2010 ... still cycling on the back!

Publié le par Sylvie

1st January 2010 – Puerto Varas, Chile
20 months ... 15.770 km

With all this rain, we ended up staying here until New Year’s eve. We met again with Celine and Felicien whom we had met in Cusco two months ago. Suzana and Yannick, friends of them, travel with them for a month so we were 8 to celebrate 2010. We had a great time (and a great dinner) followed by a fireworks that lasted … half an hour!
Today, we leave for Chiloe… for sure!
To celebrate the new year, we have added a new photo album: the Lake District. Disfrute bien!

24th January 2010 – Coyhaique, Chile
21 months ... 16.910 km

Here we are, nearly half-way on the Carretera Austral ! We spent the last ten days battling against the rain, the gravel and the sand but have no regrets ! Waterfalls, hanging glaciers, green hills, snow-capped mountains, tropical vegetation, little log cabins… that’s Patagonia just like we dreamt it, the rain on top !
The bad weather (thanks to El Nino) means a bit more organisation and we are usually slow in the morning but now, even more… We have to stay in hospedajes more than what we would like or ask a farmer for a dry place. But we love every day of it ! Even in the rain, this route is amazing.
The ripio (dirt tracks) and the rain have damaged our bikes more in the last ten days than they have been in months. We went to Figon, the only bike hop for 1.000km with a 15-items list. The hubs of the rear wheels had to be changed so we waited here a few days, time for the parts to come from Santiago.
Tomorrow we celebrate Sylvie’s birthday. There are a lot of cyclists here and we meet a lot of friendly people. We stay in the same hospedaje as
Stéphanie and Félix, a French couple on a mixed tandem. We met by chance and, funnily enough, they found our website when they were preparing their trip !
We forgot to say, we were in the national newspaper, El Mercurio, a few weeks ago:
We just regret the big mistake : these cyclists got stuck for three days by the rain in a campsite in… Turkmenistan !!! Now you know how much you can believe about what’s written in the newspapers….
We leave on Monday with Patrice and Céline and Stéphanie and Félix, they have decided to cycle a bit with us before moving on to Buenos Aires.

21st February 2010 - El Calafate, Argentine

22 months ... 
17.700 km

That’s it, we are done with the Carretera Austral ! We had much less rain south of Coyhaique and even enjoyed cycling in t-shirt. The last day, getting in Villa O’Higgins was quite tough: 100 km unpaved, a few hills, strong wind and rain. At the end, the boat didn’t leave on the Wednesday but on the Thursday so we had a day rest. The road ends in Villa O’Higgins and there is 500 km to do in Argentina before going back into Chile. So we first took a boat for 2.5h hours on a fjord. Then we put our luggage on a horse and cycled/pushed/carried our bikes on a 20 km trail. On the Argentinian side, the trail becomes a nightmare for 7 km: mud, trunks on the trail, streams… a lot of fun! A second boat took us to the other side of the Laguna del Desierto and then we only had 40 km unpaved to cycle to get to El Chalten. In El Chalten, we did a few walks around the Fitzroy, an impressive 3,375 m peak. Then we did 220 km in two days (easy on tarmac!) and got to El Calafate. Yesterday, we saw the impressive Perito Moreno glacier. A lot of cracking sounds and sometimes a block of ice falls into the water. Tomorrow we leave for Puerto Natales (Chile) and the national park of Torres del Paine. The road is all paved except for 60 km and it’s the pampa so few ascents. But water won’t be easy to find and there are no villages. As the wind can be quite strong and slow us down, we planned for two extra days of food (5 in total). There are a lot of cyclists here, we will be up to 9 people leaving tomorrow!

27th February 2010 - Puerto Natales, Chili
22 months ... 18.000 km

Only 700 km to go before Ushuaia!

The earthquake this morning (epicenter 350 km south of Santiago) didn’t affect us. Puerto Natales is well sheltered and the locals are not worried so, no risk of tsunami, we are fine!
Tomorrow we go to the National Park Torres del Paine, we will do a few day walks. We can’t face walking 4 days with the tent, the sleeping bags, the food…
We enjoyed the road between El Calafate and Puerto Natales, ondulations, yellow grass… the gauchos pampa just like we imagined it! There was a lot of wind, head and side wind, our muscles got bigger again! Not much water on the way but we still saw a lot of animals: armadillos, ostriches, grey foxes, hares and, of course, a lot of sheep. No village for nearly 250 km but we didn’t have to set up the tent: on the first evening, we slept at Fabian’s house, a policeman who has been posted on a desolated 60-km stretch of ripio just for cyclists and tourists! We arrived at 8pm, having taken 2h to cover the last 20 km and 10 min after, he was putting on the table a big pan with pasta and vegetables! The next day, we slept at a road workers camp. We really appreciated not having to get up in the cold!

