Monday, December 17, 2012

El Fin

After 478 days and 24139 km we have arrived at our final destination of Ushuaia!

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It was only one day from our last stop at the bakery in Tolhuin.  And as before, we rode as part of a group of six cyclists.  The road was very pretty and the riding easy.


Since our arrival we’ve had a bit of time to reflect, and also to ride out to the real “end of the road” in Tierra del Fuego National Park.


The end of the furthest road South in the world at Bahia Lapataia.


And now the big question, how do we feel?  Surprisingly we each feel quite differently.  So here are both of our accounts.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Into the Land of Fire

Tierra del Fuego (“The Land of Fire”) is the Southernmost part of South America.  It got its dramatic name from the Portugese explorer Magellan, who spotted the fires that the indigenous used to keep burning on the beaches.  But more importantly for us, it contains Ushuaia.  This is the literal and figurative end of the road.  It goes no further South.  And so it’s known as “El Fin del Mundo”, or “The End of the World”.

This area of Patagonia is also home to lots of penguins! We were able to see two different kinds: small and rambunctious Magellanic Penguins, and large and regal King Penguins. 

Near Punta Arenas we visited a penguin colony on Isla Magdalena. Here, approximately 6000 pairs of Magellanic Penguins come to nest each year! They dig burrows in the ground and are now raising chicks.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pampa, Pampa, Pampa

Southern Patagonia is an intense place.  This region of the Andes is filled with jagged peaks and dynamic glaciers that extend almost to sea-level.  The mountains in the West give way to vast, dry grasslands in the East.  These windwhipped plains are called “pampa” here.  And they are so vast and empty that one usually says “pampa, pampa, pampa” when referring to them.

Our time has been split between riding through the mind-numbing pampa and excursions into the mind-blowing Patagonian Andes.

The pampa (pampa, pampa) is notoriously windy.  Life is spectacular with the wind at your back (30-40km/hr), horrible with the wind at your front (5-12km/hr), and frustrating with it at your side (12-18km/hr).  We count ourselves lucky that nobody has been blown clean off the bicycle … yet.

Super windy here ... better hold on!  Windy times ... better hold on!

A sign of the times.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Closer and Closer

Like a carrot to a donkey the Fitz Roy massif has drawn us in.  It has been our familiar view while navigating wind swept lakes, boggy trails and remote borders. 

Fitz Roy and Poincenot.

After finishing up nearly 1000km of beautiful, wild riding on the Carretera Austral in Chile it was time to cross back in to Argentina.  An adventure all its own.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What is the Carretera Austral?

The Carretera Austral (The Southern Highway) connects communities in the remote and rugged Patagonian region in the South of Chile.  We travelled from Futaleufu to Villa O’Higgins in about 15 days of cycling.  It’s definitely our favourite section of the trip so far but we can’t exactly say why.  In this post we detail seven different things that the Carretera Austral and the region of Aysen are to us:



Above all, the terrain is gorgeous.  The road winds through mountains and glaciers, and around turquoise lakes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Springtime in Patagonia

It’s been a long time since we’ve been in an area which has four seasons.  The region we’re in, Patagonia, is famous for adverse weather.  So our arrival here is timed with the coming of spring.

Springtime in Patagonia, Argentina.

Trees and flowers are blooming and the weather is good.  The area is filled with beautiful national parks.  Officially they don’t open until November 1st, so we have them pretty much all to ourselves.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Three Parks and Seven Lakes

On this leg of our trip we crossed from the lake district of Chile to that of Argentina.  We rode through three incredible national parks in the two countries and along Argentina’s famous “Seven Lakes Route”.  It wasn’t the most direct route, but the best ones rarely are.  This is what cycle touring really is about.

The road from Pucon, Chile to the border took us through Parque Nacional Villarrica along a steep and difficult, but beautiful, dirt road. 

Cycling through Parque Nacional Villarrica, Chile towards the Argentinian border.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Superhighways and Superhospitality

This leg of the trip took us from Valparaiso on the coast of Chile to Pucon, about 800km South in Chile’s Lake Region.

After a couple days of nice riding on a coastal road we met up with Chile’s superhighway.  So for 5 days we rode on this:


And showered and camped at these:



Friday, October 5, 2012

Wine, Mountains, and Art

In our last section we passed through three different and distinct regions.  The cycling wasn’t so hard and the views were gorgeous.  The culture here almost has us feeling sophisticated!

Region 1: Wine

Ruta 40 deposited us in Mendoza, Argentina.  A pretty city with lots of green space and bicycle friendly streets …

General San Martin park, Mendoza.

