CYCLING IN SOUTH AMERICA CHILE, ARGENTINA, URUGUAY - 1998-99
Since my retirement in 1988, I have tried to make an interesting trip somewhere, every couple of years. Five of these have involved cross-country cycling, namely in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Chile-Argentina-Uruguay. The write up herein, is a summary of experiences on the latter trip, which I took in the Southern-Hemisphere summer of '98/'99.
A lot of planning has to go into these trips, especially where overseas cycle travel is concerned. A major factor is the equipment required and the shipping. Although many of the airlines today will carry larger sports items free of charge as part of ones luggage, they require it to be packaged such that it will not interfere with other luggage in the hold. With a bicycle, this involves turning the pedals inwards, handlebars rotated sideways, and usually removal of the front carrier, wheel and mud guard. The latter treatment is especially mandatory if using a cardboard bike box, which I always do. The balance of effects such as spare parts, clothes, cooking and eating utensils, tent, sleeping bag, panniers etc, I place in another smaller box; both boxes are discarded at ones destination which of course means getting new ones when returning home. This latter point has never been a problem for me on 5 successive cross-country rides.
Then, on the home front these days, with problems from burglaries and vandalism, house safety is an important aspect; certainly it is unwise to leave a home vacant for too long. Thus, some sort of arrangement is needed for a short-term lease, or a house sitter during ones absence. (Note: during my latest trip to Europe, my home was broken into 3 days after leaving for overseas!)
In my South-American venture, I was fortunate to have friends in Ottawa who wanted to visit Canberra while I planned to be away, thus ensuring a caretaker. At the same time, the airlines were offering a 'special' to Chile/Argentina over this period. Accordingly, with all these incentives corresponding, it seemed like an excellent time for such a trip.
Excepting a small part of my Cross-Canada trip, all of my cycle travel has been solo; part of the reason for this is the difficulty to arrange travel corresponding with others. However, I have found solo travel is not such a bad situation, for once a person reaches senior status, likes and dislikes become stronger and travel on your own is easier. Here I refer to routing, distances traveled each day, meal content and times, attractions to visit etc. My only negative factor in solo travel has been that one is limited in sightseeing, especially during daytime stopovers; even a locked bike and gear is target for theft. On the other hand, I have never had trouble with leaving tent and gear in commercial campsites, allowing one to go exploring on the bike. I guess the gist of my thoughts here are that, if anything goes wrong when traveling solo, there is only yourself to blame!
Admittedly such solo journeys do get lonely sometimes, and it is always pleasant to encounter a fellow cycle-traveler along the way. Then you can relax for an hour or so of chit-chat, comparing notes about things to see and do on each others routes etc. English is almost invariably the common language on such encounters, with German, Swiss, Italian, and Japanese cyclists the most prevalent nationalities that I have come across. Some of these people are on the most incredible journeys. For example, in the Argentine Andes, I met a German cyclist who was traveling from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, in southern Chile, all in one go, and a distance of some 15000Kms. Others may be on year long round the world excursions. It seems cycling these days with multi-geared mountain bikes has virtually no limits.
Accordingly, in late October '97, I flew out of Sydney on Aerolineas Argentinus, bound for Buenos Aires, and subsequently, Santiago in Chile. The initial feeling of being 'dumped' with all one's gear in such a foreign land is quite daunting, especially considering the logistic/linguistic difficulties. However, after the short jet-lag feeling common to most long overseas flights, you start to enjoy your surroundings, and look forward to the upcoming cycling experience.
The first week in Chile, I spent solely in Santiago, a centre of over 4 million people, midway between the Andes and the Pacific coast. The city is a mixture of old and new, with some lovely Victorian and Spanish colonial architecture surviving; unfortunately, many older edifices have been demolished, with high-rise apartment blocks taking their place. Santiago has a fine modern subway that mostly runs on time, with classical music at many stations. However, on the city streets above, a thousand and one taxis and diesel buses are belching out smoke from badly tuned engines, which makes the air quality a disaster. Santiago has an atmospheric problem akin to Los Angeles, and smog forms heavily for days. Thus, one rarely sees the adjacent snow-capped Andes (over 6000 meters altitude northeast of the city), only after rains or clearing winds from the Pacific. This is such a pity, for on the occasional days one can see them, these mountains form a magnificent backdrop to the city.
