Inuvik to Ushuaia

Back on the road, Climbing up into the mountains

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Stillness of the desert
Stillness of the desert (View on flickr)

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After more than three weeks of not riding we are back on the road once again in Peru. We made a two-week trip back to the United States to see all our family members and are glad to report all are well. It was good to see the family as well it was a delight to see all our wonderful friends.

We returned to Trujillo, Peru and stayed once again at the Casa de Ciclistas where Lucho and his family have offered free hospitality to cyclist for 23 years. Randy and I were visitor 998. While staying there, we meet 7 different cyclists from all over the world.

We have now been on the road for 5 days and are taking a rest day in Caraz. The ride from the coast up to Caraz has been amazing, spectacular, a hard ride on mostly dirt road, some good and some awful. The best part is the lack of traffic which permitted us to enjoy the majestic views of the mountains and the river valley we pedalled through.

We rode for one day on the Panamerican highway south to Chao. The road had a good shoulder, big trucks and a landscape which brought to mind the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia. Huge hills, not really mountains, of nothing but sand dunes. Nothing lived in this region, no houses, no people, no business thrived, no birds chirped, no butterfly fluttered by.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Health, Healthcare, Health Insurance, and Vaccinations for the big ride

People often ask us about health-related issues, so here are some answers.

Health Insurance: Since we are from the US, with an immensely expensive and burdensome healthcare system, we felt that we had to carry health insurance that would cover us there. Although we might be able to cover expenses for most types of events in the other countries of our journey, a single week in a hospital in the US can easily bankrupt anyone. So we carry normal (expensive) major medical, high deductible ($10,000) health insurance that would cover us if we had to go limping home for a major chronic illness or something. But that insurance doesn't cover us outside the US, so if we had a serious accident or something, we could end up without coverage. So we also bought health insurance that covers us outside the US (cheaper by far). Our monthly expenses for health insurance are probably the biggest expense of the trip.

Note that "Trip insurance" is not worth much for a trip of this size, since it is not renewable and typically has pretty serious limitations. It's oriented to people going on vacation, not to people living abroad. What we needed (and most travellers will need) is the type of insurance that expatriates buy. The folks at Global Insurance Net make a specialty of this type of insurance, and we were pleased with their expertise and service.

Health Care: We've been pretty pleased with healthcare everywhere we've been.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Our highest point yet: 15,400 feet (4700 meters)

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Nancy cresting the Abra Yana Shalla, at 4700 meters (15,400 feet)
Nancy cresting the Abra Yana Shalla, at 4700 meters (15,400 feet) (View on flickr)

Today we crossed the highest point of our journey so far, and perhaps the highest of the trip. After climbing back up into the Andes (the Cordillera Blanca) for more than a week, we crossed over 15,400 foot (4700 meter) Abra Yana Shalla. We had been working our way up to this, climbing no more than 1000 meters per day as we got into the really high places. Nancy really felt the altitude in a number of ways, so we were trying to be as careful as possible. But we made the last push this morning up into the barren peaks. We saw lots of beautiful scenery in the last few days and will try to get the pictures uploaded within a few days.

Nancy's Poem: Climbing over the top

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Crawling my way up the highest peak,
I wonder if I can do this.
Can I ride my bike up to the heavens?
Or will I die, will my heart give out,
Will I fall off the edge from the lack of oxygen?

I adjust my height of seat
I mount my metal steed
I pedal up the gentle grade,
I take a breath, I gulp another
I want more but the air resists
I chew some coca, I spit out the spines
Round the pedals turn, ever so slowly
My eyes start to burn, my lungs fight
Focusing on the ground ahead,
Listening to my music
Progress is being made,
My vision becomes smaller
My focus sharpens
Making it to the top is my only thought

I miss the sheep dogs attacking,
Three come from nowhere,
The charge shocks me back to reality
I dismount rapidly in fright
My bike protects me from the circling dogs
I throw a rock at the alpha dog
They back away, they retreat
A 4-year-old child chases them
With a bigger rock then mine,
Gracias, niño,

I crawl my way up to the top,
I fight, I want to cry
No, too much energy
My nose is running wild,
Drule pores from my mouth
As I gasp for another breath,
I leave it, to much energy to fix.

