Sometimes It’s Good To Have A Plan

And I’m back. Not only am I publishing a new post, I’m also back in Bolivia. In the meantime I had a short trip north, to Peru.

From Potosi I have headed towards Uyuni, like I have announced in my previous post. The route that I chose has lead me, after 4 day, to the main road La Paz – Uyuni. Into a small town, Challapata. Here you turn left and you head south. First Uyuni, then Argentina and a few kilometres (let’s say 5 – 6 thousand) later you are on Tierra del Fuego, at the end of the World.
It’s just that I had a small errand up north. Despite almost 4 months that I have spent in Peru last year, I still haven’t visited Machu Picchu. And I cannot finish my stay in South America without visiting it’s probably most famous tourist attraction. But since I was (and again am) about 1.000 km away from it and since there is more or less only one main route leading there and back and because … Well, because I felt like it, I have decided to leave Lou here with Luis, the owner of a cheap accommodation in Challapata and to take a bus to Machu Picchu. I wouldn’t exactly call this an easier option (changing on small local bus for another, a bit bigger and then with the biggest one to Cusco – just the last part was almost 14 hours on a bus), but it certainly is a faster option. This way I will be left with some more time for Argentinian south and will still manage to reach Tierra del Fuego before the southern winter.

I have started with a rough plan, a minivan to Oruro, then a bus to La Paz and another bus to Cusco, ancient Inca capital which also serves a first base camp for at least 95% visitors to Machu Picchu. From there on, I’ll figure it out.
After the bus marathon, I was in Cusco at 6 a.m. There I found a cheap hostel and after a morning coffee and a short brake, the work has begun. Already in advance I knew that a visit to Machu Picchu should not be taken lightly. There are two main, interconnected reasons for this. Given the fact that this is one of the biggest if not the major tourist attraction of South America, everything connected to it is very touristy. And this means highly overpriced. Even before I came here I have searched the web a little. And the numbers I saw almost made me forget about the whole thing.
First there is the entrance fee which is almost 40 EUR. Then one has to get there. The train (which is the official means of transportation since there are no roads) from Cusco is probably by kilometre the most expensive train on the planet. For roughly 110km to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), second base camp, the cheapest ticket costs almost 50 EUR. This makes it almost 50 cents per kilometre. And just as much for return! And then there is accommodation in Aguas Calientes since if you want to escape the main tourist rush, it pays of to be among the first one’s there,… The numbers made my head spin, so I left the details of this part of the expedition for Cusco.
But once in Cusco, I had to face the fact that now I’m here and that I cannot postpone any more organizing the visit. I need a plan!
So I went out, making a tour of the tourist agencies which in the city centre are more abundant than trash bins. After visiting about ten of them, I had a rough picture and I surely had no more motivation to visit another one. In every one there is a seller with a cheap smile that then presents you with the most expensive option. Before you manage to stop him/her in order to ask about cheaper alternatives, you are almost without any desire to keep on. And this scenario was repeated almost 10 times. The options are more or less the same at all of them, the only difference is the price and sometimes not even that. However you still have to pick one.
Then I went in line for the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (it has to be bought in advance since they do not sell them at the entrance). At least this task is much easier. There is the official ticket office and you have to buy it there. And the price is fix, no haggling or anything like that.
Entry ticket in hand I made my way back to one agency. The one that was closest and cheapest. It is possible to reach Machu Picchu even without the train or, again official, 4-day trekking (which is obviously even more expensive than train). There is a back door which is a marathon of local buses, minivans, maybe even riding a llama. This way you can come within about 10km of Aguas Calientes (second base camp) by road. From there to the town itself is about 2 hours walking along the train tracks. The bus marathon and the llamas can be avoided by going to a tour agency and buying a seat on a direct minivan. And that is what I have done.
First part of expedition planning behind me, the second to be done in Aguas Calientes.

