Part Fifty One – Into Patagonia

Well it’s certainly an interesting sensation to finally be pedaling through Patagonia. The land is flattening out towards the pampas as I have left the last of the high mountains behind me. Am tempted to think of this as the final leg of the journey but even a cursory glance at the map reveals that there is still quite a way to go before I find myself in Ushuaia (about 3,000km). Still best therefore to keep the minor destinations ‘chunked’ so I don’t get overwhelmed by the distances. A troubling lyric that comes frequently to mind is, ‘the last mile is the hardest mile’ (Smiths).

Yet the country to come will be interesting.  From the city of Zapala, from where I write to you tonight, I will now cruise down through the Lake District of Argentina before crossing back into Chile for a bit of pedaling along the Caraterra Austral and then I cross back into Argentina to continue down towards Tierra Del Fuego. In theory this will take about another five or six weeks.

For some odd reason I decided that it would be a good idea to study early modern literature while I traveled. This was a moment of inspiration that struck, somewhere in Ecuador I think. This now means that I spend a good slice of each day while pedaling through the Argentinian countryside thinking of weird and wonderful new ways to reinterpret the witches in Macbeth. Quite an interesting departure. If all goes according to plan I will qualify for a University of Oxford T-Shirt sometime next year. All very exciting.

Northern Patagonia flat lands

With each day on the road south I am adding to the huge database of fascinating insights and accumulated knowledge from this trip. For example:

– Steven Seagal movies are much better in Spanish

– Never ride through South America with a Rohloff Hub as if they stuff up (eg. a bearing wears out), you are a long way from help. Refer the photo of the bike with its Shimano XT drive train.

– Never attempt to study from distance while you are bicycle traveling. You find yourself in an endless state of worry as to whether you will find a viable internet connection in the towns down the road.

– SPAM and other related meat products are just not very good and over consumption can make you feel quite ill. (definitely not the quality of the Buffy Burger)

– It takes about a year on the road to perfect your camp pasta and sauce. Mine is now verging on the edible.

– The average touring cyclist swerves around approximately 100 cow, horse, yak, llama or bear turds on the side of the road every day. That means that on this trip I have swerved around about 30,000 turds.

New Shimano XT drive


Part Fifty: Mendoza – Central Argentina

‘Part Fifty’ eh?! I must really be doin’ some hard travelin’. Either that or I just keep on writing. When the copy is just this good it is very difficult to stop!

Will be on Route 40 for a good few of these 4,000 kilometres.

Am in the lovely lovely city of Mendoza. Tree lined wide avenues, coffee shops a-plenty (with delicious mini-chocolate-cakes), top quality BBQ grills and lashing upon lashing of tasty red wine. Couldn’t really ask for more. I’m no wine expert but a few months here and you couldn’t help but develop an educated taste (and associated nauseating vocabulary) for the stuff. My own four days here is merely enough time to quaff some “very passable” Malbec to wash down the grilled cow innards and then fall about the place a bit – but there it is.

The Argentinians themselves continue to delight with their cool calm friendly demeanors and sophistication. (Not as sophisticated as your humble bicycle touring correspondent of course but getting right up there).

It is raining. This would not, in and of itself, seem that strange. It is just that there have been so few rainy days on this trip that seeing the rain fall is indeed most strange. I have passed some sort of climactic divide between the arid north and the not-so arid central part of Argentina, and I’m pretty happy about that. I might now be able to somehow rid myself of all of the desert sand and dust from the altiplato of Bolivia and desert of northern Chile that has engrained itself so in my very being and infused itself in every orifice to such an extent that it is difficult to know where it stops and I start.

Being in this part of Argentina affords one the opportunity to engage in one of the great pleasures of traveling. That is, checking out the wondrous beauties of the local cities. I refer, here, of course, to the vast numbers of majestic Renault 12s that populate the streets here.

The Argentinians in this part of the country have a great love for aging European cars (something to do with wanting to be European according to the guide book). The rare and wondrous Fiat 1500 (late 1960s) wagon even made a fleeting appearance. I was not quick enough to get a snap shot of this illusive beastie. The Hillman Imp even made a showing in Mendoza (a car for which only my elder brother could ever have any love or see the scantest slither of merit in). So what of all of the car critics who wrote the hapless Renault 12 off? Well they are now dribbling their yogurt down their bibs or were a chilled worm meal long ago. All the while the mighty Renault 12 powers on to ever more miraculous feats of person transport and mediocre performance. “Has the power to weight ratio of a schlummocking elephant seal” was most unkind. “Is really shit” seemed a bit harsh. Regardless, I am unreliably informed that Argentina has one of the largest Renault 12 car clubs in the world.

I have been sampling a good few of the Parrillas (BBQ grills) from Salta through San Juan and now here in Mendoza and I am rapidly coming to a conscious conclusion that I have somehow understood innately for some time but have just never formulated into a clear succinct academic thesis, but here goes: ‘Vegetarians are idiots’.

