Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Taking the Easy Road

Back in the Americas!  Felt a bit surreal coming back to the Western hemisphere and being in an ‘America’.  After a few hiccups getting well out of the Santiago area, we were cruising down the Ruta 5 getting in many productive days.  And by productive days I mean at least 140km, something we haven’t done since Australia.  New Zealand wanted us to take it slow. 

Chile has far exceeded my expectations.  It didn’t start off great though as coming out of Santiago cyclists are not allowed on the main highway, which has a nice, wide shoulder.  Instead we had to take secondary roads with little or no shoulder which effectively was much less safe in my opinion.  I saw one too many crosses on the sides of the road for my liking.  These secondary roads would end for us after a couple hundred kilometers as we were finally allowed on the highway.  Once on that Ruta 5, everything became in our favour and was easy.  We had a few days of tailwind, the road was pretty much flat and the shoulder super wide.  And it was good tarmac, sort of like how Thailand’s roads are where you can easily go fast.  So Chile, good on you. 

The food situation was okay as well.  They have decent sized supermarkets and the prices were alright.  Chile is one of the most expensive South American countries so I hope things will only get better.  I was excited to see dulce de leche on the shelves which is pretty much a caramel spread.  Quite yummy.  I think though the Argentines do it better.  So I’ll continue sampling when we are in Argentina. 

Trevor has been battling a cold these past few days so I have been distancing myself from him.  So far on this trip if one of us gets sick, the other would soon follow.  He is getting better and I haven’t felt anything coming down so I think I may have escaped this one.  Yay for me. 

We are closing in on Argentina and will enter the country tomorrow after climbing up the Andes.  

Welcome to Santiago de Chile!  I had to get some maintenance done on my bike before hitting the road.  Basically my front wheel was wobbling due to worn out bearings and I needed a new cable and housing.  I was worried going into the city that I wouldn’t get decent stuff.  Well, I was wrong.  We found a bike mechanic and I explained my ordeal to him thinking he would sell me a new front wheel.  But nope, he fixed my front wheel by I guess replacing the bearings.  Now it rides fine.  Funny how developed nations would look at my wheel and say I need to buy a whole new wheel as fixing it wouldn’t be economically practical and the developing nations will fix the thing for pretty much nothing and on the spot.  I rode out of there with a fixed front wheel, new housing and a new cable for less than $6USD.  My bike is riding quite smoothly now and it is pretty sweet.  So if you are a cyclist and need some work done in Santiago, I suggest Adrian Cardenas at Fox Racing Shox. 

Tarantula time!  I remember trying hard not to run them over in Mexico and now they have returned, except the ones in Mexico we saw were black and this one was fully brown as you can see.  Anyway, this was the only sighting and Trevor was a little annoyed at me because he said I saved this one from being squashed.  As I approached closer to it to take its picture, the oncoming semi-trucks veered to the center of the road thus missing flattening this guy like a pancake.  So you are very welcome tarantula.

Trevor who is all business, you have just hit the 2nd antipodal point on this trip and thus completing going around the world on your bicycle!  Congratulations!  Would it hurt to smile?  All kidding aside, this spot, which is just some spot on the side of the road about 150km southwest of Santiago is the exact opposite point on planet Earth to some point we cycled by exiting Xian, China .  So if I dug a hole from here straight down for many, many, many miles, I would end up in the spot we cycled by just outside of Xian.  This would also fulfill my childhood dream of digging a hole to China.  I tried very hard and thought I had made good progress but never did get to China that way.  Many years later I found out about airplanes and decided that would be a more efficient way.  Then many years after that I thought why not just cycle there.    

Ruta 5 may have been good to us but it actually can be a bit dangerous.  We passed by two pretty bad accidents back to back one day.  This one shown held up a long line of vehicles waiting for hours for this accident to get cleared up.  There were maybe 3 or 4 vehicles involved in this crash.  We rode by and then had the whole highway to ourselves until we were stopped a few kilometers down the road where workers were lifting up a big smashed up truck that drove off a bridge.  These two incidents had both of us quite concerned about taking the highway.  But as we proceeded south it kept getting better and less busy.