On the day of departure I was at the agreed upon location (in front of the agency) at the agreed upon time (7 a.m.). But I was the only one keeping up the agreement. The agency was closed and there was nobody in sight until 8 a.m. when a guy showed up. After we established that he was looking for me he took me in a taxi almost to the other side of the city where a van was waiting only for me to show up. I have climbed inside, took and empty seat and braced myself for a 6 – 7 hours ride. Our driver made it in under 6. Probably because he was convinced that he is the reincarnation of Colin McRea, judging by the way how he drove.
After two hours walking I found myself in Aguas Calientes, the most touristy town in Peru. Second phase of conquering Machu Picchu can begin. Searching for accommodation! After about an hour I have in light of my plan and budget the most optimal location. A hostel that starts to serve breakfast at 4 a.m. This is very important for the execution of the third phase which is the climb itself. If I want to avoid the hordes of tourists, then I have to aim at being among the first ones at the entrance which opens at 6 a.m. Satisfied with the execution of the second phase I treat myself a beer before heading to bed (it also makes it easier to fall asleep).

The next day phase three begins. In accordance with the plan this means getting up at 3:45 a.m., breakfast at 4, a morning visit to the toilet and at 4:40 starting from the hostel. Just before 5a.m. I join a line at the bridge. We are waiting for it to open. On the other side and almost 500 metres higher is Machu Picchu. There is about 8km of a zig-zag road leading up or not even 2km long walking trail which goes more direct and is almost all staircase. You can also take a bus, but that is almost 10 EUR one way.
At 5 a.m. the bridge opens, I cross it a 5:10. The gate at the top opens at 6 a.m. so I have to hurry. The walking trail is supposed to take about 1h, I make it just under 40 minutes. Sweating and cursing all the way, but I do not stop. I know if I stop, it will take a while to start again.
I’m not the first one at the top, but I am among the first ones. When the gates finally opens, I pick up the pace a bit and at the first possible option I take a turn away from the herd. Left and up towards a viewing point. A few more stairs, a bit of left-right and I get a view of Machu Picchu without tourists. A photo and then I look for a quiet spot (yes, this early such spots can be found). There I sit down and admire the remains of the Incas’ hidden city basking in the morning sun below. Plan successfully executed!

Up here I’m in almost complete silence. There are just two employees down there making noise with a couple of weed-whackers!
You cannot plan everything in Life. There always have to be room for surprises. Like for a beautiful sunny day, which is not so common on Machu Picchu.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

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Back Up

Already on my first day in Bolivia I could see silhouettes of mountains on the horizon. All the time, pedalling the plains of Paraguay, I was aware of the Andes hidden somewhere in the distance. Could not see them but I was aware of their presence.
A few days in Villa Montes to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable climbing ahead. Then, to “battle”! After a few kilometres the asphalt stops. I don’t even manage to make it up the first proper climb, already I have to deal with a puncture. I change the tube, patching it will wait until evening.
About a week of a bit up, a bit down. A bit on paved, a lot on dirt roads. These are a mix of fine powder and loose rocks. Every time a vehicle passes my by, I’m left in a cloud of dust. It has been two years since they started widening and improving the road and the works will go on for another two years. That is, if all goes to plan!
Thanks to road blocks which are the result of the road works, the last 50 kilometres to Tarija, the first major city I have encountered in Bolivia, I’ve spent in the cabin of Daniel’s truck. They open the road midday for an hour and a half, while the workers go for lunch. Absolutely not enough time for me to make the necessary 20 km uphill. So I’ve stopped, lifted my thumb and Daniel with an empty truck on his way back to Tarija has stopped.
In Tarija I’ve ended up in a hostel. Sort of unplanned, but based on the welcome I have received, it was immediately clear to me that I simply had to stop here. Juan, Argentinian volunteer working at the hostel, received me with a “torta frita”, a typically Argentinian snack, sort of a fry bread. Not even managed to finish it, I already had maté in my hand. Just as a welcome!
The warm and pleasant atmosphere of the hostel as well as good company of Marcos, Tomas, Virgi, Lele and the others “kept” me there for a whole week. Just to be clear, it was not all about doing nothing. Lou was looking for a new rear rim which again “developed” anomalies. It was better to take care of it there and then as opposed to later somewhere amongst lamas and alpacas.