I stop for a rest I have resisted,
The air all seems blue,
Sounds and space is distorted
I wonder if I know
Can I count?
What is my birthday?

What is 4 plus 4
It all comes so slowly
I have to go on.
I yell to myself
Pay attention
No crying,
Get on with it
Obediently I pedal on  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Camping Versus Hotels in Latin America

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Camping at the school at Conococha
Camping at the school at Conococha (View on flickr)

When other cyclists told us we would probably spend a lot of nights in hotels in Latin America, we kind of scoffed at them. As seasoned bike tourists, having camped all over the US and Canada, we figured we'd be camping more than most.

But we have been staying more than 80% of the time in hotels in Latin America (although that number is declining as we get farther south). People ask about this, so we thought we'd tell you why.

Camping in Latin America is different from camping in the US and Canada. There are no (or almost no) "official" campgrounds. It's really rare to see anything like that, and when you do, it's often more expensive than a hotel. And there is almost no "unclaimed" land, like in the western US or Canada. In the US and Canada, if you see a quiet place, you can just set your tent up there (if you're discreet) and nobody will ever know or bother you. In Latin America, almost everything is "owned". One time we set up discreetly behind a horse barn in a Mexican pasture right at dusk. Since we had run out of options, we just set up. We were immediately discovered. Some kids came and checked on us right away. Nobody bothered us, but we were not succeeding at hiding out.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Bike Maintenance In Latin America

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People sometimes ask us what kind of bike we recommend, and how we manage bike maintenance. Here are some thoughts.

Ride a bike that's maintainable. In Latin America, that means a 26" mountain-bike style bike with standard components (V-Brakes or cantilever brakes, not disk brakes). You can buy 26" tires and tubes in even a small town, and you can find a mechanic who will have at least some tools for working on your bike. In a medium-sized town, you can get a rim and maybe spokes. If you have a 700cm wheel, you may have to send away to the nearest capital city and wait for a few days to get some of these things. Some people with difficult-to-obtain parts have spent lots of money on international shipping (and then on customs duties) and have waited ages to get going again when they've had a failure.

Ride a bike that's strong. It's better to be heavy than fragile. Get 36-spoke wheels (we're committed to this after a long failure of a 32-spoke back wheel in Canada. We haven't had a broken spoke since we switched to 36 spoke wheels). Get straight-gauge, strong spokes.

Carry a few spare parts. You can't carry everything. We always have tubes and patch kits, some spokes and the tools to replace them. Many people carry a spare tire. We don't, at least until now.

Keep the bike clean. We think that a bike that's clean doesn't wear as fast, especially the drive train. About every month, more in dusty dirt roads, less on clean pavement, we take our bikes and clean them and completely clean the chain and drivetrain.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Gringo is not a bad word, and other misunderstandings

Kids in La Union fascinated with Randy
Kids in La Union fascinated with Randy (View on flickr)

Everywhere we go in Peru the children cry out "Gringo!" It has happened in lots of countries, but they're SO enthusiastic about it here. Some cyclists misunderstand this cultural phenomenon and think that "gringo" has a negative context (or only applies to North Americans). It's just not true. Gringo is just a regular descriptive term, and everywhere we've been it just describes people who talk funny, wear funny clothes, have a funny walk, and probably have money. That even includes people from Chile, and can include kids from the city who dress like gringos.

Some people have heard the story that "gringo" was something said in Mexico during the various US invasions, and it referred to the green uniforms of the invading US troops, and they were saying "Green Go Home" or something. Well, it might be true (nobody knows) but is has nothing to do with what "gringo" means today. Gringo just refers to any north-American, European, Japanese, or most any foreigner who looks or talks funny. It's not an insult. Of course, like any descriptive term it could be used as an insult.

Another little Spanish word that confuses cyclists: Adios. You may have been taught that "Adios" means "goodbye", but in Mexico and Central America it means "Hi and Bye", kind of like I think "Aloha" means in Hawaii.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Finance and Money Management On The Road

Lots of people ask us how we get money while travelling, and whether we carry a lot of cash, etc. Here's an attempt to answer your questions.

