfing and having a bbq. It was great to be able to chat normally for a while it had been 10 days since I had had a proper conversation. It was Saturday night and the music went on till 5am, the South American version of Chas and Dave doing a song to the tune of jingle bells began to grate after a while.

Today I came across the first cyclist like me, an Italian guy who had a big grin on his face my terrible head wind was a stonking tail wind for him, we had set off at the same time that morning he had done 60 miles to my 30. He had started in Chile about three months ago and was coming to the end of his trip he had been right to the south the same route I will do but the other way. He warned me about the winds in Patagonia '100kph and change direction all the time they blow you all over the road be very careful'. I directed him to the campsite I had stayed at, I knew they would keep telling him about the 'English guy'.

At the petrol stations they normally have vending machines that dispense hot water, 50 cents gets you a litre, I figured it was cheaper to make a cup of coffee using this than setting up the stove and boiling the water, so I put some coffee in my cup and then put my money in and hit the button when my cup was full I let go off the button but it seems when press it you get it all even if you don't want it, I quickly walked away leaving boiling water pouring down the front of the machine and stood by my bike pretending to fiddle with stuff as I quickly drank my coffee.

The facilities over here take a bit of getting used to, a squat for a toilet with a bucket of water for a flush or just a hole in the ground. Showers with no hot water! Mind you, it’s still better than France!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Week 1 - the first step is the hardest,

Week 1 - the first step is the hardest,

It’s been one week since I assembled my bike and set off. I have covered 545 miles so far, I have found it hard going I think going from the middle of an English winter hasn't helped I found some factor 65 sun cream which has been great, my bottom lip is all cracked from the sun and dehydration. I went into a shop today there was an attractive girl serving I smiled and my bottom lip just split open and blood started pouring out down my chin.

The shops remind me of the 1980s 1 pound goes a long way and there isn't a huge amount of choice. I have still managed to go over budget in my first week but I think that will improve as I know what I am doing now. I am drinking about 8 litres of water a day and it’s expensive to buy bottled but seeing it is readily available I thought it best to save my purification tablets and water filter.

The people have all been very friendly whenever I stop someone will ask where I am going. Well I think that's what they are asking, it could just abuse I have no idea.

My routines are slowly starting to take shape, I still have to fine tune my panniers and lose a few more bits when that has happened I will do another kit list of everything that stayed.

Today it’s a long slog down route 3 I am pretty much on this road now for 1500 odd miles other than when I go to towns or to look at things.

Time to finish my coffee and get some miles in.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

It's all about the bike

It's all about the bike,

For the first time I am beginning to wonder if the bike will make it. I have ridden for about 50 miles in total down dirt track the rear skewer has come loose, the front rack is starting to fail and the rear brake squeaks constantly. If the bike wasn't loaded it would be fine I have tried to shave some more weight off, a few clothes and few bike tools have been ditched but I think I will need to lose more. I haven't seen any bike shops yet so I will hang on to all the spares.

Yesterday I reached Mal del Plata, it was early and I didn't want stay there so I had a quick look at the map and saw there is a coast road which goes through Miramar it was a bit out of my way but I fancied a change. I'm glad I did it was a beautiful morning I had the Atlantic to my left and rolling ground. It was a good change from the vast flat grazing land and dead straight roads. On the way out of Boulevard Atlántico I stopped to check the map and a car drew alongside me a woman lent out of the window and said something in Spanish. I apologised and said I didn't understand I don't speak Spanish she looked at me and went "ahhh English" the car pulled forward about two foot so the rear window was level with me it was darkened so I couldn't see in, it slowly slid down to reveal a little old lady "good morning....have you heard about the drinks that give you energy?"

A little confused to what she meant I said no. "These drinks are amazing they give you energy so you can go on and on....... it’s amazing it gives you energy" and then the car pulled off leaving me scratching my head wondering what it was all about. Maybe they got round the corner and all started roaring with laughter, she never said what the drink was.

