Out of the 15 days we were in Chile, we only rode 3. And not just because Chile is a narrow country with limited road access, but because that was the way we planned it. We were utterly exhausted when we rolled over the border from Argentina and were thrilled at the chance to relax. Proper, real-time relaxing. We had almost forgotten how to do it. Sure there was stuff to be fixed, organized and cleaned but all of that suddenly stopped being important. Being able to sit still was a weird guilty feeling. I kept thinking I had to leap up and do something. Like always being on alert.
So Once we finally rolled into Santiago, the enormity of what we had accomplished started to slowly sink in. Crikey, we had really done it. Made it alive and in one piece.
It was pretty surreal. After all those obstacles, mountains, close calls, vicious dogs and break-downs, we had actually made it to the end. Riding all the way and still holding hands. I had to keep pinching myself.
We spent 4 days in central Santiago hiding out in our hotel room, merely waking up to make it to the buffet breakfast, only leaving our room to chill in the pool or get more food. We were under strict instructions to do nothing but soak up the luxury. The hardest decisions involving whether to 1st run a bath or take a swim, and whether 15 strips of bacon was really enough to cover 4 slices of toast. I dare say that the buffet breakfast at the Crown Plaza had never seen the likes of cyclists before, and we put in a good hour every morning, tasting practically everything on offer and always leaving with a plate of croissants & muffins to take up to our room. We never tried to disguise our unyielding hunger and no one ever tried to stop us. The was no room in our mini fridge to store our stolen lunch, with beers taking priority over pastries, so we stored our treats safely away from house keeping by stashing them in the safe. They were after all, amongst our most precious things.
4 days went surprisingly quickly in this manner.
From our hotel, it was a final 11km riding through the hectic traffic of central Santiago to stay with our hosts Anita and David. Stopping Goober for the last time in South America, the odometer read 21,838km.
And of course, we managed to break one last spoke. Seriously. You have to laugh right! There is clearly a higher power out there having a mighty giggle at our spoke breaking expense. It made ridiculous sense to end the journey with a broken spoke of course. But when it came to packing up the bike, we put her away without fixing it. One last broken spoke while hilarious, was still just a bit too much. You get that though right?
Our Chilean friend Gonzalo in Tokyo, went to great lengths to make sure we met Anita and David. Making connections through friends has been one of the great highlights of our journey and spending our final days in South America making wonderful new friends was simply superb. We have found that Latinos live seriously by the phrase ‘mi casa es su casa’ and Anita and David were committed subscribers. They scooped us up and instantly made us a part of their family. It was divine and exactly what we needed.
Arriving at their house after 4 days of doing nothing, we whipped ourselves into action and started ‘the big clean’. Access to a washing machine is definitely luxurious for us and every single item we owned got swished about in that tub. Falkor got a massive hose down and all the running gear scrubbed with a tooth-brush.
We have only ever packed Falkor into boxes for the flights to and from Cuba. It’s a mission to find the right sized boxes and an even greater mission to pull her apart as each time a bolt shears or a screw gets threaded. But this time we knew that the next episode of ‘Falkor rebuilding’ would be in Oz and a definite amount of delight went along with that.
We had spare parts waiting for us in Oz to rebuild that DT Swiss rear hub again. It meant that of course the entire rear wheel would have to be re-built again (for the 8th time) but we were feeling pretty certain that this would be the last rebuild of the trip, with hopefully only minimal spoke breakage on the 2000km ride to Melbourne. You can’t fault us for our optimism.
Getting Falkor safely taped into 2 boxes with another box and bag for our gear, we were pretty set and ready to go 3 days before our flight. All that was left to do was enjoy Santiago, party with our new friends and eat our weight in treats. It was a great finish!
We met Gonzalo’s brother ‘Nacho’ for a massive karaoke session, caught up with friends that we had met along the way and even found Aussie duo ‘Branjo’ in Santiago for a gorgeous picnic on our last day. It was an awesome way to wrap it all up.
And then we set off to the airport for our trip home; business class style.
Packing the boxes into the taxi was super strange. I was all over the place emotional, very shaky & teary, but crazy excited! Check-in was the breeziest experience of the trip, even though we were the ONLY people who instead of suit bags and wheely luggage we had cardboard boxes and a homeless bag. It was clear that we didn’t belong there but we felt we had earned our place wearing our cleanest clothes and having even tamed my hair with a little product. Sure we knocked over a few bollards while getting our boxes to the check-in desk, but hey, those were some big boxes.
Relieved of our luggage, we headed straight for the bizness class lounge to get the celebrations underway. We tucked into the sushi, cheeses and ice cream while shamelessly relieving the fridge of beer and bubbles. It was a good time.
And boarding the plane was like getting VIP treatment at Disney Land. As economy class travelers, you get used to looking for the signs and hearing the announcements that affect you. It was fantastic to not have to line up and to be able to get straight on the plane. All the while being addressed by name as if you were someone special. We did not hate it one bit.
“Mrs Cary may I pour you a glass of champagne?”
“Mrs Cary may I get you your pillow and duvet?”
