Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pleasant Surprises

Leaving Brazil and crossing back over the Rio Uruguay to re-enter Argentina wasn’t smooth sailing, just like the other river crossings we have had to do.  We were stopped at the bridge and told by this man monitoring traffic that no bicycles were allowed to cross.  He spoke in Portuguese, obviously as we were still in Brazil and I don’t know any, so I responded in English.  I soon noticed he wasn’t going to let up so I started to show my frustration and got annoyed with him.  There was a sidewalk and not much traffic.  So to me this was a ‘policy says no, therefore I can’t let you cross even though this isn’t practical and effectively quite stupid and really you should be allowed to cross with your bikes but computer says no’.  Anyway, he got annoyed back and we bickered for a bit.  Then he told us to just step aside and wait.  I thought he was going to wave down a truck so we could hop on and cross the 2km bridge but that didn’t happen.  Instead, he all of a sudden became nice and friendly and said okay, now we can cross.  I guess my persistence paid off.  We booked it across and were back in Argentina, where we stocked up on food aka dulce de leche once again.

Back in Argentina we cycled through a lot of miserable weather and eventually made it to Posadas with the plan to enter our final South American country, Paraguay.  I enquired earlier at a tourist information office if we can cross the bridge over from Posadas to Encarnacion on our bikes and they said yes, so we kept on.  We arrived at the busy bridge and surprise surprise, bicycles could not cross.  I didn’t get very annoyed as we had the alternative plan of just staying on the Argentine side and going up to Puerto Iguazu instead.  That is what we did but the Ruta 12 became quite busy early on.  I was driven off the road a couple of times as some drivers just can’t be bothered to hit the brakes for a brief second or two and give a bit of space.  Nope, instead they honk their horn like an idiot and just keep on driving straight while increasing their speed.  This of course forces me to cycle into the dirt shoulder and immediately after yell out profanities at them even though they can’t hear me.  So enough was enough and we decided to get off Ruta 12 and detour well out of our way.  We got back on the Ruta 12 later as Trevor saw some pictures of the road on Google Earth and saw that there was… get this… a hard shoulder later on!  Wow!  So it wasn’t that bad, except for the fact the terrain was nonstop undulations.  Straight up only to go straight down.  Repeat.  Always has to be something for me to get pissed at.

Amazingly, there were no problems crossing over the Rio Parana from Puerto Iguazu to Foz do Iguacu and then over to Ciudad del Este.  But I have to say, South America has got to step it up with these river crossings.  They just aren’t bicycle friendly.  Build a walkway on the bridges or at least have boat crossings if bicycles aren’t allowed to cross.

Getting to Asuncion there was a lot of bumpy road.  But there was generally a hard shoulder all the way and the price of food in Paraguay wasn’t that bad.  So comparing it to the other South American countries we have cycled in, it fared very well and was a pleasant surprise.  We camped the first night in the country but got a hotel the second night since accommodation isn’t extremely expensive.  And with that hotel, we both had a much needed shower, something we have done without for just over a month.  It was nice to be somewhat clean again.  This was the longest on this trip we have not showered.  The last time prior to that was in Pucon, Chile. 

Once in Asuncion we headed for the Botanical Gardens and looked for the campground.  While searching for it a cyclist approached us and tried to help us find it.  There didn’t seem to be a cordoned off area for campers and to make matters worse there were plenty of people at the park.  It was a Sunday after all.  The cyclist, named Carlos, said that camping at the park is dangerous and offered for us to stay with him and his family.  Nice guy and we of course accepted.  We cycled to the waterfront and there waited for a cycling group he is part of.  While waiting we were approached by many people wanting to know who we were and about our trip.  One conversation we had was with two girls and one of them said I was like Forrest Gump.  The other commented that meeting us makes her not worry as much about her future since I guess we appeared to be carefree and what will be, will be.  Que sera, sera.  I guess I should take that as a compliment.  Though believe it or not, I actually fret a lot about the future and what is next (my mom can vouch for this).  I still have no idea what to do after this world tour.  Trevor is lucky, he has a plethora of ideas and things he wants to do or try to do after this trip.  Anyway, the cycling group arrived soon after and we met more friendly people.  One of them, named Israel spoke excellent English and had lived in Vancouver for 3 years a couple of years back.  What are the odds?  So he became our translator for the night and even interviewed us for the group’s Facebook page.  We also met Carlos’ brother, Jose, who formed the group Lamberbici, which promotes cycling in the city.  Good on all of them for getting involved with cycling.