The next stop on my repeated climb into the Andes was Potosi. Between me in Tarija and Potosi, there was about 350 kilometres. And 3 very decent climbs. The first of which started just outside the city and ended 1500 metres higher up. At least that was what I have thought. There was a tunnel up there and I have naively expected that the road will start to descend on the other side. Well, it didn’t!
After surviving some stressful moments in an otherwise lit tunnel, where the lights in the middle of it started to go out just as I was passing them, the road first went a bit downhill before it started to slowly but surely climb back up again. But what goes up must come down. Just that this time way more aggressively than when it was going up. The brakes were suffering. Up to the point when I started to hear a metallic noise. I’m losing the brake pads in front. So I stop and change them.
Front brakes always were and continue to be Lou’s weak point. They are practically impossible to properly adjust. The rest of the descend I was stopping every 2 km. To check if the breaks are OK. At the beginning they weren’t and they demanded some attention. Just as I managed to come close to fixing them, I was almost at the bottom of the descent. With an empty tyre. So I was again changing the tube and patching it in the evening.
The first climb done, about 100 km of almost level cycling, another flat (this time it was a thorn from a roadside bush). Starting the second climb. Not feeling well, I have a headache. A stop in the shade for about an hour. Not feeling any better, definitely not in shape for a new climb of more than 1.000 metres up to 3.500 metres above sea level. So I turn around, back to the first town. Looking for a cheap place to hide away in a bed and wait for tomorrow. In this search, I pass by a service centre of a local mobile provider. For almost a week I’m unable to connect to the network. Well, since I’m here, I might as well enter and solve this.
Alejandro receives me, solves my problem and in the meanwhile offers me to wait for 5 minutes for him to finish his shift. Then I can go with him to his house, where I’m offered a room that they don’t use, so that I can lay down and rest. I’m also treated to a lunch and dinner.
The next day, well rested and without a headache, in my second attempt I to drag myself up to 3.500. Wasn’t that easy, but I’ve managed. At some point of this ascent I’m still climbing. Slower than the inclination would deserve, the legs also aren’t tired, but it just can’t go any faster. That energy that still lays hidden in the legs, just cannot come out. Then it occurs to me – there is no oxygen up here! So I continue in my own slow pace. To the top, then a short, violent descent and again a flat tyre at the bottom. This time due to the excess of quality of the patch still from Nicaragua. Again, I change the tube, another half an hour climb and that is it for today.
I come to an abandoned village of about 20 mud houses. The only sign of life is and elderly woman sitting on the ground, her back against the door of one of the houses. I park Lou, approach and start talking. The answer I receive is: “Mana intindini castellano.” The lady doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, only Quechan. With her hand she points somewhere behind a nearby wall. I interpret this gesture as that there I will be able to find someone speaking Spanish. An old man is just taking a donkey into the yard. I ask for permission to pitch my tent here between the houses, where there is shelter from the wind. Highlands are the realm of the wind. Permission granted I look for a suitable location.
I pitch my tent, next on the list – water. There is no running water, of course. The old man directed me towards the “river” which is not a river. A group of puddles in an otherwise dry riverbed. I look for the cleanest of them. I take out a filter that is supposed to filter up to a litre per minute. After about 20 minutes I have about 2 litres (would probably have more if only I would have cleaned it after the last use). Then I treat myself to a litre of unfiltered water to quickly wash myself before the sun goes down together with the temperature. The next task is to patch the tube, but first I have to locate the hole. This requires another visit to the puddles. After locating the bubbles, I’m almost there. Returning to the tent where I put a kettle on my camping stove. After all this I deserve a coffee and a smoke!
Gazing at the stars, listening to the wind (and an occasional truck passing by on a nearby road) and I simply Am. With every passing minute I’m further away from all the effort I have put into this day. I simply am Here and Now!