24th March 2010 - Ushuaia, Chili
23 months ... 18.800 km

We got to Ushuaia after a very windy day. We left very early from Tolhuin and its famous bakery. We had done 70 km by the time we stopped for lunch at 1 pm. Good but not enough! The wind picked up as we were leaving, it threw Sylvie off her bike and made Hélène do a U-turn… After the rain, Patagonia had decided to bide us farewell with one last gift, 100 km/h gusts of wind. But we still love it!

Tonight, we watched all our pictures of the Carretera Austral and the road south. And actually, it was amazing from the start to the end, under the rain, the sun, the clouds, in the cold and the wind… If we had to do it again? We would sign today!

The next day we arrived in Ushuaia, Ben proposed to Sylvie under the sign ‘Fin del mundo’ on the harbor … Sylvie said yes, of course! What else could she answer to a man who has taken her all the way to the end of the world?

Tomorrow we fly to Mendoza (in Argentina, same latitude as Santiago). Here comes the sun, the colourful rocky mountains and the life on the cheap… we are already dreaming of the cheap tenedor libre (all-you-can-eat buffet) recommended by cyclists. We have finally made up our mind for the next month or so: we are cycling from Mendoza to Salta. Then we have an idea but as it might change again, we will wait until a next update.

4th April 2010 - Mendoza, Argentina
2 years ... 18.800 km

Once at the bottom, we had to go back up… A lot of travellers (not on bikes) asked us why we were not cycling the East coast part of Argentina. Because there is nothing except flat land and wind!

We flew from Ushuaia to Mendoza (same latitude as Santiago) and took a big hit. It is 15 to 20C warmer here. It is also the first time in more than three months that we are in big city (Mendoza has a bit more than 1 million people). Our first reaction arriving here: ‘What is this smell?!’.  As soon as we started putting our bicycles together in the airport, the TV arrived and we got our first interview ever, and in Spanish. We didn’t see the interview but a few days later, some people saw us on our bikes and recognised us: ‘I heard about you on the radio!’.

We have been in Mendoza for 10 days! The city is nice with its little plazas and shaded streets but nothing that warrants a 10-day stop. Jay and Jenny, an English couple we met in Cochrane two months ago, arrived here a week after us. They are also going north so we waited for them. We were supposed to leave on Saturday but the laundry place is closed and Jay and Jenny’s clothes are inside! Ben is delighted, one more day = beer and asado (barbecue). Sylvie thinks it’s time to go, there are still a lot of places she wants to see!

We went on tour of a few bodegas (vineyards) on our bicycles. We also met Thomas, an American cyclist who is a friend of Jay and Jenny. His goal: cycle from Alaska to Ushuaia and climb the highest peak of every country visited!

We will now cycle north to Salta, about 400 km south of the Bolivian border. Sceneries will be very different from those in the South but just as beautiful: multicoloured rocky mountains in the shades of ocre, red, yellow, oases, adobe houses… After our engagement in Ushuaia, there will soon be another major event to celebrate… 20.000 km! In ten days, we can already practice with our two years of travelling.

We thank all of you who have written to congratulate us on our engagement and thanked us for the pictures. We take pictures for memories but also to show you the regions we visit. We hope the next round will be just as good!

18th April 2010 - Chilecito, Argentina
2 years ... 19.500 km

After the moody skies of Patagonia, we have been cycling for two weeks under a wide blue sky and a few white clouds. It is great to be cycling and camping without worrying about the rain, the wind and the cold! People are as welcoming as in the South even though they are sometimes very poor. We are quite shocked at the different ways of living between the cities and the countryside. Barely 20 km outside of Mendoza and San Juan, two big cities, families live in little mud brick houses with not much to survive. Still, they let us camp in their garden or somewhere near their house. A few days ago, we were having lunch with Jay and Jenny on a village square. A man comes to us with three heavy bunches of very sweet grapes.

