8 days on the road, 580km. Took the scenic route. Searched the wild path. Forked into the unknown. Chose the mountain forest over the river highway, just to keep things interesting. Camped 7 of 8 nights, rained out the odd one, nice to have a room. No rules, no record to break, nobody to brag to, no rush, no destination – just a vague direction. Riding to ride, to be present, not to get anywhere. Stopping often to take it all in, snap a picture, ingest calories like an animal without formality; more often letting the beauty pass by; you need to draw a line somewhere, and stay in the saddle, skip the photographic memory. Leg and core muscle memory came back surprisingly quick. Attitude fell right into line, about hills and rain and traffic and bothersome thoughts. Positive thinking, or the neutral, empty, meditative, fully-present void. I did all right.
Early into Day 7, my old friend the Wounded knee, returned. Stay calm, give it love, massage the tender tendons which burn during stationary moments, sensitive to the touch, stretched too tightly across my kneecap. You’re doing great. And together we managed 96k that day. Ow.
Day 8, maintaining a high milage to stay one step ahead of pending rain, today we’re tackling the incline of all inclines: straight up to 800m for the first 12k; and upon hitting the asphalt we learn today’s 2nd crucial fact: there’s a full-on head wind, like 50km/hr head wind. Up we go, so slowly, in my first gear, wind pushing me and my 115 pound bike back down, but my will makes sure we’re making a net positive.
All this alone time has, for once, been its own challenge. See, my mind’s currently still a muck of unresolved feelings regarding a troublesome epoch of my recent past. This undistracted vipassana leaves plenty of opportunity for me to deal with these thoughts; it’s all an exercise of moving on towards lighter and happier things, and it takes a tremendous discipline to dwell in the light.
This hill presented me a with an interesting proposition: Get to the top without stopping, and I’ll give you the power to say No (to temptation) and Yes (to discipline) regarding a certain nagging loose-end. So I basically challenged myself to a task of strength, will and endurance, in order that I may arrive at a place of greater discipline at the top, another greater ongoing and permanent challenge, the implicit agreement that accomplishing the former will give me the strength to tackle the latter.
Slowly, surely, with absolute resolution that it was a fact that I was going to the top, I pedaled into the sky. After an hour or so, enticed by a lovely lookout and picnic area over the city far below, my empty stomach growled loudly at me, and from the looks of it we might actually be there, so I checked my odometer for the first time that I dared to: 8km. The sky really opened up here, I watched my eagle brethren hovering in the updrafts, and the wind increased, blasting from the sides in addition to the relentless head wind. Up up and away, swerving and shaking resolute to my destiny.
Finally, at 14th km, the upward tilt was over, but the wind grew only stronger. My gut and I were anxious for nourishment, but in this simultaneously hot and sunny, freezing windy highland there was no shelter, so we ate at the road’s edge, all my things flying away including my patience. Where I anticipated the usual reward of a big hill: some down-hill, there was none, just gently rolling unprotected gusty highlands… for the next 20km. I recalled an audio snippet I made a couple days back, while moving at a good clip up a considerable incline. I screamed: “It’s my life.! It’s my challenge! It’s my glory!” But I wasn’t feeling the glory any more.
Alas came a descent, and 1km-down I stopped at a petrol station cafe to enjoy an orange Fanta – not at all too sweet in Eastern Europe – and the temporary lack of wind. I wanted to regain my composure so I could enjoy the descent. Topping out at 64km/hr on the steepest grades, my greatest highs seem to come with getting low these days. I’ll spend my next 3 days happily grounded at a friend’s place and resting Wounded knee for the next battle.
Relatively, Paraguay is not so well-known to the world outside, evident in its lack of tourist infrastructure and travelers. Besides the very few gringos I encountered during the Carnavale in Encarnación – I met and partied with all eight of them) – to my knowledge I was a lone tourist in every town.
Admittedly, Paraguay is small, and lacks any significant blockbuster attractions like its neighbors can all lay claim to. Even Iguazú Falls, which was hands-down the most impressive sight I saw during my jaunt here, I had to leave the country to experience (from the opposite shore.)
