I didn’t think I’d make it this far. Patagonia was a mirage shimmering so far in the distance that I assumed I’d give up or die of thirst before I reached it. At the beginning of my trip I was unsure if I even wanted to go this far. What if I had crippling back pain, got really lonely or my bike exploded? When people asked about my destintion I’d always say Montevideo with an added “maybe via Patagonia…but we’ll see”.
Accordingly I didn’t do much research about the ruggedly beautiful region that draws so many people to this part of the world, nor did I spend hours poring over earthporn photos of the Torres del Paine or the Carretera Austral, preferring to leave an air of mystery around it. Or maybe I was just lazy. Either way, when I emerged from the bus in Pucon it was clear that I was entering a whole other world – one of log cabins, crystalline lakes and the kind of raw, uncaring wild that Jack London wrote about.
I thought my days by the Pacific were over after the unrivaled shitfest of my Peruvian sojourn, but I just couldn’t resist giving it one more shot. There was no way this coastal venture could be worse than that, but then sitting in a bathtub of milk with Piers Morgan would be preferable to another trip to Barranca. I didn’t know a lot about the Chilean coast as it’s not too well traveled by gringo cyclists but after weeks stuck on La Cuarenta I was game for a bit of adventure so off I went.
After his 40 days in the desert I’m sure JC needed a break. Maybe he considered volunteering at a hostel, a rustic little place on a shore of Lake Galilee perhaps? I felt much the same and after over 1000km of sandy ballbags I was well in need of a rest. Thus I set my sights on Mendoza and ended up volunteering for 10 days at Windmill Hostel – a laid back joint near the centre of the city.
Dario and Julietta opened the hostel a year ago and it’s already the highest rated hostel in the city on Hostelworld. They’re a lovely couple and I had a very relaxed time volunteering with them which was exactly what I needed but unfortunately stability and toilet cleaning don’t make for interesting blogging. I’ll see what I can do.
Route 40 or La Cuarenta is the Route 66 of Argentina. While not quite as commodified as it’s North American cousin, it’s the most iconic road in Argentina and has it’s own little symbol and the occasional roadside themed restaurant. More than 5,000km long, it stretches the length of the country and has been my home for the last few weeks. Unfortunately iconic doesn’t necessarily mean interesting and much of the last 1000-odd kilometres of cycling south from Cafayate has been a boring slog through the desert. The days have begun to blur together into an unseasoned stew of straight roads, unchanging scenery and identikit towns.
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.
Uyuni itself is a combination of typical Bolivian antiplano town and tourist hive, depending on which streets you walk. We spent a few days relaxing and letting Philipp’s stomach and my chaffed behind recover from our travails through the salars.
Like a seasoned con giving a beating to a naive new inmate, Bolivia took no time in asserting its dominance over me. As soon as I crossed the border the road quality turned awful, a vicious wind whipped in from the lake and on the first incline I snapped my gear cable (again). Luckily the border town of Puerta Acosta was only 5km away but I was forced to push the bike uphill through the ailing light. I’d lost my gloves the previous day and before long it was dark and my hands were completely numb. I was convinced I’d taken a wrong turn and was nearing despair when a friendly farmer assured me I was on the right track and walked me to town.
The Incans believed Cusco was the centre of the universe. Today it’s the centre of all things touristy in South America. I spent a couple of days in the city 6 months ago during the rainy season and, while I liked the old town, a gloomy pallor hung over everything and I was quick to head south to Arequipa after completing the obligatory trek to Machu Picchu.
In general travelling solo suits me but after about 10 days with little more in the way of conversation than the standard gringo cyclist questionnaire…
“Where are you going?” “Where are you from?” “You’re travelling alone?” “Don’t you get scared?” “Don’t you get tired?” “How much does your bike cost?” “Why don’t you attach a motor to that thing?” “What do you think of (insert country here)?”
…I was craving something more substantial. And so I ended up Couchsurfing at Misa’s place in Ayacucho. Misa was inquisitive and friendly and I immediately felt comfortable in his house as I sat drinking tea and chatting with him and his sweet elderly mother, who constantly nagged him about everything. “Misa….MIIISSSAAA!”
Cerro de Pasco is a fascinating place. It lays claim to be the highest city in the world at 4310 metres (although this is highly disputed), is the poorest city in Peru and has a bloody great polymetal mine slap bang in the middle of it that’s as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. Apparently the mining company even has the rights to destroy the historical centre in order to expand. It is also very cold. When the bus pulled in at 6.00am all the Peruvians were layering up in preparation for an Arctic expedition and there was me in just a shirt. Not fun.