In other news I have uploaded the next lot of videos on Youtube.  My ramblings in Australia, New Zealand and South America are now on the channel. 

In a couple of hours we hop on our final airplane journey to Miami and enter our 41st and final country on this trip before getting back into Canada.  Once off that plane, the only thing separating us and Vancouver will be a lot of asphalt.  Bring on the United States of America!

This sucks.  Just getting drenched back in Argentina.   

A first for us: camping behind a billboard sign. 

Shut down trying to cross over from Posadas to Encarnacion.  But I try to be a positive person, always looking at the positives and never the negatives.  There were a few: our Argentine pesos could go much further in Argentina than exchanging them, the terrain is a bit flatter (or so Trevor told me), and there would be less border crossings since we were originally planning to hop over into Foz do Iguacu. 

A rebel without a cause.

Jungle camping outside the Iguacu National Park in Brazil.  Not a huge fan of camping in thick jungle as there are lots of noises throughout the night and we even had 3 people near our tents late in the evening.  I have no clue why they were tramping through the jungle late in the night.  All I know is I was freaked out they would tramp right into my tent.  But thankfully they didn’t.  Seriously though, who takes leisurely strolls through thick jungle late in the evening? 

Trevor, who loves his waterfalls, was actually impressed with the Iguazu Falls from the Brazilian side.  And he stated they were the best waterfalls he has ever seen.  I was surprised by this given most every attraction he has seen usually disappoints him or doesn’t live up to the hype.  But the Iguazu Falls stepped up the game.  And that was even on a gloomy day.  Imagine if he had seen them when the sun was out!

I couldn’t leave Brazil without an acai sorbet hit.  I was introduced to this stuff when I first visited Brazil many years ago.  Not the cheapest treat but very delicious.  And high in antioxidants! 

Pretty much all of the gear we wear has holes or rips in them.  And when walking through supermarkets and in public places it probably isn’t great as a lot of skin is on display.  I say it provides good ventilation.  I hope I can wear everything all the way through until the end but am not so optimistic.  Trevor sadly had to stop wearing his shoes as they have become a hindrance.

Paraguay gets points for having a hard shoulder but the big downside was they have bumps like these pretty much every 30m to 50m.  So lots of accelerating only to slow down, hit the bump and then accelerate again.  It wasn’t bad though in the middle portion of the stretch of road from Ciudad del Este to Asuncion but in and around the big cities the bumps were out in full force.
Great times cycling with the Lamberbici group.  They even gave each of us their cycling jerseys.  So now I can wear something that doesn’t have a hole in it!  And Trevor can stop wearing his tattered t-shirt which he uses as a cape.  We cycled into the night and later were treated to some delicious grub at this meat joint.  Good times. 

A massive thanks to Jose for all the hospitality provided while in Asuncion.  He drove us to the bike shop and arranged for our bikes to be packaged away.  And then from there took us to the airport.

Goodbye Asuncion.  Definitely exceeded expectations and was thoroughly surprised by the warm hospitality the people provided. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lions and Tigers and a Bear, Oh My!

When we last left our bicycle adventurers they were struggling to get across the Rio Parana.  And not being able to cross at Santa Fe would change their route dramatically through South America. So did they make it across into the Entre Rios province at Santa Fe?  Yes they did.  But how?   

Basically we got to Santa Fe and discovered at the bus station that cyclists are not allowed to go through the tunnel that leads to Parana on the other side of the Rio Parana.  So the only way over was to take the bus.  Not bad at 5 pesos a person and we could easily fit the bikes on at no extra charge.  It took us 30km from Santa Fe to Parana.  Once on the other side there was a sigh of relief as it would have been a great burden to continue north to Paraguay and thus changing our planned route. 

The rest of Argentina was kind of dull with rolling hills.  Those rolling hills continued for a good portion of Uruguay.  But Uruguay presented us with something we had not seen in a long time: a hard shoulder.  I got excited but maybe a bit too much because it would turn to crap at times.  So bad that I would cycle on the road proper.  But the traffic was minimal most of the time so all was good.    

