I am not much of a wine connoisseur but in Argentina you can buy a magical bottle of wine called a ‘damajuana’; it is 5 litres, so in my books, its marvellous! And it’s not just crummy cheap wine either, it’s really good! I guess there are so many vineyards it makes more sense to sell it in huge jugs. It sure makes sense to us! And at $8, I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t agree. Ah Argentina! No tears there.
Although she did start off a bit shady. Having crossed over the border from Bolivia with Brits Adam & Claire we set off on our 1st day riding Argentina and promptly broke a spoke. Getting used to this routine, they set off ahead of us and we planned to meet up on the road once the repair was complete. Alas, we had not checked the map together and so did not realize there was a cross-road, or in fact, that we had all cycled off in the wrong direction. There was much guessing of which route they had taken, and needless to say, we got it wrong and set off onto a bumpy sandy road for a 40km detour back to the main route. It wasn’t our favorite day. The next few days were spent guessing whether they were ahead or behind us as we asked every person we passed if they had seen 2 other cyclists; “conosco dos otra ciclistas en esta camino?”
We smashed out some huge days into some ridiculous head winds as we made a bee-line for Jujuy where we knew we could get internet to try to track them down. We were desperate to find them again in time for Brens birthday to eat the steaks we had all been dreaming of through Bolivia. But it turned out they had taken a different route entirely, riding some of the most difficult terrain of their journey. They had to carry their bikes across raging rivers and slog for hours through sand and mud. We were quite glad that we didn’t get Falkor on that road. It’s entirely possible that we would have just let the river sweep her away. Sometimes I dreamt of that.
But still, the two if us celebrated Brens birthday with THE best steak and wine at a very nice campsite just outside of the city.
Argentina lived up to our very high expectations of excellent carne and vino. We have not and cannot get enough. It’s quite the welcome change from chicken & warm beer all through Peru & Bolivia. Connecting with the Pommes on email, we made a plan to meet in Cafayate and extend the celebrations there.
We decided to get Falkor checked out by a bike mechanic in Jujuy and took 2 days off just to sleep and eat. I think it is called ‘recooperating’. We are always tired these days. Too exhausted to face the thought of spending 2 days-off fixing the bike himself again, we thought we would treat ourselves to ‘a bike service’ by an expert replacing the bearings in the rear hub, truing the wheel (again) and a service of the front suspension which is well and truly on death’s door.
Argentina, our 16th country, was the perfect place to start to slow down and enjoy our last weeks riding in South America. On about the same latitude of Sydney, it’s a very familiar climate and we fall asleep at night with the Southern Cross in almost the right spot in the sky.
Argentinians enjoy a lifestyle that is very similar to us Aussies with an excellent BBQ and camping culture. Campsites are plentiful and generally well maintained. Sometimes, even free!
The instant we rolled over that border, time took an instantaneous transformation. We can’t really explain it. Like an infectious chilling out vibe. We stayed up later, slept in longer and just began absorbing the lifestyle here. It’s funny how immediate the change was. With the sun-rise around 7am, riding started around 9am (instead of 7am) and with such long daylight hours, dinner got later as did our bed time. The heat of the southern hemisphere sprung upon us with the sun increasing her intensity from 1pm right up until she started to fade at 7pm. Honestly, 6pm sun is so hot it can melt your brain.
Hence, the invention of the daytime siesta. I am never going to tell you that a siesta is not an awesome plan, because of course it is. But when you want to stop riding around 2pm and relax with a cold drink and maybe an ice cream, its impossible because everything is closed from 1pm-7pm. And where should a cyclist take a siesta anyway? If you arrive in a town, the park is always a good spot but you can’t exactly lay on a bench for 6 hours waiting to be able to buy your next snack. Or indeed another spare tire.
So there were some tricky days when we had to ride our bums off just to make it to the next town before siesta started. Rushing to relax. A tricky concept to master.
Famous for their friendly hospitality, the Argentinians did not fail to indulge us with their kindness.
