April 27 2008 South America:

Crossing the Andes...Friend or Foe?

In our last egroup we left you in southern Chile. At that time we
were being buffeted by winds and being beaten up by the gravel
roads. Our progress was very slow at only 50 km per day. (We
normally like to bike 100 to 120 km per day.) However, the scenery
was spectacular with the most beautiful mountain peaks and the
clearest rivers of emerald green glacier water that you've ever
seen. Once again we must use the word "surreal". We took the ferry
from Chaiten, Chile to Puerto Monte: departure 8:00 pm, arrival 6:00
am. The ferry does not go everyday and so you have to wait until the
next one goes. Most of the goods come off of the ferry and then are
delivered by semi trucks. Puerto Monte, a larger city of 100,000
people, had buses, noise, stop lights and traffic. It seemed like we
came back to civilization. We had to remember how to ride in
traffic again. We headed north to Osorno, Chile which was 120 km
away. Fortunately we had a slight tailwind and a 4 lane road with a
wide shoulder. I believe we were back in heaven. To top it off
blackberries were very abundant in the ditches. In just five minutes
we picked over a pint. I said to Jacky, "I would really like to have
some ice cream with these berries" and about 2 km down the road
(basically in the middle of nowhere) there was an ice cream shop.
Fresh berries and vanilla ice cream, 85 degrees and a shade tree
pretty much defines heaven. We picked another pint to have for
breakfast the next morning.

When we were in Osorno, Chile a sheriff explained that crime has
increased in Chile since it is now a democracy and not a
dictatorship. He warned us that people will come up to us with
knives and try to steal our stuff. This is when we realized that
being in the large urban areas also meant that we needed to be more
secure with our things. Not only a sheriff but also the Rotary
members warned us about being safe. We took the words to heart.

The travel partners we had seen throughout southern Argentina and
Chile were changing. From Ushuaia to Bariloche, in and out of Chile
seemed to be the route of the Israeli youth just after their military
service. They hitched rides and we rode our bikes. Many times we
were leap frogging as we passed along the way. (We have decided a
middle east trip is very important.) Now into Osorno the hitchhiker
route was changing.

We started on our journey east from Osorno, Chile to Bariloche,
Argentina. This journey would include passing over the Andes. Our
first day of riding went well. There were lots of blackberries to
pick. We had nice roads and it was basically flat. We stopped for
a rest break at "Entre del Logos". The people were friendly and they
gave us good information about a city ahead where we could camp....we
thought. The information was not accurate and there was no city
ahead. It was more "an area" with no stores or place to camp, etc.
(Remember the rule, "see food, buy it".) We had to climb 10 km up a
11% grade hill to a National Park. We were able to camp there but
there was very little food and cold showers. We made do with what we
had. On the second day we continued on our way over the mountains.
It was 70 degrees and sunny at the start of the day. The grade of
the mountain was good and not too steep. Then the cloud cover came
and brought light rain with it, biking was still duable. We reached
the summit and there was a Rotary sign indicating the elevation and
latitude at that point, 45 degrees. What a great sign...you got to
love Rotary. As we started to descend the rain came down harder.
For you bikers out there you know that rain and bike brakes are not a
good match. Both Jacky's and my brakes were wore down to
nothing....rubbing metal to metal. We weren't generating heat
anymore and we were getting cold. The temperature had dropped into
the 40s. Now the situation became dangerous. Our hands were frozen
and our bodies were cold. We had no brakes. The rain came down
harder. The road became very curvy and, with my bike weighing 130#
pounds, it was hard to stop it. I was very scared. Many times I
thought I would just fly over the guard rail. God was with us and we
made it safely down the mountain and to the border. Our faces, hands
and feet were now blue from the wet and cold. Jacky was willing to
pay $100 for a room to stay in but there was no room to be found.
Also, we did not have $100 so that would have been a problem. There
wasn't a town or place to camp for 20 km. I convinced a bus driver
to let us hitch a ride to Bariloche. We were saved despite the fact
that we broke all three of our rules: must be safe, must be above 50
degrees and must not be raining.

We arrived in Bariloche at 10:00 pm at night all wet and tired. We
found the warmth and hospitality of an international youth hostel
very comforting. It provided us with a warm environment, a chance to
meet travelers from all over the world and an all-u-can-eat pizza
party for $6.00 which included two Heinekens (liter size) for the
price of one. We enjoyed live music and tried our hand at karaoke
(that was after we took advantage of the two for one Heinekens). The
international hostels are excellent places to stay with breakfast
included, cooking facilities available and exceptionally helpful
staff. We stayed three nights and enjoyed the natural beauty of the
area and some of the Argentinean flavor.

