We are in the process of preparing for our return to France.

  • We are looking for places to sleep in between Madrid and Paris (we only need a little corner of land to pitch the tent!). If you can help us out, please follow this link.

  • We already have a couple of conferences lined up along the way. To see the schedule, follow this link. We would be happy to met with you!

We are also looking for an apartment in Paris or the surrounding area, starting in mid-May 2010. Any help or suggestions would be most welcome!

Comparisons and contrasts

We left Terra del Fuego wearing our fleeces and when we arrived in Buenos Aires, all we wanted to do was take off our t-shirts! Traveling with the bikes went perfectly, we had no problems at all and didn’t have to pay anything extra.

Like Anibal’s incredible generosity in Terra del Fuego, Ezequiel and Liesje welcomed us in Buenos Aires and agreed to take our bikes during our little adventure.

After 13 hours in a bus – all inclusive, meaning dinner with drinks (whisky and sparkling wine), breakfast and a totally reclining seat – we arrived in Posadas, almost unbearably hot and humid. Posadas is the jumping off point for visits to the Jesuit missions in Argentina and Paraguay. We went into Paraguay to see one or these missions, and added it to the list of countries we’ve visited.

Now we are in Missiones Province, where most of the mate that Argentineans drink all day long is grown. Then four hours by bus to Puerto Iguazu, the closest village to the falls. The falls are on the border between Brazil and Argentina. We decided to stay on the Argentinean side where the prices for accommodation were a little more reasonable. We had a hard time swallowing the entrance fee – once again we paid three times more than Argentineans… another form of discrimination against foreigners. And the reason for it? Since we’re on the euro and one euro is worth five Argentinean pesos, we should pay five times as much right? All the Argentineans we’ve met have said the same thing…! Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be… sheesh!

The falls were really spectacular, totally worth the detour. On the Argentinean side, the many walkways allow pedestrians to get close to the falls, close enough to feel the spray – !!refresh!!ing, especially with temperatures of 35°C plus humidity. We almost went over to the Brazilian side, but in the end we didn’t have to. One of the walkways went so close that we were totally drenched, and able to fully appreciate the powerful waterfall. Like at the Perito Moreno glacier, we felt incredibly small compared with the forces of nature.

Next up, Florianopolis, in Brazil on the Atlantic Ocean, only a short 14 hour bus ride away!

In case you might be wondering, yes, we miss our bikes. We much prefer traveling by bike since we can take our time and be more flexible. These little hops by bus mean that we skip from town to town without really appreciating the landscapes and the inhabitants along the way.

Sara et Sébastien

[Drapeau de Argentine Heather | Le 07-03-2010 13:52 | Add a comment]

Thinking of our friends in Chile

As you have heard from the international news, there was a massive earthquake in Chile late Friday night. We were in Argentina, far from the centre of the quake.

We have heard from Heather and Vanina and her family who are around Vina del Mar and Valparaiso: the damage is less there than it is further south. We haven’t heard yet from Seth and Kirsten, the couple we stayed with when we were in Santiago. We hope that they are well, as well as their friends and family.

We have seen that there is a storm raging across France right now. We are thinking of all those who are currently facing the whims of the planet.

For our part, we are now in Buenos Aires, where it is hot and humid. There is a big temperature difference between here and Terre del Fuego and we are having a little of trouble adjusting.

We are organizing our tour for the next couple of weeks. On the program: Jesuit Missions, Iguazu Falls, southern Brazil including Florianapolis, and Uruguay. Of course this trip will be outside the scope of the Association Planète Durable et Solidaire.

Just because we have reached Ushuaia doesn’t mean that we will stop updating the site. Our adventures continue, including bus rides, microfinance in Buenos Aires and our return to France by bike from Madrid. We will share our stories with you as often as we can, just like we have been doing for the past 20 months.

Sara

[Drapeau de Argentine Heather | Le 28-02-2010 16:50 | Add a comment]

We did it! Three cheers!

As we left Rio Grande after a comfortable couple of days with Anibal, we knew we were on the home stretch, the last bit of road to Ushuaia. We left late that day – we needed the time to organize ourselves and catch up on sleep. Argentineans have a different rhythm of life, and dinner here never gets started until at least 10pm. Just outside the city we met a French couple with a dog, walking from Ushuaia to Lima, Peru! They seemed just as crazy to us as we seemed to them!