After a huge day of reoccurring punctures, the sun started to fade as we arrived at a lake we wanted to camp at. No sooner had we parked the bike when our campsite neighbor walked over to offer us his kettle of hot water, a bottle of ice water and a fresh fish he had just caught. We were gob smacked.
Punctures have been a reoccurring theme in Argentina. Our patches began failing, perhaps because the glue got old and the tubes over repaired, and on one particular day Bren patched 7 holes and changed the tubes 3 times. Sometimes a blow out, sometimes pinched by the rim, sometimes by a spoke, sometimes a patch failure. We had 4 tubes and by the end of this particular day, we were only able to successfully repair one. And it was touch and go as to how long it would last so we held our breath as we set off on another dirt road without any spares.
Timing is always crappy for these types of set-backs. It’s crazy how prepared you can feel one minute, with the next revealing that your back up plan has completely vanished. To have come so far on our ever failing bike and have something as simple as a bloody tube let us down is just obscene.
But with our mantra of ‘never go back’, we decided to keep moving forward and just hope for the best.
With that one tube, we somehow managed to ride another 300km through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, en route to Cafayate. The Quebrada region of Salta was an absolute delight to ride through with lovely roads winding through this incredible canyon of dramatic landscapes. Simply stunning.
Riding out of the canyon into the lush vineyard country of Ruta 40 (the wine route), we arrived in Cafayate with a huge sigh of relief. Ok the bike shop was closed because it was siesta o’clock when we rolled in, but at least there was a bike shop.
Taking our time to soak up this little tourist town, we got some big beers and sat in the central park, discussing our best camping options for our week off & reunion with the Pommes. It was also Bremma’s 19th anniversary of togetherness and we were pretty stoked to be in a place where a real celebration could occur.
Just starting to relax, it was obviously the best time for that patch to fail again. If it could have lasted another 1km, seriously just 1km, we would have been safely at the camp-site and could have unloaded Falkor and waited in style until the bike shop opened. But no. On a dusty back street road, we sat lame desperately trying to patch our very last flogged tube. At least we were in a town yes. So we got some snacks, another cold beer and decided to wait 2 hours until the bike shop would open. Only it didn’t, as we discovered with alarm that it was a public holiday. Bugger.
Setting of on foot armed with my ridiculous optimism, I found another store that was able to sell me a new tube. Delighted at this turn of events I skipped back to Bren and presented him with certain salvation. Sadly this tube was of such poor quality that the valve fell apart upon trying to pump it up. Thwarted!
Our choices were to keep trying to put a patch over a patch over a patch (which Bren did continue to try for another 2 hours), accept defeat for the day and book into the closest hotel for the night or to load Falkor into a ute and get a 1km lift to the campsite. You simply can’t push a loaded touring bike any distance with a flat tire.
It was so frustrating to be so close to ‘our holiday’ and yet so immobile. Our heads in our hands as we literally sat in the gutter once again, a car pulled up beside us and wound down the window. I must tell you that we get A LOT of attention on Falkor. It’s always friendly but by the end of everyday, usually quite exhausting. So at this point we had been sat in the gutter for 3 hours with a mere puncture and were not really in the mood for the standard “hey nice bike, where are you from” etc conversation. Only the folks in this car were a couple of Argentinian holiday-makers who had passed us along the road on numerous occasions. We had chatted with them at several of our rest spots over the last few days and had photos with them every time. They were pretty surprised to find us on this back road with our long faces and sprang from the car to offer us their help.
Vilma and Daniel from Cordoba.
Explaining our dilemma, they swiftly discovered an unassuming toy store in town that could sell us a decent tube. Our gloom started to dissipate quickly then and before we knew it, they were giving us directions to ‘the best’ campsite in town and inviting us to camp with them so they could prepare us an Argentinian BBQ.
“Prometer al campamento con nosotros para que podamos hacer una gran barbacoa” – “You must promise to camp with us so we can make a huge BBQ”.
You have our word.