New morning, new day. The sun pushes away the clouds.
Breakfast, coffee, drying the condensation on the tent, putting away all the stuff, loading up Lou and we are off, exploring the mysteries behind the curves. All day I’m climbing and descending, a little up, a little down. For 100, 200 metres. After 5 – 6 hours, with the wind picking up and black, stormy clouds looming, I’m just tired enough to start looking for a location to hide away for the night. At this point I see a white van, stopped on the road a bit further on. It’s apparent it is waiting for me to pass by. Indra’s friendly smile greets me as he immediately offers me to take me a bit further on.
“Where are you heading?” I ask.
“To Potosi.”
“And you have space for me and my bike?”
“Sure!”
Such a gift from the Road cannot be turned down. We load up Lou and about an hour and a pleasant conversation later I found myself on the main square in Potosi.
Before I manage to collect all my stuff, there comes Lucas, a guy I’ve met in Tarija and now works here at a hostel as a volunteer. Together we go there and I end up at a new hostel.
Coffee in hand I sink into an armchair. Next to me there is a couple, looking at Lou, leaning against a nearby wall. They are talking about how nice it must be to travel by bicycle. In silence, I unintentionally listen to the conversation, just being content with being where I am.
They are dreaming aloud, all exited, how one is cruising the roads on a bicycle, taking the curves at one’s own pace. I’m thinking:” Yes, and meanwhile hoping that you don’t get a flat!”
And again, how on a bicycle one can take one’s time to soak in the surroundings, listening to the wind, smelling the autumn leaves,… And again me: “Yes, and inhaling profoundly the big, thick, black cloud of smoke that the passing old truck is leaving behind!”
I move away silently, before I burst their romantic bubble.

All that being said, I can, with a complete peace of mind, say – I like it!

I did however take some days off here in this hostel. In about a day or so I’ll embark on a new search of romantic on the high mountain expanses of the Altiplano. Heading for Uyuni, the biggest salt flats in the World. To let the wind blow through my soul.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Paraguay

Small, steamy hotel room. Sitting on the floor, a fan is blowing to my back. More to make me feel like it’s cooling me down than it is actually doing so. Outside it’s 40 degrees, inside it’s more. Air is dry.
The town is called Villa Montes, SE Bolivia, about 120km from the border with Paraguay. I came here on Saturday, but I needed a few days to come to the point where I’m able to write something. 11 days from Asuncion to here were though. Wind, heat, endless, straight roads!

Before coming to Paraguay, I knew little about it. I knew that is, by South American standards, a small country wedged between Brazil and Argentina. Well, it does also border Bolivia, but let’s not go too much into details.
I also knew that it has a huge plain in the West of it, called the Chaco which is a kind of savannah and another thing that I knew was that there are no major tourist attractions. And this lack of knowing, absence of any stereotypes is what attracted me to this country. To get to know it!

After almost three weeks in the country, I cannot really say I know Paraguay. Far from it. But surely today I know more about it.
I know for example that they have yellow and red firefighters. I wouldn’t have known that, but coming into Coronel Oviedo I stopped at a gas station to ask for directions to the firefighters. They are still the most reliable option to get a place to spend a night in a town. And the guy at the station asked me which firefighters am I looking for. The yellow or the red ones. “I don’t know, the ones’ that are closer!” Later I found out that the difference between the two is in their affiliation to two different voluntary firefighter unions. I don’t really understand the situation, but I’ll survive even not knowing this.

I also know that there are at least two Paraguay. Depending on the prism through which we look at the situation. One big and obvious divider is the river Paraguay. This river on the banks of which the capital Asuncion is situated, divides the country between a hilly, relatively humid, agricultural East and dry plains of the West which are home to huge livestock farms. And this difference in access to water also reflects in the way the land is populated. In the East it’s hard to find a stretch of road longer than 10km that would not have a village or a small town. In the West you can consider yourself lucky if you see any signs of settlement every 50km.

What I did make sure is that Paraguayans also are super friendly and hospitable people. And this makes crossing the Chaco more bearable, nicer.
Chaco is a huge plan that covers the Western two thirds of the country. The roads here are straight, leading into what seems like infinity. Traffic is scarce, the countryside is monotonous.