… but most tourists come here to sample the famous Malbec wine and Argentinian meat.  Mendoza is the winemaking capital of Argentina with around 1500 wineries exporting the famous Malbec all over the world.  How could we not take a short siesta to enjoy the wine and food for which this area is known?

Mr. Meat!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stories of the Open Road

Ruta 40 stretches almost 5000km from the Bolivian border to Tierra del Fuego.  It’s long, sparesly populated, and traverses some beautiful scenery; Argentina’s version of Route 66.  In our last leg we followed Ruta 40 for 1200km from Cafayate to Mendoza.

To break up the desert scenery there are a number of shrines along the roadside.  They are spaced at regular intervals have tables and flat spaces … perfect campspots!

Difunta Correa on the way to Cuesta Miranda.

The shrines are dedicated to local Argentine heroes.  Pictures from our journey are broken up by two of our favourite stories.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The 3 R’s

Rest, Relaxation and Recuperation

At the time we may not have realized it because we were so awe-struck by the natural beauty, but Bolivia really worked us.  The food/water, climate and harsh conditions took a huge toll on us physically.  By the end of the Lagunas region we were really hurting for some of the creature comforts we take for granted at home (like central heating, potable water and fresh produce).  We were both suffering from chronic digestive tract problems and were excited to reach Argentina where reportedly all tap water (unless otherwise noted) is drinkable, elevations are lower and temperatures warmer.

Welcome to Chile!

Before reaching Argentina we would have to pass through the Northeastern corner of Chile, which is so remote we never officially entered or exited the country.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Climax

South America is home to some of the worlds most awe-inspiring places.  It’s also home to some of the worlds hardest bicycle riding.  We feel that both of these things came to a peak in our journey through the famous Lagunas region of Southwestern Bolivia.

This part of Bolivia is famous for its harsh beauty.  The whole area is located between 4000m and 5000m above sea level.  Coloured lagoons stand out against the bleak landscape to make incredible scenes.  We repeatedly found ourselves rounding a corner to exclaim: “Wow, look at that!  Are you kidding me?”

Descending to Laguna Colorada, Southwestern Bolivia.  Flamingoes at 4300m on Laguna Colorada, Southwestern Bolivia.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Five Things To Do on the Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world.  It's over 100km wide, blindingly white, and dead flat.  And it’s a right of passage when cycling South America to ride right across the salt surface.

Riding on the Salar de Uyuni.

The salt flat is so huge that you can ride for an hour and the view doesn’t change one bit.  So cyclists have a few tricks up their sleeves to pass the time during the crossing.  Here are five of our favourite ways to entertain oneself on the Salar de Uyuni.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

One Hand in My Pocket

We have been in Bolivia for two weeks now and for such a small place it is a land of extremes.  From the abundance, heat and humidity of the jungle…

"El Camino de Muerte" (aka. The Death Road, the world's most dangerous road).

The “Death Road” drops over 3000m in 65km and over 25 vehicles would plunge over it’s side annually while it was still in use.

Living on the edge, El Camino de Muerte.

Jenn contemplating the consequences.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

High Altitude Lake Livin'

Lake Titicaca sits right on the border of Peru and Bolivia in the high, dry altiplano.  It is known as the highest navigable lake in the world (or the largest high altitude lake) and is the mythical birthplace of the sun and moon in Inca mythology. 

Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Our last leg has taken us in a semicircle around the lake from Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia.  On the way we’ve seen some gorgeous scenery and have had a chance to visit a few of the beautiful islands.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Inca Aftershocks

Although Machu Picchu is the centre of Inca tourism, there are many more very interesting sites in the area.  We were fortunate enough to visit some of these near Cusco and on the way to our next destination of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  In the process we learned a great deal about the Inca civilization and their beliefs.

The ruins of the Inca are very impressive because of their talent for stonework.  There were different classes of workmanship used in terraces, defense walls, or temples.  The stones were shaped by hand with such precision that you can’t even fit the blade of a knife between them.  Along with their beauty, clever design has enabled the walls to stand through centuries of earthquakes that have levelled much newer structures.

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Two examples of Inca stonework.  On the left is a wall in the religious centre of Ollantaytambo and on the right is the famous twelve angled stone in Cusco.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Inca Pilgrimage


The modern, flamboyant flag of the Inca.

South America’s most famous site, Machu Picchu, is a little bit isolated in that it can not be accessed by road.  This leaves a number of options, including a train trip, the famous Inca Trail, or a bus and walk combination.  For our journey we decided to leave the bikes in Cusco and do an organized five day hike called the Salkantay Trek.


