Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nervous nights - Chilecito to Salta

With the tent back up and running, off we went heading north again. Since Mendoza we seem to have been ploughing through the miles with long, flat, paved roads most of the way. Heading back towards the hills we found oursleves in a small town called Londres (London). We couldn´t find the British Museum and tried to find the local mayor to complain. However, it was impossible to find anywhere in the town as this is that fabled town that U2 sang about , "Where the streets have no name".
God knows how the postmen deliver things round here???

Cycling on, we found some more ripio (unpaved hell!). The maps we have are shocking. Three hours of bum-bruising is not fun and we were very happy to find paved roads again. We are more aware that Bolivian roads are not very good, so we are trying to keep to paved roads as much as possible until then.

Camping out in the wild is still a nervy ordeal. Ian didn´t want to camp here (a good campsite if not for the donkeys!).

So he made Gemma cycle another couple of hours to the next good one we could find. Turned out this site had a lovely little troll-dog. His front feet were mangled and he was unable to walk properly. We guessed he must have landed badly having fallen out of the ugly tree and hitting the back of the bus on the way down.

Despite the ridiculous chances of being trampled again, we are both still suffering from fright whenever any tiny noise is heard in the night. Just a leaf falling on top of the tent made Ian get up and stomp around in his pants to make sure nothing was coming.

We came across a site named Quilmes (also the name of the very tasty local beer) which is a pre-hispanic site in which locals fought of the Inca and then the Spaniards for many years. Eventually they were overcome and now they just make loads of beer and sell trinkets.

On our way to Salta we stayed in Cafayate for a few days. This town is home to hundreds of wine producers. Vineyards everywhere and lots of tasting to be done. We needed a break and Cafayate was a beautiful place for it. It helped that we found the nicest empanada shop we have sampled anywhere so far. Those ladies were kept very busy indeed, yummy.

Since Bolivia is not too far away, we are feeding ourselves more and more. The orders of empanadas are getting bigger, the sandwiches are bigger than our heads and lots of ice-cream is being consumed, regularly. Oh and not forgetting the wine...

Because of this, we had some short days cycling through some more lovely hills to Salta. Many rocks in different shapes, like frogs, or castles, or bears were to be seen. The most spectacular was the "ampitheatre" in which some lads were playing guitars and flutes. It was an incredible place, but the music could have been left back in Cafayate.

Now in Salta we are hoping to find a new pole for the tent. Once rested and fed we will be tackling our biggest mountain crossing yet. All fun from here, we go up, up and then up some more to reach over 4,000m before flying down the other side into Chile (San Pedro de Atacama) where we will update with more photos.
Hopefully we will be there in just over a week. Any longer and we´re hitching.

Lots of love, Ian and Gemma xxx

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Oof!" - or should we say "Hoof!"

Following the donkey attack we have managed to get a few pictures for everyone to see just how much damage a crazed ass can do.
Be warned, it´s not pretty...

From the outside you can see where the donkey has torn through the fly sheet, just above where Ian´s head was.

Under the fly sheet the sleeping compartment was badly ripped as the donkeys hooves ploghed down towards Ian´s head.

The pole holding up this part of the tent was no match for the full weight of a giant ass.

Having stomped through the fabric and shattering the pole, the donkeys hoof thumped down on Ian´s skull. It´s amazing that it didn´t just pop. A hoof shaped scar has formed on his head, leaving Ian with no choice but to use a comb-over to hide it.

Despite a few headaches the cycling continued. Gemma amazingly rescued the tent with a full days worth of sewing (using dental floss - minty fresh!) and we fixed the tent pole using lots of duct tape and some of those plastic tubes you use to join two bits of hose-pipe together.

Here it is looking shiny and new again...

Camping in the wild since the attack has been a bit of an effort. Neither of us are still comfortable with it yet but it is necessary. Every little noise from a bird, a goat, a donkey or a vehicle leaves us hiding under the sleeping bags - obviously it´s safe under there.