We visited two superb national parks. Ischigualasto, also called the Moon Valley, is a cluster of very varied otherworldly sceneries going back to the Triassic (before Jurassic): rock formations sculpted by the wind, perfectly round stones and grey and beige hills. Some very old dinosaurs fossils have been found there. Talampaya, 75 km north of Ischigualasto, is an impressive canyon with red cliffs of 150 m height. During spring, a river goes through the canyon but only very briefly, it only falls 100 mm of rain every year here. Still, the canyon is green, trees and bushes drive their roots very deep to get the water from underground pockets. Guanacos, maras (a big rodent the size of a rabbit), condors live here thanks to the verdientes, small lagunas born of underground rivers showing through the ground.

Yesterday, we rode on the ripio again, only 20 km, on the Cuesta de Miranda (60 km in total). A great climb (and descent) between red rock cliffs. From time to time, a three-house hamlet where we could get water or pitch our tent.

A few encounters coming up: Dominique and Michelle, two South-African girls we met on the day of the Villa O’Higgins crossing are in Mendoza and will join us in a few days. And we learnt by chance that Michael and Silvia, a Swiss couple we met in Coyhaique are only one day behind us! They met a Swiss family in a camper-van who offered us a mini bottle of champagne to celebrate our two years on the road!

1st May 2010 - San Ignacio Mini, Argentina
2 years ... 19.700 km

About 200 km North of Chilecito, in Aimogasta, we meet Michele and Dominique who we first met two months ago when we crossed into Argentina in Villa O’Higgins. Bad luck, Sylvie starts a tendinitis in the knee so we decide to all go (also with Jay and Jenny) to Iguazu falls to give her knee some rest.

The day we arrive in Puerto Iguazu, it rains like hell but then we get two sunny days to visit the Argentinian side and the Brazilian side.

The river Iguazu (‘big water’ in guarani) is in spate. The flow is usually 1,700 m3/s… now, after all the rain in Brazil, it is 14,000 m3/s! Where there is usually 90 cm of water, there is now 3 m. Some paths had to be closed for safety reasons. Torrents of red water fall continuously from the top and clouds of spray go up to the sky. On the Argentinian side, we are right in the action, walking only a meter above the top of the falls and taking a shower at the bottom. On the Brazilian side, we get a good panoramic view: 275 falls spread over nearly 3 km.

On the way back, we stop in San Ignacio Mini to visit the ruins of a Jesuit mission. The place is so relaxing we decide to stay. Sylvie’s tendinitis hasn’t gone away yet. We are sad to see Jay, Jenny, Dominique and Michele leave. They will be back on their bikes in a few days and we hope to see them again soon. Meanwhile, we spend a few days in a small hospedaje with garden and barbecue.


May 13th 2010 - Catamarca, Argentina
25 months ... 19.700 km

Back in Aimogasta, Sylvie’s tendinitis is still there. We take the bus to Catamarca from where we think of taking a bus to Tucuman, a nicer place for a long stay we heard. But when we get to Catamarca at 7 pm, we like it and decide to stay a few days. You know us, one week later, we are still here! We can’t wait to leave (almost a month without cycling!) but we met an experienced osteopath/kiné. Sylvie not only had a tendinitis but also an inflammation in the quadriceps. We will see what the doctor says tonight, we hope to be able to leave on Saturday.


In the meantime, we keep ourselves busy: books, blog updates, long talks with Catherine, the only other French guest here, Spanish lessons and … French lessons! We met Laura and Marta, two French teachers. Yesterday, we spent an hour with a class of 12-13 year-old … we forgot how noisy they are at that age! Sylvie told them about French crepes and Ben explained that there are many different types of cheese in France: hard ones, soft ones and smelly ones … big success when Ben pinched his nose to illustrate! Tomorrow evening we meet a group of 3rd year university students.

We still receive emails from our cyclist friends: ‘We are in Tafi … we are in Salta …’. We are a bit sad every time, they are moving away further and further from us. We could take a bus to meet them but the road will be more and more beautiful and we don’t want to miss it.

May 22nd 2010 - Catamarca, Argentina
25 months ... 19.700 km

We have never sent you news so often ! It’s a shame we haven’t got anything more exotic to tell you than : asados in the sun, talks with local people and Sylvie’s visits to the physio.

