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.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ushuaia - the end of the world, the beginning of everything,

Ushuaia - the end of the world, the beginning of everything,
it’s a must for cyclists, the place they call the end of the world. There are no roads on the planet that go any further south. On the way there I met 2 French girls who had set off cycling to Peru, I asked them what about the slums? We might take a bus for that bit they said. We said goodbye and I continued in the other direction. It was a hard ride after weeks of gentle rolling land, full on mountain passes were making my legs feel like lead. I was beginning to think I wasn't going to make it when suddenly I descended for ages down to sea level, I had arrived.
I didn't know what to expect, after hours of riding through mountains some with snow on I was a little disappointed to see an industrial looking place. I stopped and asked a guy where the centre was, he turned out to be an American who had just come to the end of his four month trip," I fly out of here tomorrow, I can't believe it’s over" he said, he was in his own little world, I left him to it and wondered how I will feel when it comes to the end.
I got a hotel, I hate hostels I would rather pay a little more a have a hotel room or sleep in my tent. I went down to the restaurant and ordered a beer, then a meal and a bottle of wine. At the end I got another bottle and took it to my room. This is how I relax; I was going to get pissed. The next morning I got up early and headed down to breakfast, incredibly even after all that booze I was early for breakfast it opened at 7.30 I chatted to the guy on reception as I waited for it to open. I told him I was going to take a boat trip the next day; I had shopping to do today. "No do the boat trip today, the weather here changes so fast. You have a good day today, use the weather" he explained. After breakfast I thought he has got a point I will buy some warmer clothes later. I put all my cycling tops on and headed off. The trip was ok; if I'm honest I got really cold and a bit bored.
I got back and started exploring the town, apart from the fact everybody was wearing gortex I could have been in Europe, with European prices to match. I figured I’ll get warmer clothes on route but what I must get are decent waterproofs mine just didn't work. £150 later I had new waterproofs and waterproof skiing gloves.
I went to the kiosk near the hotel and bought 5, 1 litre bottles of beer, like I said before this is how I relax. On the third night, 6 cans and a 1 litre carton of red wine I then staggered down to reception and got another bottle. I had so many empties I didn't know what to do, I had been hiding them in the wardrobe when I was pissed so the chamber maid didn't see them now I had loads. I was tempted just to leave them so the next person would be confused to why the wardrobe was full of empty bottles and cans. In the end I put them in the bags my shopping came in and strolled down the road and chucked them in a skip.
Before I knew it I was back on the bike, three days had flown past. I put my new waterproofs on it was raining, it doesn't matter how much you spend after 8 hours of pouring rain you are going to get soaked. I was feeling miserable, hard riding, wet and I had to pitch a tent in the rain. The days off had made me lose my mind-set. I needed to refocus on what I am doing here, toughen up a little and get back into the groove. Who knows I might even catch up with those French girls!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Rio Grande and little victories,

Rio Grande and little victories,

Sleeping in the tent is uncomfortable at the moment I wake a lot during the night needing to move my legs I have what feels like very faint cramp, this is a pain in a sleeping bag as I have to unzip it and move around, fall asleep, wake up cold and then get back in. I am wearing a jacket now almost all the time the days are still sunny but the wind is cold.

I booked into a small hotel in between two towns, originally I was just going to get supplies and camp in the dessert. When I got in out of the wind I thought sod it I'm going to stay. On the form you have to fill in under occupation I put 'bird of prey hair stylist'. The form wanted to know if I was single or married. Why they need to know this for a hotel room I don't know. The room was basic but nice, the taps said 'hot' and 'cold' on them, it took me a while to figure out they had been plumbed up the other way round. I asked the owner where I could put my bike and he said 'put it in your room' this meant wheeling it through the restaurant it was tight and we had to keep moving chairs and tables. I folded my map over for the last time I am on the last section, I have also worked out my winter kit is not going to be warm enough for the Andies as it will turn into winter as I climb them. I will buy some new kit in Ushaia.

