Breaking Chains and Not Burning Rubber

BREAKING CHAINS - Freedom: Cycle touring is the greatest way I have found to experience freedom. Whilst I celebrate mine I hope to help others gain and realise theirs, and protect ours, by fundraising for Amnesty International

NOT BURNING RUBBER - Environmental Awareness: Cycling is one of the most efficient and sustainable modes of transport. It's slow speed allows you to become more aware and connected with our surroundings, and therefore the pressures that they may be under. I intent to have a minimal negative impact on the environment whilst I travel, and will share my observations and experiences about my journey, environmental issues, and sustainable living here:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Street Life

The streets in BA are full of life, fast colourful buses rush past you as you walk through the narrow streets, bikes with unusally high handlebars (will add a photo soon!) weave through the traffic, and beautiful people dart across the roads when they dare or get a critical mass togather to force the cars to stop.
Along with that there was an election at the weekend, the city square was packed. Amazing to see so many young people celebrating there President retaining office. Can't imagine David Cameron or Jon Key attracting much of a youth following.....

Below is a photo of me in the middle of the widest avenue in the world, at least 14 lanes!!

There are a few cycle lanes in the city and tours of the city of sections of the city seem quite popular. I have found if I stick to the main avenues it is easy, on the narrow one-way streets I end up jumping on and off the pavement annoying both the pedestrain and motor traffic.

BA is busy 24hrs a day and for me beats New York and London for the city with the "buzz" title. I have had nearly two weeks here now "trying" to learn Spanish, it has been fun but for a mono language English speaker it is slow progress. I will spend another fortnight here volunteering at a urban farm / garden at a phyciatric hospital that is used for reabilitation before heading on the road again via a ferry to Uruguay.
The route of my second Leg looks awesome: along the Uruguay coast via the beautiful beaches and capital, Montivideo, then north inland through the country, possibly dipping into Brazil or back into Argentina, towards the, apparently stunning and mighty, Iguazu falls on the tri-borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Then I hope to be joined by a keen cycle tourist from my Spanish classes for a week or so through Paraguay to Asuncion the capital, before I head through the wilderness of the Chaco and onto the Andes (again) of Boliva.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Good(s) air

After cycling for over 2000ks from Santiago, at Latitude 33S, to 22S in the Tropics (Tropic of Capricorn - 23S). I am now further south than where I started, with a huge unplanned overnight bus leg (23hours) from Salta in NW Argentina to the capital Buenos Aires, 34S.
Christchurch, NZ - 43S
London - 51N
*The equator is 0*

BA was on my origanal route plan, but due to my route taking me to the north of Chile in an attempt to find a way over the Andes, I had crossed it off. However, with my limited spanish I am in real need of some lessons and the "good air" city is one of the most popular spots in Latin America for Gringos to learn Espanol.
Plus it means I have a obvious and interesting route NW to Boiliva via the mighty Iguazu falls on the Brazil / Argentina / Paraguay border with the possibility of cycling through Uraguay and the gringo-free Paraguay (haven't met anyone who has been there yet!).

So, Leg 1 is complete - 2300kms from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama

I will spend two or three weeks in BA learning Spanish and planning my new second Leg.

Not to sure about "good air" lark though, when we arrived in the city a lot of people were coughing due to volcanic ash been blown over from Chile.....

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Finding my limits

I set off from San Pedro in good condition with the bike (now named Ula) fully loaded with food and water for the 500km section to Salta Argentina. The first part, after checking out of Chile at imigration, was the steep climb upto 4800m.I gave it my best shot BUT I couldn't make it.

I started well, passing the mine fields that are still left from a conflict with Boliva I made steady progress, but as I got higher the altitude hit me hard and I ended up having to stop for a break every couple of hundred metres. For 10ks I walked, then feeling utterly exhausted I pulled off the road and looked for a camping spot, thinking that a decent rest and a night at the height could make tomorrow better. But as I looked at the amazing volcanic peak (5950m) that was now alongside me I evaluated the situation, with 123k still ahead of me before the border and the first water stop, all between 4300 and 4800m, I knew inside that I had found my limit and had been beaten. My lungs felt like they were been stretched with each breath, my head was throbbing, and I was weak. I got back on Ula and headed back down to a comfortable altitude.
It was a hard decision and I am gutted to say the least. As I rolled back down the mountain I wondered where this left me and my trek...was this the end of it?....should I refund the donations? the hell will I ever get through Boliva and Peru?...what will people think?...etc etc
I returned to San Pedro, checked back into the system at immigration and managed to find my way back to the hostel that I had been staying at just before dark - coming down the mountain had been a quick return to comfort and safety.
One of the reasons I abandoned the crossing at the early stage was that it was a bit of a "point of no return" - if I had continued and passed the first 4800m summit I would then have been stuck at high altitude without been able to just turn around and roll down to safety. I clearly knew that I was putting myself in a dangerous situation and would be reliant on passing traffic (which was limited) for water and help.

After checking how far I got on google maps I reached between 4200 and 4400m before turning back. The highest I have ever been.

I enjoy cycle-touring because it gives me a sense of freedom, I didn't feel free making the crossing, or cycling across the the Atacama desert. With the passing coaches - Stupid? Yes.
If I want freedom then I would allow myself to take a bus or train and enjoy the advantages that cycling gives as I feel necessary. The beauty of a bike is that you can do that!