Why would anyone willingly go through life without experiencing the absolute pleasure of eating a really good English pork pie (with loads of jelly). How could you forgo the joys of being served up a sizzling grill of various bit of cow (some usually hidden away in sausages). They can have their mung bean munching for many thousands of years of omnivoric behaviour can’t be wrong. While I’ve got the teeth in my head, (teeth that have been painstakingly developed over the millennia specifically to gnaw away on a tasty parrilla and such tasty morsels as cow intestine) I’ll be doing just that.

[Any veggies reading this who are now taking umbrage can gum me].

In Mendoza however, the gastronomic delight continues well beyond the BBQ grill. In honour of my bicycle trip the local owners of Kingo Burgers have in-launched The ‘Buffy’ Burger. It has all the flavour that people the world over have come to expect of the original Buffy Burger. Now, however, it’s ‘New’ and has an extra layer of Grade E – ‘fit for human consumption’ meat and a bigger egg! Lovely!

Fired up on Buffy Burgers, I now head towards Patagonia and the last stages of the Pan-American ride.

Grade ‘E’ fit for human consumption!

Promo shot for the re-launch of The New Buffy Burger. The best $3.50 you will ever spend!


Part Forty Nine: Over The Andes again to Northern Argentina

Have finally made it to Argentina, 14 months after setting out for Alaska.

I travel South East from San Pedro de Atacama into the Atacama Desert and cruise along the edge of the salt plain. The road then peels Eastwards up from the desert floor into the Andes again.

The pass from Chile to Argentina (‘Paso Sico’) took me up and over the spine of the Andes once more and down through a very long valley towards the city of Salta. There awaits the most succulent cuts of steak and Syd-Harbs of red wine to revitalise a weary peddler. The pass became a bit of an adventure in itself. After promising myself that I would stick to the asphalt roads, I found myself doing it tough yet again and also making life even more difficult for myself.

Welcome to Argentina

Surprisingly the places close to the Chilean border do not have the slightest knowledge of or interest in changing Chilean pesos into Argentine Pesos. Was therefore again out of money. Having made it over the pass and through the remote customs port, I head for the closest little town of Catua only to find that my money is no good here. Damn it! Will have to get to Salta to have any worthwhile currency again.

Just before the last Chilean military check point a guy at a mining settlement gives me some water, a cup of coffee and some biscuits with caramel stuff on them. He has little idea just how important this infusion of calories is as I was starting to wane a bit and could see no real way to recharge in the immediately foreseeable future.

A local restauranteur takes pity on the plight of the poor traveling bicyclist and offers up a plate of empanadas which are dispatched post-haste.

A few miles further south Aussie guy passing in a car who gives water. I have been a true charity case this day

The next day out of Catua is one of the more incredible day’s riding of the trip. All is well until hitting the salt plain and then the wind takes over and turns toe day into a sand storm.

Bolivian sand-pushing was too much for the cycling shoes which finally gave up the ghost.

Having the wind in my favour should have been a good thing and it mostly was. I  would have hated to be traveling in the other direction. However, especially over the top of the pass, the wind is literally propelling bike and me along and off the road. I kid you not, dear reader, that it is blowing 50 knots at least along this road. I screw u pa front brake trying to stop being propelled into the abyss beyond more than a few

In San Antonio de los Cobres thank The Great Lord Harry that a guy is willing to change $50 to Argentinian pesos otherwise I was on for another few days of deprivation, most unwelcome.

The next day I anticipate a nice trundle down the hill into Salta. I keep that thought as I enter a frickin’ wind tunnel with strong wind blowing up the valley for 100km into the face of your long-suffering correspondent.

At last in Salta and it is a great pleasure to be amongst people who appreciate the value of a good chunk of cow flesh and eat copious quantities of it while quaffing down Syd-Harbs of local red wine. Salta in northern Argentina has class and style and a population which seems to prize eating and living well. No longer surrounded by chicken & Chip outlets of their north-western almost-neighbours, these guys know how to cook a chip!

The trick here is to find the busy restaurants that have old guys serving on tables; the kind of people who have been munching exclusively on tenderloins all of their lives. This is the perfect place to celebrate my birthday.

Route 40 sign near Cafayate.


25 Minutes of Buff3y Going On About His Ride Through Bolivia


Part Forty Eight: La Paz to South West Bolivia

Well, that was a ride and a half!

Three weeks from La Paz riding south to the Chilean border through some very inhospitable terrain but also some absolutely breathtakingly beautiful country. The Lonely Planet has it right, Bolivia is:

the hemisphere’s highest, most isolated and most rugged nation, it’s also among the earth’s coldest, warmest and windiest spots with some of the driest, saltiest and swampiest natural landscapes in the world.” (Lonely Planet, South America, 2009).

