Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Travelling kid with bike has bad luck in foreign country

“As long as we are lucky we attribute it to our smartness; our bad luck we give the gods credit for”
-Joshua Billings 1885

Coyahaique from the top of a big bastard hill.

Had a bit of trouble with ATMs.  A bit of a worry.  Coyhaique was the only place with an atm for the next 600km or so.  Heard later it was because an earthquake had smashed the central servers.  An Earthquake.  I guess I had to cop it as a good excuse.  Spent 16,000 on shopping - ouch, must buy cheaper. After a dose of internet, I booked into residencial Monika, my first bed and room for some time.  Watched a TV.  'Casino' with DeNiro.  Underrated film.

Luke appeared that evening, said he wasn't staying at Monika but we should have a beer or something later.  "Agreed, meet me at 6:30pm".  Due to coincidence, I once again met up with Bob, of all people.  As we were going separate ways now, not following the same route, we were unlikely to meet again.  He benevolently offered to shout me dinner at a nice restaurant.  Hotel and resaurant.  Could get used to this but can't as I have no money.  I heartily agreed.  Brought along Luke who was paying for himself.  Had an amazing steak (rare for Chile) and some fancy fruit-sugar construction for dessert.  Talked to Bob for hours.  Will miss the tough old coot.

Couldn't decide the next day whether to leave town or not.  Traded stories with some other Aussie cyclists, the first since Max.  I bit the bullet and tackled the big bastard hill out of town (figures) in the Midday sun.  Sweated like a pig.  Other side was all down though.  A lot of down.  I got down.  Caught up with Luke about 25km out of town.  We called it a day and camped together next to Rio Simpson.  Tried to cook with Petrol instead of gas.  Didn't work.  Extreme fury.  Could have cooked my soup with the steam shooting from my ears.  Made a fool of myself in front of Luke.  Finally realised the source of the problem.  I had lost a part.  The 'non-return valve' had found a way to unscrew itself after never having been used, and work its way out of a mesh sack, three pots, a stuff sack, and a waterproof pannier, to freedom.  Couldn't ue anything but euro-gas until I found a replacement.  Good luck finding a part for a swedish stove in Chilean Patagonia Arch.  Also temporarily lost my favourite black pen so had to write my journal in inferior blue.

Bad luck comes in threes, does it not?  Luke left early in the dawn of the following day.  I passed him, then maybe ten kilometres later my fancy, rare Rohloff gear-hub's cables snapped after years of neglect.  Fine.  No problem.  These years of neglect actually helped me cool my temper as it was my own fault.  I have all the parts, I'll fix it here.  Under the shade of this tree near the waterfall.

Torque screws.  I had allen keys.  Didn't have Torque keys. They were not Allen screws. I was screwed.  Had to thumb back towards Coyhaique and a bike shop.  Luke caught me up and helped me get a lift.  He had command of the language.  I lacked that.  Back in Coyhaique, I sought out a bike shop.  Long search for torque wrenches but found some.  Inserted torque wrench into screw.  Instantly ruined the thread on all six bolts, no way to unscrew ever.  The bolts and I were now more firmly screwed than ever.  No way to fix bike except unthinkably using an angle grinder, haha!

Found an angle grinder.  Ancient bike shop man spoke no english.  In a shower of sparks he put the angle grinder to my shiny US$1000 gear-hub.  The wincing has given me permanent wrinkles.  But because I was clever my luck held out and the bolts came off.  No harm to the mechanics except some angle grinder scars on the outside.  Kind of like my face.  Anyhow I went to work.  Four hours later due to my poor mechanical skill, I managed to get eleven of the fourteen original gears working.

I had to get out of Coyhaique today.  Hitched again because I have a severe aversion to cycling the same road twice in quick succession, especially when that road is a 'big bastard hill' and in the scorching afternoon sun.  Muy Caliente Aqui.  I was dropped off to near where the breakdown originally was by some tourists in a hurry to catch a ferry in Puerto Aisen.  Rest of day was uneventful, cycled maybe 40km and camped next to Rio Simpson.  Swam sin ropas as there was nobody for miles.  Sandy camp unfortunately.  Similar to eating biscuits in bed then trying to have a comfortable sleep.  It was only 20km or so from Villa Manihuales so I pressed on through.  Nice village.  Planned on making it to Villa Amengual.  Didn't count on the shite ripio.  Been on asphalt the last few days, so the awful ripio hurt bad.  Map inaccurate.  Much more ripio than I thought.  Cursed at the sky. NB- in retrospect, a rubbish idea.