Here is the second accident… not pretty. 

Another freebie fruit find!  This time delicious purple grapes.  I love grapes, especially when they are free, so I was very pleased with this find.  We picked a few bags of grapes from vines along the roadside.  True they were next to an orchard which looked to be for wine making but these were alongside the road so they were fair game.  I looked at all the grapes being grown and thought to myself what a waste.  All of them will go towards making wine.  I am probably an odd one out here but grapes are so much better just as grapes, not wine. 

Saying farewell to Ruta 5 to head inland for the Lakes District.  Look at that flat, smooth road but more importantly the nice, wide shoulder.  Countries who do not have hard shoulders, take note.

Today we took most of the day off in Pucon as I wanted to climb Villarrica Volcano, an active, cone shaped stratovolcano standing at 2847m in the Andes that spews hot lava from time to time.  I get excited just writing about it.  I couldn’t sell Trevor on joining as he has been put off by mountain climbing since our summit of Cotopaxi in Ecuador last year.  We had horrible weather conditions going up that mountain and it was by far the toughest climb we have both ever done.  Not for the novice I would say and Trevor was a novice.  So he gave this one a miss even though I assured him it would be better and it was about half the height so he wouldn’t get super cold and altitude sickness.  But he decided to pass and rest up since he was still battling a cold.  Fair enough.  Although I guess good for me since given our track record on climbing mountains together, Cotopaxi being pretty much the only one, the weather has been crap.  Usually when I climb solo, I get good weather.  So he may be bad luck for me, who knows.  Anyway, the day was superb, weather spectacular.  Trevor, if and when you ever read this, you missed out.  Look at that view.  Look at it!  I could see Argentina in the distance and could map out where we would be cycling later in the day and even the next day.  Who needs your GPS when I have an aerial view?  Psfft.      

And check out the crater!  So <insert expletive>ing cool.  Steam coming out from below and the glaciers all around.  Pretty sweet.    

All smiles on top.  Great climb and descent which included some glacier traversing and glissading.  Good times.  It wasn’t very demanding and the clear, sunny weather made a world of a difference. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finders Keepers

Things really picked up for the better in the North Island.  Both Trevor and I had a much better time in the north even though many people we spoke with thought it would be the other way around.  Well, having the sun out pretty much every day, not being bothered by sandflies and having some great hospitality towards the end our New Zealand leg made a big difference.  Plus the hills weren’t all that bad.  Actually, from what we cycled in New Zealand, the hills weren’t as bad as I expected.  Yes we did have some super steep hills at times but I thought it would just be constant up and down.  It wasn’t really.

New Zealand has been pretty good to us with our finds as well.  Trevor was on fire with picking up stuff on the side of the road; especially cycling from Rotorua to Hamilton he found a useable bicycle lock, broken smartphone with a micro SD card in it, and a reflective construction vest.  Jackpot.  He uses the micro SD card for more space on the GPS and thinks there may be hope to revive the whole smartphone provided he can find a battery and replace the smashed screen.  We use a lot of stuff we find along the roadside.  Living off the land I like to say.  He picked up a pink Asian parasol in the South Island and will use it if it rains and we need cover to fix a tire.  I spotted a front wheel with the tire still on it around Dunedin and am now using that tire as my $5 Chinese made tire died on me leaving Hamilton.  Good tire for the price as it lasted me a long while. 

We have been taking it easy these past couple of days in Auckland staying with our uncle’s cousin Jack and his wife Helen.  Later today we depart across the Pacific and over the International Date Line for Santiago, Chile.  Time to brush up on my espanol.