It was very difficult to leave the comfortable cable TV, hot shower and WI-FI of the $15 a night Hostal Colonial, and the good food (especially the steaks), wine and general good feel of La Paz. I am fed, rested and supplied with a brand new water bladder for the desert tracks of the south west (which soon turns out to be leaky rubbish). The initial road south-west is paved so after the 500 alti-metres/12km grind up and out of La Paz to El Alto I turn off the main highway for another 88km of good un-trafficked tarmac to the depressing mining town of Corocoro and a basic bunk bed.

I then turn south once more onto isolated dirt road and tracks then back on the asphalt SW to Curahuara and the run to Sajama, just before the western Chilean border crossing. Sajama is a very basic village in the shadow of the huge volcano from which it get’s its name. On the dirt road near Corocoro I had the treat of witnessing the enthralling spectacle of a bolting donkey dragging a cart-wheeling and rapidly disintegrating mountain bike across the plain. Two young boys, one of whom had benn inspired enough to tether his wayward donkey to a bicycle, were chasing it as it made its break for freedom, dragging the bicycle with it. The donkey was winning easily so beast and machine passed me at a rate of knots with the bike at the end of the rope taking an utter pounding, spinning into the air and crashed back to earth again and again. Finally the rope snapped and the poor bicycle lay broken and twisted on the ground. I therefore, had the chance to play, ‘Bicycle Repair Man’ and miraculously, we managed to put it back into some sort of working order. A good advertisement for the strength of the ‘Datsun’ frame as it somehow held together through this punishment. Perhaps all bike frames should be given the donkey strength test. The repair got the boys another 5km home anyway.

Donkey treated Bicyce

Six km north of the village of Sajama there is a hot spring pool which is a wonderful treat. A great opportunity to soak the legs, gaze at the volcanoes and tighten up one’s ‘individual non-synchronized water ballet’ maneuvers (refer coming video). South of Sajama the next morning the clear weather reveals the surrounding peaks in all of their collective splendor. These volcanoes form a semi-circle around Sajama village with Sajama itself, the most formidable peak. Across the way are twin peaks (refer photos) and closer to the Chilean border, a huge exploded remnant cone.

It’s a three day ride south from Sajama to Sabaya and then out onto the first salt plain, The Salar de Coipasa. The track deteriorates into unpedalable sand in quite a few places but is generally average dirt. Some tracts have protruding baby heads (small hard lumps), a few normal heads and a number of giant heads but was able to make steady progress; a fore-taste of some of the reportedly very ugly sand, rock and washboard tracks to come on the track south of the salt plains. I have 11km of asphalt on the road westward up towards the Chilean border crossing but blasting head wind means that it is 2 hours later that I turn southwards away from the teeth of it onto the good dirt. The plateau is at about 3,800 metres altitude and you can generally see the next village way off in the distance which aids navigation over the sometimes multiple tracks across the arid landscape. The wind (prevailing from the South-West) later becomes a bit of an issue again as does the glare and reflection from the powerful sun. It’s mild in the day but the temperature plummets at dusk and in the tent I have trouble sleeping both from the thin air and the cold. The drink bottles are frozen and about three or four hour’s sleep is about all I can muster.

In the village of Mayocc on the end of day one south of Sajama there are only four people stirring (lively by comparison to some of the seemingly abandoned villages along this track); two soldiers (the track will run close to the Chilean border all the way now), a shop-keeper and a tour guide. The guide quickly goes into his patter about the local lake etc and appoints himself my guide out of town showing me a ‘short-cut’ track across the flat scrub plain to the next village, about two hour’s ride away, I’m told. After parrying his attempt to garner money, am off up the track only to soon come (yet again) to the belated realization that non-cyclists do not have the foggiest as to the effect of sand on bicycle tyres. I soon come to a more imposing impediment; a wide yet seemingly shallow river. Prior to the river there is a large sand mound which is a useful wind-break in an otherwise barren plain so I decide to camp the night there and cross the river early the next morning. Interesting decision.

