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Monthly Archives: March 2012
Lie in the most southern part of continental south America, the country is simply long stretch of about 5000 km from southern town (Punta Arena) to northern one (Arica). It is the long stretch along side Pacific Ocean on the west and Andes Mountain on the east, between Andes and Pacific is coastal plateau run from north to south, the high plains, Atacama Desert and valleys which run from mountains to ocean, these are the homes of first inhabitants and source of most of today’s town and cities. Combine its position and its physical geography, life here requires adaptation except for the modern human who change things for the power of technology. This is what I had to learn and experience as I pedal 1258km from Los Andes (100km out of Santiago) to Calama, the oasis city of Atacama Desert.
The knee pain was still acute the day I cycle from Los Andes to La Bellana. Being my first time to settle eyes in Pacific Ocean and worm welcome by my friend Lorraine who has cabana just in front of the ocean, I decide to take another rest here to let the tendons recover. The weather was not such preferable for the most of my staying, the cold winds announce the winter was on the way but still there were some sun hours which also make the stunning view. The day I cycle out of La Bellana the weather was total mess, it was cloud day with temperature between 12 to 18 centigrade, the coast is continues rolling hills and when the road switch to high plains there you have pass to cross. I had to push 175km to find the village to camp since it impossible as the entire road is fenced. Cycle in the dark in this high way is most scaring things with such lots of trucks, I camped in someone’s backyard which happen to be damping place with dead cat which was real smelling, just find out all this in the next morning. The next day was bit ease going, the road in the high plains cut through valleys were there are small villages most farm villages. Along the road they sell fruits and other products from the valleys. These valleys are the only green patch of semi desert plains. Still the landscapes haven’t touched my natural wonder though Andes in both side Argentina and Chile was magnificent with its vine yards.
I made it back to ocean in Coquimbo city which overlap with La Serena city divided with valley. I stayed with family in the Coquimbo outskirt, La Heraduras. Here I’ll learn a lot from the simple fact to the complex feelings of how it feel to others helping total strange person. I’m proud for this family, they were so scared of how they can live with someone the total doesn’t know, no one do those kind of things but they were able to break out of normality and do something unusual. At last they were so happy to find out they could be a help, it add in their old age experience.
From the Rotary club and the family the news about an African on the bike spread in Coquimbo and La Serena. The next day began with media interview and presentation to governor of the region. At the end what I learn in this community is the most touching point is what we can’t do in our daily life, doing something out of normality and the simple fact behind helping others.
After short home comfort and good food I get back on the road missed an Austrian friend who is cycling across Andes. Thought he was ahead of me and the fact I was strong from good food, I made 200km to Vallenar. From Vallenar to Copiapo in this part is when I start to feel what was missing since the begin of the expedition ‘the connection to the surrounding environment ‘. The road take me inside the desert and then back to the Pacific Ocean. It was still difficult to do wild camp cause of the fence which is pretty new in this region, while the authority claim is to protect animals from the road which I have never see, locals try to break it down as they think it destroying nature, guess this is to prevent people who are crazy enough to build in the middle of nowhere.
Chanaral it where I had fantastic desert/ocean wild camp, I arrived in the fishing town in the evening, use internet, hydrate. After I learn that the cheapest accommodation is 10000 pesos ($20), I refuel my bottles and cycle out of town, 5km north no more fences. I push the bike out of the road and out of noise trucks and here it nice spot overlooking the Cristal blue ocean. More tea for hydrating as I wait my rice to cook, the sun is coming down and touches the ocean. Having my rice with beans, in the ocean the ‘sea lion’ try to catch their dinner as well, looking in the moon less sky in the west Jupiter and Venus showed up, in the east Mars while further east on the horizon is Saturn. Fall almost dead sleep while wonder what is the heck is the person who said this is Orion hunter was thinking about!