Aside from the first night outside of Wellington where we struggled to find a decent camp spot, the camping has been much better in the North Island.  We had some really good spots around Tongariro National Park.  On this particular night shown we camped out on some bleachers which gave us cover from a strong downpour in the night and didn’t have to set up our tents.  Quite nice.  We did though have a scare on our final night of camping on the outskirts of Auckland.  As we were leaving our camp spot a police car pulled up.  I thought we were screwed and they would question why we were walking out from a bush beside the motorway, and then slap a fine on us.  But luckily they didn’t.  Big sigh of relief. 

A message from the farmers of New Zealand.  And our message to them: we respectfully disagree. 

Mount Ngauruhoe early morning.  Or Mount Doom for those who are diehard Lord of the Rings fans.  Personally I am not but it is somewhat of a big deal here.  That and the Hobbit.  They even have movie set tours.  I’ll give a miss on that one, thank you. 

I tackled the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or about three quarters of it since the last stretch is off limits due to an earthquake last year.  Trevor wasn’t keen so he sat and waited in the car park for a couple of hours while I joined the many trekkers on the track.  Fueled on ready to roll icing sugar I made pretty good time.  The weather was alright most of the way except when I arrived at the Emerald Lakes, the spot where you want the weather to be clear.  As you can see it wasn’t. 

See, it wasn’t always poor weather on the Crossing.

But it was pretty bad in the Waikite Valley.  There is lots of thermal activity around this area as we made our way to Rotorua.  We could hardly see ahead.  Maybe 10 meters at best.  

I was keen on going to one of these thermal spots to see some geysers, steaming vents and of course get a really good whiff of all that sulphur.  Mmmm.  But after seeing the steep entrance fees I decided to pass.  The Maori’s sure know how to charge.    

Thanks to my friend Fiona in London, we stayed with her gracious parents in Rotorua who gave us a tour of the city before going for a full on buffet at the Skyline Buffet & Grill Restaurant overlooking the city.  Quite the views!  And what a meal!  I was so stuffed after it all I couldn’t go back for a second helping of dessert.  Very unlike me.  Anyway, a big thanks to Tom and Margaret for everything in Rotorua.  It was really appreciated.    

Have to slow down for those Kiwis.  Shame we didn’t see any though.  It is a tough bird to see in the wild.  

The excellent hospitality continued into Hamilton.  Fiona also arranged for us to stay with her sister Susan.  We had a fun night out at this bar which had their weekly quiz night on.  Unfortunately Trevor and I weren’t much help but our team did end up walking out with a bottle of wine as the 2nd to last place team gets a bottle of wine.  So we didn’t leave empty handed!  Anyway, thanks Susan for letting us crash the night.  It too was very much appreciated.     

The New Zealand leg ends in Auckland, the City of Sails. 

An interesting find on my part.  Our hosts here in Auckland are in the process of moving house and they had a dumpster with a bunch of stuff in it.  I had a look and noticed old National Geographic magazines from the early 1960s.  Quite neat as I love looking back at old magazines and seeing how things looked and were back then.  Some of them had articles on the race to the moon and the advertisements were interesting with Canada buying a fair bit of ad space.  The Mounties were a big attraction back then it seems.  Anyway, I was especially intrigued by an article from the November 1963 issue on the newly formed Malaysia, which at the time Singapore was a part of.  Pretty amazing how much the landscape has changed over time. 

We spent a few days at Jack’s and Helen’s beach house in Mangawhai.  A very nice spot I must say with plenty of opportunities for water activities around.  I tried my hand at stand up paddle surfing.  It didn’t take long to get the hang of it.  The waters were crystal clear so it made looking for marine life rather easy.  I saw a school of fish and an eagle ray.   

Taking a stroll in the Sahara desert.  Well not quite.  But that sand dune could probably pass for one in the Sahara.  Anyway, a big thanks to Jack and Helen for their warm hospitality in and around Auckland.  It was much appreciated! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

World Famous Sandflies

From Queenstown and up the west coast the weather surprisingly cooperated with us for the most part.  There was only one day where we got absolutely drenched and ended up having to shorten our day.  It was like we were taking a bath all day long. 

