Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure
A Journey By Bike
By Col | 20, Oct, 2006
Richard and Sarah are currently undertaking a 10,000km cycle journey through the Andes to Ushuia at the southern tip of Argentina. The journey will take in some of the most spectacular and inhospitable places on Earth. Flying out from Newcastle to Lima on 27th June 2006 they plan to finish in Ushuia in March 2007. They are keeping us up to date via their own blog and despatches.
10,000km in the saddle! you really have to like riding your bike to undertake such a challenge. This is exactly what Sarah and Rich were planning to do over a year long bike trip through the South American Andes. They got in touch with us a couple of months before leaving and although we shuffled around uncomfortably on our seats for a while we were interested in the project.
Rich and Sarah spent an awful lot of time researching and raising money to buy the kit needed for the journey. A year is not only a long time to spend in the saddle, it is also a long time to spend in a sleeping bag which is why we were happy that she chose ours for the trip. It was an ideal opportunity for us to get our PipeDream sleeping bag tested over an extended field trial.
Over the course of the journey Rich and Sarah will be posting to their own blog ajourneybybike, and sending us despatches whenever they get online. The blog will be illustrated with some photos of the places they pass through and will let other travellers know about places not to be missed and where to avoid! Their site will grow as the journey develops cross linking with manufacturers, suppliers and other blogs to create an in depth and interesting resource and online diary for others planning a similar trip.
Whilst being a very personal challenge Rich and Sarah hope their trip will capture people’s imagination whilst raising £10,000 for the YMCA and her sister organisation Y Care International. Sarah and Rich can be contacted through their website, so if you are looking to buy a new saddle and need some advice..
During the duration of the trip Rich and Sarah sent us regular e-cards which we have added to this page. They also sent us a CoLab field report.
This is our story so far…
The idea of spending a year bumming around the beaches of Thailand sounds great, but often you can end up looking at the things around you without experiencing them. We wanted to travel in a way that would allow us to be part of the experience itself. We wanted a journey and a change of lifestyle not just a destination.
Whenever travel was discussed we’d end up talking about mountain ranges rather than countries. We had done the GR20 in Corsica a couple of years ago and after a week it became a bit samey. Then, by chance, we were bought a book entitled ‘The Trail to Titicaca’ by Rupert Atlee. This book documented the journey made by 3 lads from the bottom of Argentina to Peru. It was on reading this that things began to fit into place and a bit of a plan emerged. Cycling was to be the way forward and the Andes would provide us with the challenge we were looking for.
Our journey will take us 10,000km through the Andes, over some of the highest passes in the world, across the Altiplano, and over the Patagonian desert. Some of the passes will take us to altitudes similar to Mont Blanc, so ensuring we are well prepared has taken a lot of work. Every bit of kit must be worth every gram or it doesn’t go. Yes, we want a challenge but we also want to make it as enjoyable as possible, that’s what it’s all about right? This isn’t a military campaign but the more ground work we do before getting out there the more enjoyable and stress free the rest of the trip could be. It’s a very strange feeling having such a focus and plan to work towards, especially as the time draws closer. There is always something to do, buy, check or follow up.
It is now less that two weeks until we leave. Having been under the illusion that we where organised, we seem to be doing a massive amount of last minute jobs. We have been contacting the embassies who have given us their support, making contact with YMCA’s who have also been good to us, chasing up last minute kit items, sorting out banking, insurance, key contacts, medical kits, selling most of what we own, wrapping up work, eating whatever we like, getting the odd bike ride in when we can, tweaking the travel itinerary, down loading music to motivate us up those mountains and saying our goodbyes.
So, we set off at 6 am on the 27th of June. We arrive in Lima at 18.55. We will be lucky enough to be met by the Peruvian YMCA at the airport. They will host us for a few days as we orientate ourselves, buy good local maps and finally set off on our bikes.
I am sitting in a pokey internet cafe in the town square with a school band banging and crashing in the background.. it sounds like the kids are learning new material. There seems to be a taste for children and students marching in the streets. I don’t think there are any revolutionary tendancies, but instead a pride in their culture and a vigour for no smoking slogans!