Another aspect of Santiago that I enjoyed was a local market were all manner of native crafts were being sold. Of particular attraction were the beautifully patterned Alpaca/llama sweaters and other such togs, most of which seemed quite reasonable in price. It was good to see an outlet for these native crafts, for on cursory inspection around town, I felt there was an alarming gap between the rich and poor. Any reasonable opportunity for the native people to raise their standard of living has to be commended.
After a week of persevering with the crowds and smog of the city, I cycled out of the downtown area, bound for the south of Chile. A day before setting out however, I did a walking tour of the central traffic-ways, mainly because I was horrified with the downtown congestion. Even on foot, I couldn't seem to map out a suitable 'retreat', but I decided the best approach was to leave town about daybreak, and hopefully avoid the worst of this madhouse.
Accordingly, I departed from my downtown hostel about 5:00 am on 30 September, following one of the main thoroughfares south (Avenida O'Higgins) Surprisingly, at that hour, traffic was very subdued, and outside of the usual smoky buses and taxis, there was little else on the road. This allowed me to get away from the downtown region, and out onto the ring road and thence the southern freeway by 8:00 am.
My planned course was to cycle south about 1000Kms to Puerto Montt, a seaport town in Chilean Patagonia. At that point, my plans were left open, for although I keenly wished to experience the countryside in far southern Patagonia, I was unsure of being able to cycle that part due to road and weather conditions.
Chile is a long but very narrow country, and there is only one principal north-south highway. This follows a gentle inland valley between a low coastal range of mountains, and the majestic Andes to the east. As I cycled down this route, the first thing to attract my attention were the Andes themselves, now highly visible when away from Santiago's smog. Along the way, the farming scene was fascinating, with motive power from horses to tractors. In the rich volcanic soils, it seemed every kind of crop was under cultivation from apples to artichokes, and grain to grapes. With respect to the latter item, Chile is a major producer of fine wines, and numerous vineyards and wineries of all sizes were in evidence along the highway. I debated stopping at a few of these establishments, but at that stage I was too unsure of my Spanish to get involved in discussing the niceties of their wines. My limits then were "Buenos dias" or "Donde esta el hospidaje Don Carlos?" (Good day, Where is the Don Carlos hostel?). Besides, carting a relatively heavy bottle of wine around on a bike already loaded with 4 panniers, some 50 kilos all up, just wasn't desirable!
Continuing south, the scene remained much the same attractive and interesting. The highway was excellent 4 lanes and with a broad shoulder, highly conducive to cyclists (there seemed to be no restrictions on the latter usage). Often, the road bridged numerous streams, rivers, and irrigation channels, coursing their way down from the melting spring snows in the Andes. Some of these rivers were deeply cut and very fast flowing (and very beautiful) and I often sat on their banks for lunch.
One thing I was rapidly discovering, was that hostel accommodation in the small towns was often as cheap as camping. In one of these, I had an interesting experience at the town of Rancagua. The lady clerk at the desk asked on check-in (at least I thought) if I wanted some hot water Agua caliente presumably for a hot shower. I replied "Si" and shortly as if on demand, a knock came on my door, and there stood a rather buxom woman, flaunting herself at me, eyes rolling, and with obvious intentions. I had to inform her I wasn't interested, and she grumpily departed. Later, as I was looking over the town, there she was hanging out of an adjacent doorway, and as the old saying goes "If looks could kill…etc"
At one point along the highway, I decided to follow a side road towards the Andes, hoping to find a hot spring (Chile has many of these) as shown on my map. This was a long rough trip over a road strewn with boulders. Although I managed to miss most of these, I finally found I had broken my rear carrier in 3 places, later requiring welding. To make matters worse, when I got to the destination the hot spring was still closed for the season. However, it was most interesting to see backcountry closer to the source of some of the rivers and irrigation channels.
