Saturday, 6 February 2010

NE ARGENTINA - Iguazu Falls and Ibera Marshlands




Marsh Deer

Tiger Heron


Southern Screamers in their nest in the palms

Yacutinga or Black-fronted piping-guan

Butterflies were the highlight of the tropical zone. Here are some colourful specimens.
88-wing pattern butterfly

We hitch-hiked from the Ibera wetlands back to Mercedes with this friendly Argentinian family (The Foulkes L-R Damien, Carolina, Mirta and Julio ) in their campervan.

Judy, feeding a friendly stray dog some tasty empanadas beside a gaucho dandy at Mercedes bus station.




Urraca comun or Plush-crested Jay

Short video of the Falls from the Upper trail

Monday, 18 January 2010

ARGENTINA Valdes Peninsula

Sea Lions at Punta Norte colony

Video - Life's a Beach

Elephant seals wallowing on the sand

Video - a young elephant seal blubbering up the beach - Judy yelling out encouragement - "Come on, come on......"

Almost there can do it......

Magellanic penguins

In the burrow

The Patagonian Hairy-arsed Armadillo

Video - digging a burrow

The rodent without a tail - `mara´ or Patagonian cavy. We saw a few of these odd little creatures in the Talampaya national park and wondered what they were- something like a cross between a dog and a rabbit.

Monday, 11 January 2010


"This is the end
This is the end
..In a desperate land"
Just as Jim Morrison would have it.

We´ve been as far south as the road will take us to the tip of the South American continent. We walked for 2 days towards Cabo Froward, the southernmost point of the continent but had to turn back just shy of the cape. I had a fall and injured my knee, and we had some long waits at deep rivers for the tides to turn. The river level was nipple deep on me, chin deep on Jude. Also the weather was we didn´t quite make it. But after a 12-month and 13,769km journey, crossing 68º degrees of latitude I think we´ve come far enough. Nada mas!

Many cyclists go further Ushuaia on the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego...but my plan was to ride from the Caribbean to the southern limit of the continent (Tierra del Fuego is an island).

There will be more posts on this blog as we head north through Argentina- Perito Moreno National Park, Monte Leon NP, Camarones/Valdes Peninsula coastal ride, Buenos Aires, Estero de Ibera and Iguazu Falls. We´re heading towards warmer climes - beer in the tropics - time for a holiday.

I will fly home to Tasmania on Feb 16 and Judy will fly to Colombia solo backpacking without me or her bike. This is the end!
Que lastima!

The end of the road
We´ll still do some short rides along the Atlantic coast of Argentina but the long ride down the Andes has come to the end of the road. And here it is... just south of San Juan Bay on the Straits of Magellan.

The sign showing the southernmost lighthouse or faro and the most southerly point on the continent.

The view south towards Cape Froward. Looking out to the Magellan Strait with Dawson Island and Tierra del Fuego in the background. Dawson Island was the site of an infamous prison during the Pinochet regime where political prisoners were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. It looks a lonely and desolate place. We met a Chilean woman whose friends were taken there and `disappeared´ by the military.

We saw sea lions playing in the kelp beds and dolphins swimming in the small bays. Also a large red fox (zorro colorado. Apart from that the walk wasn´t very interesting. Lots of slippery pebbly beaches and everything cloaked in a dull ashen torpor.

Our campsite on Lake San Nicolas. We got very bored with the long march along the rocky shores of Brunswick Peninsula and headed into the hills - a much more colourful and vibrant world.

Nothofagus reflections on the tannin-stained lake

Sphagnum moss in the high country

A pine sapling growing out of the sphagnum moss. It looks remarkably like the Tasmanian endemic prostrate strawberry pine (Microcachrys tetragona)

Two parasites on one Nothofagus - Chinese lantern and Indian bread.

Flowers on cushion plant (Epacridaceae). These are very similar to the Tasmanian alpine bolster heath communities (Donatia, Aboratella ssp).

The prolific dog orchid carpeting the mossy floors of beech forests.