I am slowly recovering from gastroenteritis which has been fun. I wondered why my bad tummy troubles had gone on and on. Still the doctor said with conviction after an ultra scan that I had a swollen intestine! (As long as he didnt spot a baby!!) I have been on three lots of medication and I can feel the benefits already. We are going to continue to rest in the hotel for two more days before we make the 250 k journey to Cuzco.
The last week has been a bit of a daze really due to lack of food, dehydration and rather large mountains to get around. We moved on from Ayachoyo and headed out on to the highlands. We travelled to over 4000m on bike and by truck. This was my idea…. its amazing what spanish you can utilise when you need to. We did some pretty hard biking on some extremely rough roads. You feel your entire body jar and jolt. You have to concertrate on not skidding, crashing, damaging your wheels and staying on your bike which needless to say I didn’t!
On the tops its a very strange experience. There is nothing, and I mean nothing for miles. You will see the occasional figure on the mountain side and you wonder where they came from and where on earth they are going to. We saw some mud huts which i believe where inhabited ( sorry distracted there for a monment by two teenage boys singing kareoke in the internet cafe) . There are lamas galavanting about. They are ungamely but speedy. Also there are horseman riding bareback traversing the mountains.. I quite like their look!
We stayed with a local family on one night. We had gone as far as our legs could take us. We asked if we could pitch our tent and they where delighted. We shared our oranges, face cream (that was hard) and littles gifts. They gave us milk, potatoes and a very odd looking soup. I was also offered a chicken’s gizzard for breakfast. I recognised it from my days in the old chicken factory. I think Mrs Felix read my face well and popped it straight back in the cooking pot for later!
Another night we stayed right on the tops. There are so many stars to see and the milky way was well defined. However, there was not much time to spend gazing as the temperture dropped very quickly. The hours Richard made me spend considering the tec spec of every item has certainly paid off, we where toasty! The next morning however, Richard was slightly alarmed to to see me when I woke up, looking very dehydrated, dry lipped and bug eyed… um looking my best! He rushed out immediatly to seek more water which he bought back in copiuos amounts. Thnaks to him. We both struggled that day knowing that the day after would mean another big climb. I took matters and spanish into my own hands and in the early evening flagged down a other truck. I am getting quite good at that now which is always useful. The driver was very kind and was going our way…. the only way…. over the tops to Andahaylas. I would take about 5 hours but at least we knew there would be a hotel there. we we loaded ourselves on between about one thousand eggs (no joke) and we lay on sacks stuffed with veg…. it was going really well until the nuts that hold one of the wheels on popped off. This was right on the tops and the driver refused to go on. We slept under the stars and under the potatoes! It was minus something and we where higher than 4000m.
The next morning we where up with the sun. The driver said it would be quicker to bike, the town was only and hour away and all downhill….. yeah right Mr.
I was pretty ill at this point and was beginning to see things.. or not see things as the case may be. I think I was so dehydrated my eyesite went blurred and things where spinning which is not good when avoiding dogs, people, wholes and bumps. Richard took matters into his hands and in the next small towm got us a taxi which would drive us to Andnhaylas whilst the locals gathered around me to keep an eye on me! The taxi driver ripped us on a bit but it was still a cheap trip to cleanliness, a semi hot shower, a doctor and bed rest.. and we have been here ever since. I am much better now. the drugs do work! My appitite is back, we got cleaned up and have spent much time in bed and drinking water. We are planning the next leg and both looking forward to getting to cuzco. Atfer abancy the roads are tarmac which will be a treat. We will spend some time in cuzco and decide then what parts of Bolivia we will go to.
Off the eat cake now. think I can have two pieces in light of the past week. We are having fun despite everything!!
Well I have lost track of the days in Copacabana. Sorry it has been so long since I emailed.