By the time I got to Villa Amegual I was utterly spent.  Put through the meat-grinder.  Worse than ever.  Had two helados and called it quits at a nice campsite for the night.  Met two yanks cycling south there.  Shared a dinner and swapped literature.  I had a quality hot shower.  Best one yet.  Little did I know this would be my last day's 'real' cycling for quite some time.

I woke up feeling like I had entered some gas chamber but had not quite died.  Body wracked with shivery fever.  Had to see a doctor or some pharmacist or an exorcist.  Also had to choose between hitching to the next village in search of said expert, or trying to sleep it off.  Chose to hitch.  Took three hours to get a lift.  Got one but it was a bad lift.  It was a pickup with an enclosed tray.  Tray was half-full.  No seats left for me.  Had to jam bike in the back, then jam myself in there with it.  Lying on top of my bike in a crap truck on a dusty potholed road, wracked with severe fever on a hot dry day.  I imagined this was what some poor Tommy soldier felt like, after copping dysentry, then some hot lead in the lungs from the Africa Corps at Alamein, being taken back to Cairo in a lorry for treatment.  Except, I wasn't taken all the way back to Cairo.

Portrait taken around two hours before passing out

They left me, for reasons unknown, shivering, pale, with no food, a few drops of water and a disassembled bicycle, in the forest some thirty kilometres from Puyuhuapi, the next town.  Struggling, I put the bike back together.  Hooked on luggage.  began pedaling.  There were no cars to help me.  Sucked down what little water I had left.  After a monumental effort, plus some some heavy painkillers some cyclist had given me, I arrived in town, and safety.  Felt better, but that was the Ibuprofen talking I soon found out.

With an 'I defeated the Africa Corps' grin on my face, I strutted into the internet cafe/information centre.  Suddenly my vision blurred.  My limbs lost their power.  My head smashed into the keyboard.  When I woke the first time, I was still looking at the keyboard really close up.  I eyed the manger of the cafe and uttered "Necesito ajudar por favor" then passed out again.  The good chaps there bundled me into a vanbulance.  Took me to the local doc's.  Hours later I emerged, medicine in hand, and went to 'Hospedaje Don Luis' to get a couple of day's kip in.  A good choice.  For two days I mostly slept and ate little, as I had also picked up some ghastly stomach bug - Don Luis and some Israelis forced me back to the doc's after a period of no improvement.  I think I recall the doc mentioning Guardia in a flurry of espanol.  I was put on four bags of saline in the arm.  Replenished lost fluid.  Felt a little better. 

There was a bus in the morning, to near Esquel, where my amigo Feliciano lived.  I had to sleep for a solid week so I bought a ticked with the last of my Chilean Pesos (no problem with bikes, they said).  Next day comes.  Still Ill.  Bus arrives and bus driver refuses my bike to be taken.  "This has happened before, Kyle, just tell him your loathesome story and all will be swell" I said to myself.  Didn't work.  Tried a bribe.  Didn't work.  Pleading and groveling.  Didn't work.  Nada.  "Es tu problema, no me problema" that wretch told me.

But I had to take the bus as I had no money left.  No ATM.  I took the bus, and had to leave my bike in that tiny forsaken village in the middle of nowhere.  Got to Futaleufu, totally disheartened and sick, and the following day, hitchhiked over the border, back into Argentina, and to Cabanas El Principio, the home of my friend Feli.

