Highlights – Panama to Argentina
Cool Things I Did/Saw – Rode a bicycle 10,154 miles from Cartagena, Colombia to Ushuaia, Argentina, which included 6 countries in South America, 6,772 miles of riding through the Andes and a record 5 border crossings between Chile and Argentina, stayed in the amazing towns/cities of Cartagena, Mompos, Villa de Leyva, Cali, Popayan, Quito (the 2nd highest capital city in the world), Cuenca, Huancabamba, Leimebamba, Cajamarca, Cajabamba, Quiruvilca, Cusco, Copacabana, La Paz, San Pedro de Atacama and Tucuman (at night), strapped my bike onto the top of tiny river boats to cross the very flooded RÃo Magdalena in Colombia, went on a tour of a huge salt mine that’s been converted into a cathedral, rode across the equator, spent a wonderful 42 days at Santiago’s Casa de Ciclistas in Tumbaco, camped in Parque Nacional Cotopaxi next to one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, spent a few days riding the scenic Quilotoa Loop, had a wonderful time getting a new bicycle frame delivered to me in Ecuador, rode by the monster volcano Chimborazo, fought off 3 robbers on my first day riding in Peru, bought my first machete, hiked to one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, the Catarata de Gocta, tried coca leaves for the first time, strolled around the ancient mountaintop fortress of Kuelap, enjoyed a record-breaking 36 mile ride downhill from a mountain pass, saw the future Peruvian President Ollanta Humala giving a speech from my hotel window, ate a guinea pig, got nailed by a hail storm, was given a tour of Tauca by the local police, checked out the famous ruins at Chavin de Huantar, pedaled over the one of the highest drivable passes in the world (16,597 feet), got caught in a blizzard, rode across the Altiplano, the 2nd most extensive area of high plateau on Earth, rode next to the largest lake in South America, camped for 2 nights on the largest salt lake in the world, slept on the rim of a giant meteor crater, hunted for camping spots in the driest place on Earth, rolled over the 24,873 mile mark which is the circumference of the Earth at the Equator, admired the Fitz Roy mountain range, saw chunks of ice falling from the Perito Moreno Glacier, rode through Torres del Paine, crossed the Strait of Magellan and rode across Tierra del Fuego to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.
Favorite Place – Peru, easily. Sure I got robbed my first day riding here, nothing works right, it’s loud and the stupid dogs are the most aggressive in the western hemisphere but the scenery is spectacular, the people are extremely friendly, the prices are unbeatable and there’s a rich, flourishing culture.
Least Favorite Place – Argentina. Extremely overpriced, dangerous roads (no shoulder/high traffic), miles of boring in the north and snobby people in the south.
Best Memory – Meeting so many great people during my stay at the Casa de Ciclistas in Ecuador.
Worst Memory – I hate to mention it again but the Peru incident was the worst.
Best Road – Hwy 25 was an exception to the generally poor roads in Argentina.
Worst Road(s) – The road heading down from Huancabamba, Peru was brutal. Pretty much all the roads in Argentina and Chile are a disaster. The unpaved roads are almost always either washboard, sandy or rock strewn bumpy messes and the paved roads are extremely dangerous thanks to high traffic and bad/no shoulders. Switchbacks are almost unheard of and 15% and higher grades are common.
Toughest Section(s) – The border crossing from Villa O’Higgins, Chile into Argentina was a killer. The day long crossing required 2 ferry rides, heart-pounding climbs/pushes up many steep hills and a 4 mile blood-inducing bike push along a horribly maintained hiking trail. Riding from Salta, Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina was mentally challenging thanks to high winds, busy roads and tricky terrain for camping.
Best Scenery – Salta and Tucuman have the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. 🙂 As far as nature stuff the Quilotoa Loop road was spectacular, the Salar de Uyuni was incredible, northern Chile was amazing, the Road of the Seven Lakes and all of northern Peru offered up some great mountain scenery. Fitz Roy was very cool.
Cleanest Place – Chile takes top honors here but most of South America was pretty clean.
Dirtiest Place – Northern Argentina between Salta and Catamarca had lot’s of roadside garbage.
Best Drivers – The truck drivers in central Argentina were pretty cool.
