Roughie crosses Andes one last time; reaches Buenos Aires after windy ride in northern Patagonia.

Aoril 28, 1999 WOW...when the wind wants to blow in Patagonia, it sure can blow! I made 90 KM in one short afternoon of riding a few days ago, not from the Argentine city of Nuequen. I suppose it was only fair, as I had howling headwinds as soon as I left Vina del Mar all the way south to Osorno, in Chile. The Central Valley and Lake district of Chile, which comprise this region, are easliy one of the most beautiful regions I have seen on my entire trip. There are lush fields of wheat and grain, orchards, forests, and to boot a few volcanoes here and there on the horizon. When I get my pictures developed i´ll include them as JPEGs in this section. Chile almost can call route 5 south its own ´Avenue of the Volcanoes´ to rival that of Ecuador. I was wild camping 3 out of every four days in this chilly region, where for the first time since Alaska I felt the chill winds of Autumn. In fact, some of the mountains got their first dustings of snow as winter approaches. The heavens were crystal clear, with the Milky Way and southern constellations glistening in the night sky. The southern sky easily beats the northern sky for shear beauty, with many more nebulae and bright stars than the northern sky has. But I do miss the big dipper, and it´ll be good to see when I get back to the north. I fly to lisbon, Portugal on May 3rd (my mum´s birthday!) and start the European portion of my tour.
To be honest I wish i could say the roads in this region of southenr Chile are good, but they are not. The pavement is concrete, often broken, cracked, bumpy and missing; the shoulder is worse, when it exists. You can try and reduce the traffic counts by getting off route 5 but this is not easy as there are not alot of parallel roads in this region; and on the smaller roads you lose the shoulder entirely! Still, I had a nice time in this region and definitely recommend it to cyclists who are on their way into the southern Cone.

I did not go to Tierra del Fuego for two reaons. First I lost alot of time in Vina del Mar and further north getting medical attention (and also in coffee shops!! YUMMY!) Second, I hate hate hate the wind, and Patagonia has plenty of it. It destroys the sense of quiet and serenity that I always associate with can´t here yourself think, your tent is flopping like a hooked fish, you can relax and write in your journal..blah!!! I had a similar feeling in parts of Scotland years ago, another windy region. So...Ushuiaia, which I always had doubts about going allt he way to anyway, will just have to wait.
The southern cone is more expensive than the other parts of south America but there are several ways to beat this. First, you can wild camp since the country is so open and there are lots of forets, farms, and fields. Second, learn to look for the stuff that is inexpensive (bread, pastries, dairy products, local beef and meat, etc) and minimize the expensive stuff....most notably, coffee!! This morning I spent 90 Argentine centavos on bread, sweet rolls and donuts, and some fruit for breakfast. I topped it off with two cups of coffee ( i must have my coffee in the morning)...which costs 4 dollars!!! Why this is the case when they are so close to brazil defies me...and the Argentine peso is fairly strong, too!!!
Anyway, from here I ride to Buenos Aires proper (I am in Lobos right now, about 100 KM south of the city) and hop a plane to Europe. My next entry will probably be from somewhere in I hope to see you all again soon! I will miss the Americas...and I have only a few weeks of Spanish left.

March 23, 1999 Ouch! And unfortunately, ouch again in a few days. Readers of this site know that I had my lower lip treated with liquid nitrogen in Lima a few weeks ago, to get rid of this lesion-thing that was growing on it and looked like a cross between a canker sore and a booger. WELL....I got the thing surgically cut out last week, in an operation that didn´t hurt that much but the STITCHES after the surgery sure stung like a bazooza!! Well, unfortunately, the biopsy came back from Santiago today and the guy didn´t get the whole thing, so we have to go back in again and take out whats left! Fortunately it is much smaller, of course...but still, the memory of the pain won´t make it much easier, and it´ll be next week (the end of March) before I get out of here. Exactly what this means for the rest of my South America trip I am not sure...I still want to head south to the lake district, but also want to cut across the continent and spend some time in Uruguay and even southern brazil. Decisions decisions! In the meantime the internet access here bites the big one. I was hoping to scan in some pictures for my site, we´ll see if I can do that for the next few days, since they do have a scanner here but the whole system is so slow I can´t imagine it will work out right. It ain´t easy to be sctir crazy already and know you have almost a week to go before you can leave.
In the meantime I am trying to stay active and feel productive, even as the bike sits day after mofo day and the seasons pass by.
March 14, 1999 WOWZA! My jaws were agape, my cup runneth over, my knuckles were chapped and the water in my bottle froze solid half an hour after sunset. Such were the results of scaling the Andean wall east the Chilean town of Serena, at an altitude perilously close to 16000 feet. It is ironic that I succeeded at this highest of crossings, having turned back so often before..but the weather was perfect. The road was not paved but still in decent condition. It is a popular crossing with local cyclists because of its height, proximity to Santiago and other cities, and its nice scenery, especially on the Chilean side. The Valley Elqui, famous for its wines and Nobel poetess Gabriela Mistral, gives way to high barren mountains and a chilly summit. I was on unpaved road for almost 3 complete days, which was not fun on hybrid tires. I was slip sliding on the way up and down, sometimes even peeling out in the deep sand. They need to invent a front-wheel drive bicycle!

