May 16, 2004

Finally Buenos Aires!

On our flight down to Ushuaia we had to switch from the international airport
in Buenos Aires to the regional aerodrome which is very close to the center of the city. I am having some trouble believing that 4 months later I am back in the same city together with Damien and Ryan. I had only met Ryan once before the trip and Damien had only been involved in preparations one month before his departure. It is amazing that we have been able to travel together and become good friends in such close quarters for so long.

Some of the stereotypes that have built a mental image of Buenos Aires for me were: its the Paris of the South, the home of the tango, and the fanatical heart of Argentine soccer. My approach to tourism through the city will definitely be affected by these pre-conceptions. I am already certain that I will contribute a little to your pre-conceptions of the city by talking about these stereotypical subjects. This is a question that has been bothering me lately. So be warned that my writing is jammed with cultural cliche's and stereotypical events. We are lucky enough to have met a "porteņo" (someone who live in B.A.) when we were in El Calafate who invited us to stay with him. Having a contact in such a big city (11 million in metropolitain B.A.) has made our lives so much easier. Sunday we tried to go see the super classic match between the soccer clubs River Plate and Boca Jr. Each has their stadium on one end of the city. Unfortunately it was akin to trying to find tickets for the first game of the Stanley cup final in Calgary or a subway series in New York. So we settled into a very packed bar in the center of the city. The cloud of smoke on the ceiling of the room got lower and lower as it became evident that Boca jr. was not going to be able to score and River Plate was going to win. I really enjoyed the atmosphere but my lungs definitely let me know that they were not too happy with me.

My next entry will be fairly soon. I am really enjoying the rest in Buenos Aires and I hope to let you know about some of the other things you can see and do in the capital.

Posted by gwendal at 11:44 AM | Comments (2)

May 14, 2004

Change of Pace

Since arriving in Bahia Blanca at the south-eastern corner of the Buenos Aires Province we have had a week of cold and much harder weather. The progress has still been good but our legs are more tired and we are arriving into towns late in the day and sometimes in the dark. Three days after leaving Bahia Blanca we arrived in the very small village of Copetonas (which is also the name of a type of bird in the region that has been over hunted). We were greeted by a dozen children at the gate of the town all very curious to see us arrive on very colourful loaded bicycles. It did not take them long to find us one of their parents homes where we could leave our bikes while we waited for the only "hotel" in town to have our rooms ready. In the meantime they took the opportunity to invite us to a game of football before the sun set. In Copetonas the family of farmers whith whom we ate dinner reccomended that we go 30km off our route the next day to cycle on the beach. Although the sand was very fine and could support a car or an unloaded bicycle, our wheels just sank into the sand. It was nice to be on the beach with a strong breeze whipping up the surf. But we had also given ourselves an extra 60km to ride through farm roads to get to the next town. The hospitality in Copetonas was amazing but in the future I will learn to be more weary of advice given at the end of a big meal during which the host has drunk a dozen glasses of wine.

On May fourth we arrived in Miramar which marks the beginning of a massively developed 200km strech of coastline for beach tourism. The center plaza of Miramar is was about 5 blocks from the beautiful beach. Because were were there in the off season nearly all the tall appartment buildings, shops and hotels close to the beach were closed and unoccupied. The center plaza in the winter becomes the edge of town and the life of the town shifts inland to where all the permanent residents can afford to live. The city has no hills and almost
everybody gets around in bicycles. This makes the city feel even more quiet in the offseason as there are so few cars. Like the entire south-eastern coastline of the Buenos Aires province this beach town exists only for summer tourism for all the people who live in Buenos Aires.

We did manage to find one surf board builder who lives 20km from Mar del Plata. He owns a series of rustic bungalows 400m from the beach that he built himself with recycled wood from imported car crates. We were able to spend a nice rest day surfing with the beautiful point break all to ourselves.

"Catching a Wave"