Worst Drivers – Bus drivers and tour bus/van drivers. They won’t hesitate to come within inches of you even if the other lane is clear. Argentina was the worst, especially Patagonia. Moto-taxi drivers in Peru will run you over without batting an eye.
Biggest Annoyances – Dogs (obvious). The ones in Peru are aggressive little buggers. I had my best spill because of them. Everywhere else they just bark all night so I can’t sleep, pee on my sleeping bag or steal my food. Horse flies in Chile and Argentina were also extremely bad.
Most Frustrating Event – Coming back to Cusco, Peru from a 3 week vacation in Florida and finding out the bike shop hadn’t even touched my bike while I was gone.
Strangest Sight – The door to my room opening followed by strange men getting into the bed next to me.
Funniest Memory – For one glorious moment I was the Pope.
Best Place to Sleep – The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Incredible night skies and solitude.
Worst Place to Sleep – I relived a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in this nightmare of a room.
Most Looked Forward To – Colombia because of it’s reputation (and remarkable change after 2006) and Patagonia because I thought it was a vast, untamed wilderness.
Biggest Disappointment – Patagonia was a big disappointment from the standpoint that I thought it was this huge, remote area very much like the backcountry in Alaska. The truth is that it’s all fenced-in private property (ranches) with sheep, cows and horses everywhere.
What I’ll Remember the Most – The flooding in Colombia and how even under horrible conditions, the people were so incredibly kind.
Friendliest People – Truckers on the pampa in central Argentina.
Least Friendliest People – Northern Peru along the coast. Lot’s of unfriendly stares.
Biggest Surprise – The extremely high prices in Argentina and Chile coupled with low quality (mostly Argentina).
Hardest Hill – The worst section was the famous border crossing at O’Higgins, Chile. Pushing my bike up a steep hill is bad enough but having to practically carry it fully loaded up one is much worse.
Biggest Tumble – Flew right off the bike thanks to me being careless after getting chased by a couple dogs.
Interesting Things I Learned – It takes multiple washings and a couple weeks for the smell of dog pee to come out of your sleeping bag–the mental trauma never ends, run as fast as you can after things that blow away or you’ll never see them again, pushing my bike really sucks and lifting my bike sucks even more.
Worst Weather – The constant southwest wind in southwest Bolivia, northern Chile and northern/central Argentina was exhausting.
Windiest Place – The only place I almost got blown over was a stretch in northern Chile. Patagonia has by far the strongest sustained winds. It’s pretty windy just about everywhere from Bolivia on down.
Favorite Food – Empanadas, specifically from the lady working at the little tienda in Rio Juramento, Argentina.
Favorite Snack – Chocolate!
Favorite Drink – Inca Cola.
Longest Distance in One Day – 120.84 mi (194.5 km) Salta, Argentina
Top Speed – Top Speed: 51 mph (82.7 kph) Salta, Argentina
Highest Elevation – 16,597 ft (5,059 m) Pucabamba, Peru
Highest Camping Site – 15,124 ft (4,610 m) Huancavelica, Peru
Greatest One Day Ascent (paved/unpaved mix) – 8,444 ft (2,574 m) Fresno, Colombia
Greatest One Day Ascent (unpaved) – 4,859 ft (1,481 m) Corongo, Peru
Health Issue(s) – Bad times on my right knee for a bit riding into Peru. A couple minor upset stomach days in Ecuador. I switched from Bag Balm to baby powder to keep my rear end happy and it’s made a big difference. Instances of broken skin/rashes are very rare.
Most Thankful I Have – The bag that Karin and Marten gave me for my birthday. I use it all the time for shopping and lately to hold the things that I kept in another bag that blew away. It’s also nice to read the funny things they wrote on it when I need cheering up. I was also prepared for the winds in Patagonia thanks to Monika’s message.
Wish I Had – An indestructible kickstand. I’ve broken every kind known to man.
Wish I Never Brought – Nothing! It took 3 years but I’m down to the bare minimum for a comfortable tour.
Best Buy – I love my wifi extender and the Tear-Aid tape I brought back from my last vacation. The Tear-Aid patched up my torn Ortlieb pannier and a hole in my tent fly. I’ve also grown to love my water heater.