Tuesday, 28 January 2014

All this... Notes from The Navigator

Our journey in South America has been a bit different this time. Not that every journey hasn't been different; just that this one has included rather more 'off-bike' adventures than previously. Over the last wee while, I have been aware that my day to day recollections have been very much of the latter part of the journey, and the earlier part seemed to have retreated, almost like memories from earlier years. So, while pedalling a few days ago, I set my brain to recall what we'd been up to since October. It has been a fascinating exercise. I know The Chronicler has written a good number of stories, but I needed to review from my perspective too, lest some of the fun/challenging/exceptional experiences faded away. So, here we go - back to the start of October....

Arriving at Edinburgh airport 8 hours before our 6am flight, to hang out, perchance to sleep. Along with a whole raft of other (younger) travellers with the same idea. Hang out - yes. Sleep - no. Fire alarm testing, and the police officer who came round at around 3am to check documents, telling us that he would be getting an hotel ahead of his early morning holiday flight. The cost of an early morning flight may be low, but by the time you have added the price of an airport hotel and/or taxi/shuttle, you could have upgraded to Business Class.

Arriving in BA to realise that your fellow passengers have been generous with their germs. Perhaps fortunate that we couldn't get tickets for the train until a week after we arrived.

Building a new front wheel for Chris - which is still running true at the end of the trip.

Taking the long distance Tucuman train; arriving in the station to join a long line of travellers heading on to Platform 8 at Retiro Station. Platform 8 is not visible from any of the public areas of the station - you have to go though the gate, up Platform 7 for some distance before checking the bikes in with the guards then turning through a small archway to find the long train, carriages labelled with perpendicular boards: Primero, Pullman, Turista. So unlikely and unexpected, you would swear you had arrived at Platform 8 and 3/4. The price? £2, for 18 hours journey time.

Joining Alison on the Operation Smile mission in Asuncion, Parguay. Seeing the well-oiled machine that is this volunteer mission. Having the honour of watching a skilled surgeon change a little girl's life forever in just 45 minutes.

Staying in some curious accommodations in lowland Bolivia - including a room that was also the store room for the attached bar.

Experimenting wih our new bivi bags to sleep in the open.

Climbing back to Potosi, without any of the altitude problems we experienced the last time.

Sleeping in the open on the Salar de Uyuni, with uninterrupted views of the sunset, sunrise and full moon.

Sleeping in a windowless cell because all the hotels were full of road workers, for the vast sum of £2.50 for the night.

Cycling past several kilometres of waiting trucks at the Bolivia-Chile border, in the shadow of snow-topped volcanoes and lakes of flamingoes.

Riding for 6 weeks at altitudes of around 4000m

Having to spend 2 nights in the delightful wee town of Putre, Chile, just over the border, because there were no 'cambio' facilities at the border and the one ATM in town did not want to know any of our cards - and the landlady really didn't want our dollars.

Riding the spectacular road down to the coast, through the desert and into the valley oasis.

Enjoying the fitness that comes from having cycled for so long at high altitude.

The wonderful folk who looked after me after the accident - the corporal from the army truck who picket me up, the campsite owner who called a taxi for us, the taxi driver who was keen to use his English, the medical staff and both the casualty hospital and the clinic, as well as in the Sanatorio in Maldonado and the trauma clinic in Buenos Aires. And especially Chris.

The amazing view from my 5th floor hospital room.

How hard it was to sit on the bus to Santiago, going through the fantastic desert scenery that was to have been our next adventure.

Then, the bus ride up and over the Andes, counting the hairpin bends, marvelling at the tunnel at the top - and planning 'next time'.

The relief of arriving back at the flat in Buenos Aires after the three-night journey from Iquique with two packed bikes and one able bod.

The joy of arriving at the peaceful lakeside house in Punta del Este, Uruguay, to join Richard and Alison.

The week spent in Montevideo, walking miles all over the city.

Finally collecting the abandoned bikes from Buenos Aires and returning to tranquil Uruguay to re-start our bicycle adventures.