My first impression of Bolivia was mainly seen from the inside of my tent as I recovered from my sickness. I had heard that South-West Bolivia is a baron and remote place with very few towns and lots of grand open spaces with towering mountains above you but it was not until I was fully recovered that I could really grasp the scale of the this beautiful country. Fully recovered my aim was to cycle to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat on earth so with re-newed energy and belly empty of any fluid I pedaled north east looking for the salt flats. Unfortunately there is not much of a road system in this part of Bolivia so the path I was followed was actually leading me in the wrong direction and over one of the large mountains! It seemed that I should have taken a left half an hour ago, and headed across a large and empty salt flat! You really need to check your compass/gps all the time to ensure you do not go the wrong way.
Two days later I reached the salt flats with a huge smile on my face. The Salar De Uyuni is completely flat, spans a massive 10,000Km square and was once a massive salt lake which has since dried under the oppressive Bolivian sun. The resulting salt flat creates a beautiful moonlike surface with the salt dried into hexagonal shapes everywhere you look. The only things you can see are small islands which dot the horizon and you simply aim your bike in the direction of the island you wish to visit and cycle. You can simply go in any direction you like as there are no roads. My direction saw me headed north to Isle Incahuasi and then east to the town of Uyuni over two days.
I loved cycling the Salar, openness of the landscape and the lack of people meant for two things. Lots of singing and naked cycling!! Naked cycling on the salar is a cyclist tradition shows just how remote the landscape is. I would never contemplate doing this anywhere else but was great fun and I cycled for about half an hour before putting my clothes back on as I didn’t want to burn anywhere which was not used to sun exposure!
I took two days off in Uyuni to relax and to clean the bike. The town of Uyuni is very small and really just centers as a tourist spot for tours of the salar and other regions of South-West Bolivia. It is important to clean the bike after the salar as the salt can corrode the steel frame so I stayed at Hotel Avenida for two days which offers a single room for just $5 with good wifi and hot showers the perfect place to relax.
From Uyuni my next stop was to ride to Potosi and then to Sucre. I did not know much about this road and found very little written about it but to my most welcome surprise it was the most beautiful road in Bolivia. The road goes up across the most beautiful mountains with massive high passes of over 4300m before dropping back down to 3500m where you are greeted by sweeping valleys with cactus plants waving at you as you pass. I highly recommend this route rather than the more boring northern highway which takes you straight to Oruro. Leaving Uyuni you start climbing straight away to 4000m and it is a slow and steady climb with views of the town and the salt flats if you look behind you. Then you cycle up and down past the old mining town of Pulacayo towards TicaTica and Potosi. There are plenty of wild camping places along this route especially in the valley of the cactus and food and water are found in each small town so you do not have to take too many supplies with you. Potosi is located at 4100m and is famous for the silver mine here which was set up by the Spanish and is still in use.
I only stayed in Potosi for one night but you can do tours of the mine including buying dynamite in the local market if you wish! The next stop for me was Sucre; located at 2500m this meant warmer temperatures and a big downhill from Potosi. Yea Baby! I cruised down towards Sucre with a massive smile and it was the first time in a long time I could just sit and cruise for such a long stretch. Cycling past small villages and waving at sheep farmers as I left the altiplano it was great to see trees and vegetation again along with being able to ride in my shorts for the first time in a very long time I was very very happy. This is what cycling is all about!
In Sucre I took ten days off the bike in the beautiful Celtic Cross hostel where they offer stay 4 nights and pay for 3! Sucre is a beautiful city with beautiful white Spanish architecture and did I mention sunshine!! I remember talking to a Dutch cyclist who told me that when she cycled the road from Uyuni to Sucre she cried at how beautiful it was. This hidden gem of a road needs to be cycled and I would even go as far to say I think I enjoyed this route more than my time in the much more famous salar. Bolivia is beautiful and there is more to come…..Happy times!
There seems to be a running theme among cycle tourists, myself included to only show the good sides of the journey, the beautiful mountains and sunsets, pictures of yourself holding beers or cycling along some sweeping dramatic landscape. Look at the picture above and what do you see. Upon first instance you see a great little campsite located next to an emerald water hole, but what I see is the memory of my two day sickness, isolated and alone and at least 100km from the nearest village. I was unable to eat and had stomach cramps, diahorrea and vomiting and there was nothing to do but wait it out!!