Our main struggle through Uruguay was keeping well fed.  I have to say Uruguay is one of the most expensive countries yet when it comes to stocking up at the supermarket.  And that is saying a lot.  It was a huge step up from Argentina.  So any bicycle tourists take note, stock up in Argentina!  We got by primarily on mandarin oranges and instant mash.  We did get in our much needed dulce de leche hits which Trevor says without, would make South America a very tough continent to ride through as that is what keeps him going. 

We crossed over to Brazil at Santana Do Livramento from Rivera in Uruguay and at first didn’t even know we crossed the border.  There is no fence or anything that divides the two countries, just two cities side by side.  So we cycled back into Uruguay, found the immigration office, got stamped out, then cycled again into Brazil and got stamped in. 

Not a whole lot of excitement for us in Brazil as we didn’t really cover much ground.  Passed through a few towns but for the most part just cycled the rather dull countryside.  Judging though from what we did cycle I will say it was probably a really good thing we didn’t go to Rio de Janeiro as the roads most likely would have been chaotic to cycle on.      

We now head back into Argentina with their no hard shoulders but better food options and head for Paraguay.   

It is never fun transporting bicycles on another mode of transport.  Just hassle.  But luckily our bikes fit on the bus nicely and all went well. 

Our last night in Argentina we camped behind this display and there were lots of banners around protesting something.  We didn’t know what all the hype was about at the time but I later found out the Argentine side doesn’t like the Uruguayan side for setting up some multinational paper factories that pollute the Rio Uruguay. 

What’s this?  A hard shoulder!  But don’t get too excited.

We lucked out our first night in Uruguay and stumbled upon a free campground with electrical outlets in the town of Jose Enrique Rodo.  We had the park to ourselves so it was pretty sweet.  They have these all throughout Uruguay I believe.  Unfortunately we only hit this one. 

Got into Montevideo on a foggy day and was greeted by a stray dog at Plaza de Independecia. 

I wouldn’t say he loved it but he didn’t hate it.  I would also say I was quite surprised Trevor went along and posed for this shot.    

I love going to zoos especially when the price of admission is free.  This particular zoo was in the town of Durazno and I was impressed with it.  Usually when you have exotic animals like lions, tigers and a lonely bear you could charge a hefty fee.  But this one was free for some reason.  They also had pumas, rude baboons that would fling their peckers for the world to see and start pissing in front of me, capybaras, caimans that hissed at me, toucan Sam, reindeer and llamas among many others. 

I think though some of the animals were rescued or sadly injured because some were not in the greatest of shape.  I saw a couple of animals with a lost limb or in this jaguar’s case, a lost ear. 

We met Sirela who works at the tourism office in Durazno.  She arranged for a photographer to take our picture and journalist to interview us for their local newspaper.  The photographer came and snapped a couple of shots but they couldn’t get a journalist over.  So she ended up interviewing us.  Always neat to be interviewed. 

A unique mountain before we entered Tacuarembo.  Lots of gauchos around these parts.  

Trevor, most likely reminiscing about video games he used to play in his youth (something he does a lot en route), indulges in some Uruguayan dulce de leche as a three legged dog looks on.  He declared the Uruguayan dulce de leche his favourite thus far.  I agree it was one of the best yet but my top spot goes to the San Ignacio brand from Argentina.  As you can see, dulce de leche is a big deal for us here in South America. 

Cycling through the town of Quarai in Brazil really got me annoyed as they have cobbled bumpy roads all over.  It kept jostling my stuff loose and knocking things off.  I became really frustrated and ended up just walking through a lot of the town.  Build smooth roads please, not cobbled bumpy surfaces like this. 

Farewell for now Brazil.  I know it was a short stint in your country but we plan to return for an even shorter stint later… 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Change of Plans?

Riding through Argentina there has been a lot of good: friendly people, flat terrain, cheap food, and many gas stations where we can charge electronics and get free wifi.  In particular, their supermarkets like La Anomina have delicious cold milk in sachets and cornflakes, something I haven’t had continuously I’d say since Turkey.  True they have these items in other countries we have been to but at a price that wasn’t within budget. 