Camping on the pass south of San Juan

Eric and Lydie, my biking companions in the last river-crossing episode in Peru, will no doubt smile at this latest attempt at river-crossing. During the night a one-centimeter crust of ice has formed over much of the river (as it did on me inside the tent). Yet the slow water flow beneath appears gentle enough to make a crossing possible with a loaded bike. I am axle deep so there is about a foot of water I guess and also a sand bank to offer some respite mid-stream. So, ever the optimist, off I go, crunching through the ice for 30 metres to the far bank. I’m in sandals and am soon up to my knees in ice and sludge learning to my chagrin that the river-bed beneath my tread is soft mud. It is also becoming belatedly and troublingly apparent just how frickin’ cold the ice water actually is. Half way across and am losing sensation in my feet and breathing hard. Not good. Compounding the quite troubling predicament mid-stream is that I can now see that the flow of water in the final three metres is deeper and faster than it appeared at the outset. The bank is also a tad steeper just to add another 0.5 to the level of difficulty. My legs are really bloody cold now so am faced with that old dilemma; go on or turn back. Turn back – then what? On I go. Junk deep now and the bike is seriously in very real danger of floating off down-stream. Most of the gear would be recoverable but please God not the wonderful Sony Alfa77 SLT camera and the truly brilliant 135mm F1.8 Carl Zeiss lens in the drink!! The Ortleib bag may not hold out submerged. God no!! Am therefore summoning hitherto untapped reserves of emergency adrenalin and energy from The Great Lord Harry knows where to get to the far bank and shove the rig up onto the bank onto dry land – all the while losing more feeling in feet (and junk). Gasping hard – really sucking back the air – from cold and exertion, I step into the middle of the deep and hurl the bike up onto the far bank and scramble up behind. I spend the next 30 minutes massaging some feeling back into the feet and toes, baking them in the sun and pondering my gullibility at believing dodgy advice from village idiots. I summon the scene from ‘Titanic’ where Leonardo De Caprio describes the stabbing pain of the frigid water of the North Atlantic to a suicidal Kate Winslet. Sitting here I can almost begin to imagine. No matter. On-on. The moral? Never take track advice from pushy dodgy ‘tourism officials’ in remote villages. Note to self: Avoid all future river crossings if at all possible.

There is pretty well no traffic on the three-day track to Sabaya. In the whole time I saw four cars, an old woman walking along the road and one guy on a motor cycle, That’s it. Lost the use of the Garmin bike computer. For some reason it doesn’t want to boot up properly. It’s like touring pre-such technology when I first did this sort of thing; just iffy maps, iffy signs and people with often iffy advice. In Sabaya there is a good hostal, basic supply shops and three restaurants.

Church near Sjama, bolivia

Can stock up on milk powder, Milo, canned tuna and crackers etc for the next leg across the salt plains of Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni. Beyond, in San Juan, will stock up again for the final Bolivian leg along the lagoon track to the National Park and Bolivia’s southern border with Chile and the Atacama Desert (about two very interesting weeks away). The Garmin is back up – quite a relief. While it was interesting to get a blast from the past in not having access to all of the data, it certainly is better to have it.

Twin peak volcanoes, Sajama, Bolivia

The 14km first ride across the Salar de Coipasa to the central island was truly remarkable. About three km from the central island the water from Coipasa Lagoon to the East appears and I ride through an inch, then three inches, then six inches of water across the salt. This experience was a truly wondrous thing, riding across a massive infinity pool to the far horizon. I understand that some believe I can ride on water and it appeared to be true for a little while at least. The going across the salt was rougher than the smooth spin that I had expected but it was well worth it just for the pure surreal land-water-scape. The additional bonus was that there was absolutely no one else there to interrupt my Zen-like moments of clarity. Bolivians continue to be a very pleasant and relaxed people. Resplendent in their delicately balanced bowler hats, the ladies seem to always have a smile, a laugh and a greeting. In Coipasa village on the island in the middle of the Salar, a lady that runs a tiny shop, on seeing my wet salty feet, decides to give me a bowl of warm water and then washed my feet! Didn’t expect that one. She took my only pair of soggy shoes somewhere to dry them and offers a room for the night. She’s 55 but I swear she could have said she was 70 and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Next day is an epic day’s ride of 82km started with taking a ‘short cut’ across the north of the island. The reported one foot of lagoon waters on the eastern side of the ‘island’ means that there was no choice but to take this circuitous route back across the north of the island and then cut south. My ‘short cut’ quickly turns to nightmarish scramble through scrub and rocks for four km and managed to knock and scratch the legs around a bit; all unnecessarily.

Coipasa Salt flat

On the southern part of salar the going is still not smooth. There are few if any 4WD tracks to smooth out the roughness of the salt meaning a speed of only 10-15km/hour. The feeling, however, out in the central void was well worth it and there was absolutely zero traffic for the whole passage across the salar. Getting off the edge of the salar turned out to be a bit of a challenge as there was about three km of sand and then some ambiguous navigation along various Alpaca tracks to get onto the southward track towards Llica (a town just prior to the Salar de Ayuni). The tracks deteriorate periodically into large sand traps and through the afternoon there was a lot more pushing than riding. I was to rue the time wasted in the morning’s ‘short cut’ as the afternoon drifts on with me in the drifts and the prospect of making Llica diminishing. Battled on and cursed my way through the long sand breaks and made it to Llica by 6:45pm still with four degrees on the thermometer and a slither of light remaining to get me in. Llica has an internet café, a chicken shop and a crappy government run hostel in the municipal building with a caretaker who tries to over-charge me 5B ($0.70) on a 20B room. The gall of the woman!