This story starts as I cycled over the Bolivian border after climbing for 2000m and reaching the high pass at 4200m. I began to feel unwell but was unsure what was wrong. I thought it must be the altitude sickness since it is common to feel tired and headaches once above 4000m. The only real cures for altitude sickness are to climb back down to a lower altitude or take medication and since I was up on the altiplano and there was no going back I decided to do what the locals do and bought myself a big bag of coca leaves and began chewing!! I am unsure if the coca leaves had any real benefit and they tasted horrible so this self medication didn’t last long so I decided to continue and find a nice place to rest up for the night. The first place I found as an abandoned salt mine with lots of empty huts and offices. Knowing this would give me the break I needed and important shelter from the wind I set up a camp in the main abandoned office. I rested, cooked a simple pasta dinner and listened to the radio as I began to feel better. The little office had everything I needed included a working toilet and running water in the taps. Perfect. In the morning I felt much better so had a wash, a little breakfast and filled up my water bottles from the taps. This was a big mistake. I believe the mine closed in 2009 since everything in the office was dated from 2009 so I guess the water had been sitting in the pipes since 2009. I normally filter my water straight away to ensure I do not get sick but on this occasion I did not and defiantly drank some water whilst brushing my teeth and also drank a little from one of the water bottles before filtering. I didn´t think anything was wrong at the time and it was only the following day did I begin to think something was wrong.
I awoke the following day and couldn’t eat, my stomach was bloated and I did not feel well. Something was up but I choose to ignore it and cycled around 50km across hard and soft sand until at lunchtime I still couldn’t eat. This is when the diahorrea started. I felt awful and knew I had to stop but couldn’t just camp out in the open due to wind. I pushed on for another 10km and found the water hole and wind break spot in the picture at the top. I set up camp quickly and went to bed. I hadn´t been this sick since Cambodia and knew I was in for a rough ride. The vomiting and diahorrea continued for two days and I was unable to eat anything. It was not nice and I started to get worried incase I had something serious, since it was unlikely anyone would pass me if things got really bad. I kept positive though and knew at least that I had enough food and a water source I could filter and that if I just rested enough it would pass. I spent two full days lying in my tent and running outside whenever I felt the need. It was horrible but on the third morning I awoke starving and managed to eat a simple breakfast of bread and spread. I felt stronger and the sickness had all but left my body. I felt weak still but able to continue and rested all morning before wanting to get out of there! I packed up and cycled a simple 30km that day to another restful campsite where I cooked lots of pasta and veggies and began putting the calories back into my body. The following morning I was much much better and had lived through the sickness. I was glad it was nothing serious but I have to be careful with things like food and water since it is very easy to get sick out in the middle of nowhere!
Sometimes when you are far from home, without any comforts there is not much you can do but ride it out. It´s not all sunshine and rainbows to cycle around the world and there times when all you want is a proper bed and your mums chicken soup but to have the good you must also have the bad times. It’s a test of character sometimes and this was definatly a test of my fortitude and decision making. Every day I have to ensure I look after myself since I am completely self supported and solo if anything goes wrong it’s on me. You learn lessons as you go and the main lesson from this episode must be to not drink the water from an abandoned mine…
This is an article I wrote for the website Say Yes More as part of their tribe stories feature.
Check out their website on www.sayyesmore.com
Cycling around the world is never meant to be easy. By definition, to bicycle 50,000km is meant to be bloody difficult! The way is not always paved and the going is not always downhill. To bicycle around the world means cycling over mountains, through deserts and over many unpaved roads.
To quote Alistair Humphreys, “It doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun!” I have now been on a world cycle for two years and have peddled over 30,000km, through 28 countries. Although you may call me ‘experienced’, there are times when the going is so hard and the road feels never-ending; when you feel exhausted and lonely, and you ask yourself “why am I doing this?” or “what am I trying to prove?” “ Shouldnt I be back home, with the safety and security of a regular job, with my friends and family around me?”
But my reality is that I’m in the middle of the Atacama Desert, pushing the pedals relentlessly, on my own with only my thoughts for company.
The Atacama Desert is located in Northern Chile, and is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Often compared to Mars, this lunar looking landscape lies between the Andes Mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, occupying a region of over 100,000sq kilometers and including climbs of 4500m. Needless to say, when you are cycling across the arid land you really feel small, a tiny dot on earth making a slow and steady pace.