Yet another day you are fighting northerly wind which is so hot and dry that makes your mouth dry as a pepper. The asphalt is at least 10 degrees hotter than in the shade where it’s already 40 degrees. Shade, at least the kind you can use is a scarce commodity. And then, in the distance you can see a communications antenna. Maybe there is something there you say to yourself. And you push on. The antenna is obviously further away than you hope. Every turn of the pedal becomes more difficult. Every gust of wind that slows you down is cursed. The mouth is dry. You feel your body overheating and the only thing you wish for is that you could stop and took a rest.
There is a house next to the antenna, the caretaker. You are “greeted” by the dogs whose barking alerts the owner. And the lady offers you a chair in the shade, sheltered from the find. And the owner offers you a huge plastic bottle full of ice cold water, straight from the fridge. You are left speechless!

It could also happen that at the end of yet another hot day without a shade and with relentless wind, you stop at the last shop in Rio Verde. There are actually two shops, one on the left side of the road, the other on the right side. I turn left. A friendly owner, Norma starts chatting. I buy some cold water and go out for a smoke. With the intent to return to buy some onion and tomatoes as to give some variety to the pasty that I have on the menu for tonight. And the owner, Joel approaches me. “Have you already eaten?” “Well yes, some cookies.” “Come, let me give you some empanadas.” I don’t wait for a second invitation.
After a delicious late snack I sit outside. In the shade where there is already a small group, the owners and some locals. We drink ice cold terere (a local drink, similar to the Argentinian mate, only that this one is prepared with cold juice or water) and we talk. The time is approaching the point of day when I should be looking for a place to pitch my tent. I ask Joel if he has any space behind the house. Sure, we’ll find something. And then he quickly adds: “Don’t worry, we’ll prepare a room and a bed for you!”
“No, I don’t need a room. A place to pitch my tent will do just fine!”
“Well, if you want to sleep in the tent you can go to some other place. If you’ll stay here you will sleep in a room!”
I’ve stayed!

At the end of the hottest and windiest day, just before the sunset I dragged myself to a semi ruined larger building. I enter the courtyard and a man, Luis comes towards me. It turns out this is a military post thou there are only three, maybe four men stationed here.
I ask for permission to camp, using the building as a windbreaker. He shows me a dormitory with an empty bunk bed. “Here you will be sheltered from the wind and will have a roof over your head. There’s the shower, water is drinkable. If you need anything else, just ask.”
After the shower I make myself some coffee and then I go outside to drink it accompanied by a cigarette. It’s a standard ritual that I have. It sort of makes me realize I’m saying goodbye to yet another day on this carousel that we call Life.
I notice the wind has changed. It’s coming from the South. This new wind brings freshness, smell of water. Half an hour later come the lightings, thunders and brief storm. And I have a roof over my head, isn’t that great!

And so I was once again, in an otherwise inhospitable surroundings of the Chaco, shown by the Universe that hospitality is one of the most natural of human reactions. And that the World is, in spite of what the media, capital and politicians are trying to make us believe, full of good, friendly people.
It’s just that sometimes you have to make an effort to get to them!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Moments When You Start To Question Your Own Intelligence

It has been almost 10 days since I’m here in the tri-border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. A bit of sightseeing such as a visit to the Iguazu falls, some errands, such as buying a new cell phone since the old one didn’t seem to agree with the contract on which it fell from more than a metre high. Those of you that are following my blog for a while might remember that in the US I had already tried to befriend my electronic devices with concrete. .That time it was a laptop, now a cell phone. Both time unsuccessful and with a fairly predictable outcome. The gadget stops working after such an encounter. I just might have learned something for the future. But then again, I might not have!
Well, most of the time that I had spent here at the tri-border was dedicated to lighter activities or better said inactivates. A hammock, listening to music, allowing my brains to switch-off, all in all relaxing. Sometimes you have to find time to do this as well. That is why this text will be on the lighter side.