We were back on Ruta 40 and heading north to Mendoza to make another
crossing through the Andes. We got to Confluencia and we met an old
friend, "Mr Viento" (Did I mention that Jacky hates wind?). Our
decision was to either stay on Ruta 40 or to go to Route 151. Ruto
40 would give us wind and mountains. Ruta 151 would give us a
desert. We chose the desert. The map had no towns on it which
literally meant "no towns"...130 km of pampa and desert, very flat,
no streams, little traffic and no estancias or farms. Our planning
for food and water was very critical. Our over night towns were
Chocun, Neugean, Cartiel, Pelun, and then finally General Alvear.
Each day we were biking 100 - 130 km and it was primarily desert and
pampa. The road was flat, straight and you could see for miles and
miles. That, along with temps in the 90 to 100 degree range and 5 to
6 hours of direct sunlight can really work on your mental state. Our
excitement occurred when we stopped along the side of the road to eat
lunch. We were confronted with goat heads and thorns which resulted
in 3 flat tires within 1/2 hour. With our patch kit empty, tubes and
spare tubes flat the Argentinean hospitality came to our rescue. A
pickup truck delivered us not only to the town but directly to a bike
shop where we could get our needed parts.

The return to Argentina also meant the return to the "asado" - a term
used for barbecue. It is a cultural norm to have the asado with beef
or lamb. "Parillas" (grills) were found everywhere...at gas
stations, city parks and at every campsite. $1.50 per pound of beef
made it affordable to make meat a part of our daily diet. I loved it!

The Argentinean hospitality has been never ending. I will tell you
of some examples and give you three stories of where hospitality
abounds. A ranch owner stopped us on the road as we were biking and
asked us if we would like a ride, just because he was lonely and
wanted to talk. We've had people in cars stop and give us water and
fruit in the middle of the desert. A group of campers brought us
meat from their grill (this happened countless times.)

Story #1: In San Rafael, Argentina I stop to ask for directions. As
I am talking to the clerk a man, Alejondro, starts visiting with
Jacky about our bikes and our travels. We find out he is a very avid
cyclist himself. He works as the technical director of a radio
station in that city. After visiting with him for a short time he
asked if we would do a "live" interview over the radio. A fifteen
minute interview about our trip was quite a treat. My Spanish was at
its best. It was neat. People were calling the station and wishing
us luck. It doesn't end there. As we were leaving the radio station
the local newspaper approached us and asked if they could interview
us. Well, of course. After that another reporter from a different
radio station showed up and we did a "live" interview over his cell
phone. Not done yet. Alejandro then rode with us to our next
campsite and invited me to do an epic mountain bike ride with his
bike club. We rode 100 km in the pampas and mountains.

Story #2: It is Easter Sunday and we are in Cartel, Argentina buying
fruit. The store manager asks us about our trip. We explain our
trip and express to him that one of our goals is to learn all about
the Argentinean culture. The next day as we are leaving town he sees
us and waves as over to talk. He explains to us that his niece is
having a 17th birthday party and we should be at the store at 1:00 pm
to attend the party with him. Well, we can't pass up a real
Argeninean family function! So, we go. The family did not have much
money but they knew how to throw a top notch birthday party. The
grill had enough meat on it to feed an army. Wine was served and the
tango was danced. (The 15th birthday for a girl is an all night
celebration starting at 11:00 pm and ending at 7:00 am. For boys
their 18th birthday is the big event.) Then we were asked to stay
for a couple more days. We sure wanted to but had to decline to get
down the road.

Story #3: Holy week Thursday in Chocun, Argentina. We are camping
and making our asado (grilling our beef). We are camping next to a
set of grandparents and 3 grandchildren. The children, as always,
are very inquisitive about our bikes and all of our luggage. The
young 13 year old grandson, Nico, saw my grilling techniques were not
that of an Argentinean and so he invited us to be special guests of
his at his grandparents campsite. Conversation, steak, wine, Gernat,
more conversation...all the ingredients for a great evening. During
our conversation the grandmother "Eleanor" showed Jacky and I her
passion. She loved to hunt artifact arrowheads. She had two in
particular that were of great interest. One was 3000 years old and
the other was 2500 years old. True gems. The next morning the kids
came over to say goodbye. Eleanor and Daniel came over also and
wished us well. Eleanor took her 2500 year old artifact arrowhead
necklace off of her neck and put it around Jacky's. Her husband told
us that she has never sold or given away any of her treasures. This
was truly a priceless gift! Jacky wears this treasure as a sign of
the hospitality and the genuine kindness that we have encountered.

Our next egroup will include our recent haitus to San Diego for our
son, Ross's, graduation from the Marine boot camp as well as our time
in Santiago, Chile where we met new amigos.

We are off to Paraguay. Welcome to the jungle!

Take care everyone. Until next time...
Ward and Jacky Budweg