I started my Atacama adventure in the town of Copiapo; my original intention was to head over the mountains from Chile to Argentina instead of cycling through the desert, but when I arrived at Copiapo, I was told that I was too late in the season: the border between Chile and Argentina is now close. So I had no choice but to head north for the more temperate borders and the beginning of 1000km of desert cycling.
The first 200km was actually quite pleasant since the road swung inland and took me along the coast with little shops along the way and the Pacific Ocean a constant companion. The road would climb up to give you majestic sea views before plummeting back down to sea level where I was able to purchase a snack or bottled drink. I was making good progress but once at the seaside town of Taltal, everything changes. The road begins to climb and you must climb from sea level to 2500km on very steep terrain and to make matters worse, the headwinds are constant and unforgiving. So my speed was halved meaning my supplies were also halved since it took me twice as long to reach the next re-fueling stop, therefore I had to carefully ration what I had. That was the start of my struggle with the Atacama;. I slowly made my way north, eating half rations and wondering why I was doing this. Who was I to take on the mighty Atacama?
I was really struggling with the wind, and to make matters worse, my bike began to click on every pedal stroke, not letting me forget I was pedaling, and this started to drive me mad! I would scream and curse at the wind and at my pedals, hoping that something would change to make the journey just a little easier. But I reminded myself how far I’ve already come; and so tough it out I did, and after six days, something magical happened. Reaching a toll booth I stopped and asked the police if I can charge my phone (so I can listen to podcasts and not have to listen to the squeaking pedals!) – he agreed but only to a decisive “five minutes!” After five minutes he comes out and instead of telling me to move on, presents me with a package of biscuits, yoghurts and a cheese sandwich!! Yes a cheese sandwich and I was so happy, it was probably this guy’s lunch and he had given it to me as token of goodwill. It was the tastiest, most satisfying sandwich I have ever eaten! Bread, butter and cheese but also sprinkled with the goodwill of humanity. I was so thankful to the policeman and cycled off with a massive smile on my face, and then to my surprise….he wind changed.
So instead of plodding along in the desert, it now felt like I was flying! I was full and I was happy. That night I found an abandoned train station so I set up camp and built a camp fire and watched the stars. Millions and millions of stars! And I was at peace with the world. I was happy and yes I was still alone, exhausted and asking myself again “what I am trying to prove?” but with the stars for company, I was content that whilst I hadn´t beaten the Atacama Desert, it also had not beaten me.
I love what I do and have accepted that sometimes the road will be hard and your head will drop; but the world is a beautiful place and if I never started this journey, or stopped when the going got tough.
The wind didn´t always stay with me after this day but my mood did, and I loved the rest of the desert and the big climbs and beautiful starry nights. It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun since if you did not have the hard times how would you truly have the good? Don’t be scared - simply SAY YES MORE…. And who knows what will unfold. Be open, surrender to what life brings, and appreciate every moment… the hills and valleys, the clicking bikes and the cheese sandwiches.
This is a short recap of my experience when cycling the famous Carraterra Austral road in Southern Chile. The Carraterra Austral is a road which was built in the 1970s by then dicator General Pinochet to link the towns of southern Chile with the more densly populated mainland. This road has linked thousands of people by bringing together isolated communities which were once left isolated due to the numerous mountains, lakes, rivers and glaciers which form Southern Chile. The Carraterra Austral has also become a famous cycling destination for the same very reason. As you cycle along what is mainly very rough ripio roads (ripio is spanish for gravel roads) you will pass beautiful waterfalls, lakes, rivers, glaicers and cycle up and down the mountains which make up this famous road. Sounds Idyillac, and it nearly was but as I rode from south to north looking for adventure what I discovered was a well beaten cycle tourist trail which extended for over a thousand kilometers.
Now do not get me wrong the reason this road has become a famous cycle touring destination is due to its remoteness and areas of natual beauty. It really is beautiful with flowing wateralls and rivers so clean I was able to fill my water bottles anywhere. The downside is everybody else is also on the same trail. I was late in the season and was passing around 8 other cycle tourists daily and whilst normally when I meet another cycle tourist I stop excitedly for a chat, on this road due to the number of cyclists it is often a simple wave if that. People are cycling fast and heading for the latest secret campsite on their secret camping apps, the locals are so used to seeing cyclists that you lose any wonder or interaction with the local community and every shop and campsite is therefore super expensive.