I would even say the country has the makings for a top notch cycling country except one small factor which is kind of a really big deal for a cyclist: they have no hard shoulders.  This is huge and unfortunately because of this, it has made riding nerve racking a lot of the time with big ass trucks and other vehicles zooming by.  Not fun when you are stuck riding the white line or have no choice but to ride within it.  Why couldn’t they have just slapped a bit more pavement on to widen the roads I will never know.

We did look for alternate routes regularly but most of the time it involved gravel dirt roads.  I hate riding on gravel dirt roads.  I get pissed real fast and curse nonstop on them.  I will never understand the bicycle tourists who go deep into Patagonia by riding gravel dirt roads and come out saying it was such a great time.  True the scenery is spectacular but how can riding on gravel roads be a good time when you have to constantly look down to see where you are going and having your head bob up and down because of the never ending annoying bumps.  I don’t get it.  I say this from experience as Trevor and I had to cycle the last 17km of Chile and first 13km of Argentina on crappy gravel dirt roads.  It sucked. 

We had a few incidences of freak weather.  The first was in Patagonia where the rain just came down in buckets.  So much that we took cover at this school out in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily the caretaker and his family were there and let us stay.  We were going to camp at the entrance but they would have none of that and let us sleep inside the school.  Extremely kind of them.  The man, who I would describe as a beret wearing gaucho (the South American cowboy) turned on the heater so we could warm up and in the morning had some mate brewing for us.  I declined the offer as we are both not big on tea, let alone herbal tea. 

We had another night where I don’t think I have seen and heard so much thunder and lightning.  For a good hour and a half we kept getting flashes of lightning and loud thunderous roars.  Then the rain hit.  And shortly after that my tent started flooding.  I started to worry that it would be similar to the storms we had in mainland Mexico, just like the one where we had to abandon our tents and run for cover.  Thing is we wouldn’t have had any cover to run to in this instance since we were camped in the bush on the side of this road out in Timbuktu.  Luckily the lightning, thunder and rain show ended at midnight and I could scoop water out of my wet tent.  Fortunately I did get some shut eye that night.  And as luck would have it, Trevor did not get flooded at all.  Why is it that I always get screwed when it comes to tent setup?  Not sure. 

Camping has proved to be okay in terms of finding spots.  Quite easy out in the sticks but when you get closer to civilization it gets a bit harder as expected.  One evening though, we were struggling to find something and going brain dead cycling through open farmland that just went on and on and on and on.  And not being able to listen to my mp3 player made it so much more boring.  Anyway, we had no choice but to cycle to the next town which was General Villegas.  I asked the staff at this gas station if they knew any spots to pitch a tent but they didn’t really know anywhere for certain.  It was about dark and Trevor suggested I ask the police who were just up the road.  I cycled up to them and they quickly stopped me and said no cycling in the dark especially down their national roads as it is very dangerous.  Of course I wasn’t keen to continue cycling and told them we were looking for a spot to camp.  After some thinking the younger cop offered for us to stay at the police station as he was doing the overnight shift there.  Sweet deal.  So that is what we did, camped in the backyard with three sheep and one goat on a leash.  Nothing strange there.  Once everything was set up I went inside the station and watched some television.  Then later three people walk in: a cameraman, reporter and translator.  Next thing I know I am doing an interview!  It was pretty fun as I have never done an interview on television before.  But kind of weird being in front of a camera with the light shining on my face.  They asked me the standard questions like how long have we been at it, why are we doing this, how is Argentina, how are the people here, etc.  The reporter also asked me jokingly why I declined to drink the mate that was offered to me earlier.  I think it is an acquired taste.  The whole thing lasted around 5 minutes or so.  I think the clip is on the internet somewhere but not sure where.  It was done by Cablevision Argentina.  Anyway, an interesting experience. 

