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!

Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

As we left El Chalten under a clear blue sky, we finally understood why it is such a tourist attraction! Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding ranges were spectacular! It had snowed the night before and all the mountains around the town were covered in a beautiful light dusting of snow.

Heather wasn't with us this time, she had some more knee problems. In the first couple of kilometers we took a lot of pictures with the mountains in the background. The wind pushed us along for 90 wonderful kilometers at almost 30 km/h, and we joined up with the mythic Ruta 40. Then we turned practically 180°... and faced the wind head on. It took us 3 hours to cover the next 30 km. It was a good day overall – more than 120 km in total! Only a little ways from the mountains, we found ourselves again the Andean steppe, similar to the north of Argentina and even a little like the Altiplano. The third day we got up at 5:45 in order to leave as early as possible before the wind, since we had to go east to get to El Calafate. It worked out really well: barely any wind against us, but as soon as we arrived it picked up.

We're in high tourist season right now. Almost all the accommodations are full, and the prices have soared, often unreasonably. The first day after biking 110 km, we stopped at an estancia in the middle of nowhere that offered a campground of sorts: hard packed earth, dusty, but sheltered from the wind by a high fence. The only service they offered was a hot shower. They wanted US$10 per person (€7.20), worth almost three pounds of really good steak here, good enough to actually melt in your mouth! We tried negotiating a little but the owner wasn't interested, claiming that she had really high overhead costs. Later we remembered the great campgrounds we stayed at in Alaska and Canada that must have the same costs and offered more services (wi-fi, laundry) for less. This is just one example of what we've experienced recently: the high volume of tourists distorts the relationships we might have with the local population, especially on the well-trodden paths... Luckily, traveling by bike means that we are able to get off the main routes every once in a while!

It was the same story yesterday going to see the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing. As foreigners we had to pay about US$20 to get into the park. Argentineans have to pay US$6.50, and it is free for students and residents of El Calafate. Honestly sometimes we feel like cash cows! That being said, the glacier really was very impressive. We managed to avoid most of the tourists by renting a car with Heather, Rebekka, Urban and Denis, and we arrived there at sunrise. We breakfasted facing the glacier – magnificent! The face of the glacier is 5 km wide and 60m high. It advances 2m per day and so frequently whole sheets of ice detach from the glacier and fall into Lake Argentino with a thunderous crash. We stayed and watched for hours.

Sara's new rim on her back wheel has already given up the ghost, after only 730 km! It was so badly installed that it only lasted 3 weeks. It was unduly stressing the chain, no doubt the source of all the problems that we've been having. So we changed the rim here in El Calafate, and it seems to have been properly done. We definitely put a little pressure on the employees of the bike shop! We've got our fingers crossed that it makes it all the way to Ushuaia!

Sébastie

[Drapeau de Argentine Heather | Le 02-02-2010 18:25 | Add a comment]

A Military Obstacle Course

For the last few weeks we have shared many unforgeable moments with other cyclo-tourists. Heather, of course, who has been traveling with us since November; and also Rebekka and Urban, Swiss couple that we have frequently met up with; Thomas and Julie, the couple from New Zealand; Ashlie from Canada; Sean from Ireland; Elodie and Sylvain, the French couple on a tandem; Martin from New Zealand; Benjamin and Alejandra, a French-Chilean couple also on a tandem who helped us out a lot when we had problems with Sara's bike in Villa Cerro Castillo; and Denis from France. In Cochrane we met Arnaud and Guillaume, quite coincidentally, who are from the Jura, where I grew up. They are on a six month tour of South America, after already having biked through Europe and Asia. Meeting all these people has helped us a lot – sharing information, encouraging each other, splitting accommodations, and of course, having a good time.

There were about a dozen of us cyclo-tourists all in the same hostel in Villa O'Higgins, waiting for the boat. Even Seth and Kirsten were there, the American cyclo-tourists we stayed with in Santiago de Chile. The boat was delayed one day because of the strong winds on the lake. The next morning, after biking the last seven kilometers of the Carretera Austral all together, we got on the ferry for three hours of rough water across Lake O'Higgins. We went through the Chilean customs on the other side, in Candelario Mancilla. The unique thing about this border crossing – the reason we wanted to do it – is that it is only accessible on foot... or by bike! No cars cross the border there. It was lovely to bike without exhaust fumes, through the beautiful  landscape: a turquoise lake surrounded by snow capped mountains and hanging glaciers.