I think maybe I am spoiled. I have been on the road for nearly two years and have cycled many many roads. I myself may have fell for the hype, for the beauty was there but the isolation and local communities were missing. Also I am on a super long tour therefore money and budgeting is a big deal to me, if you were to just cycle the Carraterra Austral money would not be as much as a option and you could enjoy more of the local tastes in the small bars and restaurents.
I would often compare the Carraterra Austral to other roads I have cycled and I can honestly felt that here the adventure was missing. If you are really looking to get lost, to ride across beautiful scenery whilst not feeling like a tourist on a bike but a bike tourist then I recommend these top three roads to explore:
1.G213, China-The old nataional highway runing south from Chengdu to Kunming in China. Famous for mountain views, small remote chinese communitys and cobble mountain. (Cobble mountain is named so by Finola & I as it is a 2700m pass with cobbles for the road surface)
2.Bishkek to Osh, Krgyzstan-The most beautiful road I have ever ridden. Climb to 3600m to the Torugart Pass before desending for almost two days as you come down from the snow lined mountains to beautiful rivers and gorges.
3.Alba Lulia to Brasov, Romania-Cycle past authentic Romania villages where people still sell their wares from horse and cart. Climb over the Fagaras mountains and experience beautiful friendly people and the feel the ledgend of dracula around you. Black bears are also found along this road.
This is just my thoughts and you will find many other people looking to experience the beauty of the Carrera Austal and it is stunning just not adventure I was hoping for.
There is something exciting still about crossing an international land border. I still get excited when I approach a new country and have to hand over my ragged passport to collect another stamp. Each border is different and of all the international borders in which you can choose to cross between Argentina and Chile one of these has become infamous. This is the border between El Chalten in Argentina and Villa O Higgins in Chile. This border is known for its remoteness and the fact that it links the famous trekking town of El Chalten to the start (or end depending on how you look at it) of the famous Carraterra Austral Road in Southern Chile.
I first read about this border crossing when planning my South American adventure and essentially this little known border goes like this. A 40km gravel road to Lago Del Deserto ferry terminal where you must purchase a ticket to get across the lake. This takes about 40 minutes. At the other end of the lake you then get stamped out of Argentina before you need to push your bike across 6km of mud, glacial streams, rocks and boulders before you reach another 15km of gravel track which leads to the Chilean entry border. From the Chilean border you must take another ferry this time taking 2 hours to cross Lago O´Higgins where you reach the township and the Carraterra Austral.
My orginal plan was to go around this border due to the cost of the two ferries working out to about $80US which would take a huge dent out of my small budget. Thankfully after speaking to my sister and telling her about the 250km detour back into the wind she kindly donated me the money for ferries and I was off into the border in the bush. I was super excited to be able to go this way and to follow in the bicyle footprints of those who have tackled this route before me. I was joined by a Belgian cyclist called Alan, who I first met in Purto Arenas and together we set about tackling the mud and steams. The first kilometer is the hardest as the trail goes straight uphill and with my bike and gear weighing close of 50kg I was slipping and sliding all over the place, I was super glad to be joined by Alan as it took two of us to push my bike up the first hill.
The route then becomes a bit of a dug out with my bike fitting snugly in the track with me pushing from above. After the first kilometer the track went across the first of the streams and with care we unpacked our bikes and walked everything across over the little bridge. This was slow going so after this we decided to just get stuck off, socks and shoes off and through the steams and mud we went. It was great fun really, almost like a obsticle course but you have your bike along with you.
This route is well trodden and is in fact not as remote as we were led to belive with and we passed many other cyclists and trekkers going in the opposite direction. I remember reading that people needing to have GPS units to cross this border but this is now not the case anymore as there are signs pointing the way and even kilometer markers to let you know how far there is to go. It is a fun border crossing and whilst much more exciting than the standard entry-exit process it is not difficult to do and I think anyone can manage it even if they were on their own.
By going this way it means I was able to cycle the Carraterra Austral from the begining as it was from Villa O´Higgins I was able to begin the next 1000km of rough gravel road, but more on this next time!
Sometimes it seems that when cycling in South America that it is just a forward march through the relentless wind but after reaching Punta Arenas everything started to change. Punta Arenas is the last major city you go through before reaching Puerto Natales which is the gateway to the Torres Del Paine National Park and that means that mountains were on the horizon-literally. As you cycle towards Puerto Natales you can see huge monoliths rise up from the horizon and it gives you a real lift as you cycle towards them, giving you something to aim for and perhaps a bit of shelter from the wind. This was the start of the Patagonian ice field a solid mass of ice and glaciers stretching over 700km between Chile and Argentina and is the third largest glacier ice mass in the world. Something told me this was going to be fun!
