Argentina

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

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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

Small Victories

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. It’s been months since my last post. What can I say, I was on holidays. Not only that I did not cycle, obviously I did not write as well.
For start I had almost 3 weeks of pre-holidays stay and pampering thanks to Andres and his mother Marta in Santa Rosa. Then there was a flight back home and pampering back home curtesy of family and firends that have dedicated some moments of their lifes to share it with me.
Two months flew by in a blink of an eye, a new farewell, return to the road into the unknown, towards Dreams. To ease the transition from one world into another, there were again Andres, Marta and the people around them in Santa Rosa. In their hospitality they have achieved that I had no desire to go back to my bicycle. Doing so would mean that I have to leave behind the comfort of a cosy bed, hot shower, fixed roof over my head, electricity and similar luxury. It meant that I have to go outside where the winter is fast approaching.
My assimilation back to Argentina there in Santa Rosa has stretched well over two weeks. Slowly but surely the notion or better said awareness of the fact that if I don’t move I won’t get anywhere was gaining ground. The decision was clear. Back on a bike!

The day has started with a sun that was just calling me to get out. Until the moment I actually got out and noticed the ridiculously obvious lack of heat. Lou was all loaded up, with Andres we had one more maté (like so many others in the days before) and we mounted each his own bicycle. The only difference was that mine was all loaded up, his not. He is only going to acompany me to the outskirts of the city.
First kilometres back with Lou required some getting used to. In the three months without a bicycle I somehow forgot about the clumsiness that is so synonimus with a touring bicycle. But I got over it quickly. It’s like riding a bicycle!
A farewell to a friend on the outskirts of Santa Rosa and I’m left alone. Well, alone with Lou, but alone nonetheless. Again! In front of me lays the unknown, again. And in this late autumn morning a cover of fog envelops it. Nothing that would encourage me to go on, except for this awareness that I have, that if I do not move I will never get to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia.
Hesitantly I have mounted Lou and ventured into the fog, dampness and autumn melancholy. Every now and then the fog lifted up a bit, but the low-lying cloud cover managed to prevent the sun from warming up my bones and provoking a smile on my face. However these moments without fog, revealed to me flooded fields all around. The result of the heavy rains the region has seen this autumn.
Naked trees, dried up corn stems, fog, flooded fields and a decent headwind, really nothing that would motivate me to keep on turning the pedals.

I cycled until about 16h, made about 60 km. Enough for the first day.
I have made it to some buildings by the roadside and behind them I organized myself a place for my tent. Slowly back to the old routine, pitching the tent, setting up the stove, making coffee, enjoying a hot cup of coffee, then dinner and preparations towards sleeping. Last look at the skies, Southern Cross can be seen. The fog and clouds are gone.
Twice I had to go out of the tent. First some cat found my trash bag so I had to put it away, then I had to move my box with food. Fog has returned.
Waking up in the middle of the night. The sleeping bag is all damp, all the clothes are damp as well, water drops are lining the roof of the tent. What fun it is to camp in the fog!

In the morning when I look out the tent, there is again this fog and humidity from yesterday. Hooray, let’s get back on a bicycle! And I even get to pack the damp sleeping bag and the tent. Isn’t this just pure joy?!
So I do what needs to be done. At 10h I’m back on the road making my progress through the fog. Towards the first town that is 50km further down the road. In the meantime the hours pass. And together with the passing of the hours the weather changes. About 15km before the town the sun comes out to greet me and just before the town itself, two locals stop me and together we drink maté, this so typical Argentinian tradition of sharing moments. And I’m also invited to asado, Argentinian barbeque.
Life is beautiful!

A bit further down the road, in front of a closed gas station I’m drying my tent, sleeping bag and the rest whilst thinking about the imporatnace of small victories in Life. For achieving bigger goals. If I want to make it to Tierra del Fuego, I have to move even if sometimes I don’t feel like it. That’s how it is! However, I’m permited to celebrate this small victory, that despite facing not the ideal circoumstances, I have done what I needed to do.
And yes, I’m permitted to be joyful about the fact that I wasn’t soaked by rain, that the wind was not too strong, that I have found a suitable place to camp, that I haven’t had any problems with Lou, that…
Every day a number of good, positive things happen to us. It’s just the question of looking at it from the right perspective!