“Dude, I am going to answer yes to all of your questions so please, just go right ahead and do it all”.
I know many of you will have travelled business class before, but for us it was a first, and it was completely awesome. The control for the chair alone had like 8 buttons. For the chair! We spent at least an hour enjoying that luxury, experimenting just how flat a ‘flat bed’ could go. As it turns out, TotallyHorizontal.
We got stuck into our steak and wine (with real cutlery and actual glass wine glasses), watching movies and feeling generally too excited by it all to sleep. That was when the announcement about ‘engine problems’ came through the cabin. First we heard it in Spanish, then confirmed our understanding by a dumbed down explanation in English. I don’t think anyone really gets upset when the pilot decides to avoid risk and return to the airport you started at 2 hours ago. I am sure we can all agree that any amount of risk while 32’000 feet in the air is undesirable. I for one had paid absolutely no attention to the safety speech, assuming we would be saved before everyone else. I have seen Titanic and was sure the same applied here.
So we were happy enough to be turning back, knowing that there would be another flight and another steak. Too easy.
Well. It turns out that riding a bike is fantastically simpler than dealing with the ‘customer service’ procedures at Santiago airport.
To keep it brief;
A full 747 load of passengers were all ushered off the plane
We were led into a room with no guides as to how to line up
We were faced with 1 desk where 4 staff sat completely unperturbed by the swelling crowd, unable (or unwilling) to communicate anything in any language.
There was no general announcement to the mob about when the next flight would be
So all hell broke loose
There was crazy amounts of pushing-in and shoving going on. The flight left at 12 midnight and arrived back into Santiago at 2am. It was taking each staff member a minimum of 40 minutes to give each passenger a hand written voucher to cover a hotel for the night and a taxi to said hotel. We waited an hour to get to speak to our ‘specialist’ and we were at the front of the queue! We also had the added joy of our massive luggage to contend with which added an extra 15 minutes to our transaction, and once that procedure ended, we were faced with the delightful immigration staff who insisted that we either leave our passports at the airport over night or pay $117 each for a visa to enter Chile (no, there isn’t a 24hour transit visa option).
It was now close to 5am and all of our skills to express ourselves calmly in any language were fading fast. But I knew one thing for sure, none of the incompetence we had witnessed suggested that leaving our passports at the airport was a good idea.
Too tired to argue with the idiots telling us they were trying to help, we sucked it up, paid the visa fee and enjoyed the gum-chewing, face-book-scrolling, terrible-singing ‘customs officer’ that took an extraordinary amount of time to stamp our passports.
I thought I had gained an incredible amount of patience from our journey, but this experience just showed me that one can really never have enough. Ever.
Anyway, we survived it. We found our luggage, albeit severely battered, headed to the taxi stand and made a bee-line for the hotel. Arriving at the Sheraton at 5.30am, the staff there provided a stark contrast to our airport experience and we were in our room within 5 minutes. Our flight would depart at the same time the next night and the only thing that got us out of bed was a free buffet breakfast and lunch. And in a way that we have found ourselves strangely skilled at, we made more than a few meals of it.
It was obviously a mistake to write ‘fragile’ on our boxes and put arrows showing the direction they should be stowed. Falkor’s handle-bars had somehow managed to poke through the box and it was clear that everything had been tossed like a frisbee. Luggage handlers obviously don’t discriminate between economy and business class and it became painfully clear that we were gonna have to re-pack all of the boxes again. I am sure the concierge and all the staff working in the lobby of the Sheraton enjoyed hearing 30meters of tape being sheared from the roll.
So there was a bit more malarkey getting back to the airport and checking-in again, but after a small disagreement with more luggage handlers and several conversations to get the idiotic visa fee refunded, were pretty stoked the discover the brand spanking new VIP lounge opened that very day. In we went and acquainted ourselves with everything on offer. Another chance to chill in luxury and we quickly forgot all the troubles that proceeded.
It was a great flight home and with added weariness, it was easier this time to enjoy the full comforts of the flat-bed.
Laughing at the strict security measures at Auckland airport compared with the very lax ‘inspections’ of Santiago, it came as a shock when they choose to give me the extra security scan. Come on, everyone predicted it would be Bren and his very hairy face that would draw the attention of immigration right? Goes to show you never can tell.
With only an hour in the Auckland business class lounge, we had a tight schedule of 4 champagnes, 4 croissants with vegemite and a quick shower. We can be very efficient when it comes to such things.
Flying into Brisbane was a giggly experience, and not just because of the free-flowing champagne. All of the flight crew had intense Aussie accents, which made that first glimpse of east coast through the window even more real. There it was; Australia. Home. Fighting with emotions that wanted to squirt out tears for 100 different reasons, we held hands through a perfect landing arriving on a thoroughly perfect Queensland morning.
Collecting our luggage was surprisingly simple, as was our re-entry through immigration and exit through customs. It was all very automatic and no actual person got the chance to judge our journey, route or generally sloppy appearance so within 40 minutes of landing, we were through the doors and officially home.
We expected at least a few questions about where we had been and the state of our kit (at least the state of Bren’s beard) but we got none of it with things on the re-entry side of our return being remarkably straight-forward. I know many of you will almost be disappointed about that. But yep, they just let us straight back in.