My entry into Paraguay from Bolivia was memorable, but not in the good way, starting with the bus ride. First off, when I booked the trip from the nearest Bolivian city, it was a 22-hour journey (that actually took 28), and my choices in transport were dismal, even by Bolivian standards, and cost six-times the fare (per hour) as compared with Bolivia’s nice, double-decker, air-conditioned, sleeper-class overnight coaches. Less than two hours into the journey, we already broke down with engine problems – which is why we traveled with a mechanic – but it hardly put me at ease. (See my barrage of tweets from Feb. 15 for the play-by-play.) Supposedly, nice buses don’t do the international trip from Bolivia. (wth?!)
Other highlights of the bus trip include:
the Chaco, or flat, bushy desert, monotonously unchanging for the whole time
the “all-included food and drink”, (to justify the price?): 3 identical plastic-wrapped fried chicken and white rice dishes; 1 packet of 20-cent cookies; and 2 small bottles of generic orange cola. No water. No napkins (just chicken-greased curtains.)
No A/C – it might as well have been called the fan – and No Opening the windows.
No rest-stops to re-up on supplies, stretch legs, buy water, or to use a real bathroom.
Immigration: taking Everything off the bus to be searched and questioned (for 2 hours), re-assembling and de-assembling my bike; and being told Not to come back to Bolivia (although I’m so allowed to for 50 more days this year, according to my understanding of the $140 Visa.)
No movie. No reclining semi-cama seats. No ironic loud music. No views. No fun. Not even a screaming baby. Extended-limbo; Purgatory.
The dirt road into Paraguay, a pot-holed dust-bowl. I came to understand why our only transport option was a shrieking, over-heating, convulsing bucket of bolts: anything better was too good for this road.
[ Picture, or lack-of: the Chaco. I didn’t even take a picture. ]
Upon arriving in the capital of Asunción at half-past midnight, I rode my bike around. No area map was to be found in the terminal, and no tourists to peek at their guidebooks, none even on my bus. But this part I didn’t mind, as splashdown-and-explore is actually really fun, in this case relief-fun, cruising free, fully-loaded, on a warm summer night, target of drunken-invitations, asking around in the streets where to find a hotel (and being led, for a tip, by s helpful street-kid hustling to make a buck.) 5km away, in the city center, I found a great spot, the cheapest in town, which rented by the hour. With private bathroom, working air-con, and cable TV, albeit at twice the price of any I stayed-at in Bolivia, I slept blissfully.
In the morning, I rode around in a stifling heat, checking out the government buildings, getting a Paraguayan SIM card (or chip for you Latinos), emailing couchsurfers, and happening upon many parts of town (sans map) in my quest to get back to the bus terminal. When I say it was hot, I felt like some sort of sexy athlete, absolutely drenched, dripping with sweat, pumping away at unfamiliar high-speeds on the smooth tarmac roads (never in Bolivia!), meeting incredulous stares (and thumbs-up) from all the terere-sipping locals. (Socially drinking cold máte is what everyone does here in-lieu of working.)
Aesthetically, I really like the look here. What draws my eye especially are the dilapidated, paint-peeling from concrete walls, quasi-Miami-deco architecture, palm tree-lined boulevards, and juxtaposition of brightest-green foliage on ubiquitous dusty, red-dirt roads, and black-tinted, late-generation Mercedes-Benzes. It’s not a rich country, but there’s some money floating around.
But it’s very chilled-out, and in an almost effortless way, Paraguay is chic. Maybe what I’m seeing is just a modernism that Bolivia didn’t possess, in materials and international influence specifically – it’s the next step up. And dang, so are the women. It’s almost unfair to compare though, because while Paraguayans have certainly embraced today’s Latino-American culture of sexy, Bolivia is in a league of its own so to speak.
