Ushuaia

February 17, 2011 by

Martin

Sometimes a picture doesn’t quite tell the whole story. We arrived in Ushuaia last Tuesday, 15th February. The southernmost city in the world at the very end of the Latin continent. We turned a corner at the end of a beautiful valley and there it was, the sign  that marked the end of our journey. How are you supposed to feel at the end of a sixteen thousand kilometer journey through fifteen countries in thirteen months?

We have been living a nomadic life for quite a while now, travelling from place to place by day, carrying all our possessions and moving under our own steam. Life has become very simple and, in ways, crazy. Things that seemed strange when we started out are now accepted as daily occurrences. The few days from Rio Grande to Ushuaia capture this perfectly. Rio Grande marks the end of the pampa landscape we had been used to since crossing the Andes. The mountains swing around to the right and suddenly you find yourself cycling by the coast with snow covered peaks and trees coming into view.

 

We had heard of the panaderia in Tolhuin that was also a casa de ciclista, in other words, a bakery that welcomed touring cyclists and gave then a free bed for the night. What could be better. Panaderias are a cyclists best friend. And a panaderia that offers a free nights accommodation in a sparsely populated part of the world where you need to find good shelter from the wind is….well….just a bit strange but absolutely welcome. Thanks to Emilio and to La Union panaderia, to people who believe in giving something where nothing is expected (and in most cases impossible to give) in return. We pitched up in the storeroom of what turned out to be one of the greatest and most popular bakeries we had ever come across. 

Bienvenidos – Welcome to the house of friendship

We even had a wi-fi connection and so could see that the winds were not favourable the next day. We decided we would wait out the morning and then cycle and see what happened. It is hard to sit still though and so we set off. The wind was pretty strong as can be seen by the meter high waves on this lake.

Still, we had a bag of pasteries to keep us going and we were cycling the final 100 kilometers. Good reasons to push on. We finally got away from the lakeside and found some protection in the trees and with the oncoming evening. A final pass to go, another crossing of the Andes but this time only 400 meters of climbing, easy. We could camp at the base, it was late and it was Valentines Day. To stay or to push on. We tossed a coin and it said stay, but we decided to go. Up we went. There is no greater feeling than to climb over a mountain pass. The last pass of the Andes. The end all becoming a bit too real.

The evening cold began to hit once we crossed over, night wouldn’t be long coming and we needed to find a wild camping spot. Yet again the national road works came to the rescue!  We spotted a depot, cycled across a river and knocked on a door. Juan answered. Yes, he said, we could stay the night. This was the third depot we had come across and slept in since El Chalten, but the first we were invited inside of. Juan was typical of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego. He moved here 30 years ago from somewhere up north. A huge range heated the place. Juan chopped up a few kilos of lamb, added a bowl of scallions and shallots, handfuls of herbs and spices and, the secret ingredient, two liters of beer and let the whole thing simmer for an hour. It was beautiful. We slept soundly and were gone by 7am. Normality has never been as simple as this.

7am, our last day, it was freezing, we had only 35km to go. We cycled up a long and very beautiful valley and turned a corner and there we were. Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, tucked into a fold in the coastline, protected from the winds, surrounded by mountains and the sea, el fin del mundo, the end of the earth.

We have had a few days here in Ushuaia before catching a flight to Buenos Aires tomorrow. Our bikes are in boxes now, ready for a long trip home. It hasn’t really sunk in that life won’t revolve around getting up, eating breakfast and cycling. Ushuaia has a few things to offer to the visitor such as a boat trip into the Beagle Channel to see the local sealife, a hike up to the Martial glacier behind the town or a few days hiking around the local national park. We decided to check out the Beagle Channel and the glacier.

the famous Les Eclairs lighthouse

Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel stretching out below us and the glacier stretching up above us

We fly out tomorrow. I felt a weight of sadness while descending from the glacier a few hours ago. We have been nomads for 13 months.We have travelled a road through myriad cultures and landscapes, we have led a very simple life, and we have had an incredible time. I have cycled thousands of kilometers and I have emptied my mind of everything and have lived in each and every moment. I have lived through a dream that has become its own reality, that has taken its own unpredictable shape. And I have shared this adventure with a wonderful woman whose qualities are too numerous to even begin to describe. I have met inspiring people and I have seen that the world really is the same wherever you go, beautiful and crazy in equal measure but never less than deserving of our attention. We may get one last blog out but for now I want to thank everyone who has followed our trip on this blog, for all the kind words and encouragements that made it a real pleasure to keep the story up to date, to Simon, Derek, Hannah and Jamie for joining us for a part of the journey and making it into so much more for us, to the cyclists we have met on the way, criss-crossing over a continent with Geoff and Rosemary, Seth and Parker, Dave, Belinda and Roland and all the rest. And to Juan Carlos, to Frederic, and to Maite who took in perfect strangers and became good friends. And to old friends, Noel and Carmen, for sharing their house and lives for a week in Nicaragua and of course the legendary Dominguez family in Buenos Aires and Carolina and Tiago who have done more for us than words could say and provided a real home away from home. And Niamh in Rio who provided us with 24-hours entertainment and some unforgettable memories.

