Finally, the first post! I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the 1st of October and was greeted by my good friend Adam and his girlfriend Lila on the airport. The flight was exhausting; First 3 hours from Copenhagen to Istanbul, and then a staggering 18 hours from Istanbul to Buenos Aires with a technical stop in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Although the biggest concern for me was to see if my bag and bike box was undamaged, and thankfully they were.
I stayed with Adam and Lila in her apartment in the barrio (neighborhood) of Palermo for one week, ate wonderful food and just relaxed. We did a day trip to Tigre on Adams birthday where we hired a canoe and paddled our way through the canals. Staying in Buenos Aires was a very good acclimatization, but I was quite nervous when leaving the safe haven of Adams and Lilas apartment to head towards completely unknown territory.
I took an airplane to Ushuaia, which is the southernmost city of the world. My initial plan was to go by bus, but in this crazy world the bus ride would cost about the double and would take about three days with a lot of transfers. Try to explain the logic of that price setting… Besides I was traumatized after having to sit still for so long on the flight to B.A so I decided to go by plane. The only thing I can do is to be ashamed for the way I’m treating Mother Nature and buy carbon credits to soothe my bad conscience. Knowing that the flight from Sweden is the equivalent of roughly 4 years of carbon emissions per person that the earth can handle makes me sad. To cope with it I try to do all I can to be “eco friendly” and most of all, I blame it on someone else! A crazy world indeed… In Ushuaia it was a lot colder than Buenos Aires. The notorious winds of Patagonia and especially Tierra Del Fuego had got me scared but at my arrival it was very calm, which lifted my spirits. I had no idea what was waiting for me…
I stayed at a hostel in Ushuaia for 3 days mounting my bike and purchasing the last things. The owners of the hostel were so nice and I was invited to their Sunday dinner. I got to eat traditional Argentinian food; Asado, which means barbeque with meat of many different kinds. Although I usually don’t eat meat I couldn’t refuse their generous offer but my stomach got to take the punishment for it. We played a lot of music and had a great time, although I had a hard time communicating. My Spanish is improving but still it’s very hard to have a real conversation, because most of the people speak fast and with a difficult accent.
It is not high season here yet so the most of the people that stayed at the hostel were from the north of Argentina working temporarily, because here the salaries are a lot higher than in the north. This means it’s more expensive here too, which is a hassle for me and my relatively small budget. I left Ushuaia with my bicycle on Sunday the 13th of October and it was raining a bit but the wind was still surprisingly calm. When I say calm, what I really mean is that it was still a bit tricky to keep the balance of the bike, and sudden gusts could be really hard to manage. After pedaling for about two hours I encountered my first problem; the chain was skipping! It was very annoying because of the fact that the chain and the cassette was completely new, but after a while I found that problem was a stiff link. With not a very good chain tool and stiff fingers from the cold (about 10 degrees celsius) I couldn’t get it right though. Besides from that the first day went very good. I climbed my first mountain pass which meant about 8 km of uphill, and the view from the top was amazing! I did about 100 km that day, and slept like a baby in my tent and warm sleeping bag.
The day after was a lot harder. The mountains were transforming into hills and in the middle of the day I was cycling in completely flat landscape, which meant a lot stronger winds. Still manageable but really tough cycling with the average speed of 15 km/h. After a long and hard day I finally reached Rio Grande. I took a rest day in Rio Grande and adjusted my bike a bit and fixed my chain. I also bought a lot of food, because I knew it was going to be a long and hard ride to Porvenir on the west side of Tierra Del Fuego.
The next day I woke up with fear, because all night I could hear the wind beating on the walls of the hostel and I really wondered if I knew what I was getting myself into. My fears were not in vain, because the winds that day was the worst I ever could have imagined. I had winds of up to 90 km/h which is about 25 m/s! As long as it was paved roads it was OK, but after having passed the border into Chile the so called “ripio” began. “Ripio” means gravel road, and it’s not any gravel road. The big stones on the road takes all your focus while your cycling because you really have to avoid them to not loose balance. The gravel road was heaven compared to the winds, and the combination was just breaking me down. But there was no turning back now; I had just started this trip, I couldn’t just give in after some hard days. Besides, I was in the middle of this long stretch and in the middle of nowhere. I must admit I was scared at some times, especially in the night when the passing cars got fewer (good thing I didn’t know that my GPS tracker wasn’t working, because if something would have happened, I was really on my own. I found out later that the satellites doesn’t cover this remote region of earth).
The only cure for this fear was for me to just keep on struggling, no matter how tired or hungry or thirsty I was. Because I was hungry and thirsty; It’s very hard to carry water for so many days, and, because I could not in my wildest dreams have imagined those harsh conditions, I miscalculated the distance I thought I would cover each day. I ended up taking water from the few rivers that existed and had to rationalize the food. This was my lesson number one; always carry too much food, no matter how heavy it might be.
I pushed on, and so did the winds (unfortunately not in the same direction as I). Most of the time the winds were so hard, and the roads so bad, that I just couldn’t get the momentum to keep the balance while cycling. That meant I had to walk, which was not “a walk in the park”, with a heavy bike and a heavy head… Just push, a hundred meter at a time, just push… After five long days in the deserted pampas I finally arrived in Porvenir on the west coast of Tierra del Fuego.
I was about to learn my next lesson directly on my arrival to Porvenir; always carry a lot of cash. After the immense physical and mental stress I was so glad to arrive to civilization again. The first thing I did and which I had dreamed for the last days was to go to a restaurant and eat. But there was a problem; they didn’t accept credit card and I didn’t have any cash. So I went to the bank, but the damn machine didn’t want to spit out my money. I asked what was wrong and they said that they don’t accept Visa in the whole of Porvenir (even though there was Visa sticker on the damn machine). My only chance was to take the boat to Punta Arenas and withdraw money there, but I still had to pay for the boat… I cycled the last 5 km out to the boat, but no, they didn’t accept credit cards there either. I was very close to just break down and cry, but then my luck turned. A man had overheard my conversation with the cashier and directly offered to pay for my ticket. Then a couple from Denver, USA, which I met before turned up on their motorcycle and also offered to pay for my ticket. It ended up being a young couple from Punta Arenas paying for my ticket and I was so happy for all the help I got and retained my hope for humanity 🙂 On the boat I fell asleep because I was so tired and hungry, but suddenly a “gaucho” (South American cowboy) woke me up and gave me two sandwiches and a coffee, and I was so happy that I almost kissed him!
Right now I am in Punta Arenas in a very cosy hostel, which is more like a home than a hostel. I eat breakfast with the owners family, they wash my clothes and are very friendly! They even offered me a lift to the hospital, because I told them that I have a problem with my knee. I think that I just need to rest because it has been quite a rough start on this bicycle ride. I hope it’s nothing serious, but I stay here until the pain is gone. In the future I have to listen more to my body, lesson number three.
Lesson number four is to improve in documenting the trip, I see now that I don’t have a lot of material to choose from when uploading. Well well, can’t get everything right huh? 🙂