I digress… What made Bolivia so impressively unique is it’s indigenous stronghold, where a majority of its people still live like they have for hundreds of years, in miraculous oblivion to the progress of post-Colombian history. And as if I’ve been in another world for the last three months, it’s supermundane to come out of it and see South America as I know it again, which is sexy, variably developed, a chip off the old European block, American.
My two couchsurfing contacts both happened to be Peace-Corp. volunteers, living in little-known villages far from the big smoke. I couldn’t be more pleased, as without guidebook, my only destinations so far were two cities that host Carnavale, and we all know I need some country to know a country.
In the evening I hopped a three-hour bus towards Coronel Oviedo, in the belly-button of the country, half-way to the Brazilian frontera, to rendezvous with my host Angelique, who had another couchsurfer from Sweden arriving that same night.
En route, a woman boarded to bus shouldering a basket full of fresh, warm, bagel-looking bread. Made of mandioca (yuca) flour, salt, some cheese baked-in, and a bit of anise, chipa was to become one of my favorite snacks. She rode the bus for a few kilometers, long enough to sell one to nearly every passenger for $.40 apiece, then hopped-off. Like humintas (tamales) were to me in Bolivia, chipa has become a tradition that I’ve come to savor daily, which appear on buses and street-corners nationwide, every afternoon following Siesta.
Welcomed in C. Olviedo with two friendly, English-language greetings, I was in a very new element. For the next few days, I got my first taste of the Peace Corps., which in my estimation is basically: really nice people, working more or less alone but with the community, using their expertise and passions to teach, improve, and contribute with their foreign but integral perspective.
This is quite enough for now, so I’ll write more about what I learned in Olviedo in Part 2: No olvido!, (meaning, Don’t forget!) I tend to do that…not come back to a topic, with much to elaborate on.
Iguazú Falls was incredible, mighty, beautiful! I don’t usually write about run-of the mill tourist landmarks, so I won’t, but I had a blast.
The moment in which I peered into the largest fall from above was truly humbling, and so dramatic with pouring rain and mist…what a rush. A 20-minute walk out on an elevated path takes you to the middle of mighty Río Iguazú, where you can look down into the furious horseshoe named Garganta del Diablo (Devil Throat), which I suppose in fair weather is photogenic, but in this drenched moment I didn’t dare draw my camera from its waterproof bag. Que lástima. Without a doubt however, the memory will instead be etched into my little soul.
Other highlights of my couple weeks in Paraguay include a stay for a few days in the campo with some Peace Corp volunteers, tending to the mandioca (yuca) plants and biking around on muddy backroads, swimming with cows, and putting a sick dog out of its misery. I didn’t do the actual deed but I heard it, the bludgeoning sound like chopping wood, which was so sad.
Next morning after Iguazú I reluctantly broke down camp. With the thrill behind me, weak body (no dinner or breakfast), un-caffeinated brain – in no mood to charm authorities! – it was time to face the reality of immigration. Feeling quite ill*, I approached the frontera again.
(*For some reason, I can’t find veggie food lately, and consequently I’ve been eating very little. More accurately, I’m tired of the ovo-lacto diet, and my body is telling me via reduced appetite that it’s grossed-out with eating cheese, eggs and bread all the time; all non-meat options always have at least one of these things. So, having fallen into lazy habits, I’ve whittled my ready-to-eat options down to fruit and biscuits, and I’m feeling quite shit about it. Finally recognizing this as a transformation, I’m cooking again :)
Drenched again in the morning showers, I arrived at the ferry, went straight to immigration to check-out of Argentina, but was directed to purchase my passage first. (No consistency!) Mid-interaction, I almost decided to skip the immigration part (as I should have last time), but the officer came out of his box to announce his post with importance: “Immigración!” He checked my ticket, and stamped me out.
I spent a nervous hour waiting for the next ferry, too crappy-feeling to make myself a luke-cold Nescafe, imagining my impending maneuver over and over in my head. When it arrived, they washed the boat thoroughly, making red muddy falls over its edges until we boarded. Seeing that I needed to fix myself, I bought some peaches from a lady onboard, and finally made some conversation with a kid in an arm-sling until we got to the other side.
