Friday, 13 April 2007

The End...

And so to the final week...

From El Bolson, it was a final scenic, albeit rather hilly, 130km ride north to the chocolate heaven of Bariloche. Sitting on the edge of a large and beautiful lake, Bariloche is the primary destination for holidaying Argentinians, and for good reason. Situated in the Argentinian Lake District (a bit like the one in the UK, but on steroids), it is surrounded by national parks and has enough outdoor activities to keep one happily occupied for a good couple of weeks.

It was a beautiful place, but also marked the beginning of the end of my trip for me. It was a very sad moment when I came to dismantle my bike, wrap it in bubble wrap (if anyone knows the spanish word for bubble wrap, I would really love to know it...) and carefully stow it in a box for the journey home. The bike did me proud, I could scarcely have dreamed of it giving me so few problems. No mechanicals (the rubbish front pannier racks aside), 3 punctures and just shy of 3,000 kms on generally "challenging" roads.

The cycling part of my trip over, I spent the remaining time doing the more regular tourist things, first in Bariloche, and then finally in Buenos Aires.

Testing out a couple of different transport options, I explored the edge of the Patagonian steppe on horseback,

and then pottered around in a kayak on a nearby lake. A thoroughly relaxing way to spend an afternoon!

My time in Buenos Aires was generally spent wandering all over the city, probably best illustrated by a few photos,

The colourful buildings in Boca, the vibrant, slightly dangerous area near the football ground.

The graveyard! I've never seen such impressive "streets" of tombs...

I couldn't quite work out if these cranes were still being used, or had become part of the designer look of Puerto Madero, the newest district. I quite liked them though!

The infamous obelisk in the centre. When I saw it, there was a huge demonstration going on, blocking the whole of the centre of town. Apparently, it's a common occurrence!

And that's it really. I'm now back home in England, still struggling to put my thoughts and experiences into words. What should I say as an appropriate ending to my final entry in a blog of such an incredible trip?? I saw and did so much, that I really don't know where to begin, and if I did, I probably wouldn't know where to stop!

Looking back to the first entry I posted, back in December, I ended up doing everything I'd vaguely intended, and then some. I really feel that I saw both Bolivia and Patagonia, not to mention dipping my toe into Antarctica, and I love South America. It's such a vast, varied and exciting contintinent to explore. Fortunately there still remain huge tracts of it that I've yet to visit...
Bye for now,

Sunday, 1 April 2007

And back to Argentina

Hello again! This time, from Argentina again - the number of stamps in my passport is now becoming a little ridiculous given I´ve only actually been to a couple of countries!

Since it seems that for some unfathomable reason, people are still apparently reading my ridiculous ramblings, I´m sitting here in an internet cafe in the quiet town of El Bolson, having spent most of yesterday sampling some local Artesanal beers (all rather strong), sweating under the pressure and wondering what on earth I can write of interest... Don´t worry, no more about the roads! I survived them, and the rest should now all be paved...

It was really sad to say goodbye to my cycling companions from the Carretera Austral. It was great fun cycling together through such beautiful and wild surroundings, and I would have loved to have joined them for the remainder. Especially when I saw the bus I was doing the next section on...
Twelve hours on this beauty. Its only saving grace was that my bike was nice and safe from harm on the roof. I, however, had a splitting headache and was thoroughly exhausted when I finally manoevered my stiff body off the bus over thirteen hours later (one tyre change, numerous stops for I´ve no idea what, and one complete search of the bus by the police for stolen booze from a local shop... I could go on) in my destination, a tiny village called Villa Santa Lucia. Give me a bike over a bus any day!

Next morning, I was back on my bike heading east to the village of Futaleufu, and the border with Argentina. It was a lovely ride - no tailwind (of course), but a beautiful sunny day and gorgeous views.
The view from my campsite was just fantastic.

It was then a very easy ride over the border (hilariously, in their perpetual battle with Argentina, the Chileans had paved the last stretch of road to the border, despite the fact that for miles beyond, it was a terrible gravel road. Reassuringly, they had still somehow managed to incorporate some hideous ruts into the tarmac though...) and onto the Welsh town of Trevelin. Meeting up with a Welsh lady I´d run into a month earlier further south, we spent a very enjoyable afternoon in a Welsh tea-house. There are a number of towns in Patagonia that were founded by Welsh immigrants, and Welsh tea is a tradition they brought over with them... although not one that either she or I had ever heard of in Wales! Especially the cake filled with dulce de leche, a thick caramelised condensed milk, ubiquitous in Argentina, but not something I´m convinced has made it to Wales... Still, the immense pile of cakes was delicious, and rapidly devoured!
Sunset in Trevelin.

Between Trevelin and El Bolson lies the National Park los Alerces, and a lovely ride through rich forests, past massive lakes and mountains. Quite similar to some of the scenery on the Carretera Austral in some ways, but with different vegetation.

In fact, the range of vegetation I´ve seen in Patagonia has been enormous. Where else do you see glaciers and snow-capped mountains, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, eagles, condors and vultures, cypress trees, giant rhubarb and bamboo, to name just a few of the things I saw and could actually recognise? The diversity is remarkable. And as I leave the north of Patagonia and head from El Bolson to Bariloche, in the Argentinian lake district, the climate is now lovely and hot, and the area is known for its wonderful fresh fruits and honey.

And, consequently, there are rather a lot of bees around... Although I hadn´t really given them much thought. That is, until, having just suffered through 60kms of gravel roads, I was relaxing, enjoying my first fast descent on tarmac when one decided to fly into my lip... Thinking positively, at least it seems that I´m not allergic to bee stings! And as my lip swelled nicely, it gave me something else to focus on rather than the headwind... Although when a second one stung me on the neck, I wasn´t so amused...