December 11, 2006 GMT
Mountains and Meetings

Thanks to the generosity of a friend of the family we had a place to stay in Santiago; we enjoyed spending a few days there in a comfortable flat getting ready for the Big Off Part II. We were both incredibly excited; new country, new continent, and not too many firm plans.

We'd loved Easter Island, and despite what Hamish said in the last blog Tahiti was lush and green and beautiful, and full of very gorgeous big brown men with long hair and interesting tattoos, singing and playing the Ukulele. (Although maybe that's why Hame wasn't so keen?!).

We were eager to get out of the city however, and head for the mountains and Argentina. We packed the bike, feeling proud of ourselves at the amount of stuff we'd managed to get rid of and condense, only to find that our stuff had grown immensly and would hardly fit on the bike. Horrors! Where does it all come from?

With poor Bertha groaning under the weight of whatever else it is we've managed to collect and the GPS telling us we were still in North Balwyn (Melbourne) we rode swiftly out of the city and up to a wonderfully exciting twisty mountain road, with snow-capped peaks all around us and hair pin bends with steep drops to the side.

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The border crossing was easy enough, despite a few confusing moments over bits of paperwork we were supposed to have or had to fill in. The guards were very helpful even though there was a complete language barrier and we soon got through.

Hamish had picked up a dry cough in Santiago, and as we ascended it got worse. By the time we'd crossed the border into Argentina he was feeling quite rough and refusing food (so I knew he was really ill). We decided to book into a hotel in Puerta Del Inca, a tiny town just over the Argentinian border to wait until Hame felt better; he climbed straight into bed and didn't get up for the next 48 hours.

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We weren't sure what was wrong, he had a fairly high fever and a cough which just seemed to get worse by the minute. I know that men get things far far worse than we women do, but he did seem quite poorly. With no doctor in town I donned my nurses uniform, fed him some vitamin C and stuck a thermometer in his mouth every few hours.

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Not a bad place to be stuck for a couple of days...

I took some time to explore Puerta Del Inca, which took five minutes, although the town is famous for having a natural stone bridge and an old spa. I also chatted to groups of climbers slowly acclimatising and doing some warm up climbs, getting ready to tackle Aconcagua, South America's highest peak, close to the town.

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Bertha next to the window of our room

We decided the altitude wasn't helping Hame so after a mixture of pills found in our first aid kit and getting Hamish started on a course of antibiotics, he was able to get up and ride. (It took a full week for him to recover but he's fine now).

We still planned to head South for the HU meeting in Viedma, about 1600km South East. As Hame wasn't 100% well we stuck to hotels and meals out - cheapish but we planned to camp again as soon as we could.

The ride was very colourful, the hills seemed to have been painted in a variety of shades of rock and soil; after a while I simply stopped taking pictures as every corner gave a new fantastic view.

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The road is long...

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With many a winding turn....
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We had a slight wiring problem on the way, we lost the ignition switch, the lights, horn, intercom and indicators, so I became the starter motor (again) and indicators for a day or so until Hame got it sorted out. I had great fun trying to explain all this to the receptionist and asking her if there was an electrical mechanic in town, in Spanish.

Our Spanish is improving, slowly, but now I have the problem of not understanding a single word of the answers I receive. For example:

Me in Spanish: Where is the nearest petrol station?

Passer by, in Spanish: OK - you go around the corner take the third right and go straight ahead until you see the town square where there's a petrol station although it may not be open right now so if you head back up the street take the second right then the third left just next to the jewellers shop where my Auntie works there's another one which may be open failing that head back out of town on the road you just came in on and you might get petrol there. Understand?

Me: Er, Gracias.

We are getting better, slowly. Hame can order beer and steak easily so he's happy.

A couple of days of fairly tedious riding over very flat land brought us to Viedma for the Horizons Meeting. We found the campsite and were welcomed by the very friendly and hospitable Oscar, the organiser. We met up with Aasha and Mark, who we'd last seen in Brisbane, and Grant and Julie who've been e mail correspondents of us for some time (they also have a story on here).

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Me and Jules

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How many blokes does it take to change a tyre?!

Oscar had organised a ride into town to join up with a group of local bikers for a barbeque which was good fun. The following day we rode out to a cliff top from where we could view a huge colony of sea lions. Oscar then took us on a '20km or so' ride on gravel roads across farmland, after almost 50km we arrived at our destination, a sheep farm belonging to his friend.

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A breather after a big dusty ride.

His friend had roasted lamb and beef , the ride had made everyone hungry so we tucked into the traditional Argentinian meal, huge delicious chunks of meat with bread, then flopped around in the shade to digest it ready for the ride home.

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Post-roast

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Everyone

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Lew and Anita and their Big Luggage!

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Bike fashion.... so sexy

It was good to meet other people who are mad enough to ride around this huge continent, share stories and compare notes about places to go, plus of course sample lots of local beer.

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Hame getting into the Christmas spirit

One couple, Alexis and Greg, had driven from the UK via Australia in an old army ambulance, I loved it - (maybe one day when there are small Oags travelling with us?!)

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Aasha and Mark demonstrate a new riding style

After another day or so at the campsite we said our goodbyes and headed South with Aasha and Mark to Peninsula Valdez, a national park and wildlife haven on the east coast. We found a great campsite one sand dune away from the beach and are spending a very relaxed few days here.

Yesterday we had what I can only describe as one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had, as cliched as it sounds. One of the reasons for coming here was to whale watch, but as we'd been told it was the end of the season and that most of them were on the way elsewhere we didn't expect too much. We booked ourselves on the sunset tour, cracked open a bottle of red and got ready to see a couple os whales.

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Another fetching getup

After an hour or so we found a few, which became a few more, until we were surrounded by 18 whales, Southern Right Whales, all in pairs of mothers and calfs. The whales seemed as curious about us as we were about them because on a few occasions they came so close to the boat we could have touched them.

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Close, but they came closer...

I was speechless (for once) and completely in awe of the size and grace of the whales as they swam up to the boat, put their heads out of the water to have a better look at us and then sank down, swan under the boat and reappeared the other side. I got a faceful of expired whale breath as I watched. Hame has all the close up pics on his camera, I'll put some on here later so you can see the sheer size of them. I wish I could put video on here, I've a couple of incredible clips of the whales within one metre of where I was standing.

From here we plan to head South to Ushuaia to celebrate our first Christmas in our tent. So far we are enjoying Argentina very very much, it is cheap (about US2 each to camp), with wonderful food, friendly people and stunning scenery - I think we shall be here for quite a while yet!

By the way, forget the fact that bike travel can at times be dangerous, look what can happen when you fall over in the shower...

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(Almost worth it to see the look on the face of the poor lass I landed on, who was getting dressed outside my cubicle)

(Emma)

Sign of the week:

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Posted by Emma Myatt at December 11, 2006 06:30 PM GMT
 
 

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