As the cars filed out, and I rode on one side of them, so I could maybe use them to block me, but the queue stopped at immigration. I hid, until an officer waved to me from between cars, as if to say come out this way. I took this to mean PEDDLE, so I continued, on my side of the cars, until I popped-out in front of the stopped line of cars, and with purpose, as if this was exactly what I was supposed to do, I didn’t look back.
It was a massive hill leading down to the dock, and up it I peddled quickly in my granny-gear, making an absurd getaway at 3mph, for at least a kilometer and a half, dripping sweat in the intense humidity, not stopping until I was up safely on the main road. Adrenaline pumping, I took off my shirt, and continued on back into the Ciudad del Este, where anything goes.
Smiling again, I was back in Paraguay, and Paraguay smiled back. I felt a little exposed, as I don’t usually ride without my shirt, but in hot humid Paraguay shirtless is the fashion for men, and the breeze of emancipation on my wet skin felt great. Even more de la moda (fashionable) is, if you’ve got a big gut, to just roll the shirt up over the gut. Damn sexy. Maybe I was feeling a bit self-conscious though, because with each terere-sipping family or group of kids in school-uniform I passed, I received huge smiles, lots of thumbs-up, and much laughter. Just because I’m a dreadlocked shirtless gringo on a green bike with fluorescent yellow panniers? LOL.
For a week riddled with heinous digestive complications, I’m walking my bike away [up and down crazy beautiful hills] with a lot of amazing experience under my belt.
First, just being out in the campo (country) feeds my soul like nothing else. It’s been too long, and even though every town I’ve been in is surrounded by plenty of natural wonders to explore and trekking opportunities galore, a grand day out is not the same as living in it.
My campsite for the week: high on a hillside in a lush green valley, midway up a series of six gurgling waterfalls, with an ever-changing panoramic view – does pachamama (mother nature) never run out of stunning manifestations? The clouds alone can paint a million pictures, hide the dozens of nearby peaks, or shroud them in a saturnine mist, and fashion every sunset and sunrise (worth getting up for!) A clear view of the 16th century Incan fort El Fuerte, dwarfed in magnitude and encompassed by the sublime form of a woman with child, our mother pachamama, carved not into a mountain, but the mountain carved into her. Those industrious Incas!
Most days were lovingly punctuated by extraordinary weather: deafening thunder crashes out of nowhere – at this altitude you can be drenched in the sunlight of a clear blue sky but suddenly visited by a storm (or sound of it) just over a nearby hill. It’s most fun when it’s ambient but not actually storming down: the other night amid my intense dreaming I was sure someone was outside my tent wiggling a giant saw! By day or night, nearby lightning storms last for hours. Samaipata (and more accurately where I was, Alta Florida, in the hills nearby) is playground of the gods, pure magic.
You can’t help but feel, in this perfectly wild paradise, that you came second to the world of plants and animals. At first glimpse it’s endless green, but just look a bit closer and there is a mind-boggling variety of plants and trees, many of them ridiculously spikey. I learned last week on a guided trek, a bit higher in the cloud forests, that the oldest plant species didn’t have these defense mechanisms as there were no animals to threaten them, so relatively, I suppose, they might not predate animal, (but they most definitely predate man).
But more sensationally, I love the bugs. I swear the same grasshoppers would visit my tent each morning, waiting for me to unzip my portal so they could hop-in. Furry caterpillars, long centipedes, poisonous millipedes (3-times more venomous than a scorpion), arm-length snakes and big hairy tarantulas, 3-inch black wasps, tiny but arresting black widow spiders (yep I found one while sowing), neon-glow worms, shiny blue/yellow/red and black bees.. it’s an everyday Animal Planet. And they have a black and white pig named Billie, who snorts all day, squeals like crazy at sunset, and always lets me pet him.
Wow, altitude! I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere high above sea level without a pressurized cabin, as I would have noticed it! Yesterday we biked from Salta, a meager 1,259m above seal level, to Purmamarca, (2,192m) and I got high man!