After the warm welcome in Coipasa, the feel is less so here. Young people wander around with their prized transistor radios or phones blurting out the banal Peruvian/Bolivian pop/cowboy dross. Tomorrow I go on to the Salar de Uyuni and 81km to The Isla Incahuasi, an island in the centre of the plain. The ride across Salar de Uyuni was not smooth either. Gaps between the plates of salt meant that the going, particularly close to Isla de Pescado was very difficult going. The island kept receding into the distance as I approached so the 50km took on a proportion psychologically not really warranted by the ride. Time and distance seem to somehow warp out in this void. The fierce sun beating down might have also had something to do with the altered state of mind, the sense of isolation out in the middle of nowhere, again, quite an impressive experience.   It was at Isla del Pescado (Fish Island) that I encountered Silvano and Paula, fully kitted out cyclists from Italy who were right in the midst of making wedding vows to each other; exactly what you expect to see out in the middle of Salar de Uyuni. I, of course, crashed their intimate ceremony to say hello. Lovely people both, we later meet for dinner on the next island, Isla Incahuasi, the hostel/restaurant and jeep stop in the middle of the salar. They are also intending to travel south past the string of lagoons and bad lands to the Chilean border so we might meet again along the way. Yes, the decision has been made here to take the southward option of at least seven days of horrid sand and washboard roads and high winds past the lagoons along the border with Chile rather than the soggy ease and pedestrian beige-ness of heading east to the highway then on to northern Argentina. This route will put me at the northern most point of the Atacama desert (San Pedro de Atacama) in about seven or eight days. In between, however, there is going to be some horrible tracks to traverse.

 Day One: San Juan to top of Pass: Morning is spent cruising across the ‘pampas’ mud/sand flats and then up a pass that proves rocky and steep in places so some pushing involved for 10km  in the afternoon. Found a wind-break two km beyond the top of the pass so camped there for a surprisingly mild night with thankfully no wind.

 Day Two: Top of Pass to Laguna Hedionda: Some fairly tricky rocky and sandy tracks for seven km to start the day off then down a lovely eight km of excellent maintained hard packed dirt road. Back onto the rough stuff for the afternoon and multiple 4WD tracks fan out across the way making navigation interesting in places. Am getting used to the idea of just picking tracks that head in the right general direction and feeling the way around the largest of the volcanoes, of which there are many dotting the region. There are many flamingos in Hedionda Lagoon before dusk as I arrive (refer photos). I’m already sun burned from the reflection of the harsh light and dry wind on the Salars.

Flamingoes on Hedionda Lagoon

Day Three: Laguna Hedionda to Hotel de Desierto

Hedionda at sunset

The morning takes me SW past Honda Lagoon on pretty good dirt tracks and then the path turns due South up the long gentle apron of the pass. All good until near the where I got completely blasted by crosswinds over the shallow dome summit for about 6km making it impossible to ride straight. It is very energy sapping just trying to make any progress. Much cursing at wind gods (Strobog included) and more pushing. Then a nasty sandy track down to the hotel with a lot of pushing the bike in the eight km. The Hotel de Desierto is a very friendly place that gets three stars for cycling tourist assistance. They allow camping next to their building for free and really go out of their way to help out with filtered water and coffee for tired cyclists. Excellent. The camping is very cold though and feet froze during the night. Here I camp with Jons and Martina who are traveling the same way and Jons makes tea. Lovely. It’s freezing cold camping here but bearable. The ride through the stark landscape of barren valleys between dozens of magnificent volcanic peaks is really impressive along this part of the ride.

 Day Four: Hotel de Desierto to Laguna Colorado A great ride that took a full day off the expected time for the complete ride. You are completely at the mercy of the machinations of the wind gods (Stribog included) to determine how the day goes and this one turns out to be a cracker with a nice consistent breeze at my back. The track becomes a good dirt road about three km after starting and keeps it up for most of the way to Colorado Lagoon, only deteriorating on the down hill run to the lagoon. The famous Arbol de Piedra (‘Tree of Stone’ – refer photos) is the lunch stop so I press on the 18 km to Lagoon Colorado in the afternoon– which really is indeed a deep red colour. The Just before the little settlement next to Colorado Lagoon I cross into the National Park and pay up the 150B ($22) entrance fee. I have no money left after brilliantly misjudging the funding needs for the ride from La Paz so have to survive on a remaining three or four days with 80b ($11). Accommodation in the basic ‘Refugios’is a dorm bed but thankfully there is no one else there. 30B ($4.30) for a bed is a bargain and 10B ($1.40) buys the greatest spaghetti and tomato sauce and vegetable soup in existence, so am carb-loaded and charged up for the next day.

Arbol de Piedra

Day Five: Laguna Colorado to Laguna Chalviri:  Great wind at my back again today so the biggest pass of the ride is not the nightmare it could easily have been. At the top of the pass the thermal geysers (‘Sol de Manana’) stink strongly of sulphur but the boiling mud pits are impressive. The 22 km down to Chalviri Lagoon is on good dirt but needs some attention and I almost come to grief a couple of times by getting too excited about the road when sand suddenly appears again there is a restaurant. The owners allow bikers to sleep on the floor. A real bonus is a thermal Pool with crystal clear hot water (drinkable by reports) across the road next to the Lagoon. Bliss soaking the weary bones and muscles in the soothing water at sun down looking out over the salt and the flamingos. Some 4WD drivers show up in the middle of the night and one snores like a drunken contented rhinoceros. Little sleep. A cycling shoe has blown out from all of the pushing through sand. Great. Pack buckle has broken. After a year on the road the equipment is now starting to fail. The Rohlofff gear hub is skipping on two gears 5 and 6, gears that would be really useful right now!).  Am delighted about that one.