Not only travelling but Life is also full of various moments. Moments are what gives colour to this spinning wheel that we call Life. They can be happy, can be sad, full of action or more laid back, maybe even boring. And there are those that, for a lack of a better description, make me question my own intelligence.
For easier understanding, here are some examples of the moments I’m talking about

For the third consecutive day Andres and I have been climbing towards 4.850 metres high pass called Abra Chonta in Peru. The road was winding, the air was thin, traffic on an otherwise nice, paved road was light. The summit or the pass itself was about 500 metres further up the road but we had no idea since it was hidden behind a curve. We had stopped so to get acquainted with as many of the oxygen molecules passing by as we possible could have. The bikes were leaning on the safety railing, the two of us sitting next to them. Not a living sole in sight, all around us just rocks, sun gently warming us. After about 10-15 minutes a man comes in his new pick-up truck. He slows down, lowers his window, looks at us and asks:
“What are you doing?”
We look at each other, then we look at the bikes next to us which are kind of self-explanatory. After of a moment of surprise Andres said: “We are travelling with our bikes!”
“Oh, OK!” replies the man and, visibly content that we have satisfied his curiosity, he drives away.
We just look at each other!
I wonder how he would react if we would had told him that we were waiting for the pizza guy. We have ordered it hours ago and still hasn’t been delivered.

Another thing that can happen is that you are looking for a place to spend the night, to pitch a tent. Entering one small town Andres and I have passed several smaller plots that were all individually surrounded by make-shift walls. Some of the plots in use, others no. Since these make-shift walls, made out of dry cane, enable us to remain hidden from nosy looks, we go in search of finding an unoccupied plot. Since we were both raised by responsible parents, we both like first to ask for permission to use, Andres goes across the street. There is a car mechanic shop and he goes there to ask if they whom to ask for permission. It was a short conversation:
“Hi!”
“Hi!”
“We are looking for a place to pitch our tents overnight. Would you happen to know to whom the plot over there belongs to?”
“Sure I know. To the owner!”
Who would have thought – a plot that belongs to the owner!
Here is where the conversation has stopped. You just do not know where to go from here.

Just so to avoid any potential for confusion. These kind of situations are not something that happens only in foreign lands. Nope, not at all!
I remember, years ago, back home in Ljubljana, me and a friend of mine went for a pleskavica (grilled patty of minced meat, similar to what you could find in a burger, but completely different). We went to a restaurant, sat behind a table and looked at the menu. It was listed that they have either a small or a large pleskavica. Since the actual size was not mentioned, we decided to ask the waiter.
“What is the difference between a small and a large pleskavica?”
The man looks at us and calmly explains: “Large one is large, small one is small!”
I really cannot remember what we had then ordered.

There you go, I hope you had a lough or two and might have remembered a similar moment that you have personally experienced.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

A Quarter Of A Hundred

It has been more than two years since I have set off from Halifax. Due south! The route has never been something fixed, more a vague idea. Across the USA, Mexico, Central America and more or less on the west side of South America to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the World. There the road ends. I was calculating on doing 25.000km, a bit more, a bit less.

About 10 days ago my speedometer showed 25.000km. I was in Argentina which was consistent with my original plan from back home. What was different from that plan was the fact that I was almost at the opposite side of Argentina, about 700km from the border with Brazil and Paraguay. And not only that I was roughly 2.500km as the crow flies away from Ushuaia, I was even moving in the opposite direction. As it often happens in Life that the plans normally have very little to do with the reality.

I’m still moving away from Ushuaia and will continue to do so for a while. Since I have turned towards the coast in central Peru, I’m still missing a visit to Machu Picchu. So I’m going there now with a small detour via the Iguazu waterfalls as I’m in the neighbourhood (well in the same country). And then there is Paraguay which I want to visit. Also Bolivia is missing from my list so it seems I still have some “work” to do up north. And then there is all of south Argentina with Patagonia and Chile with its Carretera Austral. Still a lot to do!

Then at the same time there is also so much already behind me. Deserts and coasts, mountains and plains, jungle and empty steppes,… Not only that there is already 25.000km behind, there is also more than 420 different locations where I have slept. Sometimes with a roof over my head and a nice, comfortable bed, another times I was in a tent under a clear sky. I was hosted by firefighters, police, Red Cross, churches even schools and a WC have all been a place to spend the night. And I cannot even mention how many times my paths have been crossed by good, friendly people that have almost always somehow intuitively knew what I really need in a given moment. Sometimes they knew it even better than me, whether it was a bed, a hot shower, a safe place to pitch a tent, great food, directions for further on, a conversation or just a simple Smile.
So much of it that I really cannot describe it all. That is why to all of You, that have carried me all this distance, a profound – Thank you!