Upon arrival in town, I was so beat, but we went into town anyway. After 20 minutes, I was about to collapse. Jeff, on the other hand, felt fine, but he’s a bit more seasoned at high-altitude activity, having completed 3 weeks trekkking in Nepal last year and lighting up a cigarette when he reached the highest pass. He insisted that anything under 4000m is not significant, but I was sure feeling funny. I crashed out hard around 9pm, and at 7am then next day (plenty of sleep later ya?) we got up to go see the sunrise over the 7 Colored Hills. Groggy as I’ve ever been, I dragged myself to the easy lookout, and it was stunning: the hills’ hues, as their name imply, are intensely varied, each of a different age (600-50 million years ago), the highest ones blue, originally from the sea, full of ocean fossils. Green, turquoise, orange, red, purple, white… it was worth getting a closer look. There was an hour-walk through this rainbow valley, and I told Jeff to go without me… I only wanted to go back to camp and either drink maté or nap, completely unsure how I was to hit the pavement in an hours time. But a couple minutes later I changed my mind and ambled down from the lookout after Jeff, (equally reluctant to drag myself back to camp), and of course the walk and photos were fab and I’m so glad I went. In the end, a strong maté helped clear my head and aching body significantly; caffeine is supposedly great for battling altitude sickness.
Flash forward 27km to Tilcara (2461m). Jeff is ILL, nauseous, with headache and upset stomach. (And I’m fully recovered.) Now with earnest about the altitude, he declares the next day Off for acclimatization. After a beautiful, all-day siesta, evening descends, and we decided to hike to the nearby Garganta de Diablo (Devil’s throat). This is what’s cool: I’m so energetic it’s silly, bounding up the dirt paths, ascending another 300m easily, bounding across the streams and through the canyon. I don’t quite understand how a deficiency of oxygen creates euphoria, but when it manifests energy and I feel great, I’m a fan! At the apex of our hike, I had a great epiphany which might become my next great business venture… I can’t tell you now but this idea is pure gold… and all I’ll say is that it’ll make hiking to high places more rewarding than ever.
As I was photographing the waterfall at the end of the hike, which tinted the red walls with a startling red-to-green spectrum, I noticed Jeff throwing stones through the gorge. Smiling, he handed me a rock and said “throw this”. I aimed high, and my rock fell short, pathetically crashing down less than half-way to my mark. It’s amazing how the effects aren’t quite noticeable until you try doing some physical activity. I did notice in my giggly state that I felt high as a kite, and as I was taking trippy pictures of the rock cliffs and cacti in the post-sunset glow, I realized I better get a move on or I’d be stuck out there in the dark.
I was testing out an iphone app called Run Keeper, which uses GPS data to track your pace and draw a map of your adventure. At 5km into the hike, I was averaging only 2.5km/hr (due to my frequent photo-pauses), and in my supercharged state I began to run, watching my speed graph soar. Jeff described to me an phenomenon of descending from high altitude, where you are getting more oxygen than you’re used to, creating a superman-effect… I do believe this was what I was experiencing this evening. (By the way, the free Run-Keeper app kicks ass ‐ if you run, walk, trek, or bike, give it a try: it makes exercise super fun, and it’s beautifully authored.)
The hike to the Devil’s throat puts the gorge in gorgeous, and I was in cactus heaven for the first time in my life, so impressed by their anthropomorphic beauty. During the final moments of ambient daylight I decided to become a cactus-hugger and pose for a picture along with a nice tall onbe just off the path. The irony of this whole ridiculous act is that, as I scurried up onto the embankment, I put my hand down on a seemingly benign patch of ground and filled the palm of my hand with 50+ prickly thorns. Doh! I was going to tie my bandana around the cactus for our photo, but it was way too fat up close, and I didn’t feel like getting needled again after all, with a few souvenirs I still had in my hand!
