Finally we were in Ushuaia. It was a wired feeling and we didn’t really know what to do now. Eight years ago we had set out to reach this point of the world and now we were here. It wasn’t a very special place nor very romantic. In fact, it was pretty cold and the first snow came down onto our tent. A few days later the campground closed down for the season.
We moved to a hostal. Once we went to town to celebrate our arrival with a nice cup of cappuccino and a chocolate cake. We felt restless and started looking for what should happen next. We checked internet pages for flights to New Zealand and Australia and searched for information about the countries and their regulations for visitors and working possibilities. Florian found an incredible cheap flight for the three of us to Auckland, New Zealand