Mar del Plata claims to be the largest beach resort town in the world with 750 thousand permanent residents which easily swells to 1.5 milion in the summer. This was a more vibrant city than Miramar but there are parts when I felt I was walking in a gost town. The grand hotel and casino at the main beach have fallen on hard time and have been closed for a few years. Having such a large abandoned building right on the waterfront reminded me of the difficulties faced by Vancouver with the Woodwards building. We continued along the coast northward to Buenos Aires stringing together as many little beach towns as possible. The greatest advantage of this coastal road was that since it is the off season there was almost no traffic at all. Three days after leaving Mar del Plata the wind settled in behind us from the south-east. We had started early and stopped for lunch at 11am after having done 30km. By the time we stopped for dinner at 3:30 we had done 105km. Soon ideas of beating our longest day of cycling record started to pop up in the conversation. Since the wind was still with us and the road was flat we set off again at 5:00. By the time the sun set at 6:20 we had done 135km. With the wind still strong we continued into the dark. The road had almost no traffic and the moon did not get up over the horizon until 8pm. It was very dark but it was a clear night and the road was very straight. After 8 1/2 hours of riding we arrived in the small town of Pepinas at 9:30pm having cycled 212km. There was only one Petrobras gas station and a small restorant open for a Libertadores football cup match. We ordered a second dinner. Nothing else was open so we spent the night behind the restorant under an awning. The next day we cycled another 110km before arriving in the university town of La Plata only 70km from the capital. The arrival to La Plata was interesting because we were arriving to metropolitain Buenos Aires from a less travelled road that only leads to farmland and beach towns. It was not until we were 5km from the city that the farmland gave way to small suburban homes and commercial development. If we had taken a major road into town there would have been billboard, gas stations, car lots and wearhouses for at least 50km before we were on the edge of the city.

Posted by gwendal at 11:42 AM | Comments (1)

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 :)


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...


...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.


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.


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

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

February 29, 2004

Looking back on a month of cycling

Now that we have arrived in Calafate, I realize that it is a month since we have set off from Ushuaia. This is a good time to reflect on the assumptions I had about the trip before setting off and to re-evaluate my motivations to take on such a challenge.

For starters I have found that the time actually spent cycling and travelling is much longer than the average work week. We either get up much earlier or cycle well into the evening, sometimes past sunset to reach our destination for the day. So far, gathering information and researching interesting topics for the classrooms website and documentary film has been much harder than anticipated. Several things have contributed to this. The first is that although my spanish is improving very rapidly, it is definitely still hard to express more difficult concepts. Discussing biology of the lenga tree or to discuss the morphology of the glaciers in the region has been a real challenge.
I am learning to be more careful in choosing good sources and seeking out the municipal library before getting poor word of mouth information. I trust my reading comprehention much more than the oral comprehention for the moment.

In this first month, our spare energies have been definitely dominated by mechanical difficulties on the tandem. Here is a list in approximate chronological order of the items we have had to fix: Breaking the aluminium trailer hitches, Constantly breaking spokes on the back wheel due to too much torque on the hills, having a rear chain and freewheel wear out pre-maturely, Shearing the replacement freewheel after only 3 1/2 days of use (don't buy made in china Tracer freewheels), Breaking a cheap replacement chain 500m out of Puerto Natales (also made in china), Denting the front rim on a really bad strech of rocky road (sadly no marshmallows included), Ripping through 2 tires due to bad road conditions and going a little too fast with the wind at our backs, Shearing two screws on the front rack, bending the front derailleur when the back chain breaks once more.

Did I mention that not many days have gone by without a mechanical problem. I really thought that I was well prepared, but so many of the failures were un-predictable and even harder to manages as the spare parts are difficult to come by in Patagonia. So far it has taken away a lot of the energy I would have devoted to learning more about the local geography and cultures. Luckily nothing has been a complete show stopper, and thanks to good positive support and ingenuity from Damien and Ryan we have always found a way to limp forwards into the next town and find whatever spares are available.

The resulting diurnal emotional highs and lows sometimes cloud the big picture down here. We really are having a great time!
Patagonia is so remote that cycling through such vast landscapes devoid of people for long periods of time can make you feel very small and vurnerable. The severity of each little problem is amplified. When we finally arrive into a small town after 200-300km of cycling in the wilderness, we are relieved and sometimes we even feel euphoric. While preparing this expedition, I went to Cuba with Tania and found that every country road had so many people that you always felt a human element in the environment beyond the road. I have been reading the Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux and he wrote "Travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography into oblivion." which down here really applies when you have not seen another soul all day.

The really positive element that has come out of the last month of cycling is that I am learning to adapt my travelling experience as an individual to that of the group with Damien and Ryan. The necessary compromises have been natural and easy and we are steadily growing to be good friends. Damien and Ryan both have unique perspectives that are helping me notice things to which I would have otherwise not given a second though, had I been travelling alone.