We managed to make it to Boilivia in really good time. The trip from Puno was excellent.. flat and sunny and along the great Titicaca which for me has made the trip. It is an awe inspiring sight to see the vastness of the waters and we were only looking at a small inlet! Copa town is a sleepy little place full of religious buildings, market stalls and places to eat and drink for both locals and tourists. There is a significant hippie contingent here! Um… The feeling of being in Bolivia so far is really positive. Crossing the boarder was easy and fun. You get stamped out of Peru then enter ‘no mans land’ then get stamped in Bolivia. The nice man at the immigration office gave us, unusually, a 90 day pass to the country having showed him a copy of the letter from the embassy! yes!! The road then went up… that was not too bad actuallyand to Copa air strip and then descended to the lake side town. It was not really what I imagined but the more I looked the more I liked it. It is a very religious place where people come to be blessed… this is a party type activity whereby people come in trucks and mini buses, decked with red and pink flowers and numerours religious symbols and ornaments. They que up through the town and wait to be blessed and doused in holy water. They then smash bottles of cider over the cars and let off fire crackers!!! We considered getting our bikes blessed but decided against it. Then the families then climb the hill at the top of the town and do pretty much the same up there but with candles and confette. We went to join them one night and watched the sun go down over the lake…. ah…
We have visited the Isle del Sol. This is a very significant island for the Incas since this is where they first emerged. It is a small island two hours from Copa. The boat ride was incredible… very tranquil and you really begin to get a sense of how big the lake is. We walked from the north end to the south end. I am sure there were plenty of remains and ruins to see but we couldn’t find them! Still, we had a a great time looking at the secluded beeches, small villages and the views of the lake.
We are making the most of the great trout that you can eat ‘trouche horno or trouche ajo’.
We are leaving for La Paz tomorrow. Again we are excited about being on the road. It is about 170kms. It should be interesting entering La Paz. You have to ride up through El Alto which is the fastest growing city in S. America. Once at the top you get a view of the capital which lies in a valley.
The bikes are running really well. I had to clean my chain… my newly grown nails got really dirty! We are currently staying in a cheap hostle in the middle of Copa. It has a lovely family atmosphere and Rich is already a hit with the ladies… except that this one is approx 2 yeras old. She likes to come into our room and take things to hide in the kitchen…. little bugger!
We have been staying in hostels alot recently. This is out of necessity. There have been few places to camp safely and we have on the whole been biking from town to town. We are clocking up the miles and can bang out 90km if we have too! Things will change however, once we leave La Paz. We hope to go to Cochabamba and then to Sucre. We are not totally sure of our route but wll let you know and we have contacted our mate ‘the Embassador’! There are some great mountains here with great ice caps. We are investigating a guided climb provided that they are not too expensive. Otherwise we look forward to getting in the wilds again and camping. All this town living makes us lazy!
We thought we would send a quick round robin email to let you know that our route has changed… for those who have the itinery… its different. We have decided to go out into the wilds of Bolivia. We have spent the last month doing the tourist thing and spent a lot of cash. We have discovered that there are some amazing lagoons, national park areas and hot spas to dip in south of the salt flats which we will be heading to tomorrow.
The route looks great and we have maps from the Bolivian Military. In a few weeks we will be leaving Bolivia and heading into Chile to the Atacama desert for a bit, then moving swiftly to the coast for some relaxation in the middle of winter!
The route will be on the blog just in case we get lost!
Its been a long time since we emailed anyone… we have been in the vast Bolivian interior! Thank you for all your lovely messages and support. Its always good to hear from you.
Well at the moment we are in Iquique. Its on the coast of Chile just up from San Pedro where we crossed the boarder. We decided to spend some time here just to relax in the sun, which is mainly hidden by cloud and to plan the rest of our journey. The town is being made into the premier beach resort of Chile. It has a nice feel about it with wooden board walks, colonial houses, (which are mainly burnt out or derelict when you look out the back), good sea food eateries, long beaches and lots of people flying kites. When we arrived it was the beginning of a national holiday so the place was very busy. The main event was held at the city stadium. The owner of the hostel insisted we join her in going along. The event was a bit like the Hoppings in Newcastle. The best thing about it was the guinea pig game… the little fellas were put in the centre of a wooden ring with mini doorways. The creature was spun around under a plastic tuperware and was set free to seek shelter in one of the little doorways. If you had picked that doorway you won a tin of peaches!
We will be here until Wednesday when we will make our way to Salta, Argentina where we will resum our journey as set out on our plans.
We have had a fantastic time in Bolivia. Since leaving Oruro we have seen a side to Bolivia which we did not expect. We set off and initailly encoutered little towns which gradually got further apart. One town called Pazna had some thermal baths. After a long day on bikes this seemed like a good idea. The hot water was channelled into little privtae rooms were you lock yourself in and bathe… on the sighe of the water I felt a bit queezy! However, once i a forgot about the hair, skin and other bits floating around I enjoyed resting my weary legs!