From Chanaral the road advance in the middle of Atacama, long gentle climb, 38 centigrade, long day in the saddle characterized my days in Atacama. Thanks for the truck drivers who keep on throwing battles water, fruits and some dare to throw even Red Bull! Thanks to Chinese mama (the Chinese were brought in Chile in 1900s to work on salt industry, now days northern Chile has minority population of Chinese descendants. It was bit surprise when this mama start to speak to me in perfect Spanish) with her family, living in the desert. Despite the fact they lived in the middle of nowhere for my surprise I was feed well and given lots of snacks more than I could carry. This is the people you will counts as poorest as you pass through in the air condition bus but believe me this family makes me feel to stay long with them. It due to their simple life and amazing knowledge of life which we may think it only found in the Himalayas.
After three long stretches I arrived in what might be 3rd or 2nd large city in Chile, depend on who you ask. Antofagasta it the port town to export the copper to the rest of the world, it just patch in the middle of desert and the coast of Pacific. It also most polluted area, the pollutions is from chemical from Copper mining plant, this is only place I struggle to drink tap water because it smell like there is dead animal in it but in the middle of desert I have no option. Pass two nights at very nice friend Futunatus from NY working with mining associated company, he has apartment in the 27th floor overlooking the ocean, it offer amazing view of sun set. It very nice apartment but to be honest I’m still not very comfortable to sleep in the sky.
Antofagasta has few to offer especial for wondrous chasers they have to pass by on the way to San Pedro de Atacama, out of the town I turn east towards Calama 216 km. Before crossing the Tropic of Capricorn it a pass of coast plateau, 1hour for 10km that is pretty much tough morning while you are looking forward for 200km. Up in the desert are mining companies, Chile is producing almost 16 % of copper in the world and bit of wine, olive oil and I guess nothing else much, in return they have to import a lot of things. With raising and falling of world market for copper this is what also count for their currency (Peso), this remind me much of Zambia.
Just like anywhere else people blame their government or to be more clear we real doesn’t like our government or ruling part, if you like please drop me a comment and tell me why. When I meet people some time just within 3 minutes of conversation I’ll hear the same stories of unequal distribution of national income and monopoly of ruling class. The middle age Chilons has no much to say they try to make it out themselves; these are the people who test General Penuche. The youth are in the street demanding for free university which they claim is unaffordable. And general where they got good social organization like Aysean in the south of country they stand strong to demand the government to loosen the string. General Chile is consider to be expensive even by neighbor Argentina for me it real expensive, in Argentina I could camp for $3 but here it $8.
Cycling across Atacama from west to east I had privilege of tail wind though this could change as I approach the Andes. The desert here it drier and oasis are in long distance. Most part of the road doesn’t have shoulder so I had to cycle the in the dirt track used by ‘Dakar’ the South America motor vehicle racing. The road goes through the Salt pains which still have lots of ruins dates from 1900. Chile got this region from Peru and Bolivia after winning the war which left Bolivia without part of ocean. Chile focus on it salt potential I think Argentina support Chile for the exchange of Patagonia where recently they discover oil. Seem there was booming period of Salt harvest which lead Chile to import more labors since it small population couldn’t keep up with harsh condition the solution was Chine and today they have Chinese/Chileno.
The salt era passed and the surface resource loose it value, as I’m sitting in this mad wall ruins I wonder how will this country could survive if later they couldn’t find what is lying beneath the hills. Obvious the copper industry have transform this county from impossible to possible, it fuel almost everything.
Spend time in the ruins, relaxing cycling and the fact that I slept late last night my goal to reach Calama the same day couldn’t achieved, I end up camping the desert 70km to Calama. I made it to the town in the lunch time next day welcome by the sign ‘ Bienvenido Calama la Ciudas de Sol y Cobre’ ‘Welcome to the city of sun and copper’ Yes it is, there sun here is ferocious, now in the shade I can see how my skin have changed with cold wind and sun I’m pealing like Croc and I’m double color.
I’ll get my visa for Bolivia hopeful next week, then cross the desert to the Andes long way to the highest capital in the world ‘La Paz’ Bolivia.
Lot of thanks for those who keep support the project through donation, staying in touch through social media etc I real appreciate!
The awesome guys and gals at Mt Borah will be making these custom shirts for Elvis.
The shirts will be made available for sale if you digg the kit, drop us a mail and we’ll get back to you with more info as soon as we have it regarding costs, shipping and production lead time.