My sanctuary

PS: Things get better!!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Carretera Australian Pt2

First impression of the town was "O.K I've found the tip, where is the town?"  Turns out, the street coming into town was under reconstruction, hence the unfair first impression.  So after a good shop-restock, I found the main square.  Polish guy at the library.  Strong character.  Worked for a hydroelectric dam, so resented the 25 or so "¡Patagonia Sin Represas!" cycle tourers/protestors, assembled in town.  Gave a Japanese cyclist that Marathon XR the swiss chap gave me earlier in exchange for his tarp, as I couldn't find one anywhere.  He accepted, then ran off to a nearby shop.  He came back soon after clutching a new tarp.  A kind of anger welled up inside me, but I shook it off, the guy was so happy.  Sat and read my book in the town square - 'Clear and present Danger', thoroughly enjoyable - even though it was a Tom Clancy.  Don't judge me, books in English here are rarer than hen's teeth.  Swissdeux finally arrived, halfway through chapter.  Bummer.  No thats not true, their company was appreciated and we went to the in-town campsite for the usual.  Had some excellent fast food for dinner.  Swiss had burgers too.  Hot water at camp insufficient for three.

We made a late start, about midday.  As usual, there was a big hill out of town, when we finally found out how to actually leave Cochrane.  "This way!"  "No, this way!" "You fool thats the way to Argentina!".  A motorcycle tourist pointed as right - "That hill's outta town boys!".  Three faces grimaced.

What a hill it was too, turned out to be about three big ones.  The valley was arid and Hay los gradientes fuertes!  Standard rubbish ripio, but I had managed to pull ahead of the swiss.  Got to lovely Puerto Bertrand for a lunch stop and to wait.  Jetty.  Quaint houses.  Little boats on the shore.  Little fishing boats, and small dingies lining a shore in a place are one of my favourite sights in the world and this one was bringing warmth into my heart.  Added loads of pan and Dulce de Leche (Manjar in Chile) to my stomach for lunch.  the swiss arrived and we ended up hanging around Bertrand for a few hours.  Left Bertrand to be greeted by another monstrous hill.  What's with these 'leaving town hills'?  Enough to drive Archy bonkers.  Dog peacefully followed me for 5km.  Scared it away, didn't want its owner worried, you see.  Rode another 15km to a fateful turnoff.

Which way?  To Chile Chico?  Road really hard and like a rollercoaster.  To Cerro Castillo?  Few villages but better road and a chance to see Cerro Castillo mountain.  Waited for Swissdeux to roll in so we could make our usual democratic 3-way decision.  Waited for two hours.  Still not here?  Its only 17kms, guys!  Fed up.  Left alone, after consuming five manjar sandwiches and twenty swatted horseflies.  At the next bend, (heading towards Cerro Castillo)  I saw an old face.  German guy from hostel in El Calafate.  Greetings exchanged at this coincidence.  He was hitching with some German broad to Rio Tranquilo.  It was getting late so I went with them in the truck.  As I loaded on my bike, the Swiss arrived.  With that og that was following me.  Told them "I´m hitching for 30km, bye!" I would leave a note for them at Tranquilo.  Dog had to walk home 20km.

We got to Tranquilo and I restocked.  Also had an "El Compleato" just as I was supposed to board a boat to tour the Marble caves on Lago General Carrera (Lago Buenos Aires in Arg, it lies on the border).  The cheap boat trip was nice.  Best weather and stillest lake in the history of forever, claimed the boatman.  I believed him.  Back in Tranquilo, I wrote a note to the swiss and stuck in on the "Bienvenidos a Rio Tranquilo" sign.  Probably won't see them again (Haven't yet).  Well, the two krauts and I left the boring village to wild camp.  The scared Germans voted "no" at an excellent spot over fence for fear of tresspassing fines.  We went on a bit and jumped a fence anyway due to the dimming light.  Spot not as nice as my choice.  Didn't say anything.  Had some tasty burger/hot dog thingys for dinner, Germans had rice.