I guess that going back to no jobs and no house and a new start in a new country is as good a way as any to continue the adventure together.

Nessa:

 .. and of course .. there is the small matter of a wedding🙂

That was then ..

outside Tracey and Yvonne’s in London before we left on the trip 13 months ago now ..

Martin leaving Newcastle for London with his shiny new bike!

Martin and Kevin in Cancun upon our arrival

It has long been said that travel broadens the mind but thankfully in our case has had the opposite effect on the body! A bike touring trip such as our camino latino stretches and bends you, sometimes breaks you, grounds, entralls and overwhelms you. Overall, words cannot describe this amazing adventure. It was a leap into the unknown when we started out. From the beginning our mindsets have very much been on taking it day by day .. for both of us it has always been about the journey and not the destination. I remember the penny dropped on the plane from London of the magnitude of what we were doing .. this is it I thought .. is this normal .. is this doable … am I crazy .. and then I focussed my mind and thought what is the worst that can happen? Chunk it down and it will be manageable.

My observations and learnings from the trip ..

Fashion .. We have committed numerous fashion errors some of which am sure certain friends will never forgive or forget..the famous sock and sandals combo and the like! Never to be repeated but it served its purpose and kept me warm. We used to be relatively stylish people in a former life:

But now ..

I was clearly under the influence of something when I decided to get dressed on this particular evening! This ensemble includes Martin’s tea cosy hat, Tiago’s cardigan and floral dress is model’s own! Yvonne, you have a lot to teach me when I get back.

The machines .. We are very proud of our bikes .. they have been through the mill and they have behaved themselves and served us well as our main mode of transfer through Latin America! We have had very few repair jobs to do. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for fixing almost all of my road side punctures as I am too slow. We have had moments where we loved our bikes and moments where we wanted to throw them on the ground and kick them when faced with some of the extreme challenges of what I call the 3H’s – Hills, Heat and Hunger as well as the more recent challenges of extreme winds and ripio roads. But during this trip at the end of a particularly tough day, we are ALWAYS compensated with a beautiful vista that soon dissolves all the pain it took to get there and makes us realise why we are doing this and that we love our bikes and cycling after all, otherwise we would not or could not get up everyday and do it all again and still be smiling🙂

A few of our favourite things ..

Everyday has been different .. filled with new experiences, characters and enlightenment. People often ask us what our favourite places, highlights, best things to do, see, experience have been ..we have always found it hard to answer this question .. it is because there is no answer as there are too many to mention. Cliched perhaps but the truth. I will however add some of my favourite photos below:

Passion  ..
There are no limits to what can be done .. take your passion and make it happen. The formula is a simple one.

Human Nature ..

We have met people from all walks of life, ages and cultures on this trip. What we have usually observed is the people with nothing have always offered us the most in terms of their hospitality. It is a given in this part of the world and it is very humbling. There will always be moments of sickness and vulnerability on a trip of this magnitude and the people we have met have always made the difference, like the woman who offered us mangos while we struggled up hills, dehydrated in Colombia and Marcia in Brazil who we randomly got chatting to on a beach and invited us to eat with her and her family that evening. Brazil and Colombia are the two countries which have been unforgettable for us for the warmth of the people.

These are some of the people who have made our trip:

Ramiro, the baker in Colombia 

 Marcia and her family in Cassino in Brazil

Carolina’s amazing family in Buenos Aires

Noel and Carmen in Nicaragua

Juan Carlos in Cusco Peru

Frederic in Panama

Niamh in Rio

Our parents and family have also been amazing in their support and encouragement and we thank them for that..

Food

We can now do the perfect BBQ!

Martino y Nessa

It all began on the dance floor.. with much help and encouragement from Christine and Tom over the years it has to be said! This trip has been like speed dating x1000 million in terms of getting to know each other and it is certainly a good test for spending a life with each other. What I have learned .. Martin is my soulmate.

 

The next chapter awaits and we are excited for new adventures.  

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The final 1000km

February 12, 2011 by

The countdown to Ushuaia begins  ..

During the past two months we have been cycling through Patagonia, a sparsely populated wilderness with dramatic scenery where the distances between towns are large. It is a rewarding place to cycle but is not without its challenges. Chilean and Argentine Patagonia are very different. On the Argentine side the road runs east of the Andes and is dry and stark, while the Chile route is exposed to the Pacific fronts and is wet and for the most part can be more challenging. To date we have enjoyed a combination of the two extremes of this vast area.

Towns and villages become more scarce as you get further south so this means we often have to carry food for days on our bikes which requires planning.

View of the famous Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy in El Chalten

Upon leaving El Chalten on our journey south, we decided to make the 32km detour to El Calafate for a number of reasons – we needed to stock up on supplies, required some serious rest and we also wanted to visit the Perito Moreno Glaciar, a huge fast advancing glaciar (2 metres a day) at 5km wide and 40-60 metres in height, it was impressive.

A constant cracking and rumbling sound emanated from within it and every once and a while massive boulders of ice would crash into the water just below us. Apparently major ruptures occur every 4 years and everyone wants that picture when it does. We spent a nice day observing yet another of nature’s wonders in this amazing continent. . 