Simon

Look At That – A Slovenian!

If I relate to last thoughts of my previous post about going with the flow and then in the evening being surprised by the bank on which the flow has washed you up, then for sure I must write about meeting with a Slovenian community in Entre Rios.

The day has started in a tent, squeezed between a pick-up than has long ago finished its service, a truck than not so long ago must have still been working, an ice machine and some sort of a cage. Hidden behind a gas station in a large village. Outside there was frost on the grass and the sun on a perfectly clear sky hasn’t yet managed to warm up the atmosphere. Morning tasks are routine, cleaning and taking down the tent, making breakfast, enjoying my coffee, then saddling up Lou and back on the road.
Plan for the day was simple. A stop in the first town, Cerrito that is about 25km further down the road Entering the first shop to stock up on supplies for dinner and push on into the wide open farmland. Maybe, just maybe I might make it to the next village that is about 60km further on from Cerrito. All in all, it seemed like just another day on the Argentinian countryside. Until I have reached Cerrito.
There is a junction at the entrance into town. I look left, no traffic, I look to the right, no cars – wait a minute, there is something wrong with this picture. There is a sign and on that sign a Slovenian flag. What?! I turn to get closer and I read: “Plazoleta Republica de Eslovenia” (Park Republic of Slovenia) with additional text “Colonia Cerrito, cuna de los Inmigrantes Eslovenos” (Colony Cerrito, cradle of Slovenian Immigrants). Obviously I’m totally confused, but the more I look at this, the more it seems to me that I have to find out more about it and that it was meant for me to turn into here.

I let go of the thought of finding the first small shop, buying what I need for dinner and to push on. Instead, I turn into town all the way to the central square/park. I look for a nice bench, so as to soak in the sunshine, roll up a cigarette and try to think of a plan what to do next. Well, before I manage to finish my cigarette, a man approaches. A friendly handshake and a conversation starts. Pedro is a cyclist that lives here and it’s immediately obvious to me that he will not “allow” me to go on that easily (another reference to my previous post). So we go to his house where he feeds me and when I mention through the conversation that I have stopped here because of the sign at the entrance, Pedro goes into action mode. All organized! My bed is in the guest room, there will be a fish asado at his friends’ place this evening and I’m going to meet the local coordinator of the Slovenian community here in Cerrito. Now it’s time for maté.

In the afternoon Pedro first introduces me to Laura, his wife before we head out. To Luz, the local coordinator of the Slovenian community. The meeting is brief, there is only enough time for her to invite me to tomorrow’s lunch at her house. So we will have more time to talk. Today I’m out of time as Pedro has other plans with me. These continue in the company of his friends Edgar and Amilcar, eating fish asado.

The day after I have lunch at Luz’s where I meet the rest of her family. And the lunch turns into more “tasks” for me. A visit to the Slovenian community in the city of Parana, a short history of Slovenian immigration to Entre Rios and a dinner at family Fatur. Time flies by and it’s getting a bit difficult for me to keep up with all that is going on. And for me, it doesn’t stop here.
The following day in Cerrito I attend the presentation of the book “Cocina Eslovena” (Slovenian kitchen) by Carlos Savor And I could not leave the town without stopping at Javier Podversich the day after for an asado, strait from the farm.

The four days in Cerrito went by in a second. Spending time with friendly, warm people that have opened the doors to their homes, have honoured me with the time they have shared with me,…
In reality in all these days I did not even have the time to comprehend what has actually happened to me. A state of constant amazement by the turn of events and an ever new surprise by what is to follow.
To be honest, even now as I’m writing about it I cannot stop myself no to be surprised by the bank on which I have been washed up that day.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

How The Argentinians Can Make It Hard On You To Push On

The title does seem to be somewhat negative, but the reality is quite the opposite. However you will have to be patient with me and read on for it to make a proper sense.

From Santa Rosa, la Pampa I have headed northeast in search of some sun and more pleasant temperatures. Winter on a bicycle is just not my natural environment. Low clouds, rain, cold, I don’t know, something in this combination makes it quite unattractive to me. Obviously the weather was not always like that. No, sometimes I had sun, but it normally came with quite a solid headwind. Just so I wouldn’t get too spoiled on the lowlands between La Pampa and the river Parana.

