(78) A new continent, a good friend and a new challenge (buses…!!)
Friday 8th November
After several movies, great plane food, a few mini bottles of wine and a few hours sleep we landed in Istanbul. It felt crazy that in just 14 hours we had arrived in a city that had taken a year to cycle from. With a four hour wait we found a quiet corner, laid out our things and slept for a couple hours using ear plugs to silence the quiet murmur of other passengers.
It wasn’t long from waking that we needed to head to the gate and get ready to board the next flight to Buenos Aires. This next flight would be another 14 hours and already we were slowly turning into zombies. Luckily we had the exit seats which meant an enormous amount of leg-room and space to relax. Again we had amazing service from Turkish Airlines; great food and a good choice of films but like any flight over a couple days we never got what we could say was a good night’s sleep.
After a brief stop at San Paulo in Brazil we arrived over the city of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The first thing we noticed was how ordered the streets were into neat blocks compared to the chaos of Africa. We landed and entered our 24th country on a warm and muggy night. We were at the same latitude as Cape Town but it felt so much warmer. With our bags and bikes arriving with no problems we looked for a taxi and once we had come to a good price (about £35) we were off travelling through the city not really knowing where we were going to meet and stay with our host from warm showers. It was midnight and it had been a few very long days – naturally we were both looking forward to a good night’s rest and seeing Sara the following day. Paul and Mariana were so great about us arriving late and we were soon fast asleep in the comfort of their home.
Saturday 9th November
Although we were shattered, our body clock was trying to get us up at 6am. We resisted and got up around 10 to try and catch up on some rest. Fatigue had very much struck our bodies and we went down for breakfast to be shortly joined by Paul. We had an email from Sara to say she would be with us in half an hour. While we relaxed Paul managed to download the South America maps onto our GPS from our computer which was just brilliant as it would take the pressure off us when we would have to navigate through big South American cities. Sara soon arrived – it was so great to see her again and it didn’t feel like we hadn’t seen her for 14 months. This was Sara’s third time visiting us on our journey – Norway, Denmark, Germany and now Patagonia! We would have 6 weeks with her and we were so looking forward to it. We enjoyed a catch up over a cup of tea.
Deciding to head out into town we made our way to a market where we got to try different foods from all around the world washed down by a cold beer. We felt like we were back in Europe – no doubt the Spanish influence and it felt exciting to be on a new continent. It was really leafy and packed full of shops and shoppers with a laid-back atmosphere.
We chilled out back at Paul and Mariana’s and started to wilt and we weren’t heading out until 9pm for dinner – it would take us a while to get used to eating late which is the norm in Latin America. We also had a wrestle with our body clock – Sharon gave in and went for a snooze shortly joined by Sara, then Tim managed to get half an hour. Joe and Lizzie arrived who were also staying with warm showers hosts – they were English cyclists who had cycled from England, around Europe and sailed to South America on a cargo ship. We were looking forward to sharing stories. We all headed out to a restaurant and had a really great night enjoying great company. Joe and Lizzie were doing a Spanish course for a week so would be behind us although we were sure we’d see them again as they had a similar route from Ushuaia.
Sunday 10th November
Even after a late night we woke up at 7.30am. Keen to put the kettle on Tim got up – Sara was already awake reading. We all sat around the table wondering how we were going to get all our stuff in what felt and looked like a million boxes to Ushuaia where we would start our long pedal north to Alaska. After some discussion and being in the centre of Buenos Aires we needed to first get out of the city. Deciding to get to the bus station first Mariana called 3 taxi companies but none seemed to have a taxi big enough. Eventually a taxi company sent 2 cars only for us to find they had been converted to gas making it impossible to get the bike boxes in over the tanks. Noticing a large pickup truck outside the fruit and veg shop opposite, we made our way over to ask if they would be able to take us to the bus station. Paul translated what we needed and they gave us a price that was cheaper than the taxis. We soon set about loading 3 bikes and all our kit into the truck.