We had been planning to rent a horse to carry some of our bags so that the bikes would be lighter. We had made a reservation, and yet it seemed the wrangler was not interested in renting out his horses... So it was with fully loaded bikes that we began the difficult and even treacherous ascent. Four hours and not a little bit of pushing later, we found ourselves at the top of the pass, the official border between the two countries. We seemed to be right on schedule, and according other cyclo-tourists, it would take about three hours to get down the other side. We met a Belgian cyclists going the other way who told us that our friends were about an hour ahead of us. We knew that the most difficult part was still to come. There were narrow trenches that the front panniers wouldn't fit through, so Sara figured out how to attach them all the backs of the bikes. It made the bikes harder to control, but easier to walk along the narrow and winding path. It was like a boot camp obstacle course! We crossed over many rivers carefully maneuvering the bikes on narrow branches and we picked our way through a muddy swamp. We pushed and pulled the heavy bikes over countless steep inclines, slipping on the wet roots. We fell over a couple of times from the unbalanced weight of  the bikes, scratched our legs on the bushes, and bruised our calves on the pedals.

After another 4 hours of struggling along, we had only covered about 4 or 5 of the 7 kilometers. We were exhausted and at 9:30 it was getting dark. In the last river crossing each of us ended up with at least one foot in the water, and so we pitched the tent quickly in the driest spot we could find. Then we had to filter water, make soup and pasta for dinner ,which we ate in the tent sheltered from the rain, We didn't get to bed until 1:00 am! The next morning we had to get up at 7:30 to try to get though the last part of the crossing and make the 12:00am boat across the Lago del Desierto, the earlier of the twice daily ferry crossings (the second didn't leave until 6 in the evening). Only half a kilometer along, we had to unload everything from the bikes to cross a river. In the rain, the roots were more slippery and the trail more muddy than the day before. The last section was a very steep downhill  through a narrow trench, and we were pulled along by the weight of the bikes. The brakes were nearly finished since, just like in Ecuador a couple of months ago, rain and sand is a deadly combination for brake pads.
We were very relieved when we arrived at the bottom just after 11, went through the Argentinean customs, and could see the boat arriving. We got on with Denis, Urban and Rebekka, who had all arrived the night before. We all took about the same amount of time going up, but it took us more than five hours in get down, while it only took them about three and a half.

On the boat we avoided being scammed by the employees who wanted an extra 10 pesos for each bike. After eating lunch together on the other side, we all set off, once again in the rain, to cover the 36 kilometers to El Chalten. The rotten weather meant unfortunately that we didn't get to see the famous Mount Fitz Roy. It was extremely windy all night, and we were hoping to get a better view of the gorgeous mountain range on a hike this afternoon.

And if we had to do it over again?

Sébastien: “I would take off the right pedal, or maybe both of them! I would not bother to try to keep my feet dry or out of the mud.”

Sara: “I would wear rain boots! I would pack lighter, or at least wait for horses so that I would have been able to better appreciate the unique and spectacular border crossing.”

Heather: “I would take a backpack so that the bike would be lighter. I would also get better panniers, ones that are easier to load and unload. Also maybe more waterproof gear... but I think that applies to all of Patagonia, not just this border crossing!”

Sébastien

[Drapeau de Argentine Heather | Le 28-01-2010 18:57 | Add a comment]

At the End of the World

After spending a day in Cochrane we headed towards Villa O'Higgins, the last stop on this challenging and beautiful route south. We had good weather and were finally able to bike without all our rain gear, which is hot and sweaty. We wound our way through the valleys, passing by numerous waterfalls. The road was in pretty good condition, but the constant ups and downs were tiring. When we took our eyes off the dangerous and rocky road ahead, we saw many condors and also a fox.