Up bright and early the next day, the krauts still shooting Z's.  Left by myself and decided on about 80ms today, a fair cop on ripio.  Actually took it pretty slow in the morning and spoke to numerous passing bike tourers about the road ahead.  Really hilly and road conditions are crap was the general consensus.  Had a small lunch with some euro-hikers and two female Chileno bikers heading south.  The road really did go arriba.  reading Tyson Schmidshals online diary prepared me for the worst.  Really smooth mud ripio on the way down the other side of the hill.  Got to the bottom, back to the rubbish ripio, and thought I'd come a long way.  But kept going.  There was a bad part of the road, 20km being ´reconstructed´.  Big rocks.  Nearly cried.  I asked a road worker "How far to Cerro Castillo, amigo?"  "Viente kilometres"  "20km? Wow I had come a long way!" I thought.  Might as well make it to Castillo, then.  Another two hours of cycling pass.  this is one looong 20km, I kept saying inside my head.  After two more mountain passes at around 400-500m, I asked a local man: "How far to Cerro Catillo, amigo?"  "38kms" he replies.  Mind starts spinning.  Anger at construction worker reaches 'fury' level.  Nothing I could do to him as he was at least 38 km away.  Decided to keep going - why stop now, use this rage for fuel!  After cresting another whopper hill, I entered what looked like Utah.  Rolled downhill a long way, and entered Villa Cerro Castillo.  Saw a sigh facing the way I'd come:  'Rio Tranquilo 121km'.  Not a bad day's work!  Bought two sodas and a great burger at a singular bus-restaurant on the main road.  After some Castellano confusion, the beautiful lady (first one in Chile so far!) at the restaurant let me camp just outside on their property, with free access to toilets and water.  Sunset over Monte Cerro Castillo.  Good end to a mammoth day.

Felt remarkably O.K in the morning, muscles were not in their usual cramped, burning state.  Packed up camp, bought Pan, and begun the long slow climb out of town toward the famous 1300m pass.  About 300m up and 4km into the ride, I realised I had left Ol' trusty, my much adored knife, back at camp in town.  Frustration!  Rolled back down, got the shank, sweated back up.  Met up with the Krauts again, they were camping in some field.  Hi and bye!  I tackled the pass, about 9 switchbacks then a mirador.  I strutted around, feeling like hot stuff around a group of measly bus-tourists.  Must remember - keep that ego in check, Arch.  The hill kept coming but Michael Franti had me singing up the pass, was actually quite fun - a paved road make a hell of a difference.  Coasted down the other side for ages on a slight gradient.  Tried to spot a Huemel but didn´t.  "Uh-oh, the roads going up again, how can this be? Gimme a break surveyors, haven't I climbed enough today?".  Super-exhausted.  Got to a lake and saw that it was going to be mostly downhill now, into the big arid valley that holds Coyhaique.

But into the fray comes another player.  My good old, almost forgotten nemesis, the wind.  And, as it couldn't be any other way, it was bang-on in my face.  Almost done for the day.  Met Luke, a walker/hitchhiker.  he told me of a small town up ahead - 'El Blanco'.  The museum in  town told me I could camp near the river.  I did.  Set up camp, and Luke showed up later also, at the same spot.  Short green grass, in the shade of the burning sun, no wind, and a potable river right next to me.  Unfortunately slipped on a wet rock in said river and lost yet another water bottle.  Down to two, started with five.  Lentil and rice soup for dinner.

Luke was up bright and early in the morning, to walk to Coyhaique.  About 33km.  Told me of a place to stay, Residencial Veronica, or Monica, or something.  Said "I'll meet ya there!"  I rode off about one hour after he left, soon overtook him, after after a frankly dull 33km ride, arrived in Coyhaique.  Biggest town on the Carretera Austral and about halfway along.

Carretera Australian

With Belarus and the swiss we hopped on down to Villa O´Higgins, 7km away.  I scouted out the town and found very little of interest, so I booked into El Mosco, where the Swiss were setting up camp.  Used the free, slow internet, dried some things, then Danny showed up.  Don´t get me wrong, I like the guy, but that creep Danny, daft old boy, proceeded to dry out all of his kit on the lawn of El Mosco, used the facilities, jumped on the net, then told me he wasn't going to stay there at all anyway, he was jetting off that night.  Owner of El Mosco overheard him, blasted him, and rightly so.  Danny left and hung around Belarus at some other campground.  I think he went fishing with Ben.  That was the last time I saw Belarus and Dan.  Meanwhile, I was fast making plans in El Mosco.  Put on my chunky bike tyre for the rough road ahead.  Had hotdogs for dinner and met a Canadian ocean surveyor.