It has been a couple of weeks since my last posting, so I am going to bring you up to speed. Fifty kilometers north of the town of Puerto Natales in Chile there is a famous national park that brings most of the tourists down to this otherwise small town. It was pretty funny for us to see groups of backpackers walking in a daze through the streets after 5-7 days of trekking through the park. Puerto Natales now seems completely devoted to being a tourist service center, preparing and outfitting people to go trekking through the park. Every business has pictures of the Torres reminding you why you came here. We were easily able to rent good backpacks and set off for our own trip through the famous park. During the six days and 73km of trekking we did through the Torres del Paine national park, we really enjoyed spending a few lazy hours watching the Grey glacier creak and groan as it slowly slithers forward into lago Grey. We had decided to visit the Grey glacier first as part of a trail that forms a "W" through the collection of spectacular valleys in the park. This was the less common way to hike the trail but we were happy to leave the "best" to the end. It is a collection of monolithic granite towers from which the park gets its name. Torres del Pain is a reference to the native name for the towers which means Azul, blue. This is not however the first name the towers have had. In 1878 Lady Florence Dixie, daughter of the seventh marquis of Queensbury explored the region by horse. During a month long expedition they made it to the park region where she named the towers "Cleopatra's needles". Florence Dixie later wrote a book about her time in the region called "Accross Patagonia" (London 1880) which must be quite interesting. I am however a little skeptical that she truely was the first non-native to see the towers as during this time Punta Arenas was already an outpost serving ships crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice-versa through the strait of Magellanes. However it is those who write about their trips who are remembered! The park is truely a visual smorgasborg of beautiful mountains and glaciers.

Now as I am writing this entry we are one the shores of the Brazo Rico of the Lago Argentino watching and listening to the Perito Moreno Glacier. From here we only have a hint of the massive South Patagonian ice field that connects Perito Moreno to the Grey glacier we saw in the Torres del Paine park in Chile.
With 13 000 square kilometers of ice, it is the third largest collection of fresh water in the world after Greenland and Antarctica.
For us, by bicycle, we had to follow roads. These roads lead us out of Chile and away from the Andes back into the Argentina plains (pampas) and the big open skies. We then proceeded north and turned westward again to find the Los Glaciares National Park at the foot of the Andes. In a week we have rolled in and out of several distinct and very geographically narrow climactic zones. The Andes act as a very large barrier that creates a very effective rain shadow over all the pampas to the east. To us the pampas often seem to have the characteristics of a desert with dried out river beds and little vegetation. Only a few rivers still have water in the summer and our only other source of water is the occasional sheep farming estancia or service station close to the road.
There is however a very narrow band of lush vegetation on the leeward slopes of the mountains. This vegetation is there because of the glaciers that flow east and nourish the lakes such as Lago Argentino.

As a side note we have finally adopted the Argentina ritual of regularly drinking Yerba Mate. The mettal straw (bombilla) and cup (mate) is now part of our cookware. I have a feeling that the thermos is not far behind.

Yesterday we spent so much time watching the glacier that we had a very late start leaving the park (8pm). We decided to go half way back to Calafate and camp near the side of the road. It has been so dry that we did not even have to pitch the tent and it was really nice to fall asleep looking up at the stars. We are also able to break camp very fast this way.
On our way back to Calafate today at about 11:30 a small VW car passed us slowly while filming us with a big video camera. This was a first for us, we often get lots of waves, flashing lights and honking horns to encourage us along and even the occasional picture. But this time we were suprised when the car stopped 100m ahead of us and signaled for us to ride up to an already tripod mounted TV video camera. A very animated animator called Fabian then came up to us mic in hand immediately launched into an interview before Ryan had a chance to catch up. Fabian and the cameraman were very excited that we had just come from the Los Glaciares park. Fabian was fairly easy to understand and we answered his questions in our best spanish possible. At the end of the interview he asked us to make a station call for his program. By the time we had said "you are listening to Te Veo en TV" he was jumping up and down on the road with excitement. I am hopeful that we will soon be on TV for this program out of the Provincial capital of Rio Gallegos. Maybe we can even get a copy.

Our next challenge will be to cross the Andes to the windward west coast back into Chile. We will be trading the strong north-west winds of the pampas for the rain. The path we will take is called the Carreterra Austral, which is a collection of dirt roads and ferry crossings of a few fjords that link together the remote communities of the bottom third of Chile from the Lago O'Higgins to Puerto Montt. This will be a very exciting part of a little-travelled part of Chile since there are no buses. Few backpackers ever make it down this strech.

Posted by gwendal at 10:16 AM | Comments (2)

February 05, 2004

Saying goodbye to Tierra del Fuego

I will elaborate on this tomorrow. But in the meantime as I get my thoughts in order I wanted to let people know that we did make it from Rio Grande to Porvenir in Chile. Today we finally crossed the Magellan strait and arrived in Punta Arenas after three days of waiting for the ferry. It was actually very relaxing.