But these vast plains hide something else besides the endless roads, fields, solitary trees and cows. The hide something that normally eludes the few travellers that sleep through these vastness on an overnight bus ride. These are the small towns you come across every 30-40km. The towns themselves are nothing special, they are all more or less the same. One-storey houses, streets organized in a square grid, central square/park, next to it a town hall, opposite to a church, with a police station and a health centre is supposedly a typical layout of the centre. But what makes each town a unique experience are the people you meet there. And people I have met quite a few. Those are Alejandro, Virginia, Miguel, Rosana, Dante, Sergio, Santiago, Walter, Nasiri, Carlos,…

I have stopped in practically every town I came across. Sometimes to hide from the rain, other times to seek shelter from the wind, yet another time a broke spoke on my bike. And every time I have stopped it was a new, pleasant experience, a new encounter, a new opportunity to taste the local hospitality at its finest.
My stays with WarmShowers hosts were always extended by at least a day. Sometimes there was an excuse at hands like bad weather, but the true reason was always good company and amazing hospitality.
Stops at WarmShowers hosts were all planned in advance so I knew in advance that at the end of the day there will be a warm reception, hot shower, sleeping under a fix roof and an interesting conversation with a host to be had. However it did happen to me on more than just few occasions that I have received all this totally unexpected. And this has come to pleasantly surprise and excite me over and over again in the past month.

After a few days of pedalling into the wind that day a tail wind caught me off guard. How easy it was to make more than 50km before lunchtime. I have stopped in a small park in the first town I came across. Some shelter from the wind, to eat some biscuits in peace and then move on. But there was a man from a nearby house that spotted me. He insisted that I come to his house for him to give me lunch. Finally I have accepted the offer and the lunch turned into an afternoon maté with his wife (he had to go to work) and an evening with the whole family (plus sleeping in a bed and a hot shower).
The day after I have pedalled the whole day. The weather was typical for this time of the year, fog that turns into low clouds hovering what seems like 50 meters above your head. And it stayed like this all day long. At least it was not raining and the wind was also kind to me, it was a side wind. At the end of the day I turn into Serrano, a small town in the south of Cordoba. While riding towards the centre I hear shouts from a nearby park. A small group of people was setting up start/finish area for a regional bicycle race that was to happen the day after. After the initial hello and info exchange like where are you from, how and why, I’m invited to an evening asado for the organizers. Sleeping and hot shower waits for me at Walters’ house. Great company I had the pleasure to spend the evening with, doesn’t let me leave the next day. Not without having another asado after the race. I had to stay another night.

After a few more days of pedalling and several similar experiences with the locals, I stop for a few days in Villa Maria where Virginia and Santiago are my hosts. I do my laundry, caress Lou, write the previous post but most of all enjoy the tranquillity of their home and the conversations we share. The day of my departure is sunny with a solid headwind. 30km down the road I hear so far unfamiliar metal sound from my rear wheel. There goes a spoke. Since I’m in the middle of nowhere, I do another 10km to the first town where I’m offered the whole luxury of a bed and a hot shower by the local firefighters. The next day they even organize for me a visit to the local bike mechanic that does his magic on Lou.
Already the day after a new group of firefighters take me under their roof. This time Andres, the boss opens the doors of the local fire station in Landeta where I “camp” in the dining room for the next three days. It’s raining outside! But this does not mean I’m alone, not at all. The first evening I treated to a delicious dinner by Carlos, the next evening I’m an honorary member of the guys’ night, another asado, and again Carlos…

There was many more of these evenings with the locals in the past month. I think I was alone only 2 or 3 nights. Every time the road surprised me with new face, new stories and new, sincere gestures of hospitality by the locals. Things that if I have not have experienced, I would find it hard to believe that they happen so often, so spontaneously.

It’s just that I’m not making any long distances. It’s just not possible, the locals won’t “allow” it.
Then again, isn’t this the whole magic of this adventure that we call Life. To go with the flow, to appreciate every moment that you experience and that every evening you find yourself surprised by the bank on which the flow has washed you up.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon