April 29, 2004

The Atlantic at last.

Yesterday I saw flamingoes for the first time. A whole flock of them swimming in mud flats at the end of Bahia Blanca. We had arrived to the shores of the South Atlantic ocean. In just a short month we have gone from Puerto Montt, Chile on the shores of the South Pacific across the continent. Eventually I will cross the continent again and return to the Pacific on the shores of Peru.

I was a little hard on Neuquen in my last entry, it did have a good side that really became more evident when the rain stopped on the day after I wrote it.
I was able to go up a small hill and see beyond the city towards the lush green Rio Negro Valley that would lead me to the Atlantic. Our first day of cycling had us do a record 143km down the very flat valley road lined with poplars to protect the orchards. Every once in a while we would also cross a fruit cold storage facility with very tall fences that kind of stood out from the peaceful countryside.
We spent the night in the garden of the police officers building, in the very small town of General Godoy. The next morning before he changed shifts Carlos invited us to have lunch with his family in the town of General Belisle 50km down the road. With a solid breeze at our back we made it there with an average speed of 35km per hour. Which was good because the lunch he made us was a huge stew with giant white beans, chickpeas, corn and lots of beef.
For three hours we had a very fun cultural interchange with his family.
Some of the highlights was their french kissing green budgee that would sit on your shoulder and try to clean your gums.

During lunch we got to hear a recording of their pastor a southern baptist american who does not speak a word of spanish translated after each sentence.
And definitely the most perplexing, was that after we gave them canadian flag pins, one of them went away for a while. When he came back he had a hernia donut inflatable seat cushion. On it he had written "Jesus viene pronto, tiene que te estar preparando" "Yo soy jesus". We figure he was worried for our souls and our bums after so much riding. Unfortunately we now have a seat cushion that is a bit cumbersome and also thinks it is jesus. I feel a little uncomfortable sitting on it.

On the third day we crossed from Rio Negro to Rio Colorado. When we arrived in the town of the same name I found a velodrome.

Our fourth day of riding was like the previous three days with the wind at our backs and the sun shining. However this time after looking at the map we decided that since there were many small towns along the way we would not need to carry lunch with us. After the first two towns were 5km off the road we realized that they were all along the railroad tracks 5km off the road and not on the road. So after 80km of riding we got to the third town. Unfortunately it was siesta time and nothing was open. So we decided to do another 25km to the next town, which turned out to be no more that an railway station. Luckily, the people at the station gave us water and a few crackers. We then did another 20km to get to Medanos, where we finally found a restorant that would serve us empanadas. But we had just done 130km without lunch. That is one experience I don't care to repeat. Although I really liked having the wind with us for a change.

We are now in the Buenos Aires Province, which is a little like being on the far end of lake superior and saying you are close to Toronto. We still have 850km to bike before we make it to the capital. I am looking forward to visiting small fishing villages and beach resorts. Unfortunately the road is almost all about 50km of the coast until we reach Miramar. Then we will have 200km of road right next to the ocean as we approach the Capital. After Buenos Aires I'll be following the coast of Uruguay and Brezil for 2000km. I guess I can call this next part of the trip the beach episode.

Posted by gwendal at 01:34 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2004

water, water everywhere and not a place to stay???

I don't mean to presume to have anything in common with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, but I feel for his predicament.
Since our departure from Ushuaia, finding a place to stay has sometimes been a cold and wet adventure late in the evening. But there has always been something that was inexpensive and catered to the traveller.
Although we have been in small towns which rarely see any travellers except for the occasional road weary cycletourist, this is the first time I have been in a place that is almost completely devoid of any tourism infrastructure.
Neuquen is the capital of the province and is the biggest city I have visited so far with 250 thousand inhabitants. There are hotels, but after cycling around for 3 hours looking for something that was not either full or too expensive, I realized that there are probably almost no international travellers here.
I travel with no guidebooks, so I don't have a convenient summary of Neuquen in front of me. However my impression so far is that it is really the symbolic frontiere to Patagonia.

I found this on the online version of the rough guide:

"It is not a particularly attractive or touristy place -- a place to pass through rather than stay in -- but it does have a couple of worthwhile museums and is a useful transport hub. "

I hope to learn more when I visit the museum today.

Just as Colridge wrote

"Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea !"

I was at a loss to find a single hostel, albergue, hostelria, hospitaje, hotel residencial that had any room or was not out of my budget. There is a dearth of anything useful in this oasis in the middle of the pampas. Ok I must admit it is still very little time since Tania went back to Vancouver, and I am waiting for Damien and Ryan... so I am getting used to being alone.

"Oh sleep ! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole !"