So, with my tail between my legs I got on the bus and looked out of the window from the comfort of a reclining seat at the route that I would have taken. It was amazing landscapes - salt lakes, high altitude desert, and as we dropped into Argentina colourful gourges, giant cacti, Llamas and Vicunas.

Could I have tackled it better or different?
Most cyclists I have spoken to use coco leaves (from which cocaine is made) to relieve the effects of altitude. Before you dismiss this as drug abuse, don't you relieve your fatigue with another - caffeine? In Chile coco leaves are illegal, but I have now heard they are available in San Pedro (I didn't look). In Boliva and NW Argentina it is legal. So maybe I could get some help for when I tackle altitude again. But do I really want to be stuffing myself with it? Is it good for you? Apparently it suppresses your hunger - that can't be good for a long distance cyclist.
The other advice is to take more time to get used to the altitude, but that means getting there slowely and having enough supplies to do that. On the crossing I tried water was unavailable, and conditons very harsh - no shade, and limited shelter.

I got told a few years ago that I have a "mild obstruction" in my lungs, and was told to use inhalers (which I don't). Maybe that is a reason why the altitude hit me so hard. Even in San Pedro, at around 2500m, I felt breathless at times.
Extremely dry and hot climates I can do, altitude I cannot, but at least I gave it a go......

I am now in Salta, Argentina - which is a beautiful city with a clear difference to Chile. Daniela (she came on the bus as she had planned) and I hope to find somewhere to learn spanish for a few weeks, and I will probably take a few more weeks off from cycling before heading off on the road again - this time at a slower pace and allowing myself the freedom of jumping on a bus or train if I feel the need.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Going up in the world

I have been chilling out and enjoying some touristic sights in San Pedro de Atacama, altitude 2800m. I have been amazed at the green fields in the town and old waterways running through the streets and sections. I went on a touristy tour to see some geysers (not geezers!) at 4300m and my breath was taken away by the landscape and altitude, plus saw Vicunas (small Llamas) and Flamingoes on the way back, awesome!

Tomorrow I will set off on the toughest section of my ride so far, the route to Argentina over the Andes via the Paso de Jama - I have marked the route on my map.

The route ahead of me will take me straight up to thin aired height of 4800m - 1000metres higher than Mt.Cook, NZ and nearly 5 times higher than the highest peak in England! It then stays between 4200 and 4800m for a couple of hundred K's before dropping slowly into Argentina, where I will give up any wanna-be vegeterian thoughts and get stuck into as many protien packed steaks as possible!

Wish me luck!

A touch nervously, Ric x

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Atacama 2: In sickness and in health

I have now arrived in San Pedro de Atacama after 4 days on the road going at a steady uphill through the desert.

There was however a few issues that made it a tough section....
1. Wind. After battling the strong westerly wind on the way into Antofagasta I had hoped to catch a lift back up into the desert on it and even through it. This didn't really work out and the best I managed was a tail breeze in the late afternoons. I did however get hammered by the head on easterly winds. Which on the first night nearly blow me and my tent away. A gusty side on gale also wipped up a bit of a sand storm that was an experience to ride through.
2. Dysentry. After yet more poor quality food in the city I managed to get some trouble in my bowels. It didn't make for a great last night of preparations in town and also had me squatting at the side of the road in a few spots (One freedom cycling does give is that you can stop and go to the toilet when you need to. In the desert however there is little privacy, and any dignity is well lost!).
3. Altitude Sickness. On the forth day of this section I climbed to over 3400m. It was amazing to feel the effect of altitude on my body for the first time - like I had suddenly lost all my strength and had got a strange hangover from somewhere without the pleasure. Thankfully it passed after struggling on for a while. With my next section taking me to well over 4000metres it is something I will need to plan for.

Well with those few issues and the fact that I had only spoken face to face in full sentences to one person in 21 days ment my second day was a real low and had me erecting my tent bend over double with stomach pain in the dark (the wind was in my favour in the evenings). I got straight in my bed without dinner and dreamed of happy times back in NZ and England.

On the positive at least the bike and equipment was all performing well, plus no sign of rain!

But the morning was brighter, and I was given a lift when I discovered a fruit leather from TreeDimensions Orchard in NZ (a bio-dynamic orchard where I did some work experience back in Easter). I had been saving it for this reason. I followed that with a descent breakfast and got stuck into the ride to Calama, a modern mining service town with all the services needed.
My spirit was further lifted just prior to reaching the town by a train driver hooting away at me and raising his mug of coffee out the window to me.

After I had crossed over the pass at over 3400m on the fourth day I descended towards San Pedro and the scenery became stunning - volcano peaks, weird rock formations, and dramatic desert plains. Plus the greenery of the oasis that San Pedro de Atacama is sited in.

After 21 days on my own I'm glad to be back on the tourist / gringo trial, (for a few days anyway). Daniela is coming up to meet me, so we will spend a bit of time checking out all the local sights. I will also give my bike a bit of a maintenance check, the chain is in need of been changed (I have a chain checker with me that checks fhow stretched it is. I had been waiting as the new chain I have for it will just get hammered in the desert sand)

Oh and I crossed into the Tropics on the first day!