Friday, 31 December 2010
When I read this title I wonder if perhaps I’m not exaggerating the experience – but that just shows you how easily one forgets! Previously, cycling South along the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, I’d had some troubles – mostly relating to rain and cold conditions. Since my last report from Coyhaique however, I’d started to experience some unnervingly strong winds even before crossing the border into Argentina. Fortunately those winds were mostly in my favour as I was moving in an Easterly direction by that time (the wind in Patagonia is mostly from the West, but don’t rely on that as it can change in a minute!). I’d taken the ferry across the wind-whipped Lagos General Carrera to the town of Chile Chico, from where I crossed into Argentina and was blown through the semi-desert scrub Eastwards along the shores of the same lake (now called Lagos Beunos Aires) to the farming town of Perito Moreno. This was the point from where I was to tackle the INFAMOUS ROUTE 40 South. Not unexpectedly my good fortune soon ended, the paved road didn’t last long, and I was now moving Southwards with the wind almost directly side-on. Just keeping the bike on the loose stony surface became an exhausting task, and any form of shelter for setting up camp at night was rather scarce (I camped in ditches along the road, in the storage shed of a government road camp, and behind a rather inadequate thorn bush – providing me with a puncture for my troubles). I also had to carry plenty of water, as most of the rivers indicated on the map were either dry, or far and inaccessible from the road. The loose road surface meant that I had no base from which to resist the wind, and on one particularly exposed stretch I was not only being blown off the road while cycling or pushing the bike, I was also being blown over just standing and trying to hold the bike upright (in my ignorance I used to think that such powerful gusting winds should have a name and be mentioned on TV News – which usually includes a damage report!). After a number of spectacular crashes I was sitting in the dust next to my bike wondering what to do next, when a pickup truck appeared from beyond the horizon and thankfully gave me a lift to where they turned off – after that some hills provided a little protection and I could struggle onwards to the tiny village of Tres Lagos (luckily there was a protected camp site, as well as a shop – I was running out of food due to the lack of “pit-stops” along that isolated route). Enough of the woeful stories, because further South there were more paved roads and I managed to grind my way through Argentinian Patagonia back into the Southern part of Chile. (I stayed over a day in the touristy El Calafate, and on Xmas eve I was camping in the shelter of the petrol station at a hamlet called La Esperanza – and the locals kindly invited me to their Xmas party where I was stuffed full of meat and beer). Back in Chile at the hostel campsite in the town of Puerto Natales, the day after Xmas, I met up with Leana again. She had been stuck there for a couple of weeks and she could still barely walk from the ankle injuries she sustained while on a trek in the nearby Torres Del Paine Nat Park. Although my rough plan was to carry on South to Ushuaia, we went to enquire about the ship back North to Puerto Montt. The Navimag ship “Evangelistas” was leaving on the night of the 27th- I was also looking forward to getting back out of the miserable weather – and when Leana offered to pay for my passage I wasn’t going to refuse! It turned out to be a wonderful 3-day voyage through the maze of fjords and channels, with close views of glaciers and snowy mountain islands (not to mention the good food and rest I got on the ship!). So, more than 4 weeks and 2000 km after heading South into Patagonia, I’m happy to be back in Puerto Montt. Since we´ve arrived this morning it feels incredibly hot and humid – probably in relation to the cold which I´d become accustomed to in Patagonia (I´m looking forward to cycling in shorts/t-shirt/sandals). From here we’ll probably take a more leisurely and slightly different route North than what I did on my way South (hopefully Leana´s feet can hold up to the cycling). Daily distances cycled since my last report from Coyhaique have been:- Cerra Castillo 90 km; Chile Chico 36 km (+ ferry); Perito Moreno (Argentina) 79 km; Unnamed Camp 103 km; Bajo Caracoles 35 km; Las Horquetas 95 km; Lagos Cardiel 96 km; Tres Lagos 68 km (+ lift); Lagos Viedma 56 km; El Calafate 117 km; La Esperanza 167 km; Tami Aike 81 km; and Puerto Natales (Chile) 114 km. Total distance cycled so far in South America is 2 985 km, and total for the trip is 69 454 km.