How true! As I got hungrier and the evening wore on I began to be willing to pay more and more.
I finally found the hotel Ingles, which is run by a very nice and stern old lady. During the time she copied my passport number she had enough time to tell me about the latest kidnapping in Buenos Aires. Apparently the son of Bloomberg industrialist was kidnapped and at some point when he was in captivity the son tried to escape and was killed. The father incensed with the way the police handled the situation organized a demonstration. What she appreciated was that he urged the 20,000 people who participated to carry only one simple carton with the same message. He was adamant that he did want the message diluted by other political causes.
Yesterday the Argentine government passed a bill that will create a new coordinated and more efficient security program. It also lowered the age at which youth can be tried from 16 to 14. There are also new anti-corruption measures.
The old lady was really pleased with all this, because according to her in the last year there had been 190 kidnappings in the province of Buenos Aires.

I also noticed many interesting old pictures Karol Wojtyla, who heralded from her home country of Poland. She is the first person for whom I was able to detect an foreign accent when she spoke spanish. She has been in Argentina for 54 years. Her history is so interesting I am hoping to interview her tonight and start a section on migration. During the second world war she was taken as prisoner of war by the germans. Later she went to the UK where she met her husband who got a post teaching english in Neuquen, Argentina.

I am very excited about researching this new idea. Like Canada, Argentina and much of South and Central America has had its identity shaped by immigration and migrations through the continent. I am hoping to collect a few good stories, and ask people how they ended up where they are. I am also especially curious about those who end up in places which have completely different languages and cultures.

Posted by gwendal at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2004

The Seven Samurai

Very good news!!! my wonderful and very much loved girlfriend Tania managed to take a 10 day holiday to come visit me in Argentina. The timing could not have been better as the back wheel was toast and she was able to bring down a brand new 48 spoke super wheel lovingly made by Arvon Stacey. The framebuilder that made the tandem for me. It is an amazing wheel with super thick pacing wheel spokes and a very solid custom hub that can accomodate both cartridge and thread on freewheels.

After growing our beards for 2 1/2 months we decided to shave and greet Tania with only moustaches on :)

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In anycase with a couple of days of greasy hands, the bikes were back in order ready to ride through the seven lakes district of Argentina. With Tania now on the tandem and Damien on his own bike we set off as a group for a 5 day ride to San Martin. Our progress to date has been a little slower that originally expected and we have definitely felt the difference in the weather. It is much colder and it rains frequently. Nervertheless it is a stunning landscape to be cycling through. I was warned about it but I am constantly reminded of landscapes in British Columbia. Sometimes the Thompson, the Okanagan, and Vancouver Island seem to have been transplanted.

On our second day out of Bariloche we came to an intersection on the north-east corner of the lake. If we went east the sun was bekoning and we saw that it would be nice. Unfortunately the road we needed to take to Villa La Angostura was to the North-west straight into a really dark forboding sky. So within minutes the rainbow was above us and we were in freezing cold rain. After a few hours I put on plastic bags over my socks to keep my feet a little warmer.
Twenty kilometers before our destination we found an oasis in the form of a small Hotel that caters to fishermen. A very funny little old lady served us coffee and bread with homemade jam. For the first time in our trip someone forbade us to speak english. Although we are always very curtious and speak to people in spanish, between us it is so much more efficient to speak english. So for an hour we thawed out and struggled to maintain a conversation in spanish. It was a exercise that made me realize that we are surrounded by spanish but still spend much of our day thinking and talking in english.

Once in San Martin we only had a few days left before Tania had to get back to Bariloche. So we did something new, we rented a small car and drove 90km of very sketchy dirt road to the Epulafquen hotsprings 10km short of the Chilean border. As it is definitely the off season here there was no one else. But we were suprised to find that the hotsprings were housed in a little hut which had five rooms. Each room had a massage table and a bathtub which was rather grimy. A little disapointed to find that we could have stayed in our warm dry cabin in San Martin to have a bath we made the best of it and filled the two tubs that worked...

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...I just saw Tania off to the airport in Bariloche today (It is quite difficult to say goodbye to those you love) But it means I am now that much more motivated to make good time northwards. I left Ryan and Damien in San Martin and I'll meet up with them again in Neuquen 400km further towards Buenos Aires. We will then have 1200km left to do together.

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As a funny side note I ran into an old friend Emily Nielson yesterday evening at the grocery store in Bariloche. I had no idea she was in Argentina, and it really made my mind do backflips when I heard my name called out. Even in the off season in the far end of the world you can run into a familiar face.

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Spirits are high and we are excited to see the atlantic ocean soon.

Posted by gwendal at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)