Something fishy! Lots of dead fish mysteriously washed up on the shores of the peninsula. There is also a `red tide´ flourishing on this coast (pollution and global warming). It infects shellfish with a toxin and is very deadly. Two French tourists from our hostel were rushed to hospital after eating a few mussels from the beach.

I´ve been following Charles Darwin´s voyage aboard the `Beagle´(1831-4) as we´ve travelled south. (Later, I´ll include some wonderful quotes from his book - a natural selection no less). He spent some time along the coasts of southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego on the survey ship. On a earlier voyage on the `Beagle´ the commander Pringle Stokes became severely depressed after months at sea and shot himself in the head. He was buried at San Juan Bay, not far from Puerto Hambre (Port Famine). This is his gravesite but the original wooden tomb marker is in the museum. Here is the replica and misspelt epitaph to Stokes with a quaint euphemism for suicide - `..died from the effects of anxieties and hardships´. Poor old sod.

Puerto Hambre - another interesting story from the 16th century. I´ll write about it later or else Google `Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa´ for one of the most hapless adventures in history. Surely a Darwin Award winner.

Shortly after we started out from Huaraz on this trip my MP3 player died taking all my favourite tunes with into the cyber grave. It was just out of warranty - the second time this has happened. I think the electronic makers put an implant into these devices to self-terminate like Monsanto does with its seed genetic technology.
Anyway I borrowed Jude´s (on an indefinite loan) and slowly built up my music library again at remote internet cafes along the road.

Here are my Top 5 songs. As you can see it all depends on my mood on the day.

1. `Walking on a Dream´ by Empire of the Sun (a shameless Australian pop song)
..with my words in bold.

"Talking to myself
We are always cycling
For the thrill of it
Always pushing up the hill
Searching for the thrill of it
..Never looking down
Just in awe of what´s in front of me"

This was blaring in my ears when I hit a nice stream of tailwind or on a pleasant sunny day riding high among Andescape. I love that last line - `just in awe of what´s in front of me´- an apt motto for the cyclotouriste.

2. `Waiting Around to Die´ by Townes van Zandt words in bold again

"Sometimes I don´t know where this dirty road is taking me
Sometimes I don´t even know the reason why
But I guess I keep I keep a-cyclin´
Lots of hills
And lots a-pedallin´
`Cause it´s easier than a-waitin `round to die"

From one of the most misanthropic songwriters, this is more relevant on my hardest darkest days- eg. fighting headwinds in Patagonia or pounding along the punishing dusty roads of Bolivia.

3.`Push on Through´ by Salmonella Dub
This was the song playing when I fell on that fateful day in Peru in June 2008. As I lay in the dust, bleeding on the road (still clipped into the pedals) a one-line mantra from the song echoed in my ears....
"I´ve had enough"
And on some really tough days this line still rang true.

4.`Mooonlight Mile´ by The Rolling Stones

"When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow....
Oh, I´m sleeping under strange, strange skies
Just another mad mad day on the road....
I´m just about a moonlight mile down the road"

I´m sure Mick and Keith had other snow in their heads on the Sticky Fingers recording sessions but it´s a very evocative song of life on the Andean roads.

5. `Henry Lee´ by Nick Cave (w/ PJ Harvey)

"And the wind did howl and the wind did blow....
...And the wind did roar and the wind did moan."

This song was one of my favourites on the wind-blown pampa as we got tossed about by the wild Patagonian winds. At times I couldn´t hear any music at all, just the roar of the tempest around me.

The wind is a powerful force and this is how trees grow in Patagonia (although mostly it´s just dry thorny scrub).

SOME STATISTICS - How countries compare...