A major irrigation channel, draining west from the Andes, near the town of Talca, Chile.
A couple of days later, I was fortunate enough to get another trip (by car) up into the mountains, this time with some European hostel guests. That was a most rewarding day, with some great views of waterfalls, and on one particularly high point, a panorama virtually overlooking Argentina.
Some of the traffic along route 5 was interesting to say the least, including many dilapidated old Puegots and Citroen 2CV's, while large gravel trucks, chugging up hills, always belching smoke, were common. It surprised me that these vehicles were able to be used, for there were many police check-points along the highway, as well as radar traps and toll-gates. None of this seemed to affect me however, and in fact I usually received a friendly wave and thumbs up as officials passed me through.
In some areas along the highway, artisans displayed their wares, with some fine examples of stone work, furniture making, basket weaving etc on show. Along with the farming scene, the frequent hedgerows of flowers against the Andean backdrop, and the artisanal displays, I found I was using up my precious slide film at an alarming rate.
After 5 days of warm spring weather, there was an abrupt change in conditions when some cold rain and wind blew in. As I was by then into the fringes of the lakes district, near the town of Villarica, I elected to stop in one of the local pensions for a couple of days till the weather improved. (Such accommodation is usually very cheap, varying from about $7 to $10 per night, thus making for cheap travel. Some of these leave much to be desired, like the hostel I stopped in near the town of Collupulli, where my foot went through the floor!) Villarica is the start of the southern volcanic region, and trips are available on local 'collectivo' buses (again very cheap) to towns like Pucon where there are fine hot springs and a volcano. Unfortunately, the rain fell so heavily there, that I was unable to visit, or even see these local attractions. A few days later, I encountered much more spectacular scenery to the south, so the immediate annoyance was of no real import.
Some of the real jewels in Chile's crown are the southern lakes/volcanic country, centered around the picturesque Lago Llanquihue (Lake Yankeeway). Three volcanoes, all around 8 to 9 thousand feet, are located near this deep blue lake; the view over-looking this scene as I rode down into one small lakeshore town (Pto Octay) was exquisite. With fine clear skies, the opportunity for taking those very special photos was endless; it is in these kinds of conditions that cycle travel really shines, and one feels like you want to live forever!
Osorno is one of the major volcanic peaks in South Central Chile.
In this area, I took the opportunity for another side trip, up into the main Andean range, east of the city of Osorno. This lateral road is one of the main routes into Argentina, and also passes through a fine national park (Chile has many). This time, with good weather, I was able to make use of both the hiking trails and the hot spring, which made a good days outing.
Continuing south through some peaceful and scenic backcountry, I eventually rejoined route 5 again, finally working my way south to near Pto Montt. There I stopped the night at an Hospidaje a kind of Chilean B&B, in this case operated by some 'pseudo' Canadians. These people, along with many other Chileans, had left during the social unrest in the 1970's to take up residence in Canada. With Chile's current blossoming, many, such as this family, are returning. Speaking fluent English, they clearly understood my dilemma regarding cycling on through the wild fiord-lands below Pto Montt, and offered to store my bike and gear while I took public transport down towards Cape Horn. This I gratefully accepted.
My journey to the 'deep-south' involved several components of public transport initially bus down South America's largest island, Chiloe, then by ferry to the mainland at Chaiten, followed by collectivo down the Camino Austral to the south-central town of Coyhaique. The latter segment was a particularly memorable experience through a wild coastal belt of rain-forest, mountains, fjords, glaciers, raging rivers and huge waterfalls. This is a photographers paradise, but unfortunately, continuous rainfall through this area virtually ruled out any acceptable pictures, at least with my meager equipment.
Coyhaique is an interesting center of mining and agriculture a town based on a central pentagonal street system. I stopped over there several days, partly to visit some mining company friends, but more importantly to get a feel for this lovely isolated place. The impressive mountainous setting, and particularly the abundance of wildflowers in the environs was a pleasure to see. However, I must add that the street system left me utterly confused and disoriented most of the time.