I just love it. Chance encounters like this changing absolutely everything. We spent 2 nights camping with our new friends, sharing much hilarity over our clumsy Spanish and getting used to Argentinian accents and words. It’s almost like a new language altogether. Wine helps.
Wine always helps.
Our Pommes arrived 2 days later, swiftly joined by Celeste y David (Argentinian cyclists we met along the way), and together we reveled in lazy days of red meat and damajuanas. The time passed too quickly.
Imagining that the rest of our ride through Argentina would involve more of the same, it was hard to accept some incredibly long & hot days through vast deserted stretches, carrying 16litres of water to see us through incredibly isolated roads. At times it was like being back in the Baja, only more deserted.
So our last 1000km was not the laid back scenario I had expected, and I struggled to keep my head in the game with a torn hamstring and tough riding conditions. My sleeping mat turned into a tubular disaster and resigned from service, leaving me with thin yoga matts that barely disguised the rocks we usually camped on. Our tent zippers carked it and all of our kit seemed to be giving up.
Thoughts of home & reuniting with all of our family and friends started to slow time down and minutes of riding seemed to take hours. Lack of internet meant that connecting with anyone was impossible and homesickness became a real battle. I guess I had believed it would get easier the closer we got to Chile, but when the completion of a long-term project is close at hand, the last stages are inevitably going to supply some unexpected challenges.
Bike touring is always like that, incessantly forcing you to be honest with yourself to acknowledge that the only boundaries you face are the ones you put in your own way. It’s exhausting, but one of the best things about the journey.
So I decided to give us a pep-talk about how we need to celebrate our last weeks on the road.
It’s been more than an epic journey and we are so very close to the end. A very weird feeling. We have been riding toward this goal for 20 months and to have it in our sights is completely overwhelming. Its been our life for almost 2 years!
It’s incredibly difficult to stay present and enjoy the moment when we are this close to the end. I hate to wish any time away but I must admit to sometimes wishing we could fast forward this last bit.
It’s been 12 years since we lived permanently in Australia and the pull to get back there has been growing in intensity. We know we can make it now, and my pep talk was about the need to celebrate right now and relinquish this long kept feeling of holding our breath and hoping for the best. Of course, we set off that morning and in the first 5km we broke a spoke which was swiftly followed-up by some intense cracking and grinding sounds emanating from the rear hub.
I officially abandoned all sense of achievement right then and committed to postponing all excitement until we absolutely crossed the finish line and arrive with our hosts in Santiago. With Falkor, you just never know. And so it will be that up until the very last kilometre our brows will be furrowed with the stress of ‘will the bike make it?’
There was one last huge climb on the cards to an altitude of 3880m over roughly 80km. At the top of it you cross the Argentinian border into Chile. Climbing puts a lot of stress on the bike and we were really quite nervous about Falkor’s performance on this last push. The rear hub began to sound as if chunks were falling off the bike so our faith was paper-thin. Making the first 40km was much easier than anticipated so we set up camp for the night, expecting the steep to hit us the next day. But as if by magic, the following afternoon we suddenly arrived at the top – the tough stuff done. Falkor made it in one piece! In utter disbelief we sort of just stood there looking at each other. Really? This is the top? It’s all down hill from here?
There is a 7km long tunnel that takes you through to the Chilean side, but its illegal to ride through. It’s so dangerous I would absolutely never want to ride it. We have taken on a few much shorter tunnels and its nothing short of terrifying; the darkness, the invisible pot holes, the chance of a puncture with no where to fix it, amplified sounds of speeding trucks and buses eager to pass you– no thanks. So we loaded Falkor into the back of the ute (a service provided by the police for cyclists) and sat with her all the way through the tunnel. The first time we shared a flat tray together without a major break down. There was a lot of grinning.
The border control into Chile was the most difficult of the entire trip and took over 2 hours. In Central America, Bren usually just stayed with the bike while I took both of our passports to immigration & dealt with all the paper work. They didn’t care that I presented both passports and there was never any problems. Chilean immigration however, was intense. They wanted to see receipts for the bike! My license? A visa for Falkor? I am not joking.