Day Six: Laguna Chalviri to Laguna Verde (Park Hut): Took another dip in the hot spring pool, with my bike (refer photo). The restaurant owner has pity on my financial plight so gives me a 5B ($0.80) discount. How has it come to this? How embarrassing! On starting the day’s ride I have a big energy drain going up the shallow pass. Sulphur poisoning? It’s been 18 days since La Paz so I might be starting to fray at the edges. I decide to ride straight at 4WDs coming too fast in the other direction to slow them and then accost them in an increasing vocabulary of Spanish abuse for flicking stones. Usually the wind kicks in around noon but today there is an early arrival of a very strong wind, and its right in my face. No energy, no money, blasting head wind. Bliss. The road is not too bad dirt with only some patches where the sand grabs and stops you.  There is a grader near the road and actual evidence of recent grading so the road could get even better soon. By 5pm I am absolutely shattered and the wind is literally howling across the final plain just south of Laguna Verde. The last 2km up to the Park Hut and Refugios is just about time to lay down and have a good cry. I walk the bike up to the refugios and empty out the final 30B ($4.50) in my bag, thankfully securing a room.

 Day Seven: Laguna Verde to San Pedro de Atacama: There’s only 7km slightly up hill on good dirt road to the Bolivian immigration post then another 5km to the top of the rise and the westerly turn towards San Pedro de Atacama. I fear the, “do you have the little slip of paper ploy fro mthe official but he mentions it and then gives up. I must still look like a mercy case. I understood from some that the immigration would charge you 21B to leave but this guy doesn’t bother. I have to ask him and he says that it sometimes applies but for you, no. Mercy be! I do look that bad! Just beyond the Bolivian frontier, bike, Buff3y and the new-found lovely asphalt enjoy a touching group hug moment (refer photo).

Group Hug

The magnificent roll of 41km down 2,000 alti-metres into the Atacama valley is pure unbridled joy so I let the pony have its head and we hurtle down hill at 50-60km/hour.  I have ‘Whiskey in a Jar’ stuck in my head on the long plunge for some unknown reason. The heavily touristed oasis town (3,000 locals and 4,000 North Faced gringos) of San Pedro de Atacama awaits along with its beer, pizza, cappuccinos and lovely hostels. On arrival I discover that during the three weeks that I have been out of radio comms on the track in Bolivia, there have been fraudulent attacks on all three of my credit/debt cards so all are blocked or cancelled. Am in SP de Atacama and can’t afford an ice cream! Bliss! Brother to the rescue with a Western Union funds transfer from Australia. Cheers! I spurge on a North Face Polartec beanie (for $30!) which is ‘Asphalt grey’; a good indicator me thinks of the make up of the roads that I will be sticking to for a little while to come. Thank you Bolivia, for one of the most amazing rides and scenery displays that this boy will probably ever encounter.

It Is Finished!


Part Forty Seven: Into Bolivia

The ride through the mountains of Peru is finally at an end. That was a mere 3,471km of cycling laterally and 53,000 metres of cycling vertically that I will not forget in a hurry. There could not have been a happier nor more relieved cyclist than your correspondent as he crossed the border into Bolivia. It has been a wonderful challenge to ride border to border through the glorious mountain scenery of Peru but I’m so glad to have a final final blast across the plateau at 4,000 metres from Cuzco to the border and Lake Titikaka to bid adios to Peru.

Girl in Boat on Lake Titikaka

Street Procession leaders

Yes, riding Peru took endurance both physical and psychological, particularly enduring the ever-present chorus of roadside “Eer Gggrrringo!” (Non-cyclists will be blissfully unaware of this) and the near constant bleating of car horns.

Horn player

Kids at fiesta

I could return to Peru one day, under a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances. Perhaps if an enlightened Peruvian transport bureaucrat instigated a national “Let’s all jam our vehicle klaxons in our collective bottom-holes” Day.

Fiesta dancers on road to La Paz

The Peruvian battle between the decent and the irritating can, however, now go on without me. From the vantage point of Bolivia, where the horn and the “Grrringo!” have mostly been silenced, I can happily leave Peru to grapple with its inner moron.

Sailing boat on Lake titikaka

Mural in Isle Del Sol

Copacabana, eight kilometres inside Bolivia is on the shore of Lake Titikaka and is the stepping off point for a boat ride to the Isle del Sol (Isle of the Sun). It is a tourist ‘cappuccino town’; one of those places where the tourist buses stop to disgorge backpackers who don’t seem to turn up anywhere between the bus stops and cappuccino cafes and pizza places. These folk simply don’t exist in the flea bitten truck stop towns  sporting one restaurant serving chicken and chips, frequented by this traveling bicyclist,

I therefore spent a day after trekking across the island just stuffing down pizza and lattes. It proved difficult to leave so an extra day is spent wiling away an afternoon WI-FI-ing and carb-loading in a cafe.