We met many other cyclo-tourists, especially at Puerto Yungay where we had to take a ferry to cross the river. Since it doesn't run all that frequently, it was a rendez-vous point for all the travelers. We chatted with them, sharing stories and information. It was a welcome moment of respite, when we forgot about our sore legs, the mechanical problems, the rain and the wind.

On the next stretch we had a day of non-stop rain: it didn't let up from morning until night. We looked for a dry place to eat lunch, and we saw a house on the left side of the road. We decided to ask if we could eat there. An older man saw us and showed us where we could take shelter from the rain. There was another cyclo-tourist in the out building - he had spent the night there, unable to continue north because of the wind the day before and because of the rain this day. We ate inside, and the other cyclist decided to go on after we told him that there was a shelter in Puerto Yungay where he could stay if he caught the 7 pm ferry (the ferry mechanic from the village lets people stay in his house). In the end, we stopped for lunch and spent the night. The couple that lived there ran the house and the huge property, but they didn't own it. They told us that in fact the land belonged to the second richest man in Chile, the executive director of one of the national banks of Chile, the Banco del Estado.

We had more mechanical difficulites. Two more of the chain links broke and we had to change them. And one of the bearings of the bottom bracket on Sébastien's bike needs to be fixed...

We arrived yesterday in Villa O'Higgins, the end of the Carretera Austral, where the trucks carrying supplies arrive only once every three weeks (lucky for us, they arrived today!). We covered the last ten kilometers accompanied by strong winds and rain. It was a big moment for us when we got to the sign for the village... yet another step completed, the last big one before Ushuaia.

We are waiting here now at the end of this cul-de-sac, about to cross back into Argentina, and getting ready for an epic border crossing... but we'll tell you more about that afterwards!
PS: Heather also arrived yesterday. She bused, hitchhiked, pushed the bike and walked to catch up to us just in time, and we are relieved that she was able to rejoin us.

Sara

[Drapeau de Chili Heather | Le 25-01-2010 20:04 | Add a comment]

20,000 km traveled... but it hasn't been easy!

We did it – 20,000 km biked since Anchorage! It was an emotional moment yesterday just outside of Cochrane: 20,000 clicks in 19 months. The last few kilometers have been pretty tough. We're tired, and the bikes are tired, and our nerves are a little raw...

I was pleased coming back from Coyhaique with Sara's wheel and a brand new rim. I wanted to keep the new hub and cassette from Santiago, and so I asked the mechanic to put on a new rim and new spokes on the older hub. It seemed like he had done a good job, until we actually put the wheel back on the bike. The wheel was not only warped but that the rim itself wasn't a proper circle but was more like an oval. On one side the wheel nearly rubbed against the frame of the bike right by the brakes, and on the other side it was miles away. We were unimpressed! The expletives came fast and furious, feeling discouraged and not a little hopeless… With tears in her eyes Sara helped me true the wheel and try to adjust the brake pads so that they weren't touching the tires but still close enough to the awkward oval-shaped rim...

We left the next morning, a little worried about the strength of the wheel, considering that we still had 500 km of gravel road ahead. We were still both sick and struggled against the persistent headwind. The beautiful landscapes helped us some: small lakes of an improbable turquoise color, and a hidden valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. After climbing a 600 m pass, we could see the rain approaching. We abandoned the plan to join up with the cyclist from New Zealand who we had met the night before, and we hurried to find a spot to camp. As soon as we got the tent up it started to rain, but that didn't stop us from bathing in the glacial river. It rained all night.

And it was raining the next morning too. The morale was pretty low, but we were in the middle of nowhere, 50 km from the nearest town, so we had to mount up and keep going. We risked cooking breakfast in the tent, waiting until the very last minute to go out in the rain. It was raining only lightly, but the road was soaked. Only a couple of kilometers down the road we saw the tracks made by the cyclist from New Zealand. We kept going, and then my back tire exploded! It was the only original tire left on the bikes, and we changed the tire and the inner tube in the rain.