Today I woke up groggy again, but i reckon it’s more because we drank wine last night with campsite neighbors (despite my no-drinking-before-a-ride policy). Whereas we’ve adopted to honor the genius of siesta and bike early OR late, not in-between, we decided to bike late today, as we only have 40km to our next acclimatization point: Humahuaca (2936m!) I’m super-psyched about taking-on high altitudes, as the landscape is new and beautiful, it’s feels different, I feel funny, and it’s yet another horizon to bust open and make mine. This town is so cool-looking too, all mud-brick and monochromatic, (no wood to build with, and senseless to paint on mud as it’ll just blow away with the next strong wind!) And it’s only going to get more dramatic as we climb into Bolivia. Ultimately I hope to pedal-into La Paz, well-known for being the world’s highest city. The mission doesn’t sound too peachy from the bike-logs I’ve read, but I put the peach in peachy so we’ll see.
It is the eve of my exodus from Chile. I wasn’t sure at first, but now having spent a month taking in Nature’s Greatest Hits Vol. X and XI (the regions we explored via Route 7, the only road that goes down here), I happily report an overwhelmingly delicious after-taste. My beautiful impression of this pepper-shaped country – which is as tall as the US is long (but feels so small! – is rivaled only by the growth I’ve had in overcoming the challenges of adapting to nature’s forces new to me with little respite.
Jeff and I have taken on wild Chilean Patagonia by road and bike, pedaling every day towards some faint and distant short-term goal (ie. somewhere in the south, when it gets too cold), camping out and cooking most every morning and night. Honestly, if we weren’t doing this I don’t know what we would be doing, as it’s not exactly a land geared for tourists. Granted, we have arrived well before the onset of the high tourist season.
We made a new friend, Jorge, the Cazador de Ciclistas (hunter of bicyclists!), when he literally captured us upon arrival in his village of Mañiuahles, and made us stay in his Casa de Ciclistas, where we used his laundry machines and internet, hung out in his Salon de Spinning (where he does bike fitness classes), cooked in the kitchen, had out own beds, took HOT showers… really making ourselves at home with an overt invitation to stay as long as we needed… all for FREE. His only request of us was to sign his guest book, which was filled with well over 100 loving entries since 2008. He estimated about 300 cyclists will pass through here in a year, Jeff and I being #3 and #4, preceded by our Basque acquaintances who we met 2 days prior, who Jorge also hunted.
Speaking of small country, some days later, after attempting to catch a boat done to Laguna San Rafael, an overnight cruise into the southern ice fields to explore a sea of glaciers, we were biking further South and none other than Jorge, his wife, daughter and mom ambushed us again on the highway, to pull me over and say hi. I was especially psyched to meet his beautiful Colombian wife, 9-months pregnant, who I only saw in pictures. In our 2 nights there, he only spent a fraction of that time in town… an hour after our capture he had to leave, completely trusted us with keys, his dogs, primo Ricardo (who would stop-by intermittently), and the promise to make ourselves at home. Aww, I love the whole bunch of them, so cute, smiley, with hearts of gold, and the uncanny ability to be everywhere, over 100km from where we met this last time. This last thing, we have seen is unmistakably Chile… it’s so small, socially, that you are never alone, or far from friends or to-be acquaintances.
Case in point, we emailed another cyclist, Ido, that we met at the airport in Santiago about the Cazador de Ciclistas, with his address should he pass through Mañihuales. Tonight we boarded a ferry bound for Chile Chico, our exit point from Chile, and who else but Ido was on the same ferry!
Ferries have been an integral part of making our way South, as Chile increasingly narrows and becomes an archipelago, accessible at times only via a detour through Argentina (which means crossing a mountain pass through the Andes), otherwise by car ferry. We’ve had to take three to stay on route in Chile.
I’ve been captured in many ways: by the people, who are sincere, generous, so chilled-out, playful and beautiful; by the grandeur of it’s wild places, which seem remarkably plentiful and unspoiled; by the freedom we have to enjoy it (nobody hassles you, it’s fine to camp almost anywhere); by its honesty and lack of greed or malice – I never detected even a hint of these in any person we encountered, not even smart-ass kids! by the cold: the lack of sensitivity in all my digits, still numb from frostbite 2 weeks ago. It’s weird, I’m captured now, but soon I’ll free again.