But for all the height Agua Negra had, it cannot hold a candle to the most spectacular mountain pass I have seen so far on this trip, Cristo Redentor west of Mendoza in Argentina and the main crossing over the Andes to Santiago. The road climbs a sometimes steep, narrow, valley with snow capped and savage peaks on both sides. It was windy and cold as I crossed (it is obviously late summer here, now...more about that later) and a fresh layer of snow had fallen on the lofty rock faces. If the weather is clear, Mt. Aconcagua, at 6959 meters the highest mountain outside of asia, will easily catch your eye. Wild camping is everywhere..there are also hostals and small towns along the way on both sides. [This is NOT the case with Agua Negra. Do not enter the main part of the pass unless you are well provisioned, although water is available]. These two crossings were just a most appropriate climax to what has been months of mountain riding, since I first entered the Rocky/Andes cordillera ages ago in late June, 1998. From here I will follow the mountains a bit further south, as they begin to wind down to lower and lower elevations. Then I will cross argentina to Buenoa Aires and fly to London. This is a major change in my trip, as I was originally going all the way to Tierra del Fuego, but the wind is already driving me batty, and I couldn´t stand the thought of getting blown away all thru Patagonia. Its also a bit late in the year for Ushaia....i spent to much time in coffee shops further north! Good!! I LOVE the coffee here.

Its been so long since last I updated this page, you have no word about my crossings of the Loma and Atacama deserts, to say nothing also a major accomplishment. I found the coast of Peru to be fascinating, it has been my only coastal ride on this tour, and it was just amazing evening after evening to have blood red and brandywine colored sandy hills on my left side, while there was pounding surf on the other. The road was excellent, the traffic courteous, the people fantastic (thank you ´silver surfer!´ you know who you are!) and many of the cities and towns were no means should you miss Arequipa, the ´White City´ or Tacna, right on the southern border.

You may have heard that the Atacama is the driest place on earth, or close to it. How is it for cycling?? Great! Don´t listen to these buffoons who say ´put your bike on a bus!´ They are the same guys who are bored the in the US Midwest, where people are the friendliest in the world. By all means ride from Arica to La Serena and enjoy yourself. Cars honk, trucks flash their lights, people wave out of bus windows. Every time I stopped people pulled over and asked me if I needed help, or offered mangoes, or a ride to the nearest town, etc. I felt the Atacama was such a road community surpassed only by the network of riders and trucks on the AlCan highway, early last summer. For the benefit of those riders going this way, here is a summary of points and KILOMETER road markings where you can get food and water. Send me mail if ya wanna know more.

Atacama Guide to Food and Water

Arica 2070 Km.
Chaca-Khan Canyon 2025 Km
Camarones Canyon/Cuya 1970 Km
Hilltop 1931 Km
Oasis 1887 Km
Huara 1840 Km
Humberstone 1814 Km

Turn off for the coast here to Iquique, it is far more beautiful. Plenty of services available from Iquique to Antofogasta.

rejoin Panam south of Antofogasta Km ???
Escondida Road 1315 Km
Posada Rosaria 1281 km
Posada San Francisco 1178 Km NOTE 100 KM Gap!!!!
Tal Tal Junction 1148 Km
Posada Km 1100
Posada Bombas Km 1031

The desert really loses its grip after Chaneral and technically ends at Copiapo. Copiapo is a GORGEOUS small town with a great bike shop, BIMAN. Ask at the info office on the main square. Good time to clean your bike from 1000 kilometers of sand and dust.