From Coyhaique, there is still an extensive journey south. Because of the many fiords in that part of the coastline, (there are no through roads in a substantial part of southern Chile) it is necessary to detour into Argentina. In fact, one has to bus travel east to the oil town of Calleta Olivia on the Atlantic coastline before being able to head south in semi-desert to Rio Gallegas, then back west again, following along the Strait of Magellan into Chile. My destination there was Punta Arenas, a fishing, agriculture, tourist and maritime center located about 55 degrees south lat.
I spent several days in the latter town, principally wandering through the various shops and markets, several interesting museums, a large central park, and a huge duty free that would be competitive with many world centers. The docks area, with its tourist ferries to the island of Tierra del Fuego, as well as Pto. Williams, and even the Antarctic, was highly interesting. However, after a week, I was ready to move on further north to Pto. Natales, a jumping off point for the national park Torres del Paine, as well as for boarding the coastal ferry service back north to Pto. Montt.
The ferry service schedule allowed for a whole 10 days in the parks region, part of which I spent walking in Torres. This is one of several popular tourist parks in both Chile and Argentina, offering varied hiking for all manner of enthusiasts. In my case, I elected to do several day-hikes between hostels - comparatively cheap but adequate. Transport in the park is substantially by ferry service along several volcanic lakes; one gets a pretty awesome feeling for the Andean scenery cruising the lakes, or walking the trails through some pretty rugged country. One of the hostels is located adjacent to part of the huge southern continental ice sheet. From the hostel environs, it is quite astounding to see ice flows moving down the melt-water lake to pile up against the far shore, often interrupting ferry service at that point. I have fond memories of staying in that hostel (Lago Grey), with its variety of nationalities, and particularly with the kitchen running out of cooking gas (because of lake ice) requiring us to heat canned rations over an open fire outdoors.
The ferry "Puerto Eden" travels return from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montte once a week.
After sampling other walks in the park (where I witnessed some crashing avalanches and my first view of condors), I returned to Pto. Natales to embark on the next coastal ferry sailing back to Pto. Montt. This is a weekly service, 3 days each way, combining freight service for a few isolated coastal villages, cattle transport to northern abattoirs, and space for about 100 passengers in dormitory and cabin class service. This was a pleasant trip, with its varied fiord scenery, and the mixed contingent of nationalities on board. It seemed there was always something happening, with interesting discussions at meal-times, various games in the recreation room, or just a quiet corner for reading
The final day/night on the ferry was really memorable. The weather was the best of the whole trip light breezes, smooth sea, cloudless sky, and great views over the intervening islands and Andean coastline. Sailing into Pto. Montt that evening, there was a full moon, and with the city lights reflecting off a very still sea, it was more like cruising on the Mediterranean, than the usual rough waters of southern Chile.
Lago todos los Santos on the Chilean / Argentinian border. End of ferry trip, South Central Chile.
After disembarking in Pto. Montt, I caught a local bus north to Hospidaje Don Carlos, retrieved my bike and gear (I gave them an extra nights accommodation in appreciation) and headed east towards the Andes and Argentina. There are 2 possibilities for this trip one is to cross the Andes by highway on the Osorno-Angostura route, the other by boat through the picturesque Lago Todos los Santos in Chile, and other lakes in Argentina. Although the latter trip is rather pricey, I selected it to avoid backtracking through country I would largely see later (Angostura, San Martin de los Andes etc). This is yet another great ferry trip, (including around the environs of Vulcan Osorno); it finishes at the Argentine resort town of Bariloche, which is on another of the numerous glacial lakes of the region.
Baraloche is a delightful town, and I elected to stay there in a youth hostel for a whole week. In the region, there is some excellent hiking, cycling and climbing potential. The combination of the lakes, snow-capped mountains, and the pine forests strongly reminded me of the Banff/Lake Louise region of Canada.