Later on I was back inland again I started to look for somewhere to sleep before I got to the town, once again it was dead flat as far as the eye could see when suddenly I realised there are no hedges I hadn't seen a proper hedge since I arrived. I rode for ages down a dirt track by now I was so tired I had ridden almost 100 miles and a lot of it was off road. In the end I realised I couldn't go on so I just pulled over took the panniers of the bike and threw them over the fence and then the bike and pitched in a sunflower field I was in view I didn't care I just had to sleep. I was just going have some faith in the human race and if that doesn't work ill stab them with my Gerber.

The next day I got up early and was ready to go but realised I need a rest, I'm not trying to go as fast as I can I'm here to see things so I cycled to Necochea booked into a hotel and spent the rest of the day exploring, on the hotel form it said occupation so I put powered egg salesman.

It was good to have a rest, the reason it’s so hard going is I have to keep slowing almost to a stop for bumps, holes etc and then get back to speed again also you have to have your wits about you with south American drivers.

Something I learnt today I noticed a lot of cars with a plastic bottle on either the roof or bonnet I couldn't work out what it was about. It turns out it means they are for sale.

Tomorrow I will be back on the road and back in the tent.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Headwinds, a cyclists worst nightmare.

Headwinds, a cyclists worst nightmare.

I set off to a beautiful morning and managed to knock out a quick 60 odd miles (my speedo was the only thing that didn't make the flight the mounting part has snapped, it can be fixed with glue when I find some) using the distances between places/time on bike I can guess my distance. At about 1pm I spotted a nice looking cafe/restaurant and decided to get some lunch I managed to ask for a menu and a coke, (I won't ask for coke again its really expensive out here). Not being used to the prices I thought because it was so cheap I would only get a small portions so I ordered 2 burgers and chips, it would turn out I actually ordered 3 main courses. Still my appetite had kicked back in so I set about eating all 3 dishes, I did it all apart from half a burger and that was only because the bread is horrible its the same stuff that is used in England for those long life hotdog rolls.

Back on the road I was feeling good for doing a century when the headwind picked up, it killed my speed I was doing about 6mph, to go faster just wasn't possible. I got to a town general guido about 5.30pm due to my slow speed I decided not to push on and find somewhere to sleep the countryside has flattened out and as far as I could see there was nothing I could hide behind, eventually the road ran along side a dried river bed which dropped just enough that no one can see me. I just hope its not connected to some sort of sluice gate that they will open in the middle of the night. Strangely I feel safer in my tent than I did in the hotel last night, I thought it would be the other way round.

My body is covered in dry salt and dust so I have to be careful when rubbing my face or its like using sandpaper. I am absolutely filthy far worse than I ever got in Europe doing the same thing.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The first few days.

The first few days.

The flight was long and uneventful, eating a ba English breakfast while flying over brazil with an amazing sunrise was probably the only highlight.

I stood in the visa queue when it was my turn the woman didn't speak any English and wouldn't wait as I tried to ask if it was for 3 months she just stamped it and handed it back, so I gave up and went to find my bike. First thing I saw in baggage was my chain reaction cycles box I was so relieved I went over and gave it a hug (It went on last as oversize luggage so there was a chance it wouldn't make it). The first thing that hit me was the smoking ban most definitely hasn't made it over here yet, then the heat 35 degrees I was sweating buckets as I put my bike together, I ended up with a small audience who kept taking it in turns to ask where I was going, they couldn't believe someone would cycle to Tierra del fuego, I couldn't explain that was just the first bit, they wouldn't have believed me. Once I got the bike assembled I cycled to the exit and got directed straight onto the motorway by the police it seems everybody uses the motorway, tractors, cyclists and horse riders. The hard shoulder has speed bumps on it I'm sure that's otherwise it would just get used as another lane. It’s a very poor road surface and they have some huge potholes, it’s very tough on the bike.

I spent the first night hidden from view on the edge of an industrial estate. I fell asleep all most straight away. Tonight I am in a truckstop\somewhere to take a girl type place, if I hadn't of paid for the room before I saw it I would have carried on. Because of the heat I haven't eaten much, all I am doing at the moment is drinking water. 1 cheese and ham roll in 36 hours I have plenty of food with me but just can't face it.

That's it for now going to push on tomorrow and head for Mar del Plata.