So....swansong from here! I have conquered my andes, my rockies, my cordilleras, my volcanoes. Now across south america to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, letting the tailwinds push me to the Atlantic for the first time since panama. I can take my pace a bit easier now...i really was intimidated by those deserts and piled on the mileage. Quito to La Serena in 2 months.....not bad! I may make another entry in this series, but this is probably my last one. From now on look at part 4! Good bless ya and hope to here from ya all soon.

February 10, 1999 Well, the lazy man in me is coming out a bit, or perhaps my butt is not up to snuff, or perhaps I just don´t think of bouncing over rocky roads for days on end as my idea of cycling. But I turned back to Arequipa after trying to climb and ride over to Lake Titicaca, and I will not scale the Andes again until Santiago, a long ways south of here. To some extent again it was a matter or prudence, for I am still not 100% sure what the problem is with my bloody urine--- tests in Lima were negative, but sure enough BANG there it was again en route to Arequipa. Will get retested in Arica, Chile. in any case, now riding down the coast all the way to Santiago. Desert, and many riders say they are bored to tears, but I don´t see what their problem is. Many parts of the coast south of Lima were beautiful long, lonely stretches of beach...sort of like California without the Californians, i.e. paradise! And while the desert itself may not be as interesting as other types of terrain, its very suble shades of yellow, tawny, brown and dark sands is a great test of your visionary skills. In some places the sand dunes were a silvery color in the midst of tan desert...never saw that before. I am reminded of Winston Churchill´s fascination and paintings of the Moroccan desert...where I will be in a few months.

Another reason I am staying on the coast is just the fact that I have NOT ridden on the coast much this trip, and it just great to hear that surf pounding day and night. The nights are clear, the stars are getting more and more out of place. It helps that rain is so scarce, too...had enough rain further north from Hurricane mitch! There is not too much sand in these deserts, either, so generally the riding is pretty straightforward. Whoever said the traffic on the coast is rude and contemptuous of cyclists is full of SHIT!!! I have buses flashing their lights, trucks honking their horns rhythmically, cars stop and offer me water, or mangos, or a ride! I am making good time on the coast, too, although because I spent so much time looking around (i.e. laying around in coffee shops!!!) further north, I am not likely to make it all the way to Tierra del Fuego before the weather is awful. So i probably will head due east from Santiago, and see central argentina and the east coast of South America for a while. Maybe I will bop up to Brazil and enjoy the currency crisis. Oh to an ice cream shop. Everyone in Tacna seems to be either a lawyer or a soldier...the town has a big military base nearby, and they have their Battalion logo etched into the hillside above the town. I must admit I will be sad to leave Peru. Despite all the stories about theft, crime, snatch and grab, dirty cities, etc, I found it to be a wonderfully friendly place. YES...the cities are often dirty, and I´ll have much more to say about the cities from Mexico to Chile later on this website; but I hate cities, anyway, and have tried to avoid them whenever possible.

By the way from here the Atacama desert stretches south for almost 1000 miles. I am gonna try to ride long, hard and fast thru it so I can spend more time further south and east. This shouldn´t be too difficult as the PanAm on the Chilean (and Peruvian) coasts is in excellent shape. The side winds are a bitch to deal with, but they keep ya cool. Only the lack of water for showering/washing off is a major pest...after 2 or 3 days in the desert you are sandblasted, dry, dusty and salty. The sun is now clearly ´behind´ me even as I ride south. I will cross the tropic of Capricorn just north of Antofogasta, thus leaving the tropics for the first time since late September in Mexico.

January 27, 1999 Hey...from Quito to Lima in about 3 weeks...thats pretty good riding, considering how bad the roads were in places. South of Quito the roads were in pretty good shape until Riobamba, where a mixture of dirt, gravel, construction and mountain mayhem made a mishmash of the roads all the way to the border crossing at Macara. Once in Peru the roads were much better. Alot of cyclists profess to be hopelessly bored with the coast, but I found the sand dunes and savage dry mountain peaks to be quite interesting--of course, I have a geology background. It was interesting to camp in the middle of a barchan after teaching my students about them in my Environmental Geology class. A Barchan is a croissant shaped sand dune that forms in deserts with relatively little sand and steady winds. STEADY Winds! Thats for sure! Headwinds, unfortunately, so you have to push your way south. But i just started singing some fighting songs (mostly by the rock group U2...) and pushed on the pedals, and here I am. My brief foray back up into the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, east of the city of Chimbote, brought me back over 4000 meterds and it was chilly and clear. The stars look strange..many of them I do not recognize, the moon and orion are upside down, and the big dipper is missing. The Magellanic Clouds get higher and higher as I work my way south.