Polarised blue colours coming through in the afternoon sunshine

The road ahead ..

We knew what we had to do and our minds were now set on getting to Ushuaia and achieving our goal.

We were still debating the route to take to Ushuaia as there are two possible routes. Our decision was based on the line of least resistance. We knew we had reached the wind-whipped tip, the cone of South America. We took a chance and decided to take the road less travelled by cyclists and continue south in Argentina towards Rio Gallegos (via La Esperanza) instead of crossing back itno mainland Chile which is the route favoured by most cyclists.

Initially our decision paid off as we enjoyed tailwinds and were cruising at between 25-30km an hour. Different story in the latter half of the day where we had severe cross winds and were just about managing 8-10km an hour which left us feeling completely drained at the end of the day. We knew we would make it to Rio Gallegos at a reasonable time the following day though where we planned a half day’s rest.

The outskirts of Rio Gallegos as below .. not much to report.  Handy to stock up on food and rest but that was about it!

First road sign for Ushuaia since the border with Bolivia (when it was over 5,000km) ..

A note on ‘those winds’ ..

We were full of enthusiasm the next day and knew that only the Strait of Magellan and 580km were separating us from our ultimate destination. It wasn’t long before we were being thrown from side to side on our bikes from vicious cross winds coupled with head winds. It was gale force and we were pedaling at no more than 6km an hour. At times the wind was so strong it was hard to stand up, let alone cycle. 

Winds can be a cyclist’s best friend or worst enemy … on this particular day it very quickly became our worst enemy. We sat by the roadside and waited to see if it would ease off. No chance .. disillusioned but in the interest of sanity, we decided to turn back to Rio Gallegos and try again the following day. This part of the world is known for fierce winds. Trees and vegetation grow horizontally, road signs are distorted from the force of the wind, spirals of dust rising from the road like mini tornados is a common sight while cycling. They even have a road sign dedicated to the wind!

Martin demonstrating the strength of the winds below

We decided to get up at 5am the next morning to get a head start on the winds and were on the road enjoying a beautiful sunrise by 6am.

We made good headway and clocked up 70km in a short time, cleared border controls back into Chile and made the boat to Tierra del Fuego.

Wildlife on the road …

Although the day was long we had plenty to keep us occupied on the road. It was like cycling through a wildlife park and on the planet’s "edge" we experienced nature in its wildest form. Most of these animals are native to Patagonia.

A guanaca crossing the road ..

Aguara Guazu (maned wolf)

Rhea (ostrich like bird) doing a roadrunner impression

Dolphins during our crossing of the Magellan Straits

It was an epic cycling day and we covered 154km in 9 hours travelling on dirt roads and with winds in pockets. We felt we had certainly made up for our false start the day before. I have come to the conclusion that ‘zero wind’ is my preference. We meet a lot of cyclists coming from Ushuaia starting out on their own journey. They are easy to spot as they have shiny new bikes and gear and are already worn out from the headwinds. We do not understand why people travel from South to North .. it makes little sense and they quickly realise that they will be cycling head first into the prevailing winds.

A side note on Chile ..

I first visited Chile a number of years ago with two friends Ciaragh and Aoife and it has changed very little in ten years. It rained almost non stop as was also the case this time round! We were there for 5 weeks and everything that could possibly have gone wrong went wrong but we still had lots of fun! For me it is a land of extremes and the landscape is on a continuum from staggeringly beautiful to bleak and dull. The jury is still out on my feelings towards Chile. 

The shops here are also another source of wonder. In a number of towns or rather hamlets on the Carreterra Austral the shops were sparsely stocked (understandably so due to the remoteness) but then we spotted some imported Irish Kerrygold butter in their empty shelves! In another seaside town it was impossible to purchase fish so we ventured to the butchers in search of meat, we were told there was no meat until Friday. It was Monday!  

Martin having a celebratory picnic consisting of beer, biscuits and jam while waiting for the ferry to cross the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego, leaving the mainland of South America.

 

Until recently Tierra del Fuego (The Land of Fire) in the far south of South America was a byword for remoteness, the uttermost ends of the Earth. It is a loosely defined region shared by two countries, Chile and Argentina. They have a complicated system whereby Argentineans living in Tierra Del Fuego need to pass through Chile in order to reach the Argentine mainland and Chilean residents need to travel through Argentina.

Road scenes ..

Ripio roads ..

We set off on our journey to Rio Grande which is 200km from Ushuaia and where we intended to take a day off. The road was a very harsh ripio road for 110km which involved us being battered about on our bike for most of the day. It was tough going but we made it to the border to head back into Argentina. The next day into Rio Grande we were greeted with very strong tailwinds and made the 96km ride to Rio Grande in 4 hours.

The road from El Chalten to Rio Grande has been a road of wide open spaces, strong winds in all directions, huge skies. It is a place where you feel incredibly small. The roads varied between ripio (gravel) and paved. As the population of the region is so tiny most of your interaction is with each other, the odd cyclist but predominantly the flat Patagonian steppe. I have sometimes been tempted to wave at the cows and sheep! 