Happy Birthday, Jocelyn! In honor of your 21st birthday, here’s a list of 21 things I love about the last couple days (ie. your long birthday weekend which I’m celebrating down here).
A fair warning to my weary-readers… this list of doom is long & random, written for the girl whose ear I’d chew-off (not Mike Tyson style) if I only could spend it with her tonight. It’s been too long. Here she goes:
First, I’m most pleased with this FOGATA (campfire) I just made. Raging, keeping me warm, effortless to make in this dry desert-scape, it’s my finest inferno to date. I’m burning COW PADDIES. This fucking rules.
Third is Jeff’s PASTA. He’s outdone himeself this time. Merquén spaghetti, onions, garlic, potato, TVP (veggie-meat), carrot, ginger, arvejas (peas)… omg how does he make it so good? We make consistently amazing food – like $14.95 good – every night. But this is a pasta nite to remember (of which he is usually chef). Somehow we always innovate, using mostly the same basic ingredients. Innovation #33: Cold oats & coffee (separately). Who needs hot water? Nescafe & instant oats are both great with cold water, who knew? Not prime examples, but hey, we’re camping. Saves lots of time in the morning not to boil. Blam!
My specialty is RE-INVENTING LEFTOVERS. Last night it was rice & dal turned into patties (w a little flour & water), pan fried & topped w salsa.. Mmm! A pasta-cooking snafu in Coihaique inspired crazy creativity: next day breakfast I fried up onions, carrots & spinach, mixed in the soft spirals with spices & flour.. fried em up in patties.. Home run! And so much fun!
Back to what makes me really happy.. Campsite SHEEP! Who can ask for better neighbors? (Almost as cool as beach cows in India.) And it’s lambing-season, meaning they’ve all just been born. So at every turn, extreme cuteness! Really. Freakin’. Cute. I love hearing their tiny bleats before I even open my eyes! Yes, I count them.
Speaking of seasons, MERQUÉN is the best seasoning ever: smoked coriander mixed with chile pepper.. mmmm it goes in everything! And it’s OFF-SEASON for tourism down here. There’s Never anyone else around, camping, hiking in national parks, at hospedajes (guest houses) and restaurants. It’s pretty awesome though. We get to see Chileans in their natural flow, before they’ve got their tourism-faces on, or not at all! Upon entering Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo, we find a well-equipped campsite with gates closed (to cars) & no Park Ranger. The ped/bike entrance was certainly open & passable, so in we pedaled! Over firm snow we roll in & choose the pick of the litter, with fire pit, picnic table, a shelter to cook in & block our tent from wind. We melted the snow (4 feet deep in some places!) to drink over a roaring fire of winter’s fallen branches… all alone in our own National Park (again, as always :). There was even chopped firewood at every site! Wth?
I love the availability of CLEAN WATER to drink, clear & delicious. Melting snow was an exception to our usual method of just filling up at streams and waterfalls. It’s way preferable to the tap, which is actually treated & chlorinated, yuck! You can fill-up wherever it gushes from forests and mountains, just Not farm-land :)
Speaking of which, the water I just attempted to drink is frozen! This fire is warm but it ES CHILEout tonight! Tee-hee, (that joke never gets old.) I’m also still up almost 3 hours after Jeff went to sleep.. Me time! Double tee-hee!
Back to the SNOW, I’ve never appreciated it so much before. Usually I wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping outside when it’s freezing. But these white-capped mountains have won my heart. And even more special is seeing it melt, clear veins lined with bright green, cutting though white fields, or revealing the bold colors of crisp mountain faces. Never seen anything like it, feel so luck to be here during this brief and beautiful window.