We couldn’t have asked for a better group during the hike – Team Apacattack!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Short Pants and Loooonnnng Socks…

And other high altitude, cold weather, survival innovations.

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The ride from Nasca to Cusco was so far the most challenging section of the trip for us.  It took 10 riding days for us to cover 650km.  In those 10 days we climbed over 12 500 vertical metres (40 010ft or 1.5 Mt. Everests).

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lines in the Sand

Since our last post we’ve travelled about 500km South along the coast from Lima to Nazca.  The riding wasn’t particularly difficult or inspiring, but this section was packed with interesting activities and archaeological sites.

This area of the coast attracts the majority of weekend vacationers from Lima.  In 2007 an 8.6 magnitude earthquake (the government called it 8.0 so they wouldn’t have to pay as many reparations) completely destroyed the city of Pisco and damaged many nearby.  Together these things make a very Peruvian combination of rich resorts amidst extreme poverty.

Our first stop was the seaside resort of Paracas.  From here we took a two hour boat tour to see the areas sights.


The Paracas culture created this giant “chandelier” (more likely a cactus), which can only be seen from the ocean, around 2000 years ago.  The lines are created by removing the darker surface rocks to reveal the lighter coloured sand underneath. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Choices, Choices

The route you ride has an enormous impact on the enjoyment of a cycle tour.  And there’s always a compromise involved.  Do we skip this to see that?  Take the more beautiful but also more difficult route?  Ride in the mountains or along the coast? 

After our time in Huaraz we had another decision to make.  Do we stay in the mountains or head back down to the coast?  The mountains and the coast in Peru couldn’t be more different.  The mountains are peaceful, remote, and slow and the coast is bustling, busy, and quick.  In the end we chose the coastal route to visit some of the archaeological sites that we’d heard so much about.


Just outside Huaraz we ran into two friends from Trujillo who were riding with three other cyclists they met.  With them we rode as a party of seven for a couple hours, making a large pack that no dog would dare chase.  They turned off shortly after for the mountain route and we almost changed our minds right then and there to join them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Road Less Traveled

Our route from Trujillo took us on an adventure back up into the mountains towards Huaraz.  After a short section on the highway, we followed the Rio Santa for about 200km from the desert right up into the Andes.  About 130km was unpaved and the road ranged from smooth and easy to rocky and horrible.  We spent four days riding through beautiful canyons and little villages with barely any traffic. 

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Riding towards the mountains along pretty roads.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Learning a Third Language

They say the only part of a Peruvian automobile that needs to function properly is the horn.  In the land of noise, Peruvians might just be the most horn-happy people we’ve met.  And so, upon entering Peru we’ve found ourselves having to learn a new language … the Peruvian car horn.  Here are five of our first phrases:

1. beep ba ba beep beep … beep beep – Welcome to Peru!

Welcome to Peru, and the easiest border crossing in Latin America.

Crossing what must be the easiest border crossing in Latin America.  No traffic, no money changers, no fees, and friendly border guards!

Our first days in Peru, we’ve been welcomed with open arms, by foreigners and Peruvians alike. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Few Loose Screws

Since our last update, we’ve travelled through some of Ecuador’s mountain cities.  As usual, the scenery and the people have been wonderful, but unfortunately it’s been a difficult week for us due to problems with our bikes and with our bodies.


In Quito we had the chance to stay at one of the best hostels of the trip so far: Community Hostel.  Among other things, there was dancing in the dining room with a Mariachi Band for Marco, the owner’s, birthday!  (Thanks to Alex for the photo)

Southern Quito (and the Virgen) from the Basilica.

Quito is a colossal city crunched into a hanging valley over 50km long and only a few kilometers wide.  This is the view South to the Virgen of Quito from the Basilica.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Day in the Mountains

Since our last post, we’ve been cycling through the mountains from Popayan, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador.  It has been a land of extremes; high peaks separated by deep river valleys.  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far, although we’ve noticed that our riding days are establishing a bit of a routine …

Climbing through beautiful scenery on the way to Pasto, Colombia.

1. Sleep well, bundled up in a cold room between 2500m and 2900m elevation.

2. Wake up and eat breakfast in bed.

3. Climb 500m to 700m to a pass between 3000m and 3300m.  The weather here is usually about 10 degrees with misty rain.

Cresting a 3100m summit near Otavalo, Ecuador.

Jenn cresting a 3100m pass near Otavalo during a sunny break.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The People Make the Place

In Colombia we’ve met the nicest people of our trip so far.  Every day we’ve met at least one person who has surprised us with their generosity.  The three destinations in this post also include brief stories of some of the people who made them all that much more special.