Said goodbye to O'Higgins early in the morn, and left my companions of the previous week.  The ride started well.  Read a journal previously of a gentleman that had cycled to Rio Bravo in one day.  Thought I'd do the same.  Had a rough time of it, two big hills, visible in the distance, wrecked my thighs and nerves.  Rain.  Misery.  Utter exhaustion, but I made it to Rio Bravo by 5:00pm, the ferry was at eight.  Cooked a delicious tomato pasta dinner and dried off in a nice, clean ferry terminal building that was deserted.  The ferry arrived, and I asked the driver if there was any place to camp on the other side of the Fjord, at Puerto Yungay.  he said, "Yes, in my front yard!"  I said "Great!" He said "You pay in Chilean pesos, yes?"  I said, "No, I'm staying here, in this cozy terminal, for free, and catching the morning ferry!"  He shrugged, couldn't care less either way.  Another swiss man exited the ferry going the direction I came, and he also decided to use the handy terminal for a night's kip.  Had a good gab all night and the nice chap gave me a brand new Marathon XR, as he didn't need it.  Neither did I, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth.

The following morning, he was off early.  Just as the ferry showed up at 10:00am, Swissdeux rolled in.  Nick of time.  We slept on the 3/4 of an hour free ferry, then hit a 24% grade hill out of Puerto Yungay.  Pushing and swearing.  Well, I was cursing, the swiss were too polite, just a little furrow of the brow for them.  Met a bunch of other bikers coming the opposite way, having a grand old time, including a cool American coming up the pass.  Gave me some lentil soup and oats, he'd heard of me before.  Reputation precedes me.  Must be the kitsch hat and knife.  The swiss caught me up at the turnoff to Caleta Tortel.  As a democratic group we voted 3-0 in favor of not going there, the boardwalk village, as it was an extra 44km of dirt road not in the direction we were headed.  Maybe will regret not going, everyone since has shouted it's blessings.  Apparently Danny even went there, some Israelis said.

The Swiss, being slowpokes accustomed to short days in the saddle, convinced me to stop after a mere 40km.  We did choose a cracking spot, however, opened an interesting horizontal log-gate, were assaulted by mosquitos, and cooked a hearty dinner of pasta con sausage.  We left in the morning as a group and startled a gaucho, whose cattle scarpered into the bush.  With a whip-crack and an "¡aiii!" he chased them, probably thinking "fucking gringos!"  Sorry pal.  Some really rotten ripio for the next 38km was our companion, following a river toward the town of Cochrane.  At km 38 there was a left turn to an Estancia 9km on a side road.  Swiss wanted to buy pan, fruit and camp there. I couldn't swallow another short 40km day, and I had enough pan to swallow anyway, so I said "Goodbye, I'm off to Cochrane!".  I was rewarded for my solidarity with a big bastard hill, but I stuck it out and made another 40 or so kilometres.  Asked a guy: "¿Donde kilometres por de Cochrane?"  Got confused glare back, and a reply in english, "28km that way".  Realised I had asked the chap "Where kilometres for of Cochrane?"  Slapped myself across the face, as my spanish teacher would have done, had she heard me.  Had a hard time finding a sneaky place to camp, but eventually came across a broken farm fence and crept in.  Was windy, so I put up the tent, had 3 coffees and whipped up some "curried" rice as dinner.  Cheap and cheerful, tearful too.  Much Aji.

Day 5 of the Carretera Austral was a lovely short one.  Got to Cochrane about 10:30 am.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

¿¡No repelente por mosquitos!?

As we left El Chalten, we met Dan.  He just got to EL Chalten and was leaving with us.  Nice lakes, bad ripio, a puncture for Ben, mosquitos, choripan, and $US30 later we were on a ferry toward free camping on the north shore of Lago Del Desierto.  A nice place with the most impressive landscape and view I have yet witnessed.  Mount Fitz-Roy at dawn and dusk.  In the morning after the night of fires, camping, swimming, and meeting other bike tourers (one a cool canadian), I left to begin the epic 23km border crossing.  Alone, as Dan was so slow getting ready.  As per usual.  Good thing I left quick-smart anyway, the track was muy dificil, and if it weren´t for Bob, I would have begun following the completely wrong track, and out here that means helicopter rescue or death.