From Copacabana (which in reality proved less enticing than it’s name sake in Brazil) it was a lovely ride across to the north shore of the lake towards La Paz. Was lucky enough to happen upon a large fiesta on the road, the women all decked out in their finest bowler hats and multi-layered skirts twirling away merrily and the men-folk spinning (truck-shaped) clackers while shuffling from side to side in a cleverly synchronized dance motion that almost concealed the fact that they were all tanked to the eye-balls. Three brass band’s  blurted away with gusto the sound melding into a vast cacophony of trumpet, euphonium and sousaphone (of no particular tune). One band had six sousaphones, no less! Great stuff! The atmosphere has certainly changed from a few km back up the road and your correspondent had the opportunity to dust off his trumpet skills, adding yet another layer of dissonance to the enthusiastic noise.

Field next to Lake Titikaka

A lake-side hotel is the last stop before La Paz and the last chance to look out over Lake Titikaka (refer photos).

The ride into La Paz is a dramatic plunge off the plateau down into the city centre. The atmosphere is relaxed an friendly and it will be a good base for a couple of days where I can stock up for the ride through the remote south-east.

La Paz is also a kind of marker where the Pan-American Highway, which has been tracking south-east from Quenca in Ecuador now turns due south towards the final destination of Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina  The road from La Paz to the Chilean border promises to be great fun. Crappy dirt rutted roads and the famous salt plains some horrible sand tracks, volcanoes, lakes and then across to The Atacama Desert of Chile.

Lovely trout from the lake

La Paz from the Auto-pista

Street stall in La Paz


Part Forty Six: Cuzco and Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu has to be done. Yes, in order to get there to take ‘that photo’ you have to join the throng of tourists and be prepared to endure a good dose of the local sport of ‘tourist fleecing’ from railway, bus and tour operators, hotel managers and local vendors. But such is the wonder of the view once you top that rise and set eyes on the city for the first time, it’s suddenly all worth while. Mind you, this correspondent slept in and almost missed the dawn which wouldn’t have done at all. But fear not dear reader for I arrived just in time to see the sun rise and get my mug in front of the camera to capture an image with a backdrop that only 152.6 million* people before me have been able to witness.

While in Cuzco I’ve taken full toll of the Irish and English pubs for lashings of sheppard’s pie and Old Speckled Hen ale and scoured the back streets for the finest cappuccino coffee that the city could offer prior to heading back out into ‘Pollo & Papas’ land outside the major tourist centre.

The bike has had some tender loving care while here in Cuzco and is now resplendent in a brand new set of lovely Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tyres (thanks to Zach at Co-Motion Cycles in Oregon), so is well ready for the next leg of the trip on to Bolivia. And so in the next few days I will bid a, …well, pretty relieved adieu to Peru.

Buff3y in ‘That Photo’

Machu Picchu sun beams

Cuzco Roof Tops

Cuzco Street 2

Cuzco Street Scene


New Video: Peruvian Andes Biking

To mark the completion of The mountain passes of the Andes, here is a new video. You might recognise the music (‘El Caminante’) which is now the official anthem of my Pan-American bike ride.


Part Forty Five: End of the Andean Mountain Passes

This morning finds your correspondent in the Starbuck’s in Cuzco sucking on a triple shot latte having just had a huge breakfast at Paddy’s pub. Am surrounded by ever-so-serious looking designer tourists talking earnestly of their impending adventure to Machu Picchu. They seem to have no idea that they are in the company of bicycling touring greatness! How can they be so completely oblivious, all decked out in their matching brand sunglasses and backpacks, that I have suffered through months of endurance, river crossings, huge mountain passes, battle with Big Hats and dogs and bottom cheek welts in order to get to my triple latte? I just overheard one prat talking about how he and his equally idiotic friend are going trekking and just to make it more difficult they are going to fill their designer backpacks with oh-so-heavy water bottles. Oh dear.

A half a tonne of angry pot roast

With my arrival in Cuzco I mark the end of the big mountain passes of the Andes. Having been climbing up through mountain passes in the Andes throughout southern Colombia,  Ecuador and Peru, I’m delighted to report that I think I’m done with the big mountain passes for this little trip.

I may have been unfair to synchronised swimming in my last posting. On further reflection and on watching a bit of this sport this morning, it is actually much more ridiculous than I had previously implied. There is as much justification for live chicken juggling in a serious international sporting meet than seeing people dangle themselves upside-down in a tub of water and wave their arms and legs about the place, admittedly in a synchronized manner, all the time wearing those tortured grimaces. What the hell is it that they think they are doing before they jump in the pool anyway?? Marvelous stuff!