One is also reminded of the European background by the Germanic architecture of the homes and business establishments in the area. This to some extent, also is a characteristic of parts of southern Chile, where many German, Swiss, and Italians have settled. The other aspect about Bariloche which interested me was the quantities of chocolate on sale. Several stores in town were literally buried in the stuff dark, light, white, and in every shape and size. Part of the reason may have been the proximity to Christmas only a few days away - with numerous shoppers purchasing it as gifts. However, I am told chocolate is a popular commodity year round in town; perhaps it is a subtle way the local dentists have for drumming up more business! I did try some (delicious) but generally rather expensive, and besides, not a very suitable commodity for hot days on a bike.
Summer and winter resort area of Bariloche, SW Argentina.
I was very tempted to stay in Bariloche for Christmas, but 2 days before, I decided to take advantage of the fine weather, and cycle north along the Argentinian fringe of the Andes to the towns of Angostura and San Martin. Good camping was available along this route on the many mountain lakes of the area. I was surprised to find some of these sites free of charge; other camping out on the Pampas also was very reasonable. Chile on the other hand has camping charges in the more major centers based on about 4 campers staying together on the one site. In all fairness, hostel accommodation in Chile is generally cheaper than Argentina, and this offers a reasonable alternative. In fact, I only used my tent about 4 times while cycling in Chile, since a cheap clean hostel was almost always available.
Continuing on through the eastern foothills of the Andes, I passed through Angostura, and rode on to the pleasant (but windy) town on San Martin. The route between the 2 centers, although resplendent with lakes, wildflowers, and the Andes, was none-the-less not an easy road to cycle. This was very much a secondary road made of loose volcanic sand, frequently requiring one to walk and push through a particularly soft section. However, as I was virtually the only road user (outside of another couple of cyclists), I felt that the effort was well worth it.
San Martin with its delightful setting on a long narrow lake, is, like Bariloche a very tourist oriented center. This is a popular summer and winter sporting area for skiing, hiking, fishing, cycling, and all the other things that 'turn on' holiday makers. The whole region, with its mountains, lakes, and great scenery, is a draw card for many folks in the major population centers of the north east
To my sorrow, San Martin marked the end of my Andean experience (I have always loved mountains) as I cycled out onto the dry plains of the Pampas. At this particular stage, I was not aware of the fierce westerlies common to this region, of which I was shortly to discover. About 80 Kms east of the mountains, the winds increased alarmingly, and I was literally being blown down the highway. This was a fine addition to my ride, as long as the wind was behind me. However, at one stage I had to tackle a severe cross-wind, at which point it was virtually impossible to control the bike. After being blown into the ditch 4 or 5 times, I lost so much rubber off the rear tyre, that it went flat flat. As the air was almost saturated with sand and gravel, it was impossible to repair the problem, so I sat down at the side of the road with my disabled bike (with difficulty), to contemplate the situation.
At that stage, I really began to wonder if I shouldn't have left such a trip to younger, more resilient cyclists. However, as has happened on previous cycle excursions, fortune intercedes when most needed, and a young family, seeing my plight, stopped their jeep station wagon and offered a ride. In the 90+ Km winds, we loaded the bike and gear with great difficulty (during which time we had to chase after the woman-passenger's clothing that had blown out of the vehicle and up against a fence-line). Eventually, with all gear stowed aboard, we zig-zagged off down the highway in terrible driving conditions, and eventually arrived at the next town Zapala. There, with the wind still howling, I set up tent in the local campground and went out in search for a new tyre. Luckily, there was a local bike shop, and by the following morning, I was set to roll again, even though I was very apprehensive.
With luck again on my side, I found that Zapala was on a main east-west route, so with the wind on my tail, I rolled along at a very fast clip well out onto the Pampas (an area not unlike west-Texas). That day, I broke all my previous cycling records when I covered 130 Kms before lunch, and 185 Kms by 3:00 pm that afternoon an average of about 30 Kms/hr for the day. Considering the load I was carrying, this was some pretty exhilarating cycling.