I didn´t visit the Torres Del Paine National Park due to its huge entry cost and the fact that all the free campsites were fully booked, but it was great to cycle past the park and the mountains within it. From Torres Del Paine National Park you cross back into Argentina and there is another 250km of cycling to do before you reach the next town which is called El Calafate. El Calafete is famous due to it being the home of the huge Perito Moreno Glacier and although again entry to see the glacier is quite expensive this was something I was not going to miss. I remember showing pictures of this glacier to my collegues back at Flight Centre in Auckland to make them jealous of my upcoming trip and I can tell you the glacier is even more majestic in real life.
On the road to El Calafete I had the pleasure of being joined by two other cyclists; Monica from Poland and Hector from Spain. It was great to cycle with these two as we all cycled together in the sunshine and shared our travel stories over dinners and different campsites. We even all stayed in an Estancia (farm) together for the night with the owner letting us all sleep in his spare room which luckily for us had three beds. The owner of the estancia was called Marcelo and he was a real gentleman welcoming us in, and also cooking us a traditiomal Argentinal meal of roasted lamb for dinner. A real treat and an experice I wont forget.
Once all three of us reached El Calafete it was time to visit the glacier but with Monica already having visited it and me having to make some temporary bike repairs I decided to cycle there alone the next day. By cycling there I managed to avoid the $20 return bus journey but it did mean it would take me 2 full days rather than one so I waved goodbye to my new friends and set off to see the glacier. The ride there was brilliant with no wind and a great twisty turny road around the national park to the glacier. Once the glacier came into view…wow. I had never seen anything like it. It was beautiful with the sunlight reflecting off the mass of ice which stares back at you whilst making a cracking sound all the time before huge bits of ice collapse off the main glacier and come down crashing into the lake below. I swear bits of ice as large as houses were falling off since the glacier is still moving forward, a beit around 2cm per year. It was a really special place and is somewhere not to be missed.
From the glacier you cycle another 250 km this time with massive sides winds to the town of El Chalten, which is the famous town of the Fitzoy peak and Chalten National park. This park consists of a famous 2 day hike and after dropping my bags and bike off in the Casa De Cyclista in the town I ventured out to do the hike. The only downside is that since I do not have a backpack I had to carry two of my panniers at all times with me, consisting of food, stove, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and extra clothes. Everyone was staring at me as I plodded along but I was not to be denied the hike and as I ventured up to Mount Fitzroy it was a beautiful site with the clouds parting and the sun coming out just as I arrived to the main lookout.
The great thing with El Chalten is that since it is much smaller than Torres Del Paine it is free to enter and free to camp without reservations so I was able to enjoy myself and take my time as I hiked up to all the different viewpoints on this national park and spend the nights in comfort in the free campsites.
From El Chalten, my intention was to originally cycle back into the pampa and the wind and take a 250km detour to avoid taking two ferrys which cost a total of $80! But after talking to my sister she told me to stop being stupid and kindly paid for me to take the two ferrys so what loomed next is the famous border in the bush with a 40km cycle followed by a 40 minute boat ride followed by a 15km hike with bike until I was once again to leave Argentina dn head back into Chile. So thank you Linny for the donation and I will cover this most remote of border crossings in my next post.
Never before have I felt winds like this. The route from Tolhuin to the border with Chile was almost straight North and the winds blew almost straight South leaving me with little option but to battle headwinds all the way to the border. Cycling into a headwind is the most frustrating cycling since there is nothing you can do but fight on as the wind stops you from making any forward momentum. Patagonia is known for strong winds and I have not encountered any like this since I cycled through the Hami Hurricane in China! My average speed dropped to around 7-8km/hour and if I stopped pedalling I would stop still even when going downhill. Uphill was a push only! It was taking me almost 8 hours of cycling to reach 40-50km and all the time I was seeing South bound cyclists flying past me with a knowing smile and wave!
On my first night out of Tolhuin I decided to pitch my tent by the sea, thinking that the wind would die down in the evening as it used to in Australia. Little did I know that Patagonia winds do not stop at all and I couldn’t sleep as my tent flapped around all night! Lesson one. Put up your tent where there is shelter!