At the beginning of this week, we saw a traumatologist orthopedist who advised anti-inflammatories: one injection of corticoide and then a patch of Voltarene for a few days. We don’t really like this kind of methods but the results seem to be here: today, Gabriel, the physio, could massage Sylvie’s muscles without her waking up the whole city and he seemed positive. Tomorrow, we go for a test ride… fingers crossed!

Sylvie has kept herself busy by working on the blog. To all of you who are preparing a cycling trip: check Equipment and preparation for information on equipment and cyclo-touring. For those of you who still wonder why we love cycling, check 15 good reasons to travel on a bicycle. Meanwhile, Ben sharpens up his strategic skills by playing game after game of backgammon with Catherine. And he doesn’t seem tired of winning all the time.

We spend a lot of time with Martha and Laura, the two French teachers who do their best for us. Martha has initiated us to some sweet things from Catamarca: candied nuts with dulce de leche, jams… Laura comes every day for a chat, to lend us a DVD… And we are in excellent company with Catherine: talks, Scrabble and backgammon, diners together. We also met Alejandro, a mountain guide and cycling coach who took Ben for a ride.

So far so good … we hope to be on the road soon!


June 13th 2010 – Cafayate, Argentina

26 months … 20.300 km

We got back on the road 2 weeks ago, what a relief! Sylvie’s legs are still not completely back to normal so we take it easy: no more ripio and ‘reasonable’ distances … it’s tough to cycle 60 km when a normal day used to be 100km! Still, we managed to cycle up to Tafi del Valle, 2.500m in 2 days and a half. The rest of our trip should go through less hilly terrain.

Very beautiful road with switchbacks through the forest to go up to the village of Tafi where we met Pierre and Laure who start a round-the-world trip on recumbents (Enviroulemonde). We cycled together to Cafayate. Ascent through arid sceneries, a bit like the pampa up to the pass of the Infiernillo (‘little hell’, 3040m). Beautiful descent through a forest of cactus to the small village of Amaicha. Then we cycled though the vineyards up to Cafayate.

There we left our bikes and rented a car with a French couple to see the beautiful ripio road to the village of Cachi. We had to stop in a small village so that Ben and Vincent could see the first game France – Uruguay. They went as far as asking the policemen of the tiny village in which bar they could get the biggest screen! This road is very beautiful, arid landscapes, rocky cliffs opening on cultivated valleys … Tomorrow we cycle up to Salta via the paved road.

July 4th 2010 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

26 months … 20.800 km

That’s it … this is our last day on the South American continent! We fly this afternoon to Toronto and arrive tomorrow morning at 5:30. We spend a few days there before going to Windsor to spend some time with Ben’s father … they both have been waiting for this moment for a long time. We have been talking about visiting since the start of this trip, 2 years ago!

Our short trip to the Quebrada de Humahuaca was great: we went up by bus and went down 220 km and 1.500 m on the bikes … why make it hard for yourself? Once again, the scenery was amazing, especially around Purmamarca village where the seven-colours hill lights up with the morning sun. We felt very close to Bolivia: dark-hair and dark-skin people, coloured fabrics…

In Salta and Buenos Aires we got caught in football fever. They don’t joke about it here! People talk about it in the shops, in the streets … up to the small dogs which coat is white and blue! Unfortunately today, the country is mourning, Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany. This defeat bitterly reminds them of a similar defeat four years ago … also against Germany and also in quarter finals. Paul and Mariana (our hosts here) said the country is entering a Depression that is going to last at least two months…

A big thank you to Paul and Mariana for hosting us!

July 17th 2010 – Toronto, Canada

27 months … 20.800 km

We arrived two weeks ago in Toronto. We spent a few days with Sébastien and Carolina and finally met little Pablo, born a year ago. Ben has known Sébastien and his family for ten years, going back to the good old times when he was living in Canada. Then we took a bus to Windsor… don’t worry, for us too, Windsor was synonymous of British royalty … until, a few months ago, when Ben’s father got a job in this small Canadian city … on the other side of Detroit … there, now you see where it is! There isn’t much to do here, a good opportunity for us to add a new photo album to the blog and spend some time planning our route in Canada. Sylvie also got treated to a few sessions of osteopathy and physio … we want all the chances on our side to cycle Nova Scotia and New Foundland!