We went through Rosario today and were planning to cross the bridge over into the Entre Rios province and make our way towards Uruguay, a country that has hard shoulders so I’ve read.  But when we arrived at the bridge it became clear bicycles are not allowed on.  Crap.  So we stood there for a good while thinking what our alternatives are.  After much deliberating we decided to press onward up to Santa Fe and hope we can somehow cross the Rio Parana there.  If we cannot we will then need to go even more north pretty much to Paraguay which will effectively ruin our planned route through South America.  Going into this continent I didn’t really know the exact route.  I originally planned ending in Rio de Janeiro but after looking into it further Brazil isn’t a great country to cycle in.  And crime is pretty bad there too, especially in the big cities of Sao Paulo and Rio.  So I decided we end the South American leg in Asuncion, Paraguay of all places.  Why is that you ask?  Well, for some reason the cheapest flight to Miami, Florida is from there.  So right now if we can’t cross at Santa Fe and are forced to continue north, we will probably end the South American leg in Montevideo, Uruguay.  Who knows.  Everything is subject to change!  

Leaving Chile was scenic with lakes and mountains around. 

A frustrated me riding on gravel dirt road just before we hit the Chile/Argentina border.  Volcano Lanin behind me.  

Trevor welcomes you to Argentina!  And more bumpy gravel dirt roads.

We went as far as San Martin de los Andes in the Lakes District of Argentina.  A nice spot and great place to exchange money as I got a really good rate on my Euro.  Not totally sure why I got way more for my Euro than the official rate.  Apparently they are working off the blue market as Trevor later informed me.  Whatever that means I don’t know.  In any event, I’ll take the more pesos given thank you very much. 

A bird that we have seen a lot of in Argentina. 

Barren Patagonia. 

More barren land in Patagonia.  Pretty neat to see but after a while it gets rather dull.  

Figuring out alternative ways to fill up on water when out in the middle of nowhere.  This was also the day when we slept inside the school because it rained like crazy.  I was taking a bath out there in addition to filling up on water.

Trevor taking it easy inside the school.

See?  No shoulders.  Well this I guess would constitute as a soft shoulder but they are horrible to ride on.  Just like riding on gravel dirt road really.  I thought of a plan though; why not trade secrets with their neighbour Chile as they have proven they know how to build smooth, hard shoulders.  In exchange for this secret Argentina would provide Chile the know how to make proper dulce de leche.  That stuff is so much better here in Argentina. 

After Neuquen we found ways to get off the main roads and on to more quieter roads.  This particular road was actually alright most of the time but brought back memories of the roads in Turkmenistan where we had to weave our way through avoiding the potholes. 

Score!  Picked up a map in Santa Rosa of La Pampa province that showed which roads are paved.  It made riding through that particular province not so stressful.  Shame we couldn’t find similar maps for the other provinces. 

Trevor going crazy in La Pampa province as the terrain was just so boring.  Farmland that never ends pretty much sums it all up.  This stretch along the Ruta 188 just kept going straight with no bends and just same old for many, many kilometers.  I guess a bit like the Nullarbor except the Nullarbor wasn’t actually as boring since there were turns (aside from the 90 mile) and the scenery was much more interesting.  Oh and here you can also see no shoulder.  Although I think they consider that a shoulder.  Sorry but grass isn’t a shoulder to me.  

Many thanks to Fernando in General Villegas.  Great night at the police station.  He even cooked us up some delicious Argentine steak.  They sure do have real tasty beef here in Argentina. 

I got Trevor hooked on it.  What can I say dulce de leche is so much better in Argentina than anywhere else.  We both started out spreading it on bread but now just eat it straight out of the container.  So good. 

Not a fan of their siesta where smaller towns completely shut down for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  They look like ghost towns.  In this particular instance in Villa Constitucion we waited it out as we like our supermarket hits.  Siesta isn’t so bad in the big cities but in smaller towns they really observe it.

A question I get a lot from Trevor is ‘Why did we come here?’.  In this case, he was probably justified in asking.  I wanted to check out Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s birth home and well, as you can see, there really isn’t much to see.  A sign in front of the apartment building and that is about it.

Shut down.  Really a shame we couldn’t cross the bridge as the traffic didn’t really look that busy.  Argentina really needs to improve their infrastructure if they only have four bridge crossings to cross the Rio Parana.  But their number one priority should be to build hard shoulders!  In doing so would provide more room for drivers and make cyclists like me feel safer, less stressed and happier.  But seriously, it would reduce their high traffic accident rates I am certain.  This isn’t rocket science. 

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