Trevor still doesn’t like it here very much since he says it is cold and wet, has many steep hills, there are no shoulders, too much farmland and the prices are ridiculous.  True, the price of food has skyrocketed and this is by far the most expensive country we have been to but I am personally enjoying the scenery and fresh air.  Trevor doesn’t care for that though. 

I pick up many brochures en route to see what is ahead and have noticed there are many ‘world famous’ sights all over New Zealand.  Seems like everything I read is famous if not world famous.  Funny though how I have never heard of any of them prior to coming here.  Anyway, I get a kick when reading about all these ‘famous’ attractions.  I will say one thing they should be famous for is their notorious sandflies.  These nasty bugs are super annoying and bite like crazy.  Much worse than a mosquito bite as they itch and last longer.  My legs are bloodied up from all the itching.  Every time we take a break or set up camp we have to layer up completely so we won’t get bit.    

Yesterday we waited most of the day in Picton, the town where the ferry departs for the North Island.  Just as we were about to set off for our stealth camp spot we were approached by a kiwi couple who asked us about our trip.  They were very nice and gave us their leftover fries and even offered us a proper feast at their home in Te Awamutu.  They were a bit surprised we don’t eat any meat and that our current diet consisted of pretty much bread, margarine, oats and sugar.  Anyway, I told them I knew where Te Awamutu is since I had a former work colleague in London who was from there but she unfortunately passed away last year in a car crash.  I told them that and coincidentally they know her family very well.  So that was kind of strange, we both knew of the same person.  Complete randomness. 

On the milestone front we have been on the road for one year now and logged over 40,000km.  So far I am quite glad how this 2nd attempt is going.  The end is getting nearer… 

Right after Queenstown we took the Crown Range route which was quite hilly.  But where there are hills there are lookouts. 

Trevor at the highest paved road in New Zealand at 1076m.

Anyone in the market for some bras? 

Real frustrating seeing these signs plastered all over the country.  They sure don’t make stealth camping easy here.  
The day we got completely soaked.  And of course Trevor gets a flat out in the open exposed to the wind and rain and has to fix it while getting buckets of rain poured on him.  He got real pissed off as the patch didn’t work at first and then he popped his tube after pumping it too much.  It sounded like a gunshot and smoke came out of the tire.  I was startled and Trevor had trouble hearing for a short while. 

At Haast Pass which to me isn’t much of a pass at 563m.  The rain really kept on strong as we cycled down the steep road.  This of course was hard on the brakes and a bit dangerous in my view.  Slippery and steep surfaces are not a good mix.  

Aoraki/Mount Cook I believe is the one covered in snow. 

The world famous Franz Josef Glacier. 

Hokitika beach.

I checked out the world famous pancake rocks which were neat.  I had to weave my way through a bus load of Chinese tourists while I walked the loop.  Later one of them approached us while we ate our breakfast at a bench and said hello.  Then stared at us for about half a minute and then left.  Felt like we were back in China there for a minute. 

The layering and delayering ritual we have to do on a daily basis because of those irritating sandflies.  Just to sit in peace and eat. 
Last year Easter was very good to us with all the deals we got in Canada.  We often think back to those days of eating Easter jelly beans, eggs and chocolates.  However, Easter didn’t serve us well this time round.  I forgot the exact date it was and didn’t properly stock up on food.  When cycling food is very important and is our fuel.  So being without it for even a day is not a good time.  In Richmond which is in between Hope and Nelson (no I am not in British Columbia) we went to the Pak ‘N Save only to find it closed.  I was dejected and angry that the whole country was closed during the long weekend.  We cycled onward and Trevor spotted a sign advertising 2kg of gala apples for $2.  Sweet deal!  It was one of those roadside honesty shops where you put your money in a container and take whatever is on offer.  We have seen these before but usually there is nothing on offer or whatever is on offer is not a good deal.  So I was very pleased to see these apples and for a good price.  Probably should have picked up another bag.  I like apples.  I like food.

We have just arrived in Wellington!  From here we head north to Auckland…

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