March 12, 2008 South America

To the Bottom of the World

3 degrees South...43 degrees North...9 degrees North...12 degrees
South...55 degrees South. What do all of these readings mean?
South of the equator, then north of the equator, then south again.
We will be south until sometime in October and possibly until
Christmas. This e-group starts our South American adventures.

February 1, 2008. We were hoping for an easier time because there
are only 2 languages in South America (Spanish and Portuguese) and
the overall cost of living is lower. Well, to get to South America
wasn't very easy as we flew out of Panama City at 5:30 a.m. It was
a crazy route. First we flew north to San Jose, Costa Rica. Then
we flew further north to San Salvador, El Salvador. Next to Lima,
Peru and then finally to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Only 26 hours after we
took off...we had landed. The bikes made the flights just fine. We
were totally exhausted.

12 degrees South. We stopped in Brazil to meet up with a young
professional couple whom we met in Geneva, Switzerland. Fabio
(fisheries biologist) and Larissa (physical therapist) hosted us in
their small apartment in Sao Carlos. We were able to meet both
Fabio and Larissa's families. It was really cool to meet the family
because it helps you get an inside look at what makes the person who
they are. (Can I blame my family for the way I am or can Jacky give
her family any credit for the way she is? I think so.) The
Brazilians are very affectionate and many signs of public affection
were shown in all forms. We spent our week with them hiking to
beautiful waterfalls and doing crazy things like standing under the
waterfall until you had an ice cream headache. We swam as far into
the waterfall as possible only to get pushed backwards by the strong
current. Jacky was going to show Fabio and I how to swim into the
waterfall. She headed into the current swimming and thrashing about
like an Olympic swimmer. Thirty seconds later she thought she was
going to hit the wall but low and behold she actually was 10 feet
farther downstream than when she started. (Summer Olympics in
China....Jacky will not be competing.) We were able to take in some
Carnival celebration but Sao Carlos is not like Rio or Sao Paulo, a
bit tamer to say the least.

Fabio enjoys fishing as much as I enjoy cycling. He took me to a
small lake, where we kayaked and fished. Our luck was good and we
caught 7 very nice fish, but only kept 4 to eat. Jacky really likes
to eat fish and said that maybe we could fish in South America to
change our cheese, bread, rice and pasta diet. I bought a
telescopic fishing pole in Brazil. We plan to circle back through
Brazil to meet a Rotary friend and have Fabio and Larissa join us
for some more fishing.

February 8, 2008. 55 degrees South. Ushuaia, Argentina - the
southern most city in the world. Our hopes were to see Patagonia
and understand the allure of the south. We imagined a small remote
village at the bottom of the world. We were surprised by the fact
that Ushuaia has 70,000 inhabitants. Its a very popular destination
for Europeans, Canadians and Argentinians along with many other
tourists. The city had a glacier within walking distance from the
center of the city. We climbed the mountain until we reached the
snow. The picturesque harbor had cruise ships from the north and
cruise ships heading to Antarctica. We were at the bottom of the
world. I was in heaven because I had achieved one of my trip's

Some very interesting things about Ushuaia are that the cash
machines are empty on Mondays because of heavy tourist traffic over
the weekend. The sun sets very late, about 11:00 p.m. The stars
are just fantastic and vibrant. Its interesting because you see
constellations that you would NEVER see in North America. If you
want to be a star yourself, a rock star that is, you had better take
a nap. Most people go out for dinner around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. and
dancing and music start around 1:00 a.m. Jacky wanted to experience
some Argentinean night life so we took our naps and headed to a bar
at 12:30 a.m. At 1:30 a.m. the band started. We danced and reached
Rock Star status when we returned to our hostel at 5:00 a.m. Whew!
I don't need that anymore. Ushuaia is a starting and ending point
for many travelers. Our hostel was full of travelers and tourists
from Canada, Israel, Great Britain and Ireland.