Finally the waiting time bear fruits, 9 am I started to roll out of Mendoza. I couldn’t hid the feeling of excitement, as I was pedal past the traffic I should back to the drivers and other guys who keep on calling “Hola Negro”. The traffic was tense , I join the high way since there was no other option. About 12km out of town I join Ruta 7 which suppose to take me all the way to the boarder, I needed to be extra careful not to get not to ext this road as it can happen very ease since I keep right to avoid big tracks. I happen to find myself out of road when I was scouting Ruta 7, couldn’t believe how it becomes difficult to go back. It take me good 20 minutes of calculation and carry the bike across fast traffic.
Eventual traffic decrease after a while but the tracks were lots and fast thanks the road has broad shoulders. I enjoy the freedom you feel when you’re in the bike once again, it was me with vine yards and Andes around. The first 40m were good worming up then the ultimate challenge begin the climbs. First day in the bike after long time, I could manage it. It was surprise when I did couple of up hills looking behind I couldn’t imagine how I climb them with loaded bike. Thanks for the track drivers for doing suck big job to cheer me up especial in turf up hills.
After the turn off about 40m from Mendoza there are nothing of real civilization, no coke stop at all, 12km before Porttariollos I there was a with a sign “Pan con cerso de corba” , I know ok pan is bread, cerso is cheese ‘corba’ though I didn’t knew what it mean but dint real matter. What matter is the sign and house couldn’t real help to predict the present of human being in the area. In the mountain, lonely house with no real sign of life make me scared a bit any ways I pop in after several calling old fat women show up bit serious. ‘Hola!’ I just went straight to the point since she dint seems to pay any hid to cyclist in the middle of nowhere; ‘Tienes bebida?’ ‘No’ ‘Tienes comida?’ ‘Nada’ Gracias’ ‘Chao’; very formal conversation.
Parttariollos has magnificent view of blue lake in the middle of mountains, it was down hill to the small town. I had lots of expectation the town but my expectation proved to be total wrong, at fuel station it central of everything. At 3pm, 40 centigrade there were nothing open you can hardly tell if there are people in those few houses or no. Had two sandwich with coke then I realize how hungry and tired I was as I state to fall asleep. Half a hour of rest then keep on rolling with no much expectations of landscape changers. The road change instead of going direct to the mountain it keeps on meander with river Mendoza. From 7-10kmph I was doing in the up hills now it 25- 30kmph. The rest of the day remain rolling hills alongside the then back to serious climb to Uspallata. The last 15km I did with extra energy , imagination of cold drinks and sleeping in worm sleeping bag. I tried coupe houses and Cananas for camping but all turn me down with excuse of shower, the keep on directing me to the camping ground in centre of ‘Pueblo’. Pueblo translate literally as village which for me turns to be village. The camping was nice as several folk told me as I ask for direction ‘Chiquita pero linda’. I like Argentinans for their character of making things to sound good even if they are not, often you will hear; ‘Che que linda/linda!, Que rico, hermos’ like wise when it come to weather; ‘ Che que calori’ this make me to think it first summer here.
I arrive at centre of Uspallata 9:30pm just when the darkness start to take over though the cetral of what consider to be village it getting lively with loud music and colorful light , it still wine fiesta!. At the camp the middle aged woman with professional tone answer my question of prices 15 Pesos, then after seen I pay much attention to sad Parrot in the cage she start to lecture me but as like she read my mind that I will prefer to see that creature flying free she suggest me to have a drink. She has only cold beer but that is out of my budget but the mama wanted to see me cheered up so she offered it for half price, 1 lt. of cold Andes beer was real reward of 122km. Spaghetti and tune made dinner while Mountainsmith tent proved comfortable house.