A quick summary of what it was like.

Wind wind wind and more wind..... my ears were sometimes ringing at the end of the day.

As mentioned earlier Damien has retained his status as minister of fat. We now never leave any place without at least a pound of butter.

Several ailments have however been identified:
- Cyclosis, the discription given to those cognitive ailments that result from excessive amounts of cycling.
- Spandexia, the severity of the ailment is proportional to the distance of the affected from their bicycle(s).
- Helmetitis, affects those who spend a lot of time with a cycling helment on their head. They are prone to walking into homes and commercial establishments , totally forgetting that they even have a helmet.

Things are really going well as we are well acquainted with our main obstacle.

There are now more pictures in the gallery.

And those of you checking the classrooms section. I am very close to finishing the research on the next challenge. Please check again in a couple of days.

Posted by gwendal at 02:55 PM | Comments (2)

January 29, 2004

The long road home

When I last wrote it was midday through the first day of riding and everything was going relatively well. Hmmm.... a couple hours later, the aluminium trailer hitches decided to give up and break. So, the rest of the afternoon was spent eating empanadas and devising a plan to rescue the situation. We eventually figured that it would be possible to drill two holes in a piece of steel and have a solution (see pictures) that would no longer have the convenient quick release but would be solid. With all this commotion I barely had a few minutes to talk to Dave German who was off to Antartica with his company that evening and we found our first campsite arrival in the dark, 8km northwest of Ushuaia.
The second day was much nicer with nice climbs and descents among the beautiful mountains of the south of Tierra Del Fuego before crossing the last pass into the flat north of the island. This was the beginning of the dreaded gravel road. We were not totally prepared for the impact this would have on us.
(read very dusty). Let me quote Ryan Parton for the next paragraph: "We climbed our first pass just after lunch, a series of rocky switchbacks that climbed to about 400 metres, although it seemed much higher, and afforded a beautiful view of Lago Fagnano, in the midle of Tierra del Fuego. It was supposed to be a short ride thatday, but we had some trouble finding a spot to camp. By the time we found a campsite we were hungry and out fo water, and completely knackered form cycling nearly twice as far as we'd planned.
The next day was mostly on the same damned rocky road, but this time we were cycling into a steady breeze under a steady drizzle. That drizzle became a torrential downpour by the time we rounded the lake, and we were soaked and cold when we arrived in the town of Tolhuin. At least we found the panaderia (bakery) which seemed to be the favourite hangout for youn and old where we had some amazing empanadas (fried pastries with chicken, meat, or ham and cheese), and where we met some youths who shared with us their mate (like a strong, bitter tea that tastes like hay but surprisingly grows on you)."

That evening we arrived in the Estancia Tepi where we were greeted by a 1 1/2 month old guanaco and some very nice hosts. It was 4km off the road in a very nice and quiet valley. It did not take long to convince ourselves to rest my aching knee and stay an extra day.

The picture says it all! When we set back on the road, we were finally met by the famous winds. They were relentless and sometimes reduced us to a crawl.
Let me quote Damien my tandem partner: "...We have begun to (jokingly)
refer to this as The god Forsaken Island... stupendous winds (on flat paved
road our speed was as low as 5.3km/h)... We arrived at Punta Maria (the closed estancia) totally knackered. There was a
caretaker there who baked us four loafs of bread for 8pesos. MMMMMmmmmm fresh bread. We ate a late lunch of pesto and pasta and bread and dulce de leche (a carmalized condensed milk product which is like the equivalent to peanut butter in Canada) and napped. For dinner we ate almost plain pasta and another loaf of bread. We camped huckfinn style in the barn and left in the mornign after an unsatisfying breakfast of plain bread. We left at 6am to beat the wind and it worked, we got to Rio Grande in no time at all. Early mornings will likely be our savior.

Rio Grande is a funny little flat town. Which on first impression is a little on the ugly flat side of things. But as we rode around looking for the bicicleteria we saw lots of city workers in big insulated coveralls. I want to call it the coverall capital of South America. I'll get a picture soon (mental note)
But they are doing alot of landscaping to try to beautify the town... although maybe a little misguided. The main avenues have some really rough post modern multicoloured roof shapes made of metal tubing. (think expo 86 style gone wrong). The people are however incredibly welcoming and super warm.
We had the three spokes on the back wheel replaced in no time. We also have been having dinner with the family that runs the Club Nautico on the river where we are able to sleep in the loft. You can always count on the sailing or in this case the canoe/kayak community to be friendly. The Paloma fish was excellent.
Today another day of rest, internet and lunch with the bike mechanic Jose Torranza, whom we met at the T del F national Park on the first day. He was great, showing us videos of past mountain bike races and winter triathlons (kayak, bike, run). It is truely a pleasure to share stories with people who are keen to tell you about their little corner of the world. My spanish is improving but my stories are still accompanied by a lot of humms and ahhhh and commo dice?
My comprehension is getting quite good with most people.

