So, you’ve reached the end of the world! What next? How about a relaxed week visiting national parks, museums and penguin colonies?
But everything is absurdly expensive…
Well why not catch a cheap pre-booked flight up to Buenos Aires and enjoy Christmas in the sun?
How about hitchhiking with a fully loaded touring bike over 3000km and risk spending Christmas drinking box wine alone in a barn?
We have a winner!
Months ago, long before the reality of the situation had set in, I decided upon hitchhiking my way north from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. It would be fun, I thought. I’d meet some characters, see a whole other side of Argentina and save myself a lot of money in the process. I’d heard tales of other cyclists doing this so knew it was possible. All I needed was a bit of luck and plenty of patience.
However, as I sat in the snug confines of Refugio de los Mochileros in Ushuaia surrounded by cyclists preparing to fly home for Christmas my plan didn’t seem so alluring. Staring at the map the distance seemed greater than ever. What had my stupid past self got my present self into? As I wheeled my way to the entrance of Ushuaia, a mere 2 days after arriving, I can’t say I was brimming with wanderlust and enthusiasm. I just wanted to go home. Weighed down by the steel grey skies I stuck out my thumb and hoped for the best.
What’s the biggest danger to cycle tourers? Bad drivers? Thieves? Getting lost? Homicidal maniacs? Existential Angst? Food poisoning? Guerrillas? Poisonous spiders? Lacking the motivation to step out the door? The ghost of Jeremy Beadle?
It’s those lovable little shit munchers that we call dogs.
A couple of days before I arrived in Chachapoyas I noticed some paint peeling on the frame of the bike. It was only later while giving it a clean I realised it was something much more serious. The welding at the join between one of the seat stays and the seat tube had completely cracked and the two were no longer attached. I went online to find out how bad this was and, much like how WebMD can make a mild rash seem like a virulent case of smallpox, the various cycling forums soon led me to believe that I had no choice but to give up on my frame or else suffer the dreaded “catastrophic failure”. There was never any mention of partial or slight failure, it just had to be catastrophic. It was clear that if I rode my bike again it would instantly explode and I would die. On the other hand replacing the frame would be time consuming, expensive and a logistical nightmare. As I lay there in my hostel bed I saw my whole trip flash before my eyes. Surely there had to be a way to fix this.
With all the birthday jollities behind me I had a nice easy day heading south from San Ignacio. A forgiving incline gave way to 20km of downhill and soon I was down at the valley floor, only 400m above sea level, tracking the river as it zig-zagged south. With little to no traffic my attention was diverted by the legion of millipedes inching their way across the hot road and the eagles soaring above.
As I prowled the one and only mean street of Sibundoy I spotted a stall selling really big juicy looking salchichas (sausages) and I simply had to have one. Thus I spent the following day writhing around in bed in a windowless room with a dodgy stomach and a fever. Thankfully after a cocktail of drugs and copious amounts of water I sweated it all out and the next morning I was feeling fresh and raring to go.
Diomar showed me around the village, which didn’t take very long, and we visited a friend of his – a very nice lady who gave us warm milk fresh from the cow and, presuming I was an affable invalid with no understanding of what food was, showed me potatoes, spring onions and maize, repeatedly pronouncing the name of each, despite me already having said it.
“Ah, so you grow spring onions too?”
“These are spring onions. SPRING ONIONS”
If there was one section of Colombia that slightly worried me it was this: riding through the corridor between Palmira and Cali, respectively the 8th and 10th most dangerous cities in the world. While the chances of anything happening were tiny, I didn’t want to end up skirting some dodgy barrio come nightfall so I set of from Walter’s good and early to be sure. In fact I need not have worried. I shot like a bullet down the Pan-American Highway and by 12 o clock I was comfortably clear of both cities. All I had to do was find some lunch.
I didn’t want to leave Casa Madrid. Diana told me tales of a German guy named Matheus who spent 2 months there and I envisioned myself spending the rest of my life swinging in the hammock, reading books, drinking beer and practising Spanish. And so, it was for that exact reason that I had to leave. I cooked Diana and Isabella a thank you meal of makeshift carbonara (ain’t easy to find bacon on a Sunday in Bolivar) and regretfully pulled myself away from their tractor beam and back onto the saddle.
I woke up early and after a little meditation and a simple breakfast (along with the Andes, I see mountains of porridge in my near future) I was on my way. On the side of the road a man was selling huge bags of blackberries and for only 2,000 pesos and I couldn’t resist. About 10 seconds after paying I realised they were underripe and, judging by the vast quantity, were obviously intended for making juice. Not so easily deterred I kept shoveling them into my mouth. My tongue felt weird for about 2 days after.