I almost burst into tears because they spoke so quickly and it was so confusing. I was pretty sure I understood what they wanted but I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have any of those things. I kept telling the officially mean woman “Soy solo ciclisa. Solo tengo una bici. No es una moto” – “I am just a cyclist. I only have a bike. It’s not a motorcycle”. I really thought we were gonna be stuck there for weeks until a wonderful man in a fluro jacket appeared from thin air to save the day. I don’t know where he came from or why he wanted to help us, but he swatted away the complicated paper work, scribbled on something and escorted me back to Brendon.
“Todo completo?” I asked him diabolically confused.
“Si. Bienvenido a Chile. Bien viaje”.
There was a huge amount of road works immediately after the border control, which meant that only one lane of traffic was open. It’s super steep with 18 switch backs so it meant that all the buses and trucks were very slow and we zoomed straight past them all to enjoy the entire gorgeous road all to ourselves. All 18 switchbacks. It was awesome!
And since arriving in Chile. We have moved from one relaxing place to the next. A few days off in Los Andes, a few more with wonderful hosts Jennifer & Ed at their home and winery in San Felipe, and now in a super luxurious hotel in Santiago (thanks brother Michael for spoiling us once again).
Yep, we made it to Santiago. We can’t believe it either. AND we managed to ride all the way without further Falkor carnage. Unreal. Dreamlike. Inconceivable. But true. Woohooo!
Currently, Goober’s odometer reads 21,827km. Today we head to our final destination in Santiago where we will meet Anita & David, our last hosts of the South American leg. There we will begin the final clean up, washing all the road grime from our panniers and preparing Falkor for flight.
It’s more 11km. Our absolutely final kilometres of the South American leg. Might have to do a few laps of the city to clock that odometer up to 22,000km. I like round numbers.
So when I say that we can’t believe how close we are to the end, we really truly can’t believe it and in fact probably won’t until we get on that plane. I think then and only then, will the real celebrating begin. I believe they serve free champagne in business class……..
South America; gracias por todo. Australia; see you soon mate!
There is a very (very) long list of amazing people who have contributed to the success of our journey in many different ways. We wish it could be possible to thank you all in person for everything you have done for us.
All of our Pozible supporters who before we left Japan, contributed so generously to help connect us with Falkor.
All those who listened to the plans of this mad tale for the years before we got going
Everyone for following & sharing our blog, facebook and twitter pages.
All of our hosts from WarmShowers, Couch Surfing, & to those we met through mutual friends for welcoming strangers into their homes
The mad people we randomly met who simply welcomed two dirty cyclists into their lives
All the friends we met along the way for sharing our journey with us
All the other touring cyclists we met for making us feel normal
Our incredible family and friends across the world for their unwavering support
The dozens of people who got involved in our postal shenanigans and helped connect us with vital bits.
Those crazy few who were able to travel the miles to meet us during our journey (and drag tonnes of our gear with them)
Every single person who took the time to find out more about World Bicycle Relief and for getting involved to help us with our fund-raising
Our official sponsors for their generous contributions
For all the messages we ever received. Your love kept us going.
To those who waved at us, tooted, gave us a thumbs up, shouted us a drink, shared their food, laughed & cried with us, encouraged us and believed in us
AND to all the people who feel even just a little bit inspired in their own lives. Inspiration is a wonderfully contagious thing. Spread it.
On 24th March, we will board the plane in Santiago and fly to Brisbane. We want to catch up with you all as we ride along the East Coast of Oz on our ‘cool down’ ride home to Melbourne. It’s about 2000km and will hope to finish in Melbourne on July 10th – exactly 2 years after we set off from Whistler.
So whether you want to get your riding club together to share a few kms, pack a picnic to share a road side snack sesh or throw your tent & kids in the car and come camp with us – we want to encourage all of it.
Hey did you see our latest video from Bolivia!
Working on the Argentina vid now so stand by!
In the mean time, some more pics of our final weeks on the road.