Just before we reached this town we bumped into two Swiss cyclists. Much respect to them since they had been travelling the world on bikes for the last three years! Their style was very different to ours. They had so much ´stuff´with them, carried a fondoue set, bottles of wine, pj´s, hot water bottles and a spice rack! Each night they heated up hot water for a bottle shower and cooked food for the following day. They where very organised and well fed… we maintained our lrvrls of dirt, ate crisps and cheese sandwiches and travelled lighter… we learnt a bit actually which was good! We travelled with them for a number of days and then left the to do a different route. We keep in touch and may meet them later on the way.
We headed from Pazna to Santory de Quillcas, to Tambo Tambia, Jirira to the Salar de Unyui. On the first day we headed out to the Salt lake the wind was very strong and as always, against us. We had to carry more food and water as there are no provisions available on the Salar. It was a strange experience setting out. The salt lake was disorientating and we were relying on compass bearings as the few visible tracks where not always clear. The surface was hard and crystal like which made good biking. The deeper we got into the lake the greater the sense of isloation. The lake is splattered with islands but they where always further away than you imagined and uninhabitable. Some areas of the salar were not firm, in fact they are muddy and sandy. One day we had to push our loaded bikes for 30km… enough to make me cry! It felt like an expedition on the lake. It was minus 25 at night but with my bed socks I was really warm. It is hard to get up when it has been so cold. The idea is to be in bed just after the sun goes down, and to get up with the sun. However when you awkes to ice on the inside of your tent from your breathe and frozen water bottles you really have to motivate yourself to get out of your sleeping bag.
We had three nights on the Salar where the temp got down to -25c and the wind got worse in the afternoons. We ran out of food and water towards the end which was also a challenging experience! We headed to some land towards Aquaquizza. Here there was a lovely hostel with water, wine and chocolate! We stayed for a day to recover! Each night 4 by 4 tours would arrive with tourists… we had not seen anyone for three days, and infact from then on didn´t really see anyone or cars for another 9 days.
We headed next to the national park area and the lagunas. We had a route planned which would involve carrying more water and food than ever. There would be towns on route but the roads, height and altitude would make for long days. On this journey we climbed to 5000m for the first time. Rich was suffering with a bad cold which made it worse for him. The mountains would take all morning to climb and it was always further than it looked, and the passes can go on for days! We where in the sun bleached desert that was inhabited by Vicuñas alone. Although it was beautiful I always had a sense that we needed to get out quickly. In some areas there were huge protusions of rocks spanning for miles. They looked like cities of pink or red stone. In other places you would come across oasis villages with pampas, small lagoons, llamas and exotic birds.
When we managed to find a town with a hostel after the lagunas and before the Chilean boarder. it was great. People have been so nice to us. They have shared their food, their fuel, their knowledge and their time. I don´t want to make any generalisations but the Bolivain people have a lovely gentle way about them and a great sense of humour. They were always really interested in what we where doing, where we were going and in what way they could help.
The diversity of landscape in Bolivia is incredible. We have seen huge volcanoes, some of which are the most active in the world. WE havre felt the heat of the bubbling geyers, we have relaxed in thermal bathes at 38 degrees, we have been in the middle of deserts, on the edge of a Borax mine, travelled on roads of three inches of sand, seen lakes of green and red, watched James Flamingoes, Condors and Vultures. I felt sad to leave the country but was looking forward to a little bit of creature comforts. I would like to go back in order to se the bits we couldn´t get to. Maybe by jeep next time though!
We have been at the beach for just over a week and we have managed to eat our way back to health. We had so mnay food fanaties when we were in Bolivia we have really gone to town! We need to get back on the road before we burst through our trousers!
We plan to go to salta next and travel down south towards Mendoza and Santiago. Plenty of red wine and stake I think. The blogsite has been updated now too.
We are in Salta. Crossing the border again was no problem and since we have entered in Argentina we have already seen some great scenery! Getting on the bus was a bit tricky as we had to dismantle the bikes into tiny fragments… still the look of horror on richards face meant that the bikes where well looked after…
When we left the hostel in Iqueque we where given some leaving presents which was lovely and the next time we stay, it will be for free… he he.I think we where the longest residing people there for a long time.