We only biked about 40km, surrounded by clouds, although we barely got rained on. In the evening we stopped in a touristic estancia with rooms to rent, and asked if we could stay. We knew that they had a house that they offered to travelers like us, unofficially, for free. We first asked if we could camp and they told us that there was no camping allowed but that they had a house we could sleep in. It was very basic, mainly lived in by seasonal workers, but at least we had a roof over our heads to protect us from the rain. And right beside there was a little hut where they kept the meat for the dogs, and the odors of rotten meat permeated everything!

Despite the headwinds, the next day we made it Tolhuin, where we knew we would not be staying with the famous baker of the village. He is known to invite all passing cyclo-tourists to stay for free in a little cabin. But we rode right by, following the directions that Anibal gave us, all the way to the lovely little cabana that he reserved for us and paid for! He joined us that evening and cooked us an asado (Argentine barbecue): more than a pound of meat per person! The meat is slow cooked over the coals, and the whole operation meant that we didn’t start eating until almost midnight! But the Argentinean beef is worth the wait!!

We rode on… Ushuaia was only a hundred kilometers away. We just kept biking; it’s not all that complicated. We stopped at the Lago Escondido and found a beautiful campsite. We had to search a little for a good spot, but we pitched our tent beside a lake, in the middle of a forest. We were even able to have a campfire, and regretted that we hadn’t brought some meat to cook over the fire! We made the most of it, took our time, and watched the trout jumping in the lake (Sébastien would have liked to fish, but it was already a little late). After the resident fox came around for a visit, we snuggled into our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

In the morning the alarm went off, but we didn't really feel like getting up. Although we knew objectively it was our last day, we still didn't believe it. We had wanted to leave before 10, but we were unusually slow eating breakfast and packing up, enjoying every moment. We crossed one last time over the Andes: a pass 400 meters above sea level. We climbed quickly, especially with the encouragement of the cars and motorcycles, which we really appreciated it. We ate lunch under some trees by the side of the road, and yes, it rained one last time on our last day of biking. A couple of kilometers before the entrance of the town, Heather went ahead with the video camera in order to film our arrival in Ushuaia. Sébastien and I looked at each other... a little teary eyed. And on the 21st of February, 2010, at 4:48pm, we arrived in front of the sign at the entrance of the city, the same sign that we had seen on the websites of other travelers. I had tears in my eyes then, tears of joy, sadness, and of all that I had accomplished. Sébastien too had tears in his eyes. We had conquered the Americas by bike, by the strength of our will and our calves!

Heather took out the sparkling wine that she had been hiding since Rio Grande. I had wanted to stash a bottle for the occasion, but it would have been hard since Sébastien looks in all my panniers. When I told Heather, she offered to hide a bottle it in one of hers. Sébastien couldn't believe his eyes!

We toasted and took about 40,000 pictures, and congratulated ourselves, proud of what we had done! We are grateful to all those who helped us along the way, encouraged us, biked with us, gave us some of their time, and welcomed us into their homes and their hearts. It's a long list of people, and we want to thank each and every one!

And now?

We are going to spend a couple of days in Ushuaia, exploring this famous town, whose very name has inspired so many cyclo-tourists. Then we will fly to Buenos Aires where we will spent 3 weeks in and around the city. Then off  Madrid, for our own “Tour de France,” seeing friends and family, all waiting impatiently for our return. We will also give a couple of presentations about our trip. So there are still some adventures waiting for us on the horizon!

Sara

[Drapeau de Argentine Heather | Le 21-02-2010 23:04 | Add a comment]

Land of Fire

We in Terra del Fuego now. The last push until the end. We took a 2 hour ferry ride from Punta Arenas to Porvenir, leaving behind the South American continent for the island Terra del Fuego. In 1520, when Magellan sailed through the straits that now bear his name, the island was lit up by the  fires of the native inhabitants. They wore barely any clothes and so always had fires close by to keep warm, which is how the island got its name: Land of Fire.

We crossed through the northern part of the island which looks much like the continent: flat pampa, constantly swept over by the glacial winds. As we biked through the monotonous landscape, we had a lot of time to think, and we reflected a little nostalgically on all the good times over the past 20 months. There are so many memories that they pile up, one on top of the other, in our minds. And of course we are also excited about arriving in Ushuaia and then returning to Europe.