Distance (in kms): total distance/daily average
Colombia 1975/66
Ecuador 1217/68
Peru 3983/65
Bolivia 1400/48
Chile 2176/63
Argentina 3072/71

Altitude gain (vertical metres): total altitude/daily average
Colombia 20,180/670
Ecuador 19,565/1090
Peru 54,830/915
Bolivia 12,010/400
Chile 11,425/340
Argentina 18,000/430

Road Surface: (in kms) sealed/dirt roads
Colombia 1704/271
Ecuador 1044/173
Peru 1785/2195
Bolivia 269/963 + 185kms salt
Chile 929/1256
Argentina 2258/814

No. of days/money spent in $US (per person)/daily average
Colombia 49 days / $1000 / $21
Ecuador 28 days / $420 / $15
Peru(2008) 40 days / $610 / $15
Peru(2009) 77 days / $910 / $12
Bolivia 44 days / $335 / $8
Chile 65 days / $1000 / $16
Argentina 68 days / $925 / $14

Sunday, 3 January 2010

CHILE- Region X11 Puerto Natales-Punta Arenas

Now in Punta Arenas and almost at the end of the journey to the tip of South America. The town of Punta Arenas with a population of 150,000 sits at one of the necks of the Straits of Magellan.

The final leg of the trip will be a short 60km ride down a ripio (dirt) road to Fuerte Bulnes, then we stash our bikes in the bush again and walk for three days along the rocky shores to Cabo Froward, the southernmost point of the South American continent.

Double click on the map to see the route from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas. Cabo Froward is just south of Punta Arenas.

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (across the Patagonian steppe)
The ride down the southern tail of Patagonia - from El Chalten to Punta Arenas - has had one common theme - WIND. Eric Shipton called it the `Land of Tempest´ but it´s really hard to describe the wind phenomenon of Patagonia. I guess you have to be here, stand out on the vast open spaces of the pampa and just physically experience its incessant and howling ferocity.

The road signs say it all....

Note the standard costume for cycling here - hi-visibility black (I hate to stand out from the crowd) and no helmet.. just a skin-tight Icebreaker beanie (the only headwear that stays on the noggin in this wind).

...but Jude´s not saying anything as she pushes her bike into a fierce and roaring headwind. She´s muttering something I know.

Video 1 Tailwind
On a flat 10km stretch of sealed road (50kms north of Punta Arenas) I was pushed along by the wind at an average of 42kph. Without turning the pedals at all for this distance I hit a maximum speed of 57.3kph! In the first short video the odometer is showing 43kph and there´s a view below of the stationary pedals and the paved road flashing by. It was a real hoot!

Video 3 Crosswind
Judy took transport on this section as the wind really upset her. The crosswinds were blowing us across the road into traffic. To stay upright you have to lean to the right into the wall of wind. But as cars and buses go by they break the wind barrier and you almost topple over. The drivers are very friendly (and courteous) on these far southern roads and bip their horns and wave but all you can do is nod your head vigorously in appreciation. All hands on deck!
It seemed like the tempestuous wind was very angry with all the foreign cyclists invading Patagonia and tried blowing us into the icy cold waters of Magellan Strait, just like it had done to some earlier maritime explorers from Europe.
In this video Jude is getting buffetted by the severe and angry crosswinds. Blow wind, blow!

Interesting mode of travel
We met this lanky Swiss cyclist, Martin, on his way to a conference with a Bike Friday copy and a Samsonite case in a trailer. He seemed to be handling the awful road and strong winds quite well on such a funny little contraption....just hope he made it to the meeting on time.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

CHILE - Torres del Paine National Park

We´re in Puerto Natales now having a few rest days after the ride from El Chaiten (Argentina) and a 4-day hike around Torres del Paine.

NB Check out the previous post of Los Glaciares national park in Argentina for more recent photos and updates, especially of the rough border crossing between Lago O´Higgins and Lago de Desierto.

Here are some photos of the fauna, flora and the mountain environment of Torres del Paine national park.

A guanaco family

Faunacation in the park
Spring was in the air and the guanacos were all very frisky - chasing one another across the salt flats of Laguna Amarga, leaping and fore-playing around....

.....and then down to the serious business.

Riding towards our first camp sitting under Torres del Paine

The three granite towers of Paine
The next morning we climbed to a lookout at dawn to view the towers and surrounding peaks swirling in mist and spotted with snow driven by strong winds. The towers´ smooth rockfaces and steep walls don´t allow the snow to settle on the pink granite peaks.