So tomorrow we vamos to San Sebastian 80km away to the border and the end of the paved road. Then we are off westward along 150km of unpaved, wind on the nose and very little in between road to Porvernir. Where we will catch the ferry to Puntas Arenas. So you can probably expect another posting in 6-7 days.

Things can only get easier right? Our spirits are up and we are getting along well. FUBAR has for some odd reason been quoted frequently so far "Turn down the suck and turn up the rock" Yo no se porque!

Posted by gwendal at 04:02 PM | Comments (7)

January 23, 2004

The beginning of a great adventure

Today with a lot of trepidation and excitment we dipped the wheels of the bicycle in the Southern Ocean. The next time these wheels will touch the ocean should be in the Bearing Sea at the mouth of the Mackenzie Delta close to Inuvik. Having a starting ceremony was important to me because it really marks the point at which I am committed to this adventure.
We were then assaulted by three tour buses full of very curious tourists with many questions and who all wanted to have their pictures taken with us. After the 12th group picture I was starting to think that we should charge tourists for the service.

With huge butterflies in my stomach we left Tierra del Fuego National Park and cycled the 30 kilometres that have brought us back through Ushuaia for the last time. Tonight we will be north west of here. After having corked the bottle of champagne, so many little things were floating through my head: will the trailer hitch work out? will my knees give out? does it get any more beautiful than here?
Why are there so many burrs in this park and how did they manage to get stuck on the flags? etc.... But my main thought was that although I worked really hard to get myself here, the real challenge lies ahead. But at the same time the only reason I am here is because of a wonderful circle of support and encouragement that comes from all my friends and family. So, although you are not down here please be sure to know that a little part of you is with me on this adventure. Thank you, thank you, thank you.... ok I promise this is the last time I thank you.

Let me describe Tierra del Fuego National park. Our campsite was on a small island with both arms of the river passing on either side before ending up in the ocean 500m away. It is also right next to the border with the Chilean side of the Island of Tierra del Fego. All of the mountains are spectacular with small glaciers and nieves giving shape and texture to the dark rock of the mountains. For any naturalists interested in visiting, there is a wealth of birds everywhere with all sorts of colours taking advantage of all the wildflowers. I also noticed my first edible plant... the lowly dandylion with nice broad leaves that can make an excellent bitter salad and I also noticed a few honeysuckles. These familiar plants take on a different character in this setting. For example, we have seen very few evergreen trees which was quite a surprise because before coming, my minds eye really anticipated that there would be something resembling Northern BC evergreen trees.

My next email may be several days away! So this is a good time to say "en route moussaillon"

Posted by gwendal at 11:08 AM | Comments (2)

January 17, 2004

Long flight will quickly feel short

After 48 hours of jumping from airport to airport (Toronto, Santiago and Buenos Aires) we are now in the "farthest city in the world". Ushuaia is truly spectacular and the arrival by plane was amazing. We landed on a tiny runway that juts out into the Beagle Canal.

check out the pictures

As luck would have it my cycling teammate for the Argentinian portion of the trip Damien happend to share a seat on his flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires with another Canuck that is cycling from Ushuaia to Venezuela whom I had been corresponding with. So for the moment there are three canucks cycling together.

Ushuaia is fantastic but you certainly get the sense that it is changing fast. The growth in the Antarctic cruise tourism industry is leaving its mark. There is a fair amount fo new construction and there are quite a few stores in town that obviously cater to the odd and tacky tastes of cruise ship passengers.
I am really excited and apprehencive about being here. On the one hand we are already planning to scramble up a local mountain for an overnight hiking trip, but at the same time I am slowly coming to terms witht the end of easy jet-set travelling. From here on I will have to earn every kilometer of the way back to Vancouver and onward to Inuvik.

But it will be great. I would like to take this chance to thank all of you who supported me during the preparation for this expedition. I had a dream, but it would never have evolved this far without all the support and enthusiastic responce you have given me. I hope that I will be able to entertain you with the regular updating of this website with entries and new photographs.

Posted by gwendal at 02:23 PM | Comments (4)