February 10, 2008. I spent the day rebuilding the bikes. We added
front shocks and reinforced the racks for the start of our South
America travels. On the 11th we were on our bikes and trying to
leave town to head north. While we were at a bank machine we met a
young lady from the Iowa City area who just happened to attend
Luther College (Luther College is the college in Decorah, Iowa...our
home). Small, small world. She noticed our Decorah Bicycle

Things were going really well for the first 1 1/2 days. It wasn't
too hilly, a little tail wind, beautiful scenery, low traffic and
good roads. Well, the hills went away, the plains started, the wind
picked up and the scenery didn't change. Welcome to PATAGONIA!!

Patagonia can best be described as huge areas of huge areas of
unchanging Panpa, beautiful mountain ranges, harsh deserts, and
relentless, down right horrible winds, always coming out
of the north, northwest or west. It was a major mistake for us to
go from south to north. We were heading directly into it most of
the time. On day 2 in Patagonia we found this out in the worst
way. We were traveling from Tolhuin to Rio Grande, only 100 km away
(a distance we had ridden every day in Europe). It was when...after
5 hours in the saddle that Jacky was blown off the road for the 3rd
time, that oncoming rain and only 60 km were covered, that there
were no towns to find refuge... that we decided to flag down a
truck. After querying our truck driver friend we learned that the
wind blows everyday and that it was actually "light" today. What in
the world is it like when they have a hard wind?!? So, if I mention
wind again it will mean something greater than the constant 45 to
60km wind that we experienced. Our biking speed had been 21 to 24km
per hour but now we were at 8 to 10km per hour (5 to 6 mph).

A new phrase for us was never to beat the wind. Along with that we
realized the maps were very difficult to read. A city marked by a
large circle on a map should mean a large town, right?. Guess
again. It may only mean that they are thinking of having a town
there. We started the trip with 3 rules that are listed on our
website. We added to these rules. Rule 4: If you see food in
South America....BUY IT! You never know when you are going to reach
a town or what kind of weather or road conditions you might run
into. We are buying food for a 3 day reserve. Rice and dried beans
have become staples in our diet. Rule 5: Ask at least 4 people
about your route. Nothing is accurate.

Along with the wind we have experienced very poor narrow
roads...huge rocks, deep gravel and no guard rails. The day we
headed west out of Chile Chico started out to be very nice. It was
a beautiful sunny day. (We planned on taking the ferry across the
lake but it went on Tuesday and this was Thursday. It would have
been a 5 day wait.) The route around the lake had low traffic and
incredible vistas. Then the wind kicked up, the road got very
narrow and steep and the gravel became deep and rough. We were
having to push our bikes up the steep loose gravel hills. (Jacky's
and my arms were aching.) We thought "well, at least we get to ride
down the other side". No, no, no! Not the case! We had to walk
down the hills because of the very loose gravel and the fear of
being blown off the edge of the road. (I do not walk down hills!!)
Jacky was actually blown over. Luckily, she did not get hurt. We
found wind refuge at a small farmstead after 6 1/2 hours in the
saddle and only 48km ridden.

Interesting Sights:
1. Torres de Paine: This is a very steep area of Chile and very
beautiful (note to hikers). When the map says means
windy! We hiked up to the Towers which are 2 large granite rocks
that were internationally determined as world phenomenons. On our
way down a storm started to brew. Jacky was crawling on her hands
and knees and the wind was carrying her over the edge. She grabbed
onto a rock and I dove on top of her. The sand was driving into my
skin and it was painful. The wind let up for a second and I yelled
to Jacky, "Go, Go, Go!" Our hearts racing we got off the mountain
before the real storm hit.

2. Moreno Glacier - El Calafate: This is a "must see". 11km of
spectacular glacier. It had an 80 meter front face and it was
calving. We sat for hours and just listened to the roaring of the
ice as it would crack and fall into the icy waters below. Three new
friends from Buenos Aires made the day very special for us.