We said our thanks to Paul and Mariana who had been brilliant and set off in the big yellow truck. It felt exciting to be at the beginning of our next adventure.
As we got closer to the bus station we realised we may make it to the bus that was heading south on time. As soon as we reached the terminal Sara went in to try and sort out tickets while we unloaded the truck and paid the driver.
The price we had been given for the bus was loads cheaper than the internet price so we were disappointed to find it was full. There was only one option – we could get half way to Puerto Madryn and try and pick up a truck for the rest of the way to Ushuaia. As we went to buy the tickets the seller noticed all the boxes and told us he would have to ask the driver. After a half hour wait the driver arrived and immediately shook his head. Tim went to check the luggage space and found that they wanted money to take the boxes – not that they didn’t have room. Trying to work out a figure, they agreed on what Tim thought was 100 pesos per bike (around £10). Once the bikes were loaded it suddenly turned into US $100 which of-course we couldn’t afford and with a lot of negotiation they finally agreed on 100 pesos each. As we paid he then said ‘no 300 pesos each’ – they must have seen our faces and returned to first amount. We sat down in our reclining chairs quickly before they changed their minds and enjoyed watching movies as the day went by.
We made our way out of the city and joined the highway. We past farm after farm on a totally flat landscape that hardly changed at all. As the sun dropped lower, the greens colours of the fields became more vivid. It soon got dark and still not at the first large town we knew we would be on the bus through the night so we wouldn’t need to find a place to stay. After a couple of disturbing movies on the bus TV and a fairly good meal, the lights went off descending us in to the wandering darkness. The bus stopped a couple of times to change passengers before becoming quiet as it cruised along a thin strip of Tarmac in an ever deserted landscape.
Monday 11th November
Tim woke with pain in his back while Sharon was tucked under her miniun hat (which was a present from Chrisna) and Sara was swaying with the movement of the bus. The sun started to light the inside to mark another day of travel – the landscape hadn’t changed at all even having travelled all night.
We soon arrived at the bus station in Puerto Madryn and unloaded the bikes. As we grabbed all the bags Sara noticed one of hers had been opened and her new Paramo jacket was missing. It was quite a shock – we discussed what was needed and after some negotiation the driver said we would get a refund for our tickets and showed us to a guy from the company who would deal with the situation. Once the bus had pulled out, the man then said he didn’t understand and refused to deal with us – we were furious and it was a frustrating start to our travels. It was also the first of many times that we wished we spoke fluent Spanish. After some discussion between information staff and others who trying to help, Sara went to the local police station to report the crime and would then claim on her insurance when she returned home.
The next problem was no one would take the bikes any further – bus after bus pulled in and each bus driver would shake their heads. We felt like we were stuck between a rock and a hard place. After a few frustrating hours, Tim and Sharon took a taxi to a truck stop to try and arrange a lift on a truck. The problem was that we didn’t speak Spanish yet and no-one really spoke much English and all our things were at the bus station. Having had the same problem in Vietnam a few years ago we knew it wasn’t going to be easy and we had a long road ahead – literally. We knew however that as soon as we would eventually start cycling again, life would be much easier.
With the time getting closer to 3pm we needed to get back to the bus station before the ticket office closed so we decided to hitch which at first was unproductive on such a quiet road. Finally a guy stopped and offered to take us into town. It was great and we arrived at the station ticket office to find that it didn’t shut at 3pm (we had assumed for siesta) just that the lady was changing shifts. As each bus came and went all refusing to put the bikes on it seemed there was a conspiracy against us. Running out of options we asked at the information desk once again and they came up with a new solution (other than just to ask each driver that arrived) to try a local bus that would get us 50 miles south to the town of Trelew. Even though there was 1,200 miles still to cover it seemed a little pointless but at least we were moving forward (or south!) We only paid 20 pesos per bike and with everything stowed away we were off and it felt great. As you can imagine it didn’t take long and with the sun setting and stuck at the bus station Sharon asked if there was any camping close by. With a ‘no’ she asked if we could sleep at the station. The guard immediately said no problem and we found a good spot on a balcony making a nest from the bike boxes and all our gear.