Pushing on through the wind I made steady if slow progress with the key being long hours in the saddle and any worries about me losing my fitness whilst I worked in New Zealand soon disappeared. It is amazing that the body can take six months of any real exercise and then when asked can jump straight back into long days of cycling, without really missing a beat. Luckily for me!
I was soon approaching the border of Argentina and Chile and about to cross into my second South American country when the wind stopped along with the paved road. This was my first experience of ripio (unpaved roads) and as I bounced along the corrogated road I had a massive smile on my face as with my hidden cheese I was about to cross into Chile :) Border crossing beer time….
Unfortunately there was nowhere to have a beer for the next 150km since the border town acts only as border with no shops or restaurants it meant I had to save my celebrations for the town of Punta Arenas which was 150km and 2 hour ferry ride away. Long distances between towns are very common in Patagonia and this region is even more remote than Australia since in Australia you had a camping spot or petrol station about every 100km. In Chile you must ensure you have enough food to keep you going for about five days as if the wind hits you will make very slow progress. Water however is not much of a problem with glacial streams crossing the roads along with large farms and police stations where you can get water.
The road to Punta Arenas went due West and just I awoke from my night in an abandoned barn the winds also moved due east meaning I was back pedalling into a headwind. I think something was trying to send me back to New Zealand. With my head down I decided to press on and cycle and push as much as I could. With being so far South the sun would not set until 9:30pm so I decided to use all of the daylight available to get me to civilization as quickly as possible. At the half way point of the road there is a small hut covered in graffiti and it was here where the wind was at its worst. I took shelter for a few hours whilst chatting to two French cyclists going south before deciding to jump into my bike and head back into the winds. This was the hardest of all the cycling. Ever. I had to often get off and push even when on the flat ground I must have been blown off the road about 15 times. I was knackered. But with no shelter being available in any direction but backwards I press on and as I'm pushing my bike over this big hill two police officers stop me and ask me what I'm up to! I tell them I'm going to the ferry port which is about 80km away and they laugh and tell me they will take me. It is too dangerous they tell me in Spanish and I tell them I am gringo loco-meaning crazy white man! (thank you Eddie Guerrero for my Spanish)
The police insist and soon my bike is straped to the back of their pick up and I am sat in the police car with two officers both called Marcus! Both Marcus's are sporting aviator sunglasses and neat haircuts and look like they have both come straight out of Hollywood. One of the Marcus’s even turns around mid journey to let me know he is a sex machine-his words!!!
As we arrive at the ferry port I wave both Marcus’s goodbye and they tell me that the ferry will leave tomorrow afternoon so I find a sheltered spot to sleep only to find the ferry port also acts as a fishing port so all the fisherman and their friends are up and working around 3am so I didn’t get any sleep but was glad to be enroute to the town where I could find a campsite and grab a beer :)
Arriving into Ushuaia was like reaching the end of the Earth. As the plane swept down to land carefully avoiding the mountain peaks around it, it was clear this was a land which was tough, cold and desolate. Ushuaia sits only 4000km away from Antartica, and is called the end of the world due to it being the most southern city on the planet. Ushuaia felt cold, everyone instantly putting on their expensive down jackets the moment they touched down. This is a land of adventure. This is Patagonia.
My first job upon arriving apart from locating my not so expensive down jacket was to assemble the bike, and to my horror my bike box arrived open and upside. My fears began to spread through my body, what has happened, are my pedals still in the box, or my saddle or my down jacket! Who would do this to me….Luckily it seems the box had just been opened by security since everything was there and thankfully all in good order. It took me maybe an hour to put the bike back together then with a massive smile on my face I pedaled into the mountains and into the town of Ushuaia.
In Ushuaia, I took two days to get everything in order and to prepare myself for the upcoming 25000km cycle! It was great to explore the city where I was able to bike & hike up to Glacier Martial which sits above Ushuaia and also cycle to and spend the night in the national park which also acts as the end point of the Pan-American highway, the famous road which connects the tip of Alaska to the tip of Argentina. After two days of exploration it was time to go, and cycle my first kilometer north and my first kilometer towards home. Mama I’m coming home!!
My first night was spent in a free campsite just 50km out of Ushuaia. Here I set my new tent up for the first time and it was just like starting out all over again since I did not know how to put the new fly sheet on. I remember having the same problem when Finola and I first arrived in France! Preparation is obviously over-rated! Here at the camp site I tried in vain to make a camp fire but due to all the wood around me being too wet I had to give up and will therefore have to gain back some macho points down the road somewhere.