Salta is a peaceful city with beauitful architecture, all be it colonial, wide avenues and a european feel to it. The spanish here is easier to understand and the weather is warm…I think I may want to live here….
Today we bought new chains for the bikes,which rich is fixing as we speak… you are supposed to change them after 2000miles or so, so we are a bit over due. I really have no idea about these things!
Today we also had some of the most talked about Argentine stake…. we bought an Asado for two quid each.This a mini BBQ that is bought to your table full of various parts of a cow…. um….it was good actually…
Tomorrow we head off towards Cafayete. We are not quite sure of the route yet but will let you know.
Well, just a short email tonight as we are going off to explore the town at night… there are 21 churches here!
Hola! Well we are having a day in La Rioja… a major town in Argentina which has lots inhabitants and business, but we see no one and there are no shops open! It´s fascinating how things operate in different cultures! It has been really difficult biking in the heat here. It´s about 40 degrees and there is a burning wind too! No wonder everyone has a four hour siesta in the afternoon. We have made good progress on the lovely tarmaced roads. We have had two wonderful nights staying with families, who look after us and feed us too! It`s really good actually because we can practice our spanish and learn a lot more about life here. One host was a single women who was a retired teacher with a garden producing every concievable fruit there is.. many of which we sampled. The other hosts where from a very wealthy family who owned an olive grove with 4000 trees… they came back to work the harvest and lived in Buenos Aires…we got olives for our journey!
We are heading to San Juan next, then Mendoza. We have passed on our way numerours olive groves, some of which, are owned by Coke as a tax dodge! We have biked alongside packs of wild horses galloping in the fields, big black flying beetles, scorpians, farm after farm…..
Argentina has 90% of it´s population living in the cities and more than half of these live in Buenos Aires. Although the land is intensively farmed it is done so by only a handful of hard working individuals.
We Dropped into a small town, I forget the name, but it´s commonly know as the cradle of the sun… and it really felt like that. Atfer we had had the biggest dulce de Leche ice cream I could find, we went off to find a place to camp. I popped into a smart looking building to ask if we could camp in the garden… in the next moment we were ushered into a classroom and asked to do a presentation to a group of trainee teachers telling them who we where and what we where doing… it was so hot in the room that we must have looked very unsavoury! They dashed out to get some ice cold coke. It was a lovely few hours spent with a nice bunch! They have kept in touch too by email! They also said that if we wanted a job teaching english, we could find one there! I don´t think we could take the heat!
Well, thats it for now because I can feel an ice cream coming on…. and the dulce de leche is to die for.. god, I am obbessed!
In the shadow of Aconcagua
We finally managed to be rid of the San Juan hex! We tried to leave twice. The first time both our cycle computers broke at the same time. The second time we where heading out on a beautiful road through the mountains until after 45 kms we came to a barrier and a security man who informed us that the road was closed. We couldn´t really understand why but there was no way he was going to let us through.. so we biked back another 45kms. It was that or a detour of 130km.
We decided on an alternative route that took us across a secondary range of mountains towards the main Andes Cordillera, Cordillera del Tigre. This was a step closer to Aconcagua and the end of stage 4. On the way across we stayed at a quarry, only to be rudely awaken by dynamite blasting. We also stayed with a lovely old couple who lived in a remote valley with their goats and horses. We had our evening meal disturbed and camp ransacked by 30 or more mischievous kid goats.
After a rest day in Uspallata, where Seven Years in Tibet was filmed, we set off upwards to the highest mountain outside of the Himalayers, Aconcagua. The wind was howling down the valley and we decided it was too dangerous to continue. We turned back in the hope that the wind would die down over night. The following day we were lucky and after 65km (45 climbing) we had our first glimpse of the 6952m giant.
We spent 2 nights camping in the shadow of Aconcagua watching the clouds of ice crystals being whipped off the summit by the same wind that had defeated us the day before. We were lucky enough to have a full moon to illuminate the 300m thick seracs that hang 3km above the valley where we camped. We couldn`t have asked for a more inspiring end to stage 4. Aconcagua acts as a dividing line and the mountains to the south are all covered in snow.