Sunday, 12 December 2010
The city of Puerto Montt is regarded as the gateway to Patagonia (on the Western Chilean side of the South American continent). The Carretera Austral (Route 7) runs South from there for more than a thousand k´s, mostly a gravel road which is linked in places by necessary ferry crossings. Most of the ferries only operate in the short summer season, and as the ferries on the Northern section of Route 7 were not yet running I carried on South to Chiloe Island via an extention of the Pan Americana (Route 5) on which I had been cycling since Santiago. From Quellon in the South of the island I was then able to take a ferry back to the mainland at Chaiten, from where I could cycle South on Route 7. Earlier I´d been informed that there was a daily ferry, but upon arrival in Quellon I discovered that the ferry made the crossing once a week, so I had 2 days to kill (luckily I could stay with local people Mauricio and Sylvia - see previous post). In the early morning the ferry docked at what´s left of Chaiten town in atroceous weather, and I wasn´t at all impressed by this "cold" welcome to mainland Pategonia. A couple of years ago Chaiten Volcano erupted, just about burying the whole town under ash - also making it difficult for the ferry to dock as the new "beach" is closely adjacent to the docking area. Fortunately all residents were evacuated in time, and people seem to be returning to dig their houses out of the ash. Before long I was on a gravel road, sometimes quite good surface but sometimes not so good. As I had expected there is not much flat land around here, so it´s up and down all the time with the occasional bigger mountain pass. After meeting only 1 other cyclist in Chile so far (Jean-Marc from France), I met 4 cyclists moving North on the day of the ferry crossing (Joachim and Sabine from Germany, and Jeff & Rosemary from Australia). The weather hasn´t been wonderful, and I´ve only cycled on one rainless day in the past 2 weeks. On that day I met Marc from Switzerland cycling in the same direction as me, and we camped together for 2 nights (on the 3rd morning he left before me, and has been missing ever since). After suffering the cold on a number of occasions I am now convinced that I´m not properly prepared for the weather, and today I bought a pair of leather boots, as well as waterproofing spray for the boots, my gloves, and rain gear (which have been rather ineffective in the constant freezing rain - and the snow which I´ve run into twice on high ground). Please don´t misunderstand me, I´m not complaining - due to the weather and the topography, this area is absolutely spectacular (I´ve nearly crashed a few times just staring in awe at the magnificent scenery). Now I´ve rested in Coyhaique for 2 days, a fairly big town and capital of this region. Perhaps I´ll stay another day, as every now and then I still suffer the after-effects of the illness I had in Borneo 6 months ago (I´m still losing hair, but a more awkward problem is the joint pains which recur every now and then). Besides that, there´s a New York cyclist staying in the same hospedaje as me - I don´t even know his name yet, so we still need some time to swap war stories. Daily distances cycled since my last report from Temuco have been:- Mafil 136 km; Osorno 126 km; Puerto Varas 94 km; Puerto Montt 26 km; Ancud 98 km; Chonchi 110 km; Quellon 75 km; To Ferry 6 km (plus 4 hr ferry to Chaiten); Villa Santa Lucia 88 km; La Junta 68 km; Puerto Puyuguapi 46 km; Villa Amengual 92 km; El Balseo 106 km; and Coyhaique 49 km. Distance cycled in South America since leaving Santiago is 1 848 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 68 317 km.
In Chile, a dog´s life is not necessarily a bad life - there are hordes of dogs around, many of them seem to be packs of strays. Dogs apparently hold a special place in local society, and anybody who harms a dog could find himself in big trouble. I´ve learned to look around a bit, scanning the area for dogs before I set up camp, but before long they usually sniff me out. Initially there´s a bit of barking involved, but as soon as they realise that I´m about to prepare dinner the dogs pretend to be a lot more friendly. After my last report from Temuco I continued on my way South, and when I enquired around at the small town of Mafill regarding a camp site a local man (Juan Ernesto) invited me to camp at his humble home. Of course Juan Ernesto had a dog which he tied up on one side of the yard, leaving me hardly enough space to pitch my tent (and the dog disturbed the whole neighbourhood for most of the night, barking at my tent). I also had dinner with the family that evening, and my attempts to communicate with the help of a dictionary were rather futile as Juan Ernesto turned out to be illiterate. In Chile I also introduce myself as "Ernesto", otherwise the people don´t quite catch my name (as in Mocambique, where I had a sign on my bike advertising this blog - leading some of the Portuguese speaking locals to think that my name was Ernesto Nbike). Further South on Chiloe Island I had to wait for the ferry from Quellon back across to the mainland, and I stayed at the home of the welcoming Sylvia and Mauricio (unfortunately their dog didn´t share that attitude, and had to be tied up before I could leave the house). Sylvia has done cycle touring in the past, so they are keen to accommodate cyclists who have to spend some time in their town, Quellon (contact Mauricio on e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you don´t mind camping out on the lounge floor). The other night, after a long cold and wet day on the bike, I found refuge in an auto scrap yard, where I shared a breezy shed with the two resident "Junk Yard Dogs". They weren´t at all mean