Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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Colombiiiaaaa!

And so after a sad farewell to Argentina and Chile – countries I’ve become incredibly fond of having now spent so many months enveloped in their majestic landscapes – I set foot off the plane into the hot and humid Caribbean coastal region of Colombia. It’s 9.30pm and still about 27C. First things first – they don’t provide trolleys in the airport, so somehow I have to figure out how to manhandle my bike box and heavy luggage bag out to the taxis. Luckily one of the just two airport porters (with his own trolley which he seemingly owns) sees me floundering, deserts another couple, and helps me out for a small fee. He is friendly and chatty and completely bemused as to why I have a bicycle with me.

Next task – find a taxi big enough to fit the bike box in. That takes a little longer. Eventually, bike, bags and me are all stuffed into a car and on the way to my hotel in Cartagena. Result! I’m checked in within an hour of landing. I guzzle some water, jump in the shower, lather myself in mozzie repellant, whack up the aircon and collapse into bed.

Cartagena

With a number of inlets and ports, Cartagena is a very strategically located city. Many battles have been fought over this city, giving it a ripe and tumultuous history.

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Happy reunions in Buenos Aires

The next stage of my ride would be Colombia-Ecuador-Peru (my ride is split in two to take advantage of the seasons and to make sure that I’d be in Patagonia in summer time). To fly to Cartagena, I had the choice to fly via Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. That decision was a no-brainier as Buenos Aires would also give me the chance to catch up with Pipa & Connie and Fred:).

The National Congress building in central Buenos Aires

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Heading to Tierra del Fuego

I had one last day before leaving Punta Arenas so after doing my usual chores to stock up on supplies I made a short walk to the cemetery, which had some very impressive memorials. There was a lovely extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda on a memorial for people who were killed under Pinochet’s dictatorship.

The cemetery in Puerto Arenas – noticeable are the many British names on the headstones, inherited from the original military settlers at ‘Sandy Point’.

Extract from “Siempre” – from what I can understand it means something like the following (if anyone can provide a more eloquent translation please comment below!!): “…and nothing will extinguish the moment you fell, even though thousands of voices cross this silence. The rain will soak the cobbles in the square but will not put out your names of fire.”

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Penguins!!

A Magellanic penguin on Isla Magdalena

I rode out of Torres del Paine National Park and again took the cyclist’s prerogative of skirting some barriers and riding down a road that was ‘closed’ whilst being re-laid. Being a Saturday I thought it was worth the risk to avoid having to add another 10km on to the ride. The ‘Ruta del Fin del Mundo’ took me to Puerto Natales next – the capital of this wonderfully named region ‘Ultima Esperanza’ (Last Hope). It started to pour with rain for the final few kilometres so I arrived at my hostal soaking wet – always a great way to endear yourself to your new dorm mates.

I thought Puerto Natales was a really nice little town. It was originally a smallish fishing port that also traded lots of wool and yarn. There are old tin houses and cottages with quaint lace curtains in the windows. More recently it’s become the usual starting point for trekkers heading out to Torres del Paine (cyclists like to ride in the opposite direction to the trekkers because of the prevailing winds), so also has a few home comforts – outdoor shops, restaurants, nice hostals, artisanal breweries – to cater to all the trekkers passing through.

The view out over Seno Ultima Esperanza from Puerto Natales

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Camping Pehoe

After a night in the fancy refugio, I set out on the bike to ride round Lago Nordenskj√∂ld and Lago Pehoe, where I’d camp for two more nights. Reading the National Park bumph I came across these two announcements. Not much I could do to magic up a cycling parter now though – hey ho!

The gravel road through the park was short but surprisingly tiring with a lot of climbing to do and plenty of washboard surface to navigate. Initially the views were curtailed by cloud again but it was still beautiful as the roadside was peppered with small tarns and lagunas.

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