Snow also makes Nepali/Indian-style RIVER-LAUNDRY possible! After 2 days in what felt like the Outback, with a backdrop of the towering jagged sno-capped Cerro Castillo mountains but without any fresh water to drink, we manifested a stealth campsite next to a raging mountain stream. After hydrating, next order was to FJORD into the middle to wash clothes in a sunny spot on nice big rocks. Now we have clean clothes (and all the Patagonians near the 46th parallel sigh in relief!) Today, in Reserva Lago Jeinemeni, another National Park that we had all to ourselves, it was necessary to ford a river with our bikes to get in. How cool is that?!
Ah, the elements. The WIND is so strong these days, great for air-drying! Pitched the tent in a grassy clearing behind a dune for shelter, and near to a fence to hang and let those babies dance! All dry by bed time! Head-winds while cycling, on the other hand, will cut your speed in half & make your life tough, while Tail-winds make you fly like superman.
I’m liking this new weather. No rain lately! Clear skies, 4 days straight. It’s this region on Lago General Carerra, near the Argentine border. Conquered the hills and now the weather is amazing. Still freezing-ass-off cold at night (fogata required), hot & sunny by day. Love it. Love being DRY. Love campfires with dry wood 3 nights in a row. Mmmm! Star-shine & Star Walk-ing.
We’re past our biggest in Chile, but I sure do love those HILLS. They keep me warm, and my legs & core strong (by keeping upright & balanced with so much weight at low speeds). They reward me with the best views, a sense of accomplishment, and speedy downhills (74.7km/hr out of Cerro Castillo!) We climbed in a headwind all day into those glorious peaks, then cruised down easy the next to savor the luxuries of town. Balance.
How good is BEER ON TAP?! My question for you is whether it tastes as good without the sweet triumph of under-age deception? Only the 2nd time we’ve found it in Chile, today’s being a local variety, so good in tall 600ml mugs and with English futbol on the tele. Forgot it’s name, but it’s clever tagline went Patagonia con Cerveza. Heehee, they’re all about conservation down here, (see http://patagoniasinrepresas.cl for more info.) I relished every drop and wanted so bad to Saturday-it-up with another, but we had some riding ahead of us, little did we know it would result in…
SWEET FAILURE, ie. turning back when appropriate. We set out last night on a scenic route to our port town destination, which would pass many lakes & be SUPER-bonita (as my friend Poonam’s doppleganger in the reiki tourist office promoted, who was not the first tourism professional in Chile to use this adorable prefix!) The back-country road was tougher than any we’ve encountered, impossible to stay balanced and moving on our loaded touring bikes up & down relentlessly rolling hills of loose gravel. It was, however, some of the most idyllic scenery to date (sculpted desert canyons w lush green accents), and for that sweet taste it was worth the abuse. (I will be back to Wwoof there, mark my word!)
You can take this city boy far from the big smoke, but you can’t take away my IPOD. Thank goodness for music. I dunno how Jeff does it without. I must be gettin old, but it’s been all 90’s greatest hits in my ear lately: Biggie, Wu-tang, ODB, Kool Keith, SP, Beastie Boys, the Offspring, the Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Deftones, GnR, NIN, Stereolab, Boards of Canada… in this way I actually feel old, but I’m happy to finally experience this universal age/musical phenomenon first-hand, where my soul sings for the Classics. I listen to new stuff too, but I welcome the Comeback, esp. the old school hip-hop. Joc, is your Classic still cranking out the Modest Mouse?
Even though I’m happy spending these hours writing to you, I don’t miss the net at all. I love being UNPLUGGED. Even though I’d Skype you up if I could to wish you well-done on achieving legal drinking age, the slow satellite connections here probably couldn’t handle it anyway. You can barely find pan (bread) in a village on Saturday let alone find an Internet connection. So all I’ve got are these thoughts of you, my iphone to write ’em (just recharged via my wee solar panel!), and my analog cosmic vibrations.. hope you feel ’em!
Te Amo, JOCELYN, debajo de (from under) tu constelación, Libra. (Yes, I can see you getting fresh tonight, snuggled up between Venus & Mars!) Wishing you a naughty birthday from Chile Chico, 15km from Argentina, our last stop in Chile! Tomorrow, when we cross, it will be our 1000km milestone! Neat huh?