towards me, and probably considered adopting me as one of their own when I let them eat my leftover dinner from the pot. The following morning I awoke to a freezing wet day, with fresh snow low on the surrounding hills. After a few k´s on the road I stopped to eat some peanuts which I had with me, but before I could even help myself to a second handful of peanuts there were 6 dogs in close attention (where did they come from!?). I carried on cycling - dogs in tow - and after about 10 km most of the hounds had called it a day. However, 2 of the dogs managed to stay with me (lagging behind as I sped down the hills, but they obviously knew the road because they kept on going and caught me on the inevitable uphills). Later I sheltered from the rain in a tunnel and decided to reward the dogs by giving them some of the peanuts, but they didn´t want any! (they just wanted to run along with me, it seems). When I was crawling up the subsequent mountain pass I coudn´t feel my hands and feet anymore, and then it started to snow. Those 2 dogs trotted ahead of me through the drifting snow, looking around every now and then to make sure that I was still following. I got the feeling that they may have been angels guiding me through trouble, but then it struck me that they were both pitch black dogs (probably what I deserve, anyway!). Once over the top of the pass the sky cleared for a moment and I could see the town of Coyhaique about 10 k´s away at the foot of a large mountain. I felt rather awkward leaving those 2 dogs like that on the big downhill after they´d run with me for 27 km - but all I could think of was a nice warm room in one of the hospedaje´s in town (and the inevitable wood-burning stove which these places have for heating). Later, in my warm room, I was sitting in bed watching cable TV (just to hear a bit of English for a change). I glanced out of the window and was overcome by a strange feeling when I saw the 2 black dogs sniffing around the supermarket entrance across the road where I´d done my shopping about an hour earlier.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
I was rather pleased when my jetlagged internal clock managed to set itself, and I could head out from Santiago through Chile towards the Southern tip of the continent. Once beyond the city limits I was allowed to cycle on Route 5 (the Pan American highway)which runs almost the whole length of this narrow country. For 4 days I was fortunate with the weather (although there was a constant breeze from the front), and I enjoyed the scenery of vineyards and green fields agains the backdrop of the magnificent Andes. Then El Ninjo struck again, and now I´m back in the cold and wet which I hoped had remained behind in Australia. Since Santiago I´ve been camping at the roadside, so the rain was enough of an excuse to stay over in a hostel today (do some laundry, have a shower, do this internet thing, and rest my backside). The city of Temuco where I´m resting, is quite a bustling place, and I´ve found it interesting walking around the markets and watching the people ("watch" is about all I can do right now, as I´m still trying very hard to "swallow" the English/Spanish dictionary which I bought in Santiago). Even working on the internet takes longer than usual, as the conputers speak Spanish and I have to use the dictionary quite a lot to ensure that I don´t give wrong commands! So far I´ve found that things in Chile are not dirt cheap (similar to South Africa), but it is still a hell-of-a-lot more affordable than Australia. I´m a bit concerned about the Andes and Patagonia which still lie ahead of me, so today I invested in a decent rainjacket-thingy, better safe than sorry I suppose. Distances cycled since Santiago have been:- Rengo 122 km; Talca 154 km; Chillan 149 km; Los Angeles 122 km; Lautaro 124 km; and Temuco 30 km. Total on this journey since leaving Cape Town is 67 197 km.
I thought I´d just jot down a few notes about how I got from Sydney to Santiago (obviously not by bicycle, although I did cycle 20 km from Sydney to airport, and 27 km from airport to Santiago). The rest of the way was by Areoleneas Argentina (via Auckland and Beunos Ayres). Firstly, on the cycle leg to Sydney airport I picked up the Lonely Planet guide to South America, as well as a bike box from one of the shops along the way (quite a mission, as the flattened and folded box made the bike look like some sort of flying machine anyway!). I slept at the airport that night under a sign drawing attention to "suspicious behaviour", and the next day I managed to get myself and all my stuff on the plane without too much ado. The refuelling stop in Auckland took longer than planned due to a problem with the aircraft, so I watched the sunset from the airport terminal building while waiting. Twelve hours later (after crossing the international date line) I landed in Beunos Ayres about 4 hours before taking off from Auckland! While waiting for my connecting flight I watched the sun setting for the second time that day (still Tuesday 9 November!). The flight to Santiago then raced the sun Westwards, but I was glad that the sun won the race, as I don´t think I could have handled a third sunset in one day. After taking the bike out of the box and getting everyting in order, I set off for Santiago centro about an hour before dawn (and avoided most of the morning traffic). After a few attempts I found a very nice hostel - good thing as I was so jetlagged that I stayed for 4 days instead of the intended two. I found Santiago to be a rather pleasant city, and I wandered around there collecting things I needed such as maps, groceries, and bike spares. Fortunately again, it was a Sunday when I cycled South out of the city - so the traffic was quite tolerable.