We are well on our way to Salta and expect to arrive in the next week (after a couple of days off in Cafayate to drink more wine). We will post more pictures from the road when we arrive.

Lots of love from us both, Ian and Gem xxx

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Whoop Ass!!!

Back over the Andes in Argentina, we found ourselves in Mendoza once more. The wine was delicious and the steaks were enormous. We reluctantly left it all behind for our road diet of pasta and tomato sauce, mmm.

Out of Mendoza the roads were flat and straight for miles. Even with full bellies we clocked up big distances for several days. Not only our bellies, but our water bottles too, caused our bikes to be very heavy. Gemma´s even managed to damage the road...
Our first attraction out of Mendoza was at Vallecito. A shrine built for crazies who believe some story about a woman found dead (of thirst and starvation) but a baby alive at her breast. People now visit the place and crawl on their hands and knees to stick car licence plates to the wall in hope of receiving a miracle new car.
And you thought cycling for a year was crazy!!!
Back on the road we noticed a large difference in the environment. Away from the mountains we found ourselves pedalling endlessley through desert and 40C heat. Out here there wasn´t much to see other than sand, cacti, scary insects and dead stuff.

Rare small towns were welcome relief. They have kiosks with much less fizzy drinks than they had before we arrived. Some of them also had different wildlife to look at. The type you can approach rather than run screaming from.

Further into the desert we came across Ischigualasto National Park. Just try saying that after you´ve cycled 100km up a whopping great hill!
"Ishammmalaassti..... murrrrr.... where´s my burger!"
Anyhoo.... this park is famous for being like a valley of the moon. Fat rat couldn´t contain himself, everybody knows the moon is made out of cheese, even simple little rats know it.
As it turned out, there was no cheese. Pah. But there was plenty of rocks and fossils and stuff like that. It was quite possible to imagine dinosaurs running around eating each other, until you realised you were looking at the people in the tour group.
We were told the balls were formed by being pushed around the bottom of an ancient lake, erosion making them almost spherical. Sounds like a story made up by some clever scientist who knows all the facts after years of study.
Clearly that´s all tosh. They were in fact made by dinosaurs who became bored of eating everything and took up playing marbles instead. As you can see in the picture, there was a seriously big game on when the asteroid struck, probably it was the world dinosaur championships.
A couple of days later we got ourselves to the Cuesta de Miranda. This is a mountain pass taking us through to Chilecito where we are now. We have arrived following an absolutely horrendous ordeal which luckily we have both survived with little injuries. We spent the previous night camped in a a dry river bed. On arrival there we found ourselves with a little mutt that had followed us for 3kms from the last town. This dog took it upon itself to be our trusty guard.
And a fine job it did.
At 4am Ian was awoken by the dog growling and barking. Not much later a random donkey started up making loads of noise too. Unlike the approachable donkey already mentioned, this donkey went nuts and set off on a rampage. Listening to the events unfold from the safety of his sleeping bag, Ian realised the donkey was hurtling down the rocks and straight for the tent. Ian tried to save Gemma a trampling and rolled over onto her.
It all happened in a flash but the donkey stamped all over the tent, on Ian´s head and shoulders and put a big hoof on Gemma´s ankle and arm too.
Gemma eventually woke up screaming but not knowing what had happened. After some explaining with blood for effect, Ian had a nice sit down and Gemma packed the bikes up.
The tent is destroyed, ripped fabric, broken poles but amazingly the bikes are unhurt.
So after some breakfast we headed for the mountains and 70kms into Chilecito, stopping along the way for Ian to have his hair cut off and to have alcohol and iodine poured into his hoof shaped head crack. We only have a couple of photos, obviously we were rather busy and very shaky.

Luckily we are both absolutely fine so there is no need for our parents to worry. This isn´t meant to be a life changing trip, it´s a life threatening one, but we will get home.
A day or two to rest and fix the tent and then we should be back on the road to Salta.
For Andrew and Jack (you know who you are), the "Likely to die tour" is unfolding quite nicely for you.
Lots of love, Ian and Gemma