I left the camp at 8:30 with warning of more mountain and lots of good wish from the mama of the camp. I saw the sign of internet in small house, pop in and all over sadden I was connected with the rest of world. Since the world is now a village just like our small village up in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, when folks meet the just exchange news and what not, I play my part by ‘up to dating my status’
Out of the Internet few meter is center of the town waiting my turn at round about came large cheverlot pick up full of young guys with part mood, same kind of white spray, etc. They start shouting, sing and spray the white stuff to me, some jump out for more spray. As I was busy weeping the spay some took off some stuff in the bike water bottle, flags and eventual the GoPro camera which I was mounted in the bike ready for taking clip. The police track which was close by jump in and fiesta guys took off throwing out my stuff but not the camera. West couples of hours with police but there were no sign of further help any ways they promise that if the recover it they will send it to me. These kinds of situation have happened to me in Cairo, kids run over me almost drop me I was rescued by tukutuku/bajaj drive. It happens several times in Mendoza on those endless festivals which always close the streets or swam the parks and sideways.
It was a difficult day, I finish my hunger on the climbs which were more tough compare to last day. I made it to Polvaredas 40km from Uspallata, here I find the yellow flag used by Tour d’Afrique for makes, guess that was for lunch. Just missed the lunch truck!
I stop is only open ‘kiosko’ for coke and ‘sandwish’ sandwich saved by real grand ma whose I could hardly understand her Spanish. As I was waiting for the food, one truck driver came in we chart as he chew his coke plant, drink beer like water, smoke cigarette just like oxygen was too expensive. I realize that I’m in great danger if these are kind of track drives. I left the pueblo keep it up to the mountain pass the great view of ‘roof of America’ the Aconcogua. At the last and long tunnel in Argentina the police couldn’t let me pass with bike. At the kiosko out of tunnel was the same truck drive, he show me where to change the money and offer the ride through the tunnel, he was still drinking. He said he can drink 20 litters of beers and 5 litter of wine per day!
Out the tunnel, I start my first downhill to the border, no food no fruit to Chile so just had to eat my fruit as go through paper work. After scanning and sniffed with dogs I was ready to go, it now 21:00. I refill my bottles at international police station who keep me for another hours of chatting thanks they had good Colombia coffee and some sweet. It was start to get real chill the police offer to take me down to the pueblo but I thank them and camp out of the border. It was real clear sky with million stars.
Los Cuervas ‘Caraculs’
In the morning I fill my bottles at the same place and it was different police, the police lady who too my bottle she wanted to get the version of story from me, I made It brief. I have never imagine the road like the one descend in the Andes to Chile, it just amazing, the snake like going down, it wasn’t such dangerous with trucks coming down hill I could stay there for hours looking to this miracles, local call it ‘Caraculs’ ‘snails’. I’ll say it a big python. I had to go downhill fast as sign say ‘No estacion nil adelante’ you just to go down, the climb is more steep compare to Argentina side.
I made it to Los Andes town at 13hrs about 63km from the frontier, it quite a hot place 45 centigrade. After few round to find communication, my friend Martin come to peak me up had to tail him for 10km. In this time I had real pain on the left knee which I couldn’t tell it cause I was hoping that it will go away.
Martin dad offer us big dinner at expensive traditional restaurant ‘ La Ruca’ . Here I was introduce to the famous Chilean liquor ‘Pisco’ with a big local dish of barbeque, eggs, and lot of salad….what a fate for angry cyclist!
Martin believe high than I do, he grab me to local TV where we had worm welcome for interview and eventual the put part of our conversation in their radio & Tv news. It still in you tube if you haven’t see it through our social media up to date http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFuEMMW2o2M
The interview day pass and I have to finish filming in the next day and see the Dr. for the leg. I find out I have inflammatory tendons which I think it due to loaded bike and the climbs. Got three trigger point to assist massage, try to do lot of massage the night before but the next morning I still cycle with difficult.
I roll out of Los Andes made 140km to La Ligua where Lorraine Chitoki my Chile contacts expecting me, the long time travel writer who now live in front with her 4 dogs finishing some of her books. I bump to first bike touring Brazilian old man 70 years old (don’t think your too young or too old for little adventure!) He have been roaming in Latin America for past 16 years now he is heading north to Mexico where he will take ship to Spain (www.uelo-ciclista.ning.com) Got to get my maps here while the tendons seem to get along well. Soon I will start sailing north with good speed to Antofagasta. Now I just make most of Pacific magician view but cold morning and water.