I needed some medical attention. The bright sun spawned a pre-cancerous lesion on my lower lip, which the doctor here sprayed with liquid nitrogen. The very very rough roads--I hope this is the reason-- had me pissing blood for a few days, as well. When I get to Santiago i'll have all these medical problems rechecked.

Making it all the way to Tierra del Fuego is gonna be a close, close call, as it is already late January and i have over 3000 miles to go. Damn Chile just stretches out and out and out...but we'll see what we can do. The bike continue to hold up well, although on the very roughest roads a mountain bike would clearly be a better choice.

From here my route takes me south along the coast to Arequipa, back up into the mountains near Cuzco and Lake Titicaca, then down the crest of the Andes into northern Chile where I will return to the coast south of the Atacama desert. I have modified my submission schedule and will make Santiago, Chile the end of part three. I will point out to perspective readers and riders that I have had no security problems in Peru, just as I had none in Colombia. I am just like a mother hen and keep an eye on my stuff. I don't let anyone between me and my equipment. Most restaurants and all hostals/ motels/ hospedaje allow you to bring your bike inside.

By the way I almost didn't get out of Quito alive. The route out of the city to the east cuts thru some cliff faces, and a fairly hefty landslide came down on the road maybe, 100 meters in front of me as I snuck out of town in the early morning. Huge boulders would have crushed me and the bike instantly, and it took 30 secodns for the dust to settle. I must admit that landslides, going all the way back to Central America, has been my most consistent road threat.

Trip holding up well..was supposed to get four new ones sent to me in Lima, but my sender stiffed me! Luckily i should be OK until Chile/Argentina, where the bike shops are better..coastal sand and dust turns axle grease into ear wax within is good, and am starting to see delicatessens again. It is impossible to keep me out of any decent pastry/coffee shop I 4100 meters the Milky Way is so bright that it is almost the dominant sky I said the moon is upside down, no man-in-the-moon here! Soon the sun will be backwards too, at my back as I head SOUTH! third medical problem is an itchy torso rash. The doctor suggested I might becoming allergic to spandex!! Whats a biker to do?? Knowing some of the places I have camped, I am more afraid it might be pig lice...ah, the joys of country touring...Since I have not been on the coast much on this tour, the Peruvian coast has a special unusual appeal. Yes, I miss part of the inland Andes, but I also have much better road surface and overall mileage, important at this stage of the trip. Still hoping for Spain as of May 1 1999....starting to focus on Iran as the way to cross from Asia minor into Asia proper. The Karakoram highway just isn't the route I wanna take and forces me thru alot of former Russian republics with all their hassles and crime...Planning a big reunion with some colleagues next July 4th in Europe...until Santiago, I say bye bye!

December 31, 1998 Hello from Quito, again. Since my last brief entry below, I have finished a round trip up into the mountains of southern Colombia, including most of the Cauca and Magdalena valleys and the cordillera in between them. Because these areas (and Colombia in general) are viewed as dangerous for tourists, I thought i would pay specific attention to this issue while I discuss this section of the tour.

First: I saw no terrorists, guerillas, gorillas, chimpanzees, or any threatening situations of any kind when I was on the road DURING THE DAY. This includes the notorious Pasto-Popayan Road, as well as the roads near Cali and Bogota, which have had some problems in recent weeks. To be honest, I did see a couple guys get out of a jeep on the Pasto-Popayan road carrying the BIGGEST PISTOLS I have ever seen, but whatever their task, it did not appear to involve me as I just rode by and even exchanged pleasantries...[gee Hombre...nice GUN ya got there!...]. However, all roads in Colombia should be handled with great caution at night and cyclists should never consider ´wild camping´ by the roadside unless you are well out of sight of the main road, preferably on private property with the owners knowledge and permission.