So on I sped through several Pampan towns, the gem of which was Neuquen center of thriving farming and oil operations. Fortunately for many of these towns, there are several major rivers crossing the plains, draining off Andean melt-water, and eventually spilling into the Atlantic. On the way, these rivers supply irrigation water to the farmers, and of course, provide vital support for town infrastructure.
The highway east of Neuquen was incredibly busy and narrow, and to make matters worse, unseasonable rain started to fall on this stretch. This was the opposite effect of 'El Nino', which on the other side of the Pacific, was making Australia so hot and dry. At any rate, the dangers of cycling in these conditions, with numerous big trucks thundering past was too great, so I elected to stop over in a small town (Villa Regina) about 80 Kms east of Neuquen. This was New Years eve, and during a grocery shopping spree to celebrate the holiday and a safe arrival, I was approached by a lady (who obviously had heard my terrible Spanish) and asked if I would like to have New Years eve with her family. I gratefully accepted, and discovered my friend taught English to oil workers in near-by producing fields. I guess I was an opportunity for her to practice her English diction, which I found to be quite good.
Cycling east next morning (traffic had now markedly thinned for the January 1 holiday), I was delighted to find at the village of Chelforo, a quiet secondary road leading up to the north-east, into the main part of the Pampas. This area should have been dry and rather hot at that time of year, but fortunately for me, the rains had cooled the surroundings, and even left the ditches full of water, complete with ducks! I also encountered several other species of wildlife that day, one of which closely resembled a guinea pig. In addition, I was thrilled at another point to witness a puma dashing across the road well ahead of me; I was not unrelieved to see that he seemed to want to put a lot of territory between us!
Rio Colorado Argentina, a major river draining the Andes Mountains into the Atlantic.
That evening I made camp along another one of the major rivers traversing the region the Rio Colorado, and was joined at this site by a fellow traveler, in this case a young German cyclist from Hannover. In an unprotected campsite we welcomed each others company, and sat down to an interesting evening of shared food, a bit of wine, and lots of stories. I told him of my horrendous experiences with the Andean winds; as he was heading in that direction, I often wondered how he made out, for other cyclists I met later said the same winds were too much for them.
Eventually, the Andean rain-shadow loosens its grip on the countryside as one continues east. The first signs of this are one or two large trees usually lombardi poplars or eucalypts; the main vegetation on the pampas is grass and a multitude of thorn bushes (thereby, the gaucho's leather chaps). Although cattle are grazed on the Pampas, the main cattle country is on the eastern fringes of that region, and the western and central portion of adjacent Buenos Aires province. Eastward, conditions rapidly develop into good farm country, and with more dependable rainfall, crops such as corn, wheat, sunflowers and cattle abound. Cycling through this area, I was particularly impressed with the productivity eg, corn plants well over 7' high, not to mention the apparent good handling/storage systems. This caused me to reflect on what could be achieved with improved irrigation on some of the drier parts of the Pampas to the west, as that area's soils appeared in part to be reasonably fertile.
The arid Pampas district of Central Argentina, used mainly for cattle grazing.
In central Buenos Aires province, along highway 205, there is an area of considerable swampland, and wildfowl of all types (even flamingos) abound. Here I marveled at the variety and numbers of birds. However, I soon found out that stopping to admire was not advisable, for hoards of biting insects were teeming in the region. Needless to say, I quickly cycled on. In this sector, I experienced very oppressive temperature and humidity conditions (35 degrees, 80 percent respectively), but favorable winds helped me cover the 150 Kms between towns in the one day. Needless to say, I slept most soundly that night.
The roads were becoming increasingly busy as I approached Buenos Aires, and it was often necessary to get well onto the shoulder when trucks were passing (not to mention to avoid the wild and careless Argentine car drivers). Many of the trucks were hauling cattle, and at one point when one of these behemoths passed me, I was sprayed by rather moist cattle dung. Can anyone imagine the job of getting rid of that mess and smell with only a bit of drinking water, or my self-conscious feelings that evening on checking into a hostel!