Monday, 8 November 2010
I guess this is it for me in Australia. After about 6000 km in 3 months I finally arrived in Sydney yesterday afternoon. As it was Sunday the traffic was mild, but I still had to contend with one or two nasty hills (as was the case almost the whole way from Melbourne). At least it wasn't raining, as I've certainly had my share of the unseasonal cold and wet weather on this stretch. However, this part of the coast is also very scenic, with lots of (hilly) State Forests, and beautiful lakes and ocean inlets. I've met a number of long-distance cyclists along the way, and all of them had some gripe about the hills (one or 2 of them looked like scarecrows or hedgehogs, with all the stuff they tie to their helmets in order to avoid being attacked by the cheeky Magpies). Now that I've seen the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, I'll fly from Sydney tomorrow into a whole new world - I guess I'll have to brush up on my Spanish (not that I have any Spanish to brush up on). I still have to find a bike box, and then cycle to the airport where I'll "set up camp" tonight. Distances cycled on the 12 days since leaving Melbourne were:- Warragul 122 km; Sale 112 km; Lake Tyers R/A 118 km; Murrungowar P/S 67 km; Genoa Forest 93 km; Eden 81 km; Quaama R/A 84 km; Waldrons Swamp R/A 99 km; Burrill Lake 71 km; Bomaderry 78 km; Coledale 97 km; Sydney 69 km. Total distance cycled in Australia is 5 942 km. Total cycled since leaving Cape Town is 66 449 km.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Since my last report Leana and I have cycled Eastwards along the Southern tip of the Australian mainland towards Melbourne. We've had some less fortunate weather along the way, which made the going a bit slow (about 10 degrees C below normal for this time of year - cold rain and wind). However, there were some beautiful places, especially along the famed Great Ocean Road (12 Apostles rock formations, and other scenic spots). Unfortunately along the way I recieved the news that my Mom had passed away, and this afternoon Leana left (she flew back to SA). Now I'm heading for Sydney, and I have to be out of the country no later than 10 Nov (my sister has offered to pay for my escape flight). Distances cycled since my last report have been:- Coorong Nat Park 83 km; Robe 112 km; Millicent 81 km; Mount Gambier 53 km; Portland 106 km; Warrnambool 104 km; Port Campbell 71 km; Lavers Hill 52 km; Kennet River 72 km; Anglesea 56 km; Rosebud 80 km; and Melbourne 79 km. Total distance cycled in Australia since leaving Darwin on 13 August is 4 851 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 65 358 km.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
As I’ve previously mentioned, just South of the Coober Pedy opal mine dumps we crossed the Dog Fence. This fence, which stretches for thousands of k’s across Australia, is one of the measures discriminating against the dingo (they are also being shot and poisoned, and even have an unjust reputation as human “killers”). Since crossing the fence we’ve moved steadily South, reaching the coast and Adelaide along the way. Adelaide impressed me as a rather pleasant uncluttered city with lots of parks, and also recreational paths along the Torrents River. I even peeped in at the renowned “pretty” cricket oval – and I was disappointed to see that the stands have been modernised, in fact the building work is still in progress. As it was a long weekend at the time of our arrival, Leana and I stayed a few days at the caravan park on the river banks. When business resumed as usual Leana got a new rear hub for her bike (which I fitted), and she also bought a set of good tyres for Old Saartjie (my bike) – I’d been cycling on a tyre sewn up with fishing line for the previous 900 k’s. Over the past couple of days we’ve moved rather slowly through the picturesque Adelaide Hills region, where we met a South African family in the Mt Barker camp site who are in the process of immigrating (their furniture is still on the way over). After the hills we had to contend with a howling wind out on the plains along the Murray River, but we’ve dealt with that in the same way one would eat an elephant – a mouthful at a time. It seems that after the long trek across the centre of the country we’ve become a bit lazy, and today we’re resting at a very nice camp site in the small town of Meningie on the shore of Lake Albert. Tomorrow we intend to head SE from here along the Princess Highway towards Melbourne via the Coorong National Park, the Limestone Coast, and the Great Ocean Road. Although I made it over the Dog Fence, I’ve been in the “Dog Box” lately, and it seems that Leana intends to leave me (again), perhaps in Melbourne. In one month my Australian visa expires, and this is one country where one can’t just cycle off across the border. Whichever way things turn out, I hope to reach Sydney by that time – we’ll see. Daily distances cycled since Port Augusta have been:- Port Germein 74 km; Snowtown 98 km; Dublin 88 km; Adelaide 62 km; Mount Barker 39 km; Tailem Bend 79 km; and Meningie 63 km. The total distance cycled in Australia so far is 3 902 km since Darwin. Total so far this year is 11 672 km, and the total distance which I’ve cycled since leaving Cape Town on 27 March 2007 is 64 409 km.