Our first stop on this leg was Colombia’s main coffee growing region.  Two days out of Medellin we reached the towns of Chinchiná and Santa Rosa de Cabal.  Our main interest here was a set of hot springs in the mountains and a few cups of coffee.

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The main square in Chinchiná and the best thing you can find there.  Yes, that’s a pineapple sundae served inside the pineapple.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Colombia: Take My Breath Away

There is a warning in our Lonely Planet guide for Colombia that says “Spend some real time here, both on and off the gringo trail and there’s a danger you might evangelize like this (about Colombia) one day too.”  Also the new tourism Colombia slogan states: “The only risk is wanting to stay.”  They couldn’t be more correct.  After almost three weeks here, the stunning beauty of the terrain, the people and their personalities has left us speechless.

Ridgetop town of Valdivia, Colombia.

Our first taste of the Andes brought us to the ridge-top perched town of Valdivia for lunch.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Love in the Time of Swollen Feet

Our first South American destination was the fairy tale city of Cartagena, Colombia.  Originally, we only planned on staying a couple days, but loved it so much that we stayed for five! 

The city felt like it was straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel … and we found out that Love in the Time of Cholera was set here.  Colonial architecture abounds, and we spent hours just wandering the streets of the historic downtown seeking out places from the book, which both of us just finished reading.



Cartagena sights.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sea Legs

In the last week we’ve travelled from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia aboard a sailboat.  It was an unforgettable adventure in more ways than one.

Panama and Colombia are separated by a road-less wilderness called the Darien Gap.  We opted to make the journey via water rather than air for the unique experience and the chance to visit some of the most beautiful Caribbean islands along the way.  There are many sailboats which do this trip for backpackers, and the standard is 4-5 nights including 2-3 days in the Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands).  We had heard horror stories from some of our friends of rough seas, dangerous captains, and crowded boats, so naturally we were a little nervous beforehand.  We booked ourselves aboard the Tango, a 34 foot sloop owned by a French captain named David.

The Tango anchored in Cartagena.

From Panama City, all that was left was to ride across to the Caribbean side and wait for our boat in the town of Puerto Lindo, near Portobelo.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Central America … Check!

Since meeting with our family in Costa Rica, we’ve continued our ride through Costa Rica and Panama.  These countries have struck us as being very different than the rest of Central America.

The riding through Costa Rica was absolutely gorgeous.  We followed strings of beaches down the Pacific Coast.  In Playa Hermosa we camped right on the beach after watching the sunset.  In Quepos we were able to surf and visit Manuel Antonio National Park, renown for wildlife viewing.  We saw sloths, toucans, macaws, and more howler monkeys.  In Domical we had the generous offer of a free beach house to stay in and were able to take advantage and get in some more surfing.  And in Puerto Jiminez we visited a friend and saw crocodiles and caiman for the first time.  All in all we loved our time in Costa Rica.

Enjoying Jaco, Costa Rica, from a distance.

Looking back on Jaco, Costa Rica.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

National Lampoon’s Tico Vacation

For those of you who don’t know, we have been pedalling on this trip for almost seven months now!  The six month mark or roughly halfway point of our trip had us just entering Costa Rica; the perfect time and place for a family vacation.  So, that’s what our family did.  Dave’s parents, my parents and my brother Dan all flew down to spend two weeks with us in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste. 


Woohoo!  Family vacation!

And what a two weeks it was.  First off, the beach was beautiful and the town was laid back and quiet.  This allowed us to spend a lot of time just enjoying each other’s company and the sunsets.

Monday, March 5, 2012

You Get What You Put In

As in most things in life, this is definitely true in cycle touring.  It’s easy to take the biggest, fastest road and speed through to your next destination.  Or you can spend more time and effort, and take a longer route, linking the places you want to see.  This sentiment has certainly been true in the last two countries we have travelled through: Honduras and Nicaragua.

Honduras is known to tourists for spectacular Caribbean beaches on Roatan and incredible Mayan ruins at Copan.  Unfortunately neither of these places were convenient for us, so we just rode right through along the Pacific Coast.  The road was hilly and in poor shape, with temperatures over 40C.  To top it off, all the kids screamed “GRINGO!” at the top of their lungs as we passed, even from less than 2 meters away.  Guess what … Honduras didn’t make a big impression on us.

Welcome to Nicaragua!

Welcome to Nicaragua (and Japan apparently).  Famous FSLN president Daniel Ortega’s pink political billboard is the first thing you see when entering the country: “Christianity, Socialism, Solidarity”.