Money is obviously a big issue. You want to have enough, but not so much that you might lose it all at once.

These days it's just tremendously easy to get money from ATMs. The only exception to this that I know of is Cuba, and that's a whole different story. But everywhere we've been we're just a few days from an ATM. There are times the ATM doesn't work or won't dispense the amount of money we want, but the ATM has completely put away the use of travellers' checks (a waste of time and money) and the need to carry large amounts of dollars. (FYI: There are actually a number of machines in Latin America where you can withdraw dollars in addition to the local currency.)

Some tips:

  • Use a debit card. It costs LOTS of fees to do a cash advance against a credit card.
  • Find out from your bank how much it will cost to use your card at an ATM in Latin America. Some banks charge 2% of the advance and perhaps an additional transaction fee. Our bank (Fidelity) charges nothing. (The ATMS/Banks themselves sometimes charge a fee, but usually not. Sometimes there's a US$1.00 fee tacked on the statement. Sometimes there's a fee added at the ATM. Often there's no charge.)
  • Carry at least two different debit cards, from different banks. Carry them in different places. Sometimes your bank will (for no reason or for a good reason) just stop letting you get money off of a card.

Beautiful Riding and The Rich Culture of the Peruvian Andes

View from our hotel room in Huaraz
View from our hotel room in Huaraz (View on flickr)

Randy and Nancy in front of Cordillera Blanca peak
Randy and Nancy in front of Cordillera Blanca peak (View on flickr)

We've just had the delight of riding right up into the Andes, over the highest pass of our trip, and over hundreds of kilometers of both paved and dirt road. It has to be some of the best bike touring we've ever done. And some parts of it were probably as hard as we've ever done.

In Huaraz, in the Cordillera Blanca, we looked out of our hotel window at the amazing peaks of the tallest mountain range outside the Himalayas. Huaraz is at about 3000 meters, or 10,000 feet. But from there we began to climb gradually to a pass at 4300 meters, then down a bit, then up to the biggest pass of the trip, at 4700 meters (15,400 feet). It was all incredibly beautiful.

But the best part all along the way was the people we met. There were shy families along the way, tending their sheep while knitting or spinning wool into yarn. One woman let Nancy hold her most prized lamb. We ran into celebrations in three different villages. They roped us into the dancing and the eating and the drinking. It was a delight. We stayed the night camped out with a Spaniard who is "getting away from it all" with a flourish - he and a friend showed Nancy how to pan for gold - and she found a little flake of gold in the Rio Maranon! Now she's rich and can afford the rest of the trip.

In Huánuco Pampa (Huánuco Viejo) we saw not only ancient Inca ruins but an amazing cultural competition, with planting and slingshot competitions along with potato peeling and spinning and rope braiding.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Riding down to Huánuco, A rough day

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Love in his face - above Chavinillo
Love in his face - above Chavinillo (View on flickr)

Note: We've posted our favorite pictures from northern Peru here or as a slideshow.

Yesterday we rode about 45 miles up to 4000 meters (13,120 feet) and then down to 1900 meters (6232 feet) on a nasty, loose, difficult dirt road. Randy crashed on the downhill. He scraped up his arm and hip and bruised a rib. I was behind him and when I came up to him he was down on the ground holding his hip, right on an edge of the road 5 feet from a big, big drop. He was bruised up yesterday but feeling better today. Seeing him lying there scared me. By his position, I thought he broke a hip or a leg. All the rest of the day I was upset.

Snowcapped nevados up from Chavinillo
Snowcapped nevados up from Chavinillo (View on flickr)

And Randy got his favorite bike tool (a Topeak Alien multi-tool) taken or lost, probably in the midst of a crowd at a fiesta in a little tiny pueblo at the top of the pass. Everybody was pressing around us. We don't know for sure that somebody took it then, but it was gone right then. He had used it earlier that morning. We have to find a replacement for some of those tools now.

And Randy lost his sunglasses somewhere, so was riding all day with no protection against the immense dust of the road.

The dogs, who are always very protective of their territory, seem much more aggressive then usual.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

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