Typical path

Bob and I struggled on through a tough patch of boggy swamp.  It was a slog.  Bob and I were a hastily-assemblem team but not always together.  He left me behind on the uphills due to the weight of my bike, in spite of my muscley youth, and I passed him on the downs due to my wheels and gravity.  Bob photographed me stupidly hauling my bike over some logs over a river.  There surely was a bridge there once.  Don´t know why I didn´t take my bags off the bike and make two trips over the ford.  Bravado, I guess.

So for the next four of five hours I man-hauled that steel bitch over some over the worst "track" ever built by man, whether it was or not, I don´t know, maybe built by sheep.  So many rocks, so much, so deep, a swamp!!  Oh no, another hill!  Sweating profusely.  Shirt now covered in white sweat-salt ridges.  I had my Icebreaker shirt on, the camoflauge one, so even if I´d have keeled over from exhaustion my body would have never been found.  I passed six other cyclists coming the other way, having a merry old time.  Had thir luggage hauled by horses for the price of two beers.  Why hadn´t I done that?  Two beers at the end of the trip and the bragging rights would have been worth it, thats why folks.


 The last of the biscuits were gobbled by Bob and I at the remains of an Argentine barracks abandoned and left over from some pointless war.  Danny caught us up.  Didn´t wait for him to finish his lunch, pushed on to Chile.  Obligatory border sign picture and at last, a road!  Shite, but navigable and semi-rideable.  I followed the track forever, seemingly, then hit a summit and a worthy view.  The camino verred earthward sharply, and I crashed my bike due to my still-poor cycling skills, and got a rock in my left hand, sharply.  Same place as in other hand, the Copenhagen rock, back to having symmetrical hands again at least.  Put one glove on my left hand as I had no plasters, so looked a bit Jackson.
Made it to the CabiƱeros de Chile to have my pasaporte stamped for entry.  Stone face.  Guard had as much personality as my chain-grease rag and less usefullness.  Swatting away countless biting horseflies and vampiric mosquitos, then giving up a la the Germans on D-day, can´t stop a relentless horde, hydra-like, crush one and two replace it.  I pulled my hat over my head and slept, waiting for Dan to catch up.  Had a dream warning me that Dan was approaching.  Woke up to Dan approaching.  Uncanny.  After his similarly stony experience with Captain Stonewall, we rolled to Candillario Mansilla, the house on the south shore of Lago O'Higgins, bought some homemade pan, and camped and cooked, waiting for the ferry north in the afternoon of the following day, and for our horse-bound friends Belarus and Swissduex to arrive.  At 8 they arrived.  Slack.  Here Dan and I had all our kit, and we arrived at 5pm.  Their gear, tent, etc; was another hour later.  Apparently the horses had broken down.  The guy loaded his truck with the stuff and brought it here instead.  His truck was on it's last legs too, so many sounds coming from a machine that should only be making one sound - "brrrm".  No, that truck wasn't going to simply break down.  Whenit's time had come, it was going to explode into a fiery Hiroshima-esque wreck.  Danny and had a good chuckle about all this, then passed out.  Exhaustion, but worth it.


Turns out Bob sprained his foot falling down at almost the same spot I caught that rock in my hand.  But he toughed it out.  Finished the walk.  What a champ.  The next day was a rare rainy one.

Met hikers who had just arrived.  Ten of us all crammed together into a tiny hut at a tiny dock.  Had a stove inside.  Smelly but homely.  Belarus couldn't handle it for more than an hour, left the hut and found a dry spot beneath a tree.  Probably wanted some alone time.  I tasted teabag coffee.  Didn't regret it, as it was at least kind of coffee, but didn't ask for seconds.  Ferry was due at 4:00pm.  Heard reports it was due now at 8:00pm due to some unsurprising delay.  Cooked cheesy pasta for dinner at 6:55pm.  Ferry got in earlier so had to angrily scoff the half-cooked pasta quickly.  Too cheesy.  Paid the whopping $80US for the 3.5 hour ferry and ate all their biscuits.  Watched a documentary in EspaƱol about Villa O'Higgins, our destination.  Very dull.  The ferry dock as it turns out, was 7km from town.  It was 10:30pm.  I wasn't going anywhere.  Pitched in the carpark.  The others did the same.