A gathering storm looming over Lake Nordenskjol

Los Cuernos from our campsite

An early morning double rainbow from our camp above Lake Nordenskjol

Track damage from the hordes of hikers who converge on the park every summer. Over 100,000 visitors in the short season and very little work is done to repair the erosion.

Every day we passed hundreds of hikers on overnight walks- the campsites are crowded (up to 40 tents per site) and the tracks have really deteriorated since our first visit in 1993. Then we were lucky to see 2-3 groups a day on the circuit.
Also mass tourism has prompted the construction of more facilities and private developers have built upscale refugios and in some cases luxury chalets within the park, like the obtrusive and ugly one below the Cuernos.

The authorities are now considering putting a cap on numbers with a permit system. It´s much needed as the environment suffers under the weight of `eco-tourism´ (an over-used and insidious euphemism for eco-ruinism).

Los Cuernos del Paine - or `the horns of Paine´. Spectacular monoliths of monochromatic contrast. The outer rock is igneous Devonian granite encasing an older and softer sedimentary shale.

We spent Christmas Day up here in the Valle de Frances with snow showers and biting winds. On our earlier visit in November 1993 we had very warm weather and even went for soaks in the glacial streams to cool down.

Notro (firebush) and bonsai Nothofagus nirre at 700m high in the Bader Valley. Both these species were wind-pruned and prostrate on very exposed slopes and thin shale soil.

I climbed up here on a climber´s path for spectacular views of the Cuernos and surrounding lakes, and followed the flight path of condors nesting high above a waterfall. I´d wanted to go higher but the weather turned foul and Judy was waiting at camp for me to return.

Guanaco and Mt. Almirante Nero

Los Cuernos in dawn light from our camp at Lake Pehoe

Riding south with Los Cuernos in the background

Lago Pehoe

Austral parakeet

Rhea, or nañdu, seen from the road just before the park on the windy steppe.

Condor in flight against the Cuernos del Paine. Double click to see the outer feathers flayed upwards on the downbeat, much like contemporary aviation design.

Condor gliding over the turquoise Lake Nordenskjol.

A noisy little raptor sitting in the tree at the campsite. It´s an American kestrel (`cernicalo´ in Spanish) Falco sparverius.

Perched on a Nothofagus branch with faint outlines of the icy towers in the background.

Caiquen comun or upland goose - an indulgent and watchful father and his chicks on Lago Pehoe.

Canquen real - a pair of ashy-headed geese

Late spring is an ideal time to hike at Torres del Paine for the flora alone. We located the remaining 4 orchids found in Southern Patagonia. We had already seen 2 others along the Carreterra Austral (the common dog orchid and the alpine chloraea -see the earlier post).
A real treat and surprise to see all these orchids in the wild in only 3 days.

These photos are in memory of Bob Ives, an erudite and charming bloke who died recently in Perth WA. He was fond of my botanical photos and I´m sure he would be thrilled to see these floral wonders. Adios, Bob!

Gavilea lutea Yellow orchid

Gavilea araucana White orchid (I think this is quite rare)

Chloraea magellanica This showy orchid has a few common English names, incl. Magellanic, Mosaic or Porcelain Orchid.

Gavilea kingii

Olsynium biflorum Streaked maiden (lirio del campo)

Sisyrinchium patagonicum

`Farolito chino´ or Chinese lantern, a false mistletoe and hemiparasite growing on Nothofagus nirre.

Indian bread or `llao llao´ Cytarria sp a fungus which also grows on Nothofagus species. It´s edible when it drops from the tree and hardens, and used to be a staple food for Amerindian people of the Patagonian forests. Possibly the first and only humans to have subsisted on a parasite (according to Charles Darwin, who is now my literary companion).

Alstroemeria patagonica (Amancay del campo) dwarf herb in sandy soil

Lady slippers Calceolaria (Andean genus)
Calceolaria uniflora (`capachito´ or `topa topa´)

Calceolaria biflora

Fuegian edelweiss Perezia recurvata - has lost its second set of petals

Notro or firebush, a prolific shrub on the open slopes

A herb found among granite boulders on moraine debris. A hardy little plant. Possibly Naussavia sp..

Ourisia poeppegii waterfall plant