Reference to the Falklands Islands upon are arrival in Rio Grande

Martin cooked an amazing meal of burger and chips which we had been fantasising about for weeks! Success .. a day of rest before we embark on our final 200km to Ushuaia tomorrow. We hope to arrive there on Tuesday as the winds are not looking too good. Our next blog will be from the end of the road…literally and figuratively. We will not doubt be celebrating and reflected on what has been a momentous year for both of us. Watch this space..

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The Carretera Austral

February 4, 2011 by

It is three weeks since Jamie arrived, so much has happened since, we have cycled on 18 of those days, we have finished the Austral and we have made it through the notorious O’Higgins – Chalten border crossing. We are on or own again, Jamie’s flying visit and Hannah’s two months came to an end last week, we are tired, exhausted maybe, and enjoying some time off here in El Calafate. And yesterday we did something quite momentous, we booked a ticket from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, we have two weeks to reach the end of the continent and the end of this trip.

The Carretera Austral is a 1200km long road that cuts through Chilean Patagonia and comes to a dead end at Villa O’Higgins. It is mainly unpaved and traverses several micro climates but leaves you feeling wet and cold in general! We came across these two maps, from different eras for sure but both somehow still accurate.

The Carretera is wild, it is beautiful, you need to carry several days of food supplies with you as centers of civilisation are few and far between, you really do feel like you are on the edge of the world, in some frontier space, the land of gaucho horsemen and amongst some of the most incredible scenery we have come across.


After saying our goodbyes to Jamie and Hannah we headed south to Villa O’Higgins. This lonely outpost sits close to Lago O’Higgins and was only connected to the rest of Chile 20 years ago. It is the end of the road for some but those with bikes can continue on, crossing from Chile to Argentina by way of two lakes and a 23km trek over a pass. A trek that involves a lot of pushing and pulling and carrying and sometimes cycling your bike, somehow managing 35 kilos of luggage at the same time. We were planning to do it in a day and it turned out to be epic. Luckily we were joined by Matej, a Slovenian cyclist and the three of us helped to turn this into an unforgettable day, but certainly one that we wouldn’t want to repeat too often.

Nessa actually fell in as the bridge gave way, just as I was about to take a photo!!!

Finally into warm clothes as we prepare for the final 40km on gravel and the end of a 16 hour crossing.

We are back in Argentina and the end is in sight, we hope to cover the last 1000km in 10 days and arrive in Ushuaia on the 14th February. It is best not to think about the end though, just bask in the memories of the last year and of what has turned out to be one of the trips of a lifetime.

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Guest blog – Hannah and Jamie

January 22, 2011 by

El Bolson to Coyhaique

J: Well hello blogland.  I’m Jamie.

H: And I’m Hannah.

J: We are going to attempt (and probably fail) to match the exquisite story telling abilities of Martino and Nessa and guest edit this week’s edition of the blogette.  Featuring thoughts, pictures and reflections from Dr Hannah Davies Diary (soon to be a major motion picture) and videos, photos and musings of Dr Jamie Strachan, alongside some O’Gorman photographic contributions.

H: Before Jamie starts his soliloquy, a few days prior to his arrival we traversed the lush Los Alerces National Park.  Coco/Coralie joined us en route – the fact she was there at all was impressive.  She started her transcontinental adventure in Colombia – in Bogota her bike and all of her possessions (bar passport) were promptly stolen.  I think most people would have flown home directly, but no not Coco.  Within a few days she had bought a new (albeit less expensive) bike and all the trimmings, and set off as intended.  Understated stoicism has to be up there in my Top 3 Favourite Traits.  Perhaps a "No problems only solutions" mentality and "Keep it Simple" mindset completes the list.  Anyway, enough of my musings over to you Jamie.

J: Thanks Hannah – Thannah. So, where to begin. Well I was incredibly excited to be coming on this trip.  Like the rest of the you I had followed M & N (via this very blog) for the last year with envious eyes, and following a flurry of emails and with only a couple of weeks to prepare, I was suddenly at Heathrow terminal 5 bidding farewell to my beautiful loving wife and beginning a crazy journey to meet this lot in Trevelin, Argentina, highlights of which included sunny Buenos Aires, Spanish lessons from a 14 year old boy on a bus, sitting behind a fruit farmers’ strike in the desert (see tractors below!), finally squeezing onto the last bus to El Bolson and getting a taxi 300km at 100km/h through the night (seeing a PUMA!) arriving at a pretty campsite at 0130 and hearing Martin’s voice, before some lovely asado meat.  I had arrived!

The next day after constructing my bike and marveling at the various ways and means the trio I had joined had of living from a bike (see sauces in a box photo…) we set off for Chile! Trevelin was important in the Welsh settlement of Chubut region – it means "Mill Town" in Welsh, and there were a few Welsh place names around.  The sheer scale of the region was amazing, with its towering snow-capped peaks and fertile farms stretching for miles.  Not dissimilar to the Canterbury plains of New Zealand.