3. Rio Tranquillo: The emerald color of the water and its clarity
made it look like it was from a movie. It was the most beautiful
body of water I have ever seen. It was surreal.

4. Andes Mountains: They are different from the Rockies or the
Alps. They are very large and rugged with pointy peaks. They are
powerful and take no prisoners. They are incredibly beautiful and
very, very scenic. (Quite a challenge to bike over though.)

5. Guanacos: This animal is like a llama but larger. It runs like
a deer. They are everywhere in southern Patagonia. Jacky almost
took one out as it ran in front of her as she was biking downhill.

6. Road Kill: A HORSE! First time for this!

Interesting Places We Free Camped:
1. Estancia. Estancias are very old farmsteads that will sometimes
let you stay there. We camped in front of an old building for
protection from the wind. We were 70km from no where. We thought
the owner asked us if we wanted to use his stove to cook our food.
So, we took our rice and pots inside. Much to our surprise he had a
nice meal prepared for us...meat and potatoes. Again
miscommunication with the language.

2. Police Station. (This was by choice.) The police offered us
their yard to camp in after the truck that we were hitch hiking in
broke down and the police towed us in.

3. Bakery. Tolhuin is a small town. When asking directions of
where to camp we were offered a room above the guys bakery
business. Its pretty nice to wake up to fresh bread.

4. Dump Yard. I was fishing along a trout stream and we camped in
the building materials dump yard. The 2 American fishermen that
were with us said, "We are at the most beautiful place in the world
and they choose to camp in the dump." However, I did construct a
stove to cook my fresh brown trout on.

Interesting People We Have Met:
1. Tal and Talli: a young couple from Israel. They gave us a ride
in an old truck that they just bought and it broke down. This is
when the Argentinean Police towed us in.

2. John and Phil: Two American guys on a fishing trip. They
reminded us of the two guys in "Grumpy Old Men". They taught me how
to trout fish.

3. Pepe, Emilo and Unhen: Three guys from Buenos Aires. They
taught us how the Argentineans eat cordero (lamb) and drink red
wine. They actually add water and ice to their red wine! Not good!

4. Fidel: He was a semi driver who gave us a ride to El of the days we were ditching the wind. He slammed on
the brakes of the semi and raced across the road to catch a
mullito. It looks like a small armadillo. The live mullito was a
passenger with us, soon to be on the barbecue (a delicacy).

5. Belgium Biker Guy: We were on a gravel road in the middle of no
where. (Please go to your dictionary and atlases and look up "no
where". We were there.) He biked up to us and asked if we had seen
TV lately. We replied, "no". He said, "Just to let you know that
Hilliary took the lead over Obama. She got Wisconsin and Hawaii."
Its just amazing how the world is watching the U.S.

Pathetic Moments:
Pathetic: We must have looked pretty pathetic to cause a huge dump
truck to stop and offer us a ride to Puerto Natales. Maybe 5 hours
of bucking a head wind and biking only 5 to 6 mph would make anyone
look pathetic.

Rewarding Moments:
1. When I caught a small trout for supper one night (my first
fish). It wasn't enough to fill Jacky or I up but I knew I would
not starve.

2. I bought a telescopic fishing pole and was looking for a reel at
a second hand store. I didn't have much luck at the store but I did
find a new Abu Garcia fishing reel on the side of the road. What
are the chances?

Diet: It hasn't changed much. We are still eating rice, pasta,
bread and cheese. We have started to soak dried beans in our water
bottle and then we'll cook them up. That's a nice addition. We
hope to add fish. Does anyone having any fishing tips for me???
Argentina is known for their beef, NOT FOR THEIR FRUITS AND
VEGETABLES! We have had beef on a couple of occasions. Fresh fruit
and vegetables are almost non-existent. What is available is
typically very shriveled and moldy. But, they will have a whole
aisle for rice! I guess you can see where their priorities are.

Well, that brings you up to date. Whew! That was a long one. Until
next time....
Adios Amigos!
Ward and Jacky