Irritating the hell out of bulls

The Mexican girls did score highly for artistic impression for spitting pool water at each other whilst performing a mock mutual synchronised erotic-strangulation maneuver (which I must admit I found oddly arousing). Have to wonder how the athletes that actually go higher, faster and longer etc view this stuff? It’s making a mockery of serious sports such as curling and synchronized pizza making. Yes, yes, it’s no doubt difficult to do. “I’d like to see you try it?” I already hear some bleating. It is, however, entirely plausible for something to be difficult and ridiculous…simultaneously.

Lovely snow peaks a day wst of Cuzco

East of Ocros

Every shop keeper in Peru continues in an unremitting search for change. If we were somehow able to bottle and utilize the vast amount of human expended energy in Latin America that is squandered in the never ending search for change, the human race could easily have colonized Mars by now.

123km and 2,300metres to Cuzco

I had occasion to see the bull fighting in Chincheros a few days back up the road (refer photos). ‘A lone man facing single-handedly a half a ton of angry pot roast’. It was great to see some of the local lads have a go at irritating the bulls, we shouted “Olé!” every time one was gored (Tom Leherer).

Having arrived in Cuzco I will join the throng of tourists wondering around the ally-ways shopping for ridiculously expensive crap. I’m tired, surely, but the legs are feeling strong from the experience of doing all of the mountain passes of the Andes. Now I can happily plough into a mountain pass and churn up hillsides without a hint of the pain and trepidation that used to accompany such undertakings. Half the battle in getting up these things is in the head rather than the legs anyway.



Part Forty Four – One Year on the Road

Forget the Olympics! In the history of human endeavour July 2012 will be marked not by beach volley-ballers bearing their collective buttocks for country and ratings or synchronized swimmers doing whatever the hell it is they do for reasons that still elude this author.  It will, rather,  record that on the 27th of July it is now one year since I pedaled out of Deadhorse Alaska.  It might therefore be an opportune time to reflect on the year that has passed and some of the things that this road south has taught me. In no particular order:

–       The Dalton Highway in Alaska is a great road to ride once per lifetime.

–       Alaska seems a nice place to just go and get crazy, literally.

–       SPAM in a conveniently sized plastic packet has to be one of the innovations of the decade.

–       Vancouver girls should wear yoga pants if they want;

–       The most civilized establishment in north America is the cinema in Oregon that serves you pizza and craft beer.

–       Oregon is the coolest place for great craft beer and bicycling culture.

–       “We don’t need no stinkin’ bad cheese” (Post 19) has to be the worse pun in the known world.

–       No one ever improved a banana by frying it (Colombia).

–       Veracruz has the best tacos in the world.

–       The Peruvian Andes take the prize for gob-smacking scenery.

–       Colombia and Oregon vie for the prize of cool cycling and cool people award.

–       Peru and Honduras vie for the prize of ‘most irritating roadside people’.

–       Hardest riding has to be the highland Andes route through northern Peru.

–       One of the happiest moments would have to be getting through that river in Peru the other week.

–      Never try to cycle with a welt on your right buttock.

Two days north of Ayacucho I had awful dirt road with fine dust on a layer of sharp rocks. I thanked the Great Lord Harry for a half-moon that shone a welcome dull light onto the road as the map and bikeroutoaster program again proved inaccurate leaving me a bonus 17 km to get to the village of Mayocc and, as an added bonus, a rear flat 15km out. So it became quite a ride of 117km and I put it right out there to get to the very plain village and its restaurant/knocking shop with lovely chicken & rice, soup, beer, and some banter about being single and needing a Peruvian scrubber girlfriend. The road was an absolute shocker all day with the fine dust getting kicked up with each passing vehicle. As night came it was almost a blessing not to be able to see the bloody thing properly as I gallantly pedaled on into the night.

Happily ensconced in the $4 room for the night I must remember to ask if the electrician referred to the ISO9001 standards when installing the electrical wiring in my hospedaje.

Breakfast of bicycling champions! Eggs, green pasta and greasy soggy chips. Go forever!

Since the morning of my leaving Huanuco, have had the unexpected experience of actually meeting fun and engaging Peruvians (they had to be somewhere). Even in the midst of a double puncture repair this afternoon, the family that gathered to watch the gringo curse and sweat and have his legs bitten by some nasty little bugs, were cheery, something that has been sadly lacking to date.

There is supposed to be a gastronomic festival in Ayacucho this weekend. Given that Peruvians seem to default to chicken and chips at any opportunity there have to be some pretty nervous chickens in the vicinity. Ayacucho has a bustling and energetic city centre with loads of young people buying cell phones and pizza. It’s a great place for a day’s rest and recharge the batteries for the passes to come between here and Cuzco. A plethora of dentists (no idea why) is just too tempting so stop into one for a clean and polish.

Never been so happy to see the lights of the little village of Mayocc emerge from the gloom.

EC Standard electrical wiring