At about Km 150 from Buenos Aires, the road suddenly improved markedly, when an asphalt shoulder was provided, thus simplifying cycling with the traffic. These conditions continued much of the way into the western suburbs, although difficulties occurred on one short stretch of loose gravel, thoroughly soaked by a previous night's rain.
Near the international airport (about 50 Kms west of B.A. Centro), I took the advice of another cyclist met on the Pampas, and followed the airport toll-way into the city center even though bikes are not allowed on this (8 lane) road. In favorable winds, this allowed me to rapidly cover the final stretch into town, thus avoiding the snarl of mad traffic on suburban streets down below. All was not perfect sailing however, for I was 'picked up' and thoroughly abused by an operator at the final toll gate near centro, and obliged to divert to the suburban maze. Not having a detailed city map, I had to ask directions several times from pedestrians to find my way to the San Telmo area, where a youth hostel was located.
Street in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires.
Even though Buenos Aires is huge (16 million), and traffic a nightmare, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the city. As with Santiago, there are many fine old Spanish colonial buildings, and statues at major crossroads (one city avenue Nueve de Julio, is reputed to be the widest such thoroughfare in the world). There are many good museums, plus an excellent art gallery, resplendent with some rare European masters. All of these are well worth a visit. I also much enjoyed the opera house, on the list as one of the worlds finest, and reputably with the world's best acoustics. All up, Buenos Aires, with its culture and sophistication, seemed an appropriate finale to my trip, which had covered such a cross section of life and topography in Chile and Argentina.
Estuary of the Rio de la Plata, Argentina, looking towards Uruguay.
However, as a final grand finale, I took a ferry across the Rio de la Plata (where the famous Graf Spee naval action took place in WW2) to the neighboring Uruguayan town of Colonia. Then it was a 180 Km ride east to the city of Montevideo, the fine old capital of Uruguay. On the way, I tried without success to locate a camping site, finally having to settle for a grassy spot in the environs of an abandoned farm. Unfortunately, a farmer on horseback and his large German shepherd dog shortly came to collect their milk-cows in a nearby field. The dog had other things on his mind, for on sniffing my tracks, followed them down to where I was tremblingly sitting behind an old shed. Then involved a 1 minute staring match, which I won hands down, and the dog quietly trotted back to his master to continue rounding up the cows. The farmer was none-the-wise that I was even there; the last I saw, man, horse, dog, and cows were placidly heading back for home, much to my relief!
Montevideo is much smaller (1.5 million) than B.A., very 'laid back' and much more relaxing than many large Argentine centers. At the risk of repeating myself, there is again some great colonial architecture there, and most impressive of all, some of the finest old doors and door locks I have seen anywhere. In particular, it was the wood carving on the former which really took my attention, although wrought iron work also was superb. I also fancied the sycamore lined side streets in the down-town area, close to where my hostel was located.
The aspect that most appealed to me in Uruguay however, was the abundance of old cars, many still in use in some cases even 1920 models! To an old car owner and enthusiast, this was heaven, and I reveled at the site of them in one case, a 1929 Model A Ford tourer being driven by a young lady wearing a large sun bonnet. This was her everyday car I guessed. It was all like a scene from a movie set, and one almost felt transported back in time about 50 years.
I spent a week in Montevideo, after which I returned to B.A. by a slightly different route, further up the Rio de la Plata estuary. Back at the hostel, I organised (new) shipping boxes for my gear, and 2 days later, caught the midnight flight out of B.A, to Sydney. This is a long and tiring trip across the south Pacific to Aukland and Sydney, only with a brief early morning refueling stop at Rio Gallegas in Patagonia.
This cycle venture had been a very enjoyable, interesting, and exciting trip, and one of my best yet, comparable only to the Canadian crossing in 1993. It certainly will take much to better it, although travelers I met in Patagonia have advised that I must try the cycle tracks along the Danube and Rhine rivers in Europe perhaps this could be the next challenge for my 70th birthday in 1999!
(Note: The author did make the Europe trip in '99, covering roads and cycle tracks on a return trip from Britain to the Slovak countries truly also a great experience)
Brian A. McKay