Even though we have been here a few times before (we spent a year at Laval University in Quebec City ten years ago), we experienced a few surprises when we arrived. Warm and damp weather only 14h after we left Buenos Aires and its cold winter… The last time we cycled by warm weather was eight months ago, in Japan. Second surprise, nice one … Canada is bike friendly. We could have guessed but we had forgotten what it was like cycling across parks and along a lake on cycle paths … nearly all 40 km from the airport to the city centre. Trees, flowers, bushes, freshly cut grass … all this green is refreshing and relaxing after having spent three months in the arid landscapes of northern Argentina.

Libanese, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Koreans … Canada is one huge melting pot and we love having diverse food again. In Argentina we loved the meat (well, Ben did!) and the fresh fruits and vegetables. But here, we can have goat cheese, Asian salads, tons of different ice-creams, baguette…

On Monday, it’s the end of our holiday. We get back on the bikes and cycle from Toronto to Québec. We look forward to the ride: along the Rideau Canal, a network of water locks between Kingston and Ottawa, along the Saint Lawrence, and we will stop at friends’ places every 3-4 days … we will even go to New York for a few days at the end of the month!

August 15th 2010 – Québec, Canada

28 months … 21.700 km

In one month, we cycled 1.000 km but, most of all, we met again with many friends … and even made some new ones, like David who helped us so much in Montreal.

The news of the month: we booked our return flight … we land in Amsterdam on September 23rd. We go home through Holland, Belgium (where we are awaited by the whole of Ben’s family!) and north of France to end in La Rochelle in November. But before that, we still have a few km to cycle in Canada such as Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, one of the most beautiful cycling routes they say… Then a special guest joins us: Geraldine, one of Sylvie’s friends from college will cycle with us through Prince Edward island and iles de la Madeleine.

September 1st 2010 – New Glasgow, Canada

28 months … 22.230 km

We have just finished the mythical Cabot Trail, a road that goes around Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia. We have brought back many good souvenirs, amazing encounters and beautiful pictures. Unfortunately, Sylvie has hurt her knees again, not too bad we think. Of course, climbing 14% slopes isn’t very clever … but cycling along the sea was so tempting!

Meanwhile, Earl is gate-crashing Ben’s birthday (Sunday 5th) so that should give us a respite before cycling again. A hurricane, the second for this season, is coming to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, our destination for this week-end, with 200 km/h winds … as Ben said, with such tail winds, we will fly through the island!

Geraldine (Sylvie’s friend) joined us today. Bob, her host in Truro, took her halfway and Ben met her and took her home. We hope the knees get better soon … as for the hurricane, we can’t do much about it!

At the moment, Cathy, Keely’s mum, is kindly hosting us at her home. Nat (Ben’s friend) and Keely were supposed to come and cycle with us this week-end … we will have to change plans! A pub crawl week-end in Halifax perhaps …?


October 5th 2010 – Brussels, Belgium

30 months … 22.770 km

Life never goes as planned … At the start of this trip, we were not sure we would make it further than the German border because of Sylvie’s knees. We had been thinking of our arrival through Holland, Belgium and France … well, it won’t happen!

Sylvie’s knee hasn’t recovered from the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. We rode 120 km in the Netherlands before we had to stop. It’s been hard accepting that we wouldn’t finish on our bicycles. As Yann, Sylvie’s brother, said, ‘this is like, for an alpinist, turning back 50 m before the summit’. And that’s really how we feel … tough to arrive by train in la Rochelle instead of the triumphant arrival on our bikes we were dreaming of.

We have spent a week in Holland visiting all our friends, people we met in this trip or the previous one … we had a great time!

We then stopped shortly in Antwerp at Karolien’s, Sylvie’s ‘sister-in-law’, where we felt like we were thrown 10 years back (‘the good old times’) in an exuberant and welcoming student house.

And then Brussels where we start tour ‘Belgium tour’ with a visit to Yves and Alix, Ben’s uncle and aunt. That’s when we decided to stop cycling and being with them has helped us swallowing this bitter pill! This week we carry on south, Ben on the bicycle and Sylvie by train, to more family meals, likely to be washed down by Belgian beer and French wine …

Next week, Sylvie’s father drives up to take us and the bikes in Brussels and back to La Rochelle. Then we start a tour de France, by train sadly. Marseilles, Lyons and Paris before going back to England and … work! Well, yes if we want, one day, to go travelling again …

We will let you know on this page on how we progress through our new life.

Thanks to all of you who have followed us and we hope one day to be able to post more amazing stories and pictures of a new cycling trip!

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