Ushuaia

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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