What a gorgeous first day in the saddle.  We were searched at the border by the Chilean authorities in case we were smuggling any bees across (we weren’t), and escaped with our canned peaches intact. An insight into the way of life of a ciclista is that there is no better dessert (AKA pudding) than tinned peaches with dulche de leche (like toffee with condensed milk) on top. Mmmmmmmmm delicious AND nutritious…  (H: Delicious BUT nutritious???)

Once you get past Futaleufu – border town in Chile –  the scenery begins to change and Patagonia reveals the glorious, green, mystical and untouched wilderness for which it renowned.

We found places for roadside mirror maintenance, emergency replacement of pannier rack bolt (gulp), brake pad replacement, amusing stances and pointing (?), farms with (instant!) coffee, hat wearing and singing traditional songs with the locals.

 

More lounging for long lunches, hauling ourselves up hellish hills, capturing Chile by camera…

The rain is on a different scale around here – it often feels like people are throwing buckets of water at you.  But the sun breaks through to warm the soul and show you glimpses of the snow on the not so far away mountain tops.  It strikes you just how much the region is defined by water. Waterfalls, rain, rivers, swamps, lakes, puddles and huge green plants everywhere. Incredible.

Tragedy yesterday! My cassette stopped working – no power!.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  Martin took the cassette to pieces in a matter of seconds, tightened what he could and declared it beyond roadside repair.  I stuck my thumb out and travelled down the road in the back of a horse truck!  The little "maestro" at Figon cycles in Coyhaique found the problem, mud had caused the cassette hub spring to snap, and he replaced it with ease.

Coming on this trip has been incredible – even for the short time I have been here.  It is a real privilege to be with great people in such mind-blowing surroundings.  It’s a bit like coming to stay with Martin and Nessa – the bike is their home for the year after all – and they are the most incredible hosts and made for one another.  Martin’s hilarious "lets see what happens" complimenting Nessa’s planning and organization, both sharing a beautiful outlook on life.  I think Hannah – who is also very kind – would agree.  Their world is a big open happy one.

We’re having an asado tonight, playing some Scrabble Lite and looking forward to some more dramatic climbs over the next few days down to Chile Chico where I turn left for Argentina and leave the others on their quest ever southwards… See you soon Blogland. J

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Mountains, Forests, Lakes

January 8, 2011 by

Patagonia has long been a fascination of mine, a place I have always wanted to visit, inspired by Chatwin’s classic "In Patagonia", by Darwin’s evolutionary travels, by tales of  big mountains and glaciers and epic adventures, a land of pristine nature, of rivers and mountains, it is the Alps and the Rockies and New Zealands backbone of mountains rolled into one, beautiful, remote, inspiring, and the place I really wanted to finish our bike trip.

We arrived in San Martin de los Andes after a 24-hour bus journey from Buenos Aires, a trip across the deserted pampas of central Argentina, back to the Andes and anxious to push on. We are on the last leg of our trip, a few thousand kilometers through what promises to be one of the harder but more beautiful parts of our journey. Jamie is joining us for a couple of weeks and to pass the time between San Martin and his arrival in Esquel, we have been meandering down the Seven Lakes route, relaxing in Bariloche and El Bolson, camping out and meeting with the many Argentineans who are taking their summer holidays. We are back to climbs and unpaved roads, on the legendary Ruta 40 and heading for the equally famous Carretera Austral in Chile.

Ruta 40 is the Route 66 of Argentina, stretching from the border with Bolivia to the tip of the southern mainland, over 5000 km in length. We have already been on the northern part around Salta and will get back onto the southern part once we finish in Chile. In this part of Argentina the Ruta 40 passes though what must be some of the most beautiful places imaginable.

In Bariloche we found ourselves in the same campsite as Alexis and Coralie, a French couple we had met in La Paz. Coralie is cycling and Alexis is climbing, and asked me if I wanted to join him and some Brasilian friends for a day out on the rock. Of course I did. Any chance to have a go at one of the activities I love more than most others. These guys were brilliant climbers and  I hadn’t been climbing for over a year, so it was great to get on the end of a rope and feel the rock again

We will leave El Bolson tomorrow and head through  Los Alerces National park, trying to get used to the unpaved roads again in preparation for the Carretera, more wonderful cycling no doubt, free camping and meeting up with Jamie in a few days.

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Christmas in Buenos Aires

December 26, 2010 by

First view of the Buenos Aires skyline on the boat from Uruguay ..

Our first days in Buenos Aires were spent with Carolina’s family in Florida, a quiet leafy suburb.We spent our time chatting to Norma, Maxi and Margarita, swimming in the pool and relaxing in a gem of a cafe we found close to their house where we whiled away the hours by playing scrabble.  

Hannah drinking her Prince of Wales tea (she is addicted to the stuff!) and Derek with his mate.

Another dinner invite from friends of Hannah, Sophie and Pancho, whom she met during her last trip to Argentina.

It is always hard to know where to start exploring a city as vast as Buenos Aires which has a total of 48 ‘barrios’ or neighbourhoods. I am not normally a fan of Lonely Planet but their downloadable themed ‘City Walking Tours’ are a great starting point in exploring any city.