I managed a good day from the hotel to rio galegous the rest had done me good as I entered I stopped at a service station and got a drink and packet of biscuits and wondered what to do I had been given an address by the couple that gave me the bananas but I thought it would be a bit rude to turn up out of the blue on a Friday night plus all I had was an address the place was a small city, I chuckled as I cycled passed the massive bus depot advertising a 36 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires was that all?

I cycled down the streets and was looking ahead when someone waved to me I waved back and was still looking down the street thinking I'm going out of town I need to go back. I turned round and was met by Juan Carlos on a bike he said follow me, I had cycled passed Geraldine and Juan Carlos (the people who gave me the bananas and there address) they had waved but I had cycled straight pass, I felt a bit silly for not stopping. I wasn't expecting to see them it was like bumping into someone in Newcastle. As Geraldine said 'it must be destiny' I soon had my map spread out and was showing them my route, Geraldine told me about a Argentinian cyclist (Damian) who had been in the paper that day who had been on the road for four years and was on his way back home he was in town and her husband Juan Carlos was joining in with a group cycling with him the next day. She very kindly took me to a bike shop and I asked for some new tyres, they didn't have any they gave Geraldine a phone number when we got back she phoned it and then told me Damien the cyclist was going to come over to see me, I was touched it was so nice of her. Damian is tanned, good looking and speaks perfect English we went through my route and he told me the best route to go (not the easiest, but the best route) he also warned me against Lima in Peru to many cyclists had been robbed in the slums going into the city. "Your white there going to think you're a gringo, they will rob you" I had been lulled into a false sense of security with Argentina it was safe. "You need to be sharp or you will get robbed or worse" Damian told me. I had dinner with the family which was great and went to bed thinking about what Damian had said. Please check out his website,

The next morning Geraldine had put a magnificent spread out for breakfast, she warned me it was a 4 day bank holiday in Argentina (sat to tue) and that there was a four hour wait in the border crossing to Chile. I said my goodbyes and set off.

I reached the crossing late afternoon parked my bike and joined the quad it was over an hour before I got my passport stamped that wasn't too bad I thought as I cycled off only to be see another checkpoint I went through it all again to get into Chile. Chile has something I had never encountered before cheerful border guards I went through my route with them and chatted it was nice to be welcomed into a country with a smile. I noticed a coach driver with a stack of passports he idly looked through a few while queuing, rather like a fat Jason Bourne choosing a new passport I thought ad I collected my bike. Once again I was searched for fresh fruit and then I was off.

The road soon disappeared and I was cycling on gravel it was hard going and the bike and me was getting shaken to bits. I stopped at a truck stop and had a sandwich while I was having a coffee a load of Brazilians on motorbikes turned up they were in the middle of their tour I posed for pictures and one of the guys said "one day I'm going to be like you and go on a great adventure".

After a while I came across some workmen putting more gravel down, they were keen to stop and chat to me. They insisted I had something to eat and drink with them it was great we talked the international language of football!

By the time I reached the boarder i was tired I stopped and asked an old Chilean guy if there was camping nearby. He motioned me to follow him and let me pitch my tent in his back garden behind his shed out of the wind. I am looking forward to going back to Chile.

I cycled on to Rio Grande and stopped in the town centre after the 8th cash dispenser I realised they were all out of money a 4 day bank holiday and low denomination notes had left them empty. It’s not just staplehurst that runs out I thought, beginning to panic a little. I had passed a casino with a hotel in it I knew they would take cards it looked very posh (and out of place) I wasn't sure what to do. Ahhh I might as well ask how much the rooms are I thought. As I went in, please bear in mind this place is posh and I haven't washed for four days, I saw a cash dispenser tucked round the corner I quickly went over and popped my card in. A security guard shouted, it was not for rif raf to use, to late I had got my money. He angrily escorted me off the premises, I was tempted to march up to the hotel reception plonk my visa card down and order a room in my poshest voice. When I got outside I chuckled and realised that's what this trip is going to be about, 'little victories' and I am going to take them where I can.