Our sister-in-law Samantha met us at the airport for a wonderful reunion and we drove up to Noosa where we spent 10 days practicing socially acceptable behavior. Bren’s Mum flew up to meet us and we spent those first few days reveling in the love of our family while indulging in absolutely everything. Yes, we consumed many meat pies.
It was an incredible feeling to be surrounded by family again and being able to think and react in English full-time. Our nieces and nephew were on ‘high Spanish alert’ always pulling us up when we accidentally spoke in Spanish and laughing at our clumsiness when operating simple things like the dishwasher and toaster. They laughed at us a lot actually.
Having been strangely healthy throughout the bike ride, I got sick within 24 hours of arriving home with a crazy head cold and wicked cough collapsing me.
It’s a common phenomena amongst bike tourers. Arriving home then promptly falling apart. That internal knowledge that you are officially safe and that there are extra people around to take care of you, it’s like letting yourself fall. It made me realize how continuously intense life had been for us and it was a welcome relief to be able to let go. Feeling safe in all of my crumbling.
For the best part of 2 years it’s just been me and Bren. We have only had to look out for ourselves and each other. So that’s probably the biggest adjustment on re-entry.
We are lucky to have wonderful family and friends that allow us to effortlessly fit straight back in to Aussie life and to be reminded of how much we are a part of everything here. It’s a feeling so rich it’s impossible to explain. It’s so much more than amazing.
Also, being able to flush toilet paper and have hot water at the turn of a tap is pretty special.
Although it will still take us a few months to make it to Melbourne, with so many special family and friends to reunite with along the way, we are stoked to be able to take it all slowly. As much as I would like to simply fill a room with everyone and have a massive teary hug-fest right now, the joy of being able to stretch out our re-entry and savior each reunion is supreme.
So the plan was to ride from Noosa to Melbourne along the coast, and it started out well. Bren spent a few days getting Falkor back into one-piece, rebuilding our DT Swiss hub and rebuilding that rear wheel again, its 8th reconstruction of the journey.
Although the parts we had received for the hub were not the right bits, so he did what he could to get us riding, knowing that very soon it would let us down again. We didn’t expect it to be quite as soon as it happened though.
As planned, on Easter Sunday we loaded Falkor while Bren’s oldest brother Sean donned his lycra and mounted his road-bike to escort us out-of-town. We planned to ride together for 40km where the rest of the family would then meet us with a picnic lunch and a final round of hugs before we set off solo again. We felt ready to be back on the road and made it exactly 1.88km when crunch, clang, snap; we came to a grinding halt.
The rear axle had broken in half. Of course it had. I mean really, what did we expect? An easy start to the final part of our bike tour? It was incredibly naïve of us to entertain that notion at all.
As lucky would have it, a friend of Sean’s happened to be driving past and came to our rescue taking all of our bags in her car as we limped back the 1.88km. Thanks Carmen for being the fastest responder to a Bremma rescue ever!
Switching back into immediate ‘salvage the mission’ mode, we got online researching the best way to remedy the problem while contacting all of our mates in the Falkor party line. Of course being East Sunday, nothing would be open until Tuesday but the incredibly bad timing of our break-downs is no surprise to us.
And of course, with every break down comes a wonderful surprise. The beauty this time being in the shape of Alex & Steph; 2 German bike tourers currently riding through Noosa on their Hase Pino. The chances of 2 of the same crazy bikes being on the road in the same country and the same time are extraordinary, and while ours was officially no longer ‘on the road’, we took the opportunity to meet up with them over coffee and discuss all things tandem. Believe it or not, they had spent the previous week waiting to receive exactly the same part that we had just broken. It was great to be with people who well & truly felt our pain.
Because the part that we need will come from Switzerland, and with time differences and public holidays working against us for a swift remedy, we sent out an SOS call and our mate ‘Chelli’ who drove to Noosa to collect us. With friends flying from Thailand to meet us in Byron Bay, we didn’t have time to wait for the part to arrive and had to adjust our route by strapping Falkor to the roof of ‘Tex’ (Chelli’s 4WD), and make a beeline to Byron.
So that’s where we are now; sitting back & relaxing in the hills of Bangalow while those pesky parts make their way to find us.
We will hang here until the end of April when we hope to have a fully functioning Falkor again and can start to ride our way south, arriving in Sydney in the 1st week of June.
But you never know what will really happen.
So if you have a roof rack, we would appreciate it if you would be on ‘stand-by’. We may just need to call you.
HUGE sad and sobbing apologies to all of the friends that we missed in Brisbane & GC. We were so bummed to not be able to ride into reunions with you all but hope that we can still create the chance to eye-ball you all while we are here in Byron. Give us a call!
MASSIVE crazy thanks for all of the continuing support with our efforts at World Bicycle Relief. http://fundraise.worldbicyclerelief.org/totallytandem. Can you believe that together we have raised $14,414! Totally Awesome!
Hope to catch you al soon as we ride down the East Coast!
Enjoy these pics of our first weeks back Down Under!