South America, I’ve followed the length of the Andes from top to tail from the Colombian capital of Bogota to the southern city of Ushuaia, traversing the big majestic buggers four times, though it must be said that in Patagonia there were no big passes from one side to the other, just deep glacial valleys, ferry crossings and fjords. As I made my way south these mountains were for ever present, even if they were out of sight shielded by the haze they were always their in spirit.
My original plan was to visit the Galapagos but in Ecuador I made the call to reach Patagonia instead; so the islands will have to wait. Who knows perhaps future Mrs Morris, the marine biologist, can take me. If you are going to do the Galapagos you should do it right, not a whirl wind on a budget, but take your time and dive deep into the waters, literally, which is something I couldn’t afford this time. But hey you have to save something for later.
In Peru I had my heart broken by Paddington, the small black and white dog who shepherded me through the Ausangate’s foot hills in what is possibly the toughest two days I have encountered. Ever. That route despite what I was told is not suitable for cycle tourers and saw me reach an altitude of 4900m in what was far more hike than bike . But god the Peruvian mountains are spectacular and perhaps I will return there with future Mr Morris, the cyclist, for I’m not done with Peru’s mountains and forests. I was genuinely considering putting the trip on hold and adopting the cuddly bugger Paddington but life on a lead would soon see him spiral into doggy depression, he’s a mountain dog and free to roam. Besides, after I abandoned him on the mountain side I’m sure he soon found another gringo to follow; or at least that’s what I tell myself to help me sleep at night.
Every day in Argentina I received acts of random kindness as people gave me a thumbs up, coffee, food or even money handed to me out of the window of a speeding muscle car. In Chile cutpurses stole my wallet and the cost of life in general didn’t help the bank balance either. But travelling through these two massive countries isn’t to much different from being on the continent; you could mistake the cities of Valparaiso or Buenos Aires for Madrid or Milan if it weren’t for the terrible coffee.
It’s my final afternoon; as I meander down from Mirador Lago Escondido through a deep glacial valley I am graced with a rare break in the over cast weather that seems to be the trade mark of Patagonia’s summer climate, I can without a shadow of a doubt say that I am the most content I have ever been. To live, cycle, camp and just be along side beautiful rivers, wild flower meadows and mountains or to call a gauchos refugios home for the night is a sheer joy. To think that this is my last ride in South America does sadden me, but the slight smile on my lips is testament to the pleasure that I have gotten from this trip. I’m talking as if it is already over, I still have a month left.
Unfortunately despite my best efforts to stop and appreciate the landscape, the dammed rivers forming moats around the beaver lodges, the mountains or just the crisp air, thoughts of life post cycling are worming their unwelcome way in. The idea of a desk…..dear lord no, what’s a boy to do? But enough of that, that’s future Harry’s concern. Perhaps extremely wealthy future Mrs Morris will negate the need of a desk job, life as a house husband perhaps.
One thing I certainly won’t miss is hostels, at times it is like living in student digs, surfaces are sticky, dirty pots and pans fill the sink, that or just a pond of dirty water where the half arsed washer upper has chosen not to notice fact that their past has clogged the sink. And that is just the communal living areas. The dorm rooms have their own hazards, a snorer can be the least of your troubles; if you are really unfortunate an inebriated youth might call your bottom bunk home. Drunks always think they are quiet as a mouse even when they bring Minnie back with them and your nights sleep is rocked awake; alcohol numbs certain things so it can be a prolonged affair from which ear pugs cannot save you. That’s about the extent of sex in South America for me.
By my estimations I am going to fall at least one thousand miles short of the mark, the circumference of the earth, the equator is 24,901 miles though I can save myself forty one miles by aiming for the meridional circumference taken through the poles. A day here and a day there and I could easily of made up the distance, after reaching Ushuaia I should have turned around and headed north for ten days to make it up. But life is to short, I don’t regret slowing down in Patagonia, I was well ahead of schedule to reach my flight back to Europe so took it steady. But if I hadn’t take a chill pill and slowed down yes I would have reached my target but I wouldnt have met the Slovenia’s, or had perfect weather to hike Fitzroy or have some company on some very cold days in the south when I was cycling with Clive. So I won’t hit the mileage, perhaps I will get home, have a cup of tea, go back out of the front door and get on the bike again.
The draw down is looming, following a less than idle stint in Ushuaia, Argentina’s most southerly settlement its time to pack up the bicycle for the final time and return to Europe. I spend one last night camping in a wild glen amongst the wild flowers nestled on a river bank, horses for company I couldn’t ask for a more peaceful spot. Camping isn’t on the agenda in France or Switzerland for strangely enough Europe might end up being the toughest leg, winter is in full swing and rumour has it that the Alps into which I return have had a serious dumping of snow. The daily distance, the roads and the amenities won’t be the issue; the snot freezing, testicle retracting, skin reddening ruddy cold will be miserable.