Second: The situation which was annoying and could turn into an opportunity for snatch-and-grab theft is the case where children (and sometimes adults) stretch a rope across the road to try and stop traffic, hoping just to get a few coins tossed their ways. For cars and trucks this is no problem as they can, if they wish, just barrel thru. For a BIKE, however, it can be a nightmare, for if they don´t lower the rope, you come to a stop and they can rush your bike and steal what they can! Sometimes even cars must stop because people will stand directly in the roads. I had to get off the bike a couple times and make it clear I intended to pass by without incident. 99% of roadblocks of this sort are just for fun...but with so many on parts of the road, its only a matter of time before your number comes up. In one case, near the Ecuador town of Ambugui near the northern border, two trucks and I were stopped at the entrance to a long bridge by a rope and people standing in the road. One kid tossed a rock thru the passenger window of the truck, the people in the cab got out, and a general donneybrook ensued for the next five minutes....mostly verbal and all in Spanish! Funny, yes, looking back, but now while it was going on.

Third: The scenery is great, especially in the mountainous region near the border with Ecuador and in the Magdalena valley. The road is in excellent condition, the people are friendly, the towns are happy and content in calm in their Andean valleys. I had good weather most of the time. The coffee is the best in the world and the pastry shops are delicious. Very few of the people, if any, were ´hostile´ to me because I was american. That being said, if you are uncertain of your status, tell the people you are a Canadian or New Zealander while you are on the raod. It probably IS a prudent thing not to tell people your exact route, or that you are traveling alone. But they are not stupid, either...if there is only one road its pretty obvious what your route is, so use your head. ROUGHSTUFF EXTRA: If you entertain paranoia about being kidnapped, its a good idea to state that you are diabetic. Nobody wants to kidnap someone who needs alot of medical attention and regular drug injections.

Fourth: Colombians are rabid cyclists and often adults and sometimes young kids will dash along and ride with you on their bike, uphill, for kilometer after kilometer. Colombians are world champion climbers and love to show off their strengths. It is ONE reason why I think you are safer in Colombia on a bike than you think.

Fifth: The weather is entirely determined by elevation. In the lower valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena, expect warm and often dry weather. In the high mountains over 4000 meters, expect foggy, drippy often bitter cold weather. This region is often called the paramo, and it can be a dreary, solitary experience.

Enough on Colombia. If ya wanna read more specific stuff, check out my report to the South American Explorers Club on this tour, which should be posted on their website in a short time. In the meantime, tomorrow is New Years day and off I go, south, into the rest of Ecuador and Peru. I am due for a change of scenery as southern Ecuador and norther Peru is dry, desert country. I hope to write again in a few weeks.

December 1, 1998 Howdy from Quito. I just rearranged my trip a bit and will enter Colombia from the south and then double back thru the Andes and see them a second time. I did this for a couple reasons. First, I am ahead of schedule and have time to burn. Second, i wanted to see the Andes thoroughly and the best way is to zig-zag and backtrack. Third, there is better info about Colombia here in Ecuador than there is/was in Panama city, or at least so I have found. Forth I like entering countries overland and as long as I had to fly I figured, why not fly all the way to Guayaquil in Ecuador? Then i could double back up the coastal valleys---full of Banana, melon and other plantations!!!- - do part of the Ecuador Andes, and then head into Colombia. Then I can/will do the Colombian Andes thoroughly, and return to Ecuador to finish the job! Its a great Andean runaround, is what it is! I will file an extensive report of my trip with the South American Explorers Club in Quito. You can read it in Quito, read it online, or read part of it here on my page. In any case, off we go, and I hope my tour goes well. I continue to have the fears I refer to below, but, god willing, I hope to write to you again soon.

November 20, 1998 Well I turned 45 a couple days ago and consider myself lucky to be alive after the floods and landslides of Hurrican Mitch. Costa Rica was a welcome sane change from the crazy worlds of El Salvador and Nicaragua, as was Panama. But oddly the roads were surprisingly bad for countries as well off as those two are. I will excuse Panama since massive sections of the PanAm are under a few years the road between the border and Panama city will be two lane divided highway with a good shoulder to boot...a cyclists paradise. But for now it can be rough going. Here in Panama city making plans to get on to Colombia and South America. My hands really are trembling with anticipation and yes a bit of fear, as this is the most dangerous part of the trip from a personal security standpoint. If I am gonna get robbed or worse, even killed on this trip, this will be the place. Peru is a close it is with some degree of trepidation that I push on to Cartagena and the roads south. As I said in my preliminary pre-trip entries, I am willing to assume these added risks, which is why I am riding and you are reading. I will try and make some interent entries from Colombia if I take any days off while there...but most likely my first real entry for this section will be from Quito, Ecuador. 1