The Casa Rosada (government buildings), one of the sights on our walking tour, which has been witness to key historical events

First impressions of Buenos Aires ..

I have asked myself numerous times during our stay here why it has taken me so long to come to Buenos Aires. The city displays hints of Madrid but is for me very much the Paris of Latin America with its wide boulevards, bistros on every corner and stunning architecture. The city does reveal its own stamp however with impromptu street tango, big dance halls, it’s parillas serving up all sorts of meat and packed coffee houses.  It is a melting pot of cultures with a big concentration of Italian and Spanish emigrants. 60% of the population are of Italian descent and have significant connections to Italian culture, language and traditions. Even Spanish is spoken with an Italian accent!

A couple of Italians we met were surprised at how many old Italian traditions live on here although they have vanished from Italy. Fresh pasta, for example, can be found in many little shops around the city. Even I was surprised to here this is no longer the case in much of Italy.

Although the passage of time has brought urbanism, tourism and the associated changes to Buenos Aires, it is still a city steeped in its past.

Palermo and the Botanical Gardens

Buenos Aires has a sculptural fortune of over 1100 monuments and works of art distributed in public parks, squares and streets. We spent an afternoon wondering around the botanical gardens in Palermo where many can be found.

San Telmo..

They say Buenos Aires was born here. It is the oldest quarter with buildings of faded elegance and colourful locals. ‘Shabby-chic’ is what bests describes it. The bohemian character of the area flourishes every weekend at the antique fair on Plaza Dorrego which sells everything from antique wedding dresses to 19th century  furniture. San.Telmo is definitely a place to ramble about.

Antiques market scenes..

The colourful characters of San Telmo ..

The area is also famous for Tango dancing and images of Carlos Gardel are ever present. Best place to see Tango at its purest is at a ‘Milonga’ where locals of all ages gather to dance in a big tango hall. We discovered a fantastic place called La Cathedral Club.

Tango: street and bar scenes ..

                                                                                                             

                 

                                                                                                     

     

La Boca..

We spent an afternoon strolling around La Boca, famous for its colorful buildings. They say the people were so poor here they had to use the leftover paint from ships in the nearby port, hence the vibrant colours especially in ‘La Camineta’.

La Boca is also home to the famous soccer stadium "La Bombonera" (the chocolate box) of Boca Juniors. The season had just finished when we arrived here but we plan to catch a game on our way back in February. Maradona apparently comes to matches here whenever he is in town and it is where he started his football career. The club was founded on April 3, 1905 by five Italian immigrants and has a  fierce rivalry with River Plate, also from Buenos Aires.

      

                                                                                                 

Recoleta

We took a guided tour through the cemetery in Recoleta which is not quite on a par with Pere Lachaise in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London but nonetheless still impressive. Eva Peron is probably the most famous person to be buried here amongst other prominent citizens.

            

 Eva Peron’s tomb ..

Christmas Day in Buenos Aires .. a far cry from the arctic conditions back home..

I have always wanted to spend a Christmas in a sunnier climate and this was my chance. December 24th, similar to most of Europe, is bigger than Christmas Day in Argentina. There is much less of a build up to Christmas here and some shops reopen on the 25th. It is altogether a very laid back affair. Carolina’s family very kindly invited us to spend Christmas with them. We had a meal on Christmas Eve and the ubiquitous asado on Christmas Day in 40 degree heat. 

Scenes from Christmas Eve and Day ..

Me and Hannah

Martin and Edouardo

The A-team

Derek, Maxi, Martin and Tiago – the dudes

Carolina and me

Three generations of La Familia Dominguez-Touzon. Carolina’s family are of Italian / Spanish origin with La Nonna in the middle who is 90 and still loves her wine.

And so we say au revoir to Derek until we next see him in London. He heads back tomorrow and we have had a lot of fun in his five and a half weeks here. Hannah continues with us down south and Jaime will join us in mid January. We head south to begin the final leg of our journey on Tuesday. The holiday part of our trip is over and we need to get pedaling again.

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Happy Christmas

December 25, 2010 by

We would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has followed our blog during the year and wish you a happy Christmas and New Year. Writing the blog has been a great experience, I don’t now how else we could have recorded our trip, at least in such a memorable way. We are getting ready for the traditional Christmas day asado here, a great big bbq, chilling out by the back garden pool at our friends place in Buenos Aires, trying to stay out of the 40C heat.We are going to be back in the Andes next week and will continue south toward Ushuaia. And really looking forward to cycling through Patagonia!

Martin y Nessa

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The Uruguayan coastline

December 22, 2010 by

Some countries seem like stepping stones on the way to more exciting and more exotic adventure. We knew little about Uruguay, a small country sandwiched between Brasil and Argentina, a provincial backwater according to some. In ways the Panama of South America,  at least in our minds, another stepping stone, we were leaving Brasil behind with so many great memories and heading to Buenos Aires, the city that never sleeps and in between we would ride down the coastline of Uruguay.