Lets hope stage 5 is the end of the desert and the start of more temperate climes, greenery and rivers with water!
We’re now halfway down the famously wet and wild Carretra Austral at Coyhaique near Puerto Aysen. It’s been a beautiful sunny & dry journey, but we can’t help feeling our luck must change sooner or later. The scenery is incredible, there really is something to take you by surprise around every
We are in the heart of the Patagonian Andes just above the Magellen archipelago where South America starts to crumble into the Pacific Ocean. The peaks can’t match the principle range (up north) for height but they can certainly match it for beauty and drama. The shapes change each day teasing us with the promise of Mt Fitz Roy and The Torres del Paine. Glaciers tumble down every high valley, the huge waterfalls disguise the sound of ice crashing down. The local news has been of earthquakes centred around Volcano Hudson only 50km away but we missed it, I imagine we thought it was just another bump in the road.
The Carretera Austral is a dead end after 1200km. We hope after the next 550km we can catch a boat to Argentina and Mt Fitz Roy, otherwise it’s a long way back. We’ll then head for the Torres del Paine for some good old fashioned rambling with our flask full of tea. Then it’s onwards and southwards to Tierra Del Fuego and the end of our journey. But that’s a long way off yet. If you have a few minutes, check out our blog for the latest pictures of our journey by bike.
After a busy month finishing the Carretera Austral we’ve finally managed to make it over to Argentina.
The southern road in Chile finished just south of Villa O’Higgins where we took a boat over to a small outpost of the Chilean Caribineros, Candelaria Mancilla. We arrived at the port a day early and set up camp, so as not to miss the boat. We had a busy day with lots of Chileans visiting the southern most point of the Carretera. We had to politely accept gifts of chocolate and whiskey while Richard tried his hand at fishing for our dinner.
We then crossed the pass into Argentina, a very long 20km horse track to Lago Desierto and our first view of the long awaited Cerro Fitz Roy. We enjoyed the hospitality of the Argentinian Gendarmeria before heading into El Chalten.
For the last week we’ve enjoyed the area surrounding El Chalten, a climbing ‘mecca’ surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. After having our fill of chocolate and wine we decided to go back to school….ice climbing school, where we learned that if you fall in a cravasse you’ll hit the bottom and probably squash your sandwiches.
We’re now almost a month behind schedule and the weather is turning, with Autumn just around the corner we’d better get a move on. The good thing is the famous Patagonian wind is strongest in the summer so we’re hoping to avoid the worst of it on our next leg towards Tierra del Fuego.
If you have nothing better to do have a look at our blog and some beautiful mountains.
We are in Punta Arenas where it is very wet and windy. They put up ropes in the streets to prevent people from being blown away! It is a city with grand colonial buildings, big shipping and fishing industries and it sits on the northern shore of the Magellen Straits. It feels like the end of the world, which it almost is.
We are resting here, getting over a cold, before we make the last part of the journey across Tierra del Fuego. We haven’t decided on our route yet and may cross into Argentina sooner rather than later. Then it will be a short trip to Ushuia where our journey ends.
We had a good time in the Torres National Park, where we were really lucky with the weather. We did a bit of trekking, but definately prefer getting about by bike. The park was full of great widlife.. foxes, guanacoes, condors, flamingoes, skunks, gofers.. we have yet to see a Mountian Lion.
We had a few days in Puerto Natales and from there we have been riding on tarmac! We met 2 British cyclists on this road heading north who told us it is only 7 cycling days to Ushuia. However, I am sure we will stretch it out for a little longer as Richard has his heart set on finishing in the snow.
Well, we finally arrived in Ushuaia on 28th March 2007. We could only avoid the inevitable end for so long. After over 9 months of peddling, eating pasta in tomato sauce and washing in increasingly cold streams it had started to become acceptable to only change our underwear every few days. All good things must come to an end.
After an incredible journey we are now in Buenos Aires learning how to fit into society once more, starting with fresh clean clothes each day and our table manners, that had deteriorated somewhat.
We’re really missing the cycling so we’re heading to Brazil to cheer ourselves up, where Richard is determined to wear his thong despite some nasty chaffing.
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