Two nights ago, the icy wind prompted us to ask again at an estancia if we could camp behind one of their buildings. This time Marcelo greeted us warmly and was more than happy to have us stay for the night. He works as a gaucho, and he gave us a guided tour of the estancia. We now know all the details of raising and tending to a herd of 4500 sheep.

We crossed the last border of our trip, between Chile and Argentina, and we also got back onto the pavement. We camped by the side of the road, between two natural gas extractions – one called “La Sara,” and the other “San Sébastien!”

In Rio Grande, Anibal and his family received us like royalty.  We are staying with him for a few nights. He invited us through Sylvain and Elodie, two French cyclo-tourists we met on Chiloé Island and who had told him about us. They had stayed with him in December. As he put it: “friends of my friends are also my friends!” Thank you Anibal, for your generosity! You are the epitome of everyone who has helped us during our trip.

Sébastien

[Drapeau de Argentine Heather | Le 17-02-2010 12:36 | 1 comment]

Freezing wind and warm receptions!

The wind is omnipresent. It is just as strong as ever and sometimes it feels like a headwind, although all the cyclo-tourists that we've met assure us that it is in fact behind us. The wind has been mostly favourable, and we take full advantage! Even though during the day it can get up to 10 or 15 degrees, we bike with our windbreakers and as soon as we stop for lunch, we put on at least two more layers to keep out the frigid wind.

The last few day we biked through the national park Torres del Paine, considered to be one of the most beautiful parks in all of South America. We explored the park by bike and on foot. The main attraction of the park is a mountain range with three granite towers more than 1000m straight up, enough to make even the staunchest climbers dizzy. We saw the towers at sunrise, bathed in a reddish glow, before leaving for a day hike to see them close up. We lunched at the base of the towers, 900m above sea level, frozen solid in the company of an antarctic wind and a few stray snowflakes.

For about three weeks now we have enjoyed the company of other traveling companions who encourage us from the side of the road... We mean of course the guanacos, the wild cousins of the llamas, alpaca and the vicuna. There actually quite tame, although not domesticated, even curious at times. Along the road we also frequently come across foxes, but the most surprising fauna are the parrots that occasionally fly by, and also the nandu, strange wild ostriches that roam the landscape.

With regards to the people we've met, we have had only good experiences recently. Late one very windy afternoon, we found ourselves next to a river with a few bushes that could work as a wind shelter. But it was visible from the distant buildings, and we thought it would be better to ask permission to camp on their land. It turned out to be an estancia, the famous Patagonian ranches. We asked if we could camp behind one of the buildings, and with a big smile on her face, the lady of the house told us that camping was out of the question, and that we would sleep warm and dry in the unoccupied sheep shearers' lodgings. In the meantime, her husband arrived back and welcomed us warmly. We were delighted to accept the invitation, and she brought us a kettle of hot water and some kindling to light a fire in the stove. We couldn't have asked for anymore! A little later a young woman came to the door and invited us for dinner. While we ate a lamb and rice broth and then a big piece of lamp with creamy mashed potatoes, we got to know the young couple employed at the estancia. She is the cook and he is one of the famous Patagonian gauchos. He spends almost the whole day on horseback. Surprisingly, however, one of his most important jobs is making sure that the estancia has enough firewood, but he also takes care of 40 horses, 120 cows, 25 dogs, and of course the 4500 sheep that live on the 4500 hectares of land. They have two boys, 3 years and 9 months, and they seemed very happy, despite the fact that the work is seasonal and not guaranteed for the year. We had a wonderful evening talking about our different lives.

This morning we took a boat to visit the penguin colony on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, home to 150,000 penguins. The strait is controlled by the Chile, and separates the South American continent from the island Terra del Fuego. We got to walk right in the middle of the penguins and see the strange creatures up close.

Time goes by quickly, and the kilometers roll away under our wheels, and we now are only 10 days from the end. How are we feeling?

Well, we are having trouble fully appreciating that the end is so close; it's hard to imagine. So many things have happened since we left Anchorage! For more than 3 years we've had the city of Ushuaia in mind, a distant dream... and now that dream as about to be realized. We are excited.

PS: Sara's new wheel seems to be working well and should last at least to Ushuaia!

Sébastien

[Drapeau de Chili Heather | Le 11-02-2010 22:34 | Add a comment]

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