We found that there was a local bus heading south for 300 miles the next day and so feeling a bit more positive we picked up a few things in the shop. With the stove on cooking boiled eggs and pasta washed down with cheap Argentinean fizzy wine and beer we organised ourselves to sleep.
Tuesday 12th November
Eye masks on and sharing a thermarest the surroundings evaporated in to a deep sleep only to wake with the steady increase in fellow travellers below. We sat and tidied our things before the offices opened and ate breakfast. We spoke to the same bus company that we had travelled with from BA hoping that the staff here might be more helpful and they were! We went to a man who spoke good English and he said it was no problem to take the bikes but we may have to pay a few more pesos. After we told him our experience so far he told us that if the bus has space the drivers were not allowed to refuse the bikes. This was certainly looking more hopeful than the day before. We quickly booked the tickets and returned to our slightly tidier den to wait for the impending bus. Sharon and Sara headed out to have a look around while Tim stayed with the kit. The town of Trelew is linked to Welsh settlers in Argentina. It was was established in 1886 and is named Trelew in honour of the Welsh leader Lewis Jones – tre meaning “town” in Welsh and Lew for Lewis.
As we got closer to our departure we took all our things and waited outside. A few buses came and went and we noticed our helpful chap was no longer behind the counter. Sharon went over to ask the driver who immediately told her ‘no bikes’. Our hearts sank. We went searching for our man and as Sharon approached he suddenly appeared from behind the desk like an angel! We told him they said no and he gestured us to follow and led us to the bus. He said something to the driver and we were soon climbing on the bus with the bikes in the hold and breathed a sigh of relief. We had to pay £10 per bike but we didn’t care –we were on a bus to Ushuaia. We felt so happy that we were travelling the final part south and hoped the next part would run smoothly as we were still quite a distance away. We rolled out of town and back on the highway.
The road continued to be flat and featureless apart from pampas grass and small shrubs. Even sheep were a rare sight. There was nothing out there. We arrived at Comodoro Rivadavia a Coastal town where we picked up more passengers. It was great seeing the sea for a change and with the wind blowing hard it was already looking a hard place to live (and cycle). We headed on following the coast and back inland. By now the sun was setting and the light highlighted strange cloud formations in a silvery orange glow – it was one of the best sun sets we had ever seen.
We were given coffee and expected a meal like on the last bus but nothing arrived. With nothing until the final stop we all feel asleep hungry and tired.
Wednesday 13th November
We woke up on the bus and had a cup of tea (which we discovered was provided by a hot water machine behind us!) We would arrive in Ushuaia later that day and so spirits were high. The bus arrived in Rio Gallegos and we settled ourselves down for a few hour wait .We soon discovered the bus station had wifi so we passed the time updating home on our long and arduous bus travels. The bus finally arrived and we were pleased to meet a smiling bus driver who could speak good English. No problem to take the bikes but money did change hands once again.
After an hour or so we crossed into Chile which was soon followed by a short ferry crossing onto the island of Tierra del Fuego – the island of fire. The island is split down the middle by Chile and Argentina and we were soon crossing back into Argentina – our passports were filling up with all these stamps…
At 8pm in the evening we finally arrived in Ushuaia barely believing we had finally made it. It felt a life time ago that we had left Cape Town.
The next problem was moving the bike boxes around to find a hostel – there was only one solution, build them there. We soon set about putting it all together in the fading light.
Finally we were pedalling around looking for a hostel. Unfortunately we had no luck as each one was either full or didn’t have somewhere safe for the bikes. It was 10pm by then and we were so hungry that we just pulled over at a restaurant and sat and ate pizza. We added a celebratory beer to the bill and headed out once more in search of a bed. We decided to return to a hostel we had found earlier as it was perfect except for the fact that we had to put the bikes outside during the day. We would worry about that in the morning.