Only a few kilometers later, the tire was flat again. I pumped it up. Sara was really not feeling well. It was slow going despite the decent road. We stopped again to pump up the tire. But just a little bit further, the game was up and the inner tube wouldn't stay inflated. I had to unload the bike again and change the inner tube. Sara made lunch in the meantime, and I ate before putting the bike back together. We were sheltered from the rain, but not the wind, under a leafy tree. It was cold and didn't linger over lunch. I was glad I had waited to put the wheel back on because it was already flat...  again... The patches that we had bought in Chile and Argentina are not very good and don't hold up to the tire pressure. So I changed the inner tube, again. We set off, not feeling great despite the fact that the rain was letting up. Although we had only done about 40 easy kilometers, we were tired, and felt like we had done twice that many. We started looking for a place to camp. The lake that we had been following was specular. We saw two men heading back up a road leading to a house, and they asked us in French if we were Heather's friends! They had been in Coyhaique the night before in the same hostel as her (she was still having knee problems when we left Coyhaique and wanted to rest up a bit more, planning to take a bus later to meet up with us), and they knew all about us! They showed us an abandoned house that one of them was actually considering buying. We took a look and decided to stay the night. It was raining again and it was dry inside. Later in the evening they also came in to spend the night. It was a great camping spot, and the pleasant company went a long way to lifting our spirits.

The next morning it was still raining, but it seemed that the sun wanted to come out. The landscape and the colours were spectacular. The wind was behind us, but the road was steep and our legs were  heavy. 16 km later we arrived at Puerto Rio Tranquillo where we got an email from the Swiss couple Urban and Rebekka who had been waiting for us for two days, thinking we were ahead of them. We continued on, the road was tough but the sun was out. The sun actually helped us a lot to get over the hardest parts. We went around the lake General Carrera and it was magnificent. We found a great little camping spot and took a cold shower in the river.

The next morning a few scattered raindrops weakened our already shaky motivation. Sara was still sick and tired. I was slowly starting to get better. The weather lifted but the road wasn't easy. As soon as there was a bit of sun the horseflies came out. The landscape was just as beautiful, and Bertrand Lake and the Rio Baker were a gorgeous bright turquoise. The road was bad; washboard in some places with big stones over which we skated and skidded. We found a great camping spot on a green carpet of grass, sheltered from the wind and beside a river. It rained that night and the next morning. I took out the video camera to film our ideal camping spot, but the camera wouldn't record...  It seems our mechanical difficulties were not confined to our bikes!

It was only 30 km to Cochrane, the next town, and we were hoping to arrive in early in the afternoon to have a day and a half of rest. But that wasn't taking into account elevation gain of the road and the continued mechanical problems! After 3 kilometers Sara's cage gave out. After 5 kilometers one of the links in Sara's chain decided it had had enough traveling and peeled off. We did the repairs buffeted by the wind, chased by the horseflies and a not a few raindrops. The sun came out though and we eventually arrived in Cochrane around 5 pm. We ran into Urban in the Internet café and also found out that Heather was still in Coyhaique.

We spent the rest day camping, something we haven't done since the United States. The weather is good and there are redcurrant and raspberries growing all around us. Sara just came back with enough fruit to make jam! Mmmmm!

PS: Last Sunday was the second round of the elections, and Sébastien Pinera (on the right) won.

Sébastien

[Drapeau de Chili Heather | Le 19-01-2010 19:52 | Add a comment]

Wind and breakdown

In brief: We´ve had a lot of headwind which has slowed us down. We both caught colds, but don´t worry, we are taking care of ourselves. This morning as we left the town where we had spent the night, we noticed that therim of Sara´s back wheel was cracked...

We thought it best to turn around. Sara stayed behind (in Villa Cerro Castillo). I caught a minibus and headed back to Coyhaique (the closest major town, 100k away...). I dropped the wheel off and I´m going back to pick it up in a few minutes.

Hopefully it works!

The landscape is incredible. The Patagonian wind is strong and erodes the cyclo-tourist´s morale.

Best wishes to everyone and thanks for all your messages!

Sébastien

[Drapeau de Chili Heather | Le 13-01-2010 18:30 | Add a comment]

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