I’ve been on the road for five weeks now and needless to say the time has just flown by. It seems like I’ve covered so much in such a short time and the sheer variety from place to place, from landscape to landscape, town to town, has made the journey grand already.
Without a doubt, the countryside in Patagonia has been a real highlight. For mile after mile, day after day I was moving through the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen. Whoever works for the Patagonia tourist board clearly isn’t doing their job well enough because somehow the place still feels like a secret for those in the know. Perhaps the difficult gravel roads and undeveloped small towns help to keep the spread of rampant commercialism at bay and retain the wild and woolly edge to this wilderness. I only really covered half of the route to the southern tip of the continent so there is even more to go at that I never saw. I suspect that in the coming years and decades, once the Carratera Austral is fully surfaced the area will slowly change as more and more people are able to access its beauty.
The wild and windy plains of central Argentina were challenging on Bumble, staying upright in the fierce horizontal winds, staying awake on the mile after mile of dead straight featureless road. Not really an experience that I would necessarily choose but a certain sense of satisfaction from having done it and survived. The gravel roads still remain something of an enemy but looking back, my (still recent) memories are already starting to rosen up. It’s not the roads that are the problem it’s my (lack of) skills. The roads are a gift really, they allow people on bikes to get to more remote, wilder parts of the world where paved roads just don’t go. My skills have improved quite a lot but I still have a long, long way to go. I’ll keep working on it.
For me the trip has always been about getting to know a place through its people. I’ve been really fortunate to encounter some of the most generous and open people you could ever meet. Either through chance encounters on the road, or through friends of friends, I’ve met individuals and families that have really given me faith in the future of humanity. Some of this does make me wonder how we have lost our way in the UK.
The countries I have been through so far of course have their problems, particularly economic ones, but seem to retain a shared sense of experience and vision that we lack. I can see the shared language, culture, history, family ties that unite. In contrast our society seems fractious, lacking in shared identity, eager to highlight our differences more than our similarities, tolerant of things that are just plain wrong on a human level.
I’ll be interested to see how this all looks when I travel through the less affluent countries further north. I wonder if the greater economic pressures create more obvious fractures and if the southern exodus of economic migrants from Venezuela creates an “other” to pin the blame on.
Of course, giving a mechanical form of transport a cute name is the hackneyed anthropomorphic cliche of travel bloggers the world over. However, there is a certain kind of genuine respect and admiration that I have developed for my steed over the past 5 weeks, during which she has not missed a beat. The first major fear that I had was that she would break down irreparably or get nicked in the first couple of weeks so there would be no trip at all. Neither event has occurred (yet) and I’m at the point now that should the worst happen, at least I have had some kind of adventure.
As I contemplate travelling through Bolivia and Peru I know I will be tackling tougher, more remote regions of the world and do so with the faith that the bike is capable, far more so than I. I’m hoping to get some new tyres and a service within the next month or so to prepare for that next leg. An indispensable part of the bike has been the sat-nav. I really don’t know what I’d do without it. It takes all the stress and hassle of navigating through a brand new town most days, I don’t know how people managed reading paper maps through chaotic rush hour traffic to find a little hotel, that would just increase the difficulty level x 10.
The weather has also helped. A LOT. In five weeks, I have had one day of mild drizzle, every other day has been cloudless blue skies and 15-35 degrees. I know this will change as I move further north and we move into autumn, it’s been bloody brilliant to have such perfect riding conditions, if a little hot at times.
Anyway, I’m excited and enthusiastic about the next 5 weeks through Uruguay- Argentina – Paraguay- Argentina before tackling Bolivia and onto Peru.