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

Paso Agua Negra

I have stayed one week in La Serena. Desperatly needed rest after kilometres and kilometres of desert. In my mind I was already flirting with vacations at the end of March thou it was not even the end of Januray. But it was not only the two months that were separating me from the vacation, there was another little detail. I was on the wrong side of the Andes. When I will return to these parts of the World, automn will be already saying its’ goodbye. And this means that crossing a 4.000 and more metres high mountain passes will not be sometthing that is recomended on a bicycle without chains for the tires.
So I have headed east from La Serena towards 250 km distant mountain pass of Agua Negra. With its’ 4.780 metres above sea level it is the highest mountain pass between Chile and Argentina, just so that my job would not be too simple. And to make it a bit less easy, 120 kilometres of the road crossing it is gravel.
But the motivation was there as well as the desire to get it over with the task that separates me from my vacations.
Three days of pedalling through a narrower and narrower valley pass the Chilean border post, all the way to the beginning of the gravel. Menacing clouds and a few rain drops force me to seek shelter under the roof of a solitary shelter the original function of which is still unknown to me. My first night on a, one could say, no mans’ land. I’m on Chilean side of the pass, but officially I have left Chile about 20km ago when the border police stamped my passport.
The next day I’m dealing with a loose gravel road, the result of road works being done by the Chileans. The progress is difficult. Lou sinks into the loose gravel on more than one occasion and leaves me no choice but to push it along.
The countryside is stunning. Mountains changing colours, the intense blue of the sky, a tranquil lake, first snow-capped peaks beyond which lies Argentina start to appear.
Around 16h heavy storm clouds start to appear again. Today I’m not as lucky with the shelter, some grains of hail and a bit of rain catch me. However I do get lucky meeting an Argentinian family traveling with a van. They stop by my side and give me water. This way I do not have to fill it up and filter it from the nearby turbid stream.
The third day in the mountains I pedal until just after noon when I come to a point where the road continues in a zig-zag up the slope. This means that some flat areas to pitch my tent are probably non-existent all the way to the summit. And I need more than just half a day to the top. So I decide to stop and pitch my tent for one more night on this side of the pass.
I spent the afternoon in a shade of a rock. Observing the landscape and searching for molecules of oxygen in my inhales. I’m at 4.100 metres. A condor comes to say hello (flies over me at a safe distance).
Waking up into a fresh new morning. The day is going to be long and difficult, that much I can tell. The higher I am, the more times I need to get of Lou and push it. Every a bit more steep inclination stops me. At one point I have to push Lou in a zig-zag as doing it in a straight line is just impossible.
Gravel road, the wind and the altitude take their price. I’m moving at about 3 km/h, little break frequent, summit still far. I catch a glimpse of it turn one corner. Still missing about 7 km. But this is a distance that I can do and I can do it before the afternoon clouds roll in with a good chance of precipitation that follows. Slowly but surely I make my way towards the top. The last 2km I walk, the wind coming across the pass forces me into it. Just one curve and I’ll be at the top. Gathering my strengths I mount on Lou and the last 200 metres I cycle. I pass under a sign “Paso de Agua Negra – Limite Internacional”, I stop and I cry. Joy, relief, end of exertion, a flood of emotions.
After a short break I descend on the other side. The battle with the gravel road and the wind is still not over. After two hours of going downhill I’m rattled to the bone, hands are numb. I make camp among the ruins of an unfinished house. At least I have some shelter from the wind.
The next day another 15 km of gravel road before I hit brand new asphalt. Descend towards the gendarmes and then to the border post. New stamp, I’m officially in Argentina.
2km down the road is a small town, Las Flores. In the park in front of a gas station a young family on their way back from vacations in Chile is waiting for me. A while ago they passed me by and invited me to join them in Las Flores. Cold water and a meat sandwich (well lots of meat covered by a bit of bread) – Welcome to Argentina!
After about an hour we say goodbye to each other. They go on on their way home, me … Actually I don’t know, I feel lost, without a goal. The task that I had to do before my vacation, that is to cross the Andes, is done. It was tough, probably the toughest mountain pass that I have ever cycled, but now that is all behind me. So what do I do now?
I wander for a while through the small town. Just enough that the feeling of being lost fades away and a more rational thinking can prevail.
The date on my plane ticket is fix and it will not happen sooner nor later regardless of what I do. Besides there is one more little, pleasant task to do. I have promised Andres I will visit him at his home in Santa Rosa, La Pampa. Still missing about 1.200 kilometres. Since I cannot teleport myself over there I climb on Lou and together we hit the Road.

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