About 5 years ago I went on a 2 week cycle trip through Europe. Starting in the Bavarian town of Donauwörth I worked my way south along the Claudia Augusta, the first Roman road through the Alps. I passed through the likes of Innsbruck, Florence and Verona, wild-camping along the way, before arriving in Rome where I gorged myself on pizza and gelato.
These were easily 2 of the best weeks of my life. I still remember the sheer freedom I felt setting off from Donauwörth on that first sunny June morning (before I got sunburnt and ended up drinking river-water, but that’s another story) and the elation of seeing the alps slowly rise up around me. It was painful and lonely at times, and I drank a darn-sight more wine than any solo cyclist should, but the highs of the trip far outweighed the lows and have lingered long in the memory.
One evening, as I cycled alongside Lake Garda in Nothern Italy, something happened. It was the longest day of my trip and I’d cycled around 120km (which for me is an awful lot) so I was feeling pumped up, and with dusk descending I brazenly decided to make a dash for the next town. This town proved to be a lot further away than I’d anticipated. Within 15 minutes it was all but dark, and the batteries to my rear lights chose this moment to die on me. As the cars passed at increasing speed, I began to notice the little shrines dotted alongside the narrow road. Little crosses adorned with smiling photos, bouquets of flowers and Lazio shirts. Not wishing to add a Spurs shirt to this parade of death, I started looking for something, anything, to focus my mind and get me through the ride.
Out of nowhere the capital of Uruguay popped into my head.
I found myself chanting it over and over. A strange mantra conjured from the deep recesses of my brain.
Before long I was pumping at the pedals; my energy renewed. The manic chanting somehow served to ease my anxiety and focus my thoughts.
Why Montevideo? I’ll never know. I had never been to South America, let alone Uruguay, nor had I even met a Uruguayan (not that there are too many of them to meet). Barring an unashamed admiration for Diego Forlan’s craggy old-man bod, I had no discernible link to Uruguay whatsoever. But as I cycled in the dark chanting and pedaling like a deranged monk, I vowed that if I made it through that night alive I’d visit that damn city someday.
Suffice to say I did made it out alive (surprise!) and after half an hour of cycling along the grim reaper’s highway I safely found my way to the next town. Being a man of consummate sagacity and common sense, rather than checking in to a cheap hotel in the town, I stubbornly followed signs to a campsite down endless cliff-side switchbacks, one again submerging myself in darkness and danger. Eventually, both emotionally and physically drained, I rolled into touristy lakeside campsite, past the hordes of Italian families watching TV in their tents, and slept like the very tired man that I was.
A pretty crappy photo of Lake Garda, taken just outside of the campsite the morning after.
Following this trip I made vague plans to do a big cycle tour through Asia which, due to a combination of laziness and fear, never came to fruition. A year later I moved to Korea to teach English and any prospects of cycle touring were shelved; Montevideo forgotten. It was only when I arrived to Colombia 2 1/2 years later to pursue another teaching job that the seeds of another great bike tour were sown, like in so many cases, over a drunken conversation.
Why not cycle through South America?
– It’s a continent of unspeakable beauty and biodiversity, boasting the longest mountain range in the world, the driest desert, the largest salt-flat, the tallest waterfall and the widest road. In short, there are quite a few things to see here.
– Unlike in Asia, where bureaucracy and visa issues can render trip-planning a nightmare, in South America obtaining visas is a piece of piss.
– Apart from Brazil, every country shares a common language: a language that I’ve spent the last 2 years learning.
– If I don’t do it I’ll live the rest of my life with a gnawing regret, knowing that I passed on this incredible opportunity laid out before me.
– I can finally fulfill my pledge to visit the fabled city of Montevideo by ending my trip in Uruguay.
So, a year down the line, here I sit, in a Medellin hostel on the eve of my departure. My bike, bought from a fellow bike-tourer, Carlos, rests in his house a few miles away, along with my gear-laden panniers. I have but the seedlings of a route, am in severely average shape and haven’t ridden a bike for more than a handful of hours in the last 2 years, but tomorrow morning I shall set off into the lush countryside of Antiochia and my nomadic life on the road shall commence.
Nos vemos, Montevideo.