After the long beach ride in Brasil to the border at Chui, we were glad to be back on pavement, making some progress despite a headwind which forced us to stop at a small seaside village. On asking about campsites we were told there were none but we could pitch our tents by the river, a spot with some picnic benches. This attitude sums up Uruguay, a fantastic little country, easy going people with no pretensions and with 5 times as many cattle as people, a country where carne and asado are national pastimes.

We were still high on the adrenaline of Brasilian back route navigation and Uruguay, with its quiet country roads, was the perfect place to continue, your only compass being a sense of curiosity and a desire to lose your way in the essence of a place. I think this section has been the most relaxed of the trip so far, floating along on a bike.

The is something about cycling by the sea, especially on a rugged coastline, maybe it is the dynamics of the infinite, never ending, the unchanging waves crashing in and rolling out and pedals turning, returning, turning, endlessly. Physically moving into a mental equilibrium.

We had a pattern to our days now and had an idea of stopping in a few places, enjoying the sea as much as possible and ending up in Colonia where we would sail across the Rio Plata to Buenos Aires. La Paloma was our first stop, an understated seaside town, staying meters from the beach and attempting our first Uruguayan style asado.

We decided to take the back road to Montevideo, Ruta 10, unpaved in parts and interrupted in others, involving more pushing of bikes and a little ferry. A gem of a route.

We met a Danish cyclist en-route who convinced us to check out Montevideo  and we arrived in time to celebrate Hannah’s birthday sucio style, bars with sawdust floors and back street pizzerias. The city, in keeping with the rest of the country, is laid back and was certainly worth the visit.

And so our detour was coming to an end, almost 3500km from Salta to Buenos Aires, the road less travelled by cyclists for sure but a really special part of our trip. We were heading to Colonia, further up the coast, only two days ride. When you get into a groove unusual things can happen. And so we found ourselves in Colonia Suiza after clocking up 120km in 6 hours, a strong wind on our backs. The luxurious Suiza hotel allowed us to "camp" in their grounds, well, we were given mattresses in their pool house, unused in the pre-christmas slow season, all for a few dollars each. Kudos to the manager. It’s not every morning you can enjoy breakfast by the pool in perfectly tended gardens.

Colonia del Sacramento is one of the most visited places in Uruguay. It is an hour boat ride from Buenos Aires and a world heritage colonial town, very pretty indeed.

It was to mark the end of our bike ride with Derek who has to return to work in the New Year. Both myself and Nessa are really touched that some of our friends would even consider joining us, it is such a long way to come for a short holiday. Thanks doesn’t even come close to expressing how we feel. And we have just heard from Jamie that he is coming out for two weeks of cycling in Patagonia – unbelievable. So, Christmas in Buenos Aires, we have been here a week already but that story is for another day. Suffice to say that Carolina’s family have already made us feel right at home.

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The longest beach in the world

December 6, 2010 by

The art of travel is to let go, to follow your feelings, to allow decisions to make themselves, let time expand and it fills with the spirit of adventure, no boundaries. Although we are used to our own space, our own way of doing things, traveling in our own groove and at our own pace we were excited at the thought of two old friends, Hannah (from Wales) and Derek (from Ireland), joining us. We knew they wouldn’t upset the rhythm, would slot right in, both are so easy going and great characters. And true to form, the last few weeks have been up there with the best of the trip, cycling down the coastline from Porto Alegre in Brasil and into Uruguay.

This part of South America is beautiful but more than that it is the people who have made it so special, it is hard to keep track of just how many people have gone out of their way to help us. We have been left speechless by the generosity, the kindness, the warmth shown by strangers to four bike tourists. And it is so natural, so genuine, it restores your faith in people, sometimes all you can say is “wow”, is this really happening. And so this blog is a big thanks to those people.

the ferryman drawing directions in the sand

The stretch from Porto Alegre to Buenos Aires is about 1300km and for once we are not under any pressure to clock up big distances. We planned to take it easy for the first few days and see how things would go. This part of the coastline is subject to storms from the Atlantic and so on the second day we had to sit out torrential rain and strong winds. We planned to camp but the campsite owner offered us two cabins for the price of camping, out of the cold and wet, the first of the generous gestures that we were to encounter, an auspicious start.

The following evening we arrived at Camaqua with no idea where we would be staying, until we bumped into Marcos, a local cyclist. He brought us to the local bike shop and rang around until he had found us a spot for the night in the local sports center, a spare room we could use for free, with hot showers and a kitchen. It never ceases to amaze us how much people want to know about our trip and the fascination with touring bikes and the people who ride them. These experiences leave us feeling lucky and happy, a good frame of mind when you are on the road. And everybody wants to pose for photos with us…or sometimes just the two girls!

check out the grins on their faces

The route south is busy and we wanted to get off the main road and let Derek and Hannah experience the unpaved roads connecting some out of the way villages and the inspiring countryside which surround them. We are so used to this that we would have simply stuck to the main road. And missed out on what was turning into a bit of an adventure. The bonus of having two fresh travellers becoming clear as the days went on, fresh ideas, a different way of looking at things, a new dynamic. In the tiny village of Pacheca we had to ask for directions and a local informed us that there was a river but no bridge but told us to follow him on his motorbike, bringing us to the river crossing and finding the ferryman. They thought we were loco!