Monday, 27 September 2010
After waiting out the rain in Alice Springs, Leana and I were eventually back on the road – unfortunately to find that the usual head-wind was gusting again. About 200 k’s South of Alice we reached the turnoff to one of Australia’s great icons – Uluru (formerly called Ayers Rock). One can hardly be in the area without a visit to “The Rock”, so we cycled the 500 km diversion there and back to the Stuart Highway. On the way to Uluru we met Carson (his nickname) from Taiwan, cycling Darwin to Adelaide. On the return leg we met a Japanese guy who claims to be cycling around the world – he started cycling in his home country and then flew to Australia (perhaps the next leg of his trip will be Antarctica). Further South on the road we also met Mario, a middle aged guy from Adelaide who hopped on his bike one day and decided to tackle the Stuart Highway towards Darwin (his main concern is to reach Alice Springs in time to see the Aussie football finals on TV, and he’s also worried about meeting “funny” people along the way – I hope we didn’t fall into that category!). Once again we were bogged down in the rain, this time at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse , and our tents looked like two bullfrogs in the red muddy lake which was the camp site. It is so unusual to have such rain in the area, that people were flocking to Uluru in an effort to get a picture of “The Rock” with water pouring off it. Since then we’ve worked our way steadily South, camping either at Roadhouses (R/H) or rest areas (R/A) along the way. We’ve had to cycle in freezing rain and wind – it’s quite a challenge to stay on track in a howling cross-wind when a Road Train rumbles past! However, people along the way have been friendly (especially the “Grey Nomads” in their caravans and campers – thanks to Daryll and Gloria for feeding us delicious cake and coffee on 2 occasions). We took a couple of days break at the first town we encountered South of Alice Springs, the “Opal Capital of the World” – Coober Pedy. For about 20 k’s on either side of town we cycled past hundreds of mine dumps resembling overgrown mole-hills on the desolate wind-swept plains. However, Coober Pedy is quite an interesting little town, exactly as one would imagine a frontier mining town to be (dusty corrugated iron buildings, and “miners” of many different nationalities who’ve come to seek their fortune in opals). People also live inside some of the old (and working) mine tunnels in town, and there’s even a few hotels inside the ground! On the road South we crossed the “Dog Fence” (which runs for thousands of kilometers to keep out the Dingo’s). We stayed over at Woomera town (base of missile testing area), and passed impessive salt lakes such as Lake Hart and Iron Stone Lagoon. Now we’ve reached the Southern shores of Australia at Port Augusta, the first sight of the ocean here at the Spencer Gulf since we Left Darwin 6 weeks ago. Daily distances cycled since Alice Springs have been:- Stuarts Well R/H 95 km; Erldunda R/H 111 km; Mt Conner R/A 137; Curtin Springs R/H 28 km; Yulara Resort 88 km; around Uluru Nat Park 37 km; Curtin Springs (return leg) 88 km; Mt Ebenezer R/H 107 km; Kulgera R/H 134 km; Maryatt R/A 61 km; Marla R/H 123 km; Cadney Homestead R/H 83 km; Pootnoura R/A 79 km; Coober Pedy 78 km; Ingomar R/A 94 km; BonBon R/A 79 km; Glendambo R/H 87 km; Woomera 125 km; Ranges View R/A 120 km; and Port Augusta 65 km. Total in Australia in 6 weeks since leaving Darwin on 13 August is 3 399 km. Total distance I’ve cycled on this journey since leaving Cape Town exactly 3 and a half years ago on 27 March 2007 is 63 906 km.