Well this has been a long time coming. Back in Bogota on around the 2nd of February 2017 I dyed my hair peroxide blonde in a kind of third-life crisis/stunted act of rebellion and started taking a selfie every day to chart both my bicycle trip through South America and the growth of the blinding white mop.
Back home at my parents’ house in sunny Kingston Upon Thames I hear a shrill cry in the distance. What could it be? The collective shout of a thousand frustrated blog readers shouting “BUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT LANKY CYCLE MAN?” as they frantically smash F5 on their sweat dripped keyboards?
No. It’s foxes having sex.
But the question stands. What did happen next? So to distract myself from the conjugal grunts of these vulpine hellbeasts I’ll regale you with the details of my final weeks in South America.
11 months in and I finally made the ferry crossing from Buenos Aires to my last stop on two wheels: Uruguay. But alas it didn’t feel like a triumphant final voyage I’d hoped but rather a pleasant footnote to my journey through South America. The Italians have an phrase cavioli riscaldati (reheated cabbage) for when you try to reignite a romance with a former flame. Suffice to say the cabbage never tastes quite as good after a minute in the microwave. When I put foot to pedal in Colonia – the appropriately named colonial port town across from Buenos Aires – I felt contented and happy, but after the emotional arrival to Ushuaia and the sense of urgency of my hitchhiking trip, I found it impossible to get excited about cycling again. It was one ending too many; the cycling equivalent of that hobbit orgy at the end of Return of the King. Hard to believe but it turns out that after 10 1/2 months cycling the length of a continent, the prospect of a leisurely cycling holiday through swelteringly hot flatlands isn’t so inticing. That’s not to say that I had a bad time in Uruguay. Far from it. But all the best times were off the bike.
Everything is falling apart. My dry bag is ripped, my spork melted then snapped, my Kindle broke, both my phone and laptop screens are cracked while the ‘a’ key doesn’t work on the latter, my jeans and one pair of underwear have holes in the crotch – if inadvertently worn in tandem old ladies scream in terror when I cross my legs – my one good shirt is torn, one of my tent poles snapped and is held together with duct tape, my tent pegs are bent or lost, my air mattress is riddled with holes, my cooking gear is covered in a permanent patina of filth, I look like a homeless disco pirate and every morning I’m smacked with the stench of dried sweat and wet socks.
The best laid plans of cycle tourers often go awry. Usually this is due to tree felling winds, mechanical failures or biblical rainstorms, but every now and then one’s plans are laid aside due to more serendipitous circumstances. My stay at Nant y Fall was one such propitious twist of fate. Had the weather not been so crap, my phone been out of battery or my schedule been ever so slightly different, I would’ve passed right by the signpost to the uncommonly southern vineyard and made straight for the Chilean border. As it was I stopped by with the intention of staying for one night only to be so charmed by the eco-campsite (and the opportunity to stream the Spurs match) that I decided to stay for two. Then Sergio, who has spent the last 7 years transforming what was once forgotten scrub land into easily the best campsite I’ve ever stayed at, offered me room and board for a few hours of daily labour and I thought “Why not?”. I was set to cross the border a little earlier than intended and the weather was rubbish so a couple of days working and practising my Spanish couldn’t do any harm. 10 days later I was still there.
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.
Crossing Paso de Jama felt momentous. After 6 1/2 months in the Andean countries that once comprised Greater Colombia we were crossing to the Southern Cone: the more
developed, European part of the continent. And on my quest to reach Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, it felt like a half way point. Were this Super Mario World I’d have jumped through a white pole and doubled in size, though unfortunately if I die I doubt I’ll respawn on the Argentine border.
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.