We knew why once we had crossed, the road turning to mud. But we were having fun.

We covered 414km in five days, arriving at the town of Cassino by the sea. On the way into town a car stopped and a guy got out and gave us his number in case we needed any help or information while we were there. Fifteen minutes later he turned up and said he had found a place for us to stay on the beach front, a bargain, the perfect place for a couple of days chilling out, early morning and late evening swimming in the wild ocean at the start of the longest beach in the world!

another two guys going out of their way to help us

The domino effect was in progress. We were on a beach that stretching over 200km south and drivable to some extent. We wondered about cycling on some of it, but needed more information. After a pre-breakfast swim I spotted a cyclist on the beach and stopped her, thinking I would get some idea of how possible cycling was, and how far we could go. And so we met Marcia, a woman in her fifties who cycled 40km a day on the beach, spoke great English and loved Ireland. After some minutes chatting she invited us to join her and Mauro, her husband, for a barbeque that evening. And in between she brought us on a tour of the local city, Rio Grande.


Marcia and Mauro treated us to a night we won’t forget, opening their house to us, cooking us an incredible bbq, and when Marcia’s sister and her husband joined us we caught a real slice of Brasilian life, laughed all night and drank a seemingly endless supply of beer. It turned out that their son had played a gig in the Cobblestone, a bar I used to frequent in Dublin, what a small world.

We have talked about food a lot recently but to be honest, you have to try a real Brasilian bbq at least once in your life.

We had met a rare family, that is for sure. On leaving we were given a small present each. But most of all the night itself was the real present. In a trip of memorable experiences that will come high on the list of the best.

Things were going so well that we decided to ride our luck and chance the beach, planning to cycle 50kms or so and then try to find a way back to the main road. Adrian, the pousada owner warned us that although we could ride down the beach, it would be next to impossible to find the exit road and even if we did then we wouldn’t be able to bring the bikes through the sand dunes. Our thoughts were simple: what is the worst that could happen.

At the place where we supposed the exit was we met a guy in a jeep who told us that it just wouldn’t be possible to get back out to the main road through 8km of soft sand, and anyway, he was meeting some friends further down the beach for a spot of fishing and another bbq. And there was a sheltered spot to camp for the night. So we decided to stick to the beach, another 150km, it was an easy decision to make. Our only problem was the lack of water but several people helped us out and we manage to get an extra 13 liters, absolutely necessary. Marcia had even sent some down the beach with a truck driver in the off chance that we might need some!

the truck driver handing over 7 liters of much needed water

its a stingray!

a sheltered camping spot behind the dunes

We ended up cycling 207km along the longest beach in the world. It was epic and the end of the second day was tough, pushing bikes through soft sand as we sought out a route. But we made it, arriving in Balneario Hermenegildo, just short of the border with Uruguay.


And so onto another country, Uruguay. One we knew nothing about but the first few days here have left a great impression, riding down the rugged coast and quite country roads and now staying in La Paloma, a quirky town, on the beach front again, in a chilled hostel, several days ride from Buenos Aires and a break for Christmas.

I spotted this graffiti the other day and I guess it sums life up at the moment.

“La Vida es como andar en bici, ne se puede parar – Life is like travelling by bike, you can’t stop!”

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Rio de Janeiro in pictures

November 22, 2010 by

Rio in pictures ..

Europeans first encountered Guanabara Bay the location of Rio De Janeiro on January 1, 1502 hence the name ‘River of January’

‘Christ the Redeemer’ the iconic symbol of Rio located on the mountain top of the Corcovado Mountain. It is 40m tall and is considered the world’s largest statue as well as the largest art deco statue. It is listed as one of  the New Wonders of the World. The original reason to build the Redeemer in 1921 was apparently to mark the centenary of Brazil’s independence.

Our first view of the Redeemer ..

The views from the top ..

Our host in Rio, Niamh a good friend of mine who moved there in July and she was our perfect host always keeping us entertained.

Nights out in Rio ..

The arrival of our good friends Derek and Hannah who will be joining us for the next few weeks and months respectively

The many shades of Rio . .

The Favelas ..

Copacabana and Ipanema Beach ..

Hannah and Martin soaking up the rays and the sights and sounds

Is that Martin in his Newcastle speedos?

Some colourful characters on the beach ..

Rio Centro walking tour ..

Confeitaria Colombo opened in 1894 and is the oldest café in Rio with Art Noveau interiors. In the early 20th century it used to be frequented by writers, artists and thinkers.

"The Girl from Ipanema"" ("Garota de Ipanema") is a well known bossa nova song, a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s. It was written in 1962, with music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. The song was inspired by Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Montenegro Street of the fashionable district of Ipanema. Daily, she would stroll past the popular Veloso bar-café on her way to the beach, attracting the attention of regulars Jobim and Moraes. Since the song became popular, she has become a celebrity. The cafe still exists today.

Well known Serbian footballer Dejan Petkovic now playing in Brasil who we met in his restaurant.

Before and after bike assembly ..

Farewell dinner with Carolina and Tiago … until we meet again in Buenos Aires for Christmas

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