The second day saw me climb over my first South America Pass called Paso Garibaldi, which made me laugh as I was on route to stay the night in the famous bakery in Tolhuin, the first town after Ushuaia. Tolhuin is famous in cycling circles due to the town’s bakery, which not only offers delicious cakes and biscuits but also also free accommodation, wifi and showers for passing cyclists of all kinds. There were 8 people staying there from all over the world and it was great to chat and share stories from our trips.
Out of the 8 people there I was the only one going North, meaning I set off alone the following day bound for the town of Rio Grande. The reason everything is heading
south as this area is famously windy with 40-60mph winds common place and they all blow from the north to the south meaning I had at least 1000km of headwinds to come. Time to claw back those macho points!
Unfortunatly after leaving Tolhuin I broke my Iphone once again. After having lunch I left my phone on top of my front pannier and the wind decided to pick it up and throw it screen first against a rock, so that is why there are not too pioctures to accompnaiy this first blog post. I have a new camera now and although not as good quality as the Iphone I will put lots of new photos up on the next blog.
Time for me to tackle the headwinds as I leave Argentina and head into Chile where the paved road ends and turns into 500km of gravel unpaved road (known as ripio). Wish me luck
It has been a massive 628 days and 25000km since I left England on that sunny bank holiday in May 2015. I remember waving goodbye to family and friends outside the Reading Bicycle Kitchen to begin a journey that many thought, including me at times, that I would not be able to finish. Well as I write this I am only 8 days away from packing the bike back up into a box and flying to Ushuaia, Argentina to begin the second half of the cycle home. I am excited and nervous once again, having been living what seems most like a normal life for the past six months in Auckland. I have been living in flat shares in the city, have had a steady job, have been out to birthday parties and dinners, I have done very little cycling aside from my little commute to work and as a result I can tell my fitness has decreased in correlation with my waistband increasing! It is time to get cycling again.
I have never been to South America before and am therefore super excited about setting off again. I speak no Spanish but am sure when given enough hard work and time I will learn. I have heard that it is dangerous and that the roads are full of banditos and drug dealers but I have heard these same warnings across the world so far and have not run into any trouble as yet. The food is going to be amazing and the scenery is going to be among the best I have ever seen. I have sketched a route below so you can see the rough outline of my plans.
My route will see me cycle from the very tip of Argentina to Reading, Pennsylvania completing the Reading to Reading adventure. My route will see my cycle along the rough ripio (unpaved road) of both Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia. I will cycle past glaciers and over mountains. I will camp under the stars and fish for my dinner. My plan is to cycle another 25000km through another 15 countries and to reach Reading in the summer of 2018. I will also be cycling this half on my own with Finola and I separating in New Zealand meaning that I am going to have to fend for myself and ensure I do not get into any trouble!
New Zealand has been the most expensive country I have visited this whole trip and it is only by living in temporary accommodation or room sharing that I have managed to save enough money to continue. The average cost of rent and living is higher in Auckland than London meaning any money I was making from work disappeared very quickly. This is why I have been living and working for six months and it also means I have not seen enough of New Zealand, I never even managed to get down to the South Island during my time here and my original idea of cycling around New Zealand has had to be cut short. It is however a beautiful country, with beaches and mountains and friendly people and it is a country I am going to come back to one day to explore more. Perhaps I will kayak around the beautiful coastline one day...never say never!
So on the first of February I will be back on the road, living day to day rather than week to week and I cannot wait. I have met so many great people here in New Zealand that it is hard to say goodbye, but it is not goodbye forever just until next time...
After leaving Tennant Creek my next main destination was to go and see Uluru. Back in 2011 Finola and I backpacked around the coast of Australia but we never made it to Uluru, When deciding on my route through Australia Uluru was therefore big on my not to miss list. I left Tennant Creek with my panniers full of food and my bike loaded with extra water as I planned on a six day ride to cover the 500km to the turnoff and then another 250km west to reach the big rock. Before reaching Uluru the first highlight was to spend the night at the Devil’s Marbles Campground. The Devils Marbles is a natural rock outcrop rising up out of the desert which due to erosion from the strong southwesterly winds the rocks have been shaped into huge marbles looking like they should just roll away. It was a beautiful cycle ride around the small national park and my arrival into the campsite was greeted by the standard hollers and cheers of a touring cyclist entering the arena of the camper van. It is always fun to cycle into these campsites since everyone is always so friendly and it is great to share stories about life on a bicycle with Australians who have their own version of freedom in their cars.