Thursday 14th November
We woke up and hungrily ate breakfast of bread and jam. We sorted the kit out filling the floor in our room wondering how it all fitted in to our panniers. We unpacked pressies from home – chocolate, body spray, lip balm, sweets, strawberry milkshake, new pants, crunchy nut cornflakes – fab! We sat down for lunch of soup and crackers before realising that we were now in the siesta zone and the shops would be shut. Shaz got into the spirit of it all and had a siesta!
Around 3.30pm we headed out into the town which was packed full of outdoor shops with a back drop of snow tipped mountains.
It felt like a French ski resort and it was so comforting to be wrapped up in our warm clothes – it was 9 degrees – a little different to South Africa! The average temperature in July (their summer) is 10.3 degrees. The cold felt familiar despite having been in Africa for nearly a year. Sara bought a new jacket to replace the one that was stolen and then we headed down to the harbour – what a stunning place.
We bought food and headed back, cooked cottage pie and had a glass of wine before heading to bed.
Friday 15th November
Although we wanted to head to the most southern tip early we slowly rose from a deep sleep and headed in for breakfast. Sharon was the last to join us. We finished the last few jobs on our bikes and went to get our panniers to ride out. For some reason our room looked messier then before our re-sort which took a while to load. We were coming back to the hostel that evening but we wanted to ride fully loaded so we weren’t cheating! We headed out of town and started the first of a few climbs.
We only had 15 miles to the tip at Lapataia which was our official start point and gave us a chance to iron out any problems. At first all was well then Sara’s headset was found to be lose so once tightened we continued to climb and with it Tim’s chain started to slip. This had happened the last time he had put a new chain on but what wasn’t helping was the chain tensioner wasn’t putting enough pressure on the chain. Tim tried to fix it but with the spring slipping he just put up with it until he found a solution.
We wound our way along a dirt track with snowy peaks on both sides which felt strange as we were at the same latitude south as the Midlands in the UK is north. With a cold wind blowing and almost summer it was amazing how white everything was. We reached a park gate where there was someone waiting to collect our money. We didn’t realise we had to pay to get to the tip and at a cost of £15 each for the sake of a picture it felt a little excessive. We were only 6 miles from the end and looking at a map it wasn’t even the most southern part anyway – the most southern part was not accessible by road. After some discussion, we decided that we had paid more than we ever imagined to get here (mainly in bus drivers ‘tips’) so we headed back and decided to have our official start in Ushuaia.
We headed back to town and Sara slowed down on a descent when a dog ran at her. After taking evasive action she hit a pothole only to find all the contents of her handlebar bag on the track. The next thing a truck came through (we had not seen one for ages – it was such bad timing) and before Sara and Sharon could grab any of it, the truck ran over her camera narrowly missing the rest of the items. Sara was naturally gutted and after having her jacket stolen was starting to wonder what else could go wrong. It was such a shame and with not going into the park it made what was meant to be the start a little diluted.
We reached the town where we picked up a few more supplies and met a French couple heading for Peru. They were lovely and were also heading off the following day. We swapped blogs and knew we were sure to meet soon we headed off to the sea front. We reached the water and realised it was a much better place to start and so took some pictures with an amazing back drop of the harbour and the sharp snow caped pinnacles in the background.
Ushuaia was a much more beautiful town than we thought. It relies mainly on tourism and is pretty expensive due to its location. It is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world although this is disputed by the people of Peurto Williams, a Chilean settlement of some 2,000 residents (mostly families of the nearby military bases).
We headed back to the hostel and rested for the rest of the afternoon and caught up on some rest.
We checked out the bike shop to try and fix Tim’s bike but with the mechanic not there and unsure what stock they had we would have to try in the morning. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying our last night in the warm with 3 really nice Canadians. We were invited to stay with them when we got to Canada which felt such a long way away. We went to bed thinking about the following day – onward and upward here we go again…
Thanks for reading !