The Devil’s Marbles campsite is located right in the heart of the park so after setting up I was able to climb and jump up on and around the rocks having a great little time exploring before finding that perfect rock to relax and watch the sunset on. It was great to sit upon these rocks which have been here for thousands of years and reflect upon my tiny imprint in life, it makes you feel very small but very humble as you look out at the power of nature across the vast desert plain.
I awoke in the morning and said my goodbyes to my neighbours before cycling the 400km to the turnoff. The road to Uluru runs westward away from the main highway and my first port of call was to top up on water and fuel at the Kulgera roadhouse. The Kulgera road house is a great little stop to get supplies since it is surprising not too expensive and has wifi and even a happy hour for beer. Result.
The start of the road westwards was a dream since the wind was blowing my way. I was riding steadily at around 20-22km/hour and felt strong and excited as I was approaching Uluru. On my way whilst stopping off at a small roadhouse to collect water I was approached by the tour leader of a large group of tourists being guided by AAT Kings also en-route to Uluru. The tour leader had seen many cyclists but always from the window of her bus so wanted me to give a small talk to the tour group explaining all about the trip and telling a few stories from the road. I spent a good ten minutes giving a little talk, explaining where I had been, what I had seen and the kindness I had received. I really enjoyed this little talk and was happy to answer their questions afterwards. Everyone seemed to enjoy my talk, with even an aboriginal man telling me that I was a good storyteller, an honour coming from a man whose culture is based on story telling. The group then gave me a little bit of money and food to contribute towards my trip and bade me farewell as they drove off into the distance.
Once this trip is over and if given the opportunity I would love to give some more talks at schools and events, and this is something I would not have thought of if I had never met that lovely little group.
The following day I awoke early and climbed out of my sleeping bag into fresh morning air. I always woke up cold in the desert sections of central Australia since although the average daytime temperature is around 20-25 degrees due to the lack of cloud cover the morning temperatures average around 0-5 degrees! I had awoke early and had cycled around 2 hours when I bumped into another cyclist packing up along the road. His name was Matteo from Italy and he was also going to Uluru as part of his around Australia bicycle tour. We quickly decided to cycle together and it was a welcome break to cycle with someone else. The last time I cycled with someone was when I was with Finola back in Malaysia and I forget how good it was to have company. We cycled with the wind behind us, talking about our travels and our future plans. Matteo like me was a cyclist on a big tour and therefore a cyclist on a budget. This was good as we were well matched in our tight spending and free camping ways so it was fun to cycle together, without the pressure of the other person wanting to visit restaurants and hotels. It took us a further 1.5 days to reach Yulara, the touristy township of Uluru. We celebrated with matteo buying a 4 litre tub of ice cream and wolfing down the contents with another german cyclist we had met in the town. Uluru is a bottleneck for cyclists with people either arriving or leaving on the same road so it is in stark contrast with the rest of Australia that I met more cyclists along this road to or from Uluru than I did in the rest of Australia combined!
Uluru is actually made of two rock formations, not just the famous monolith but another called Kata Tjuta, which is located a further 50km away from the Uluru. This poses no challenge for the motoring tourist but since this national park has an enforced no camping policy, it becomes a huge day to cycle 100km and spend time visiting both rock sites. It was here Matteo and I decided we would just continue as we had been throughout Australia and push our bikes into area of thick bush when it gets dark and camp hidden behind the sprawling Aussie shrub-land. I would recommend this idea to anyone who also wants to visit Uluru by bike as it gives you time to explore without being rushed, avoids the $40 Yulara campsite fee and you are able to see the most amazing sunrise over the rocks as day comes to life.
It was great to visit both rock sites but I was more impressed by Uluru than Kata Tjuta, most likely due to its fame and how it seems to rise out of nowhere. I didn’t choose to climb the rock but there were plenty of people who did. My view being that if there needs to be a debate about offending anyone or not it is probably best not to climb. And after watching an especially large lady struggle with the steepness of the climb it was more fun to watch than to climb!
After leaving Uluru, it was time to return to my solitary ways with Matteo trying to get a lift back to Alice Springs and me heading back east and then south towards Coober Pedy and then Adelaide. Australia was coming to an end with only 1200km left before Adelaide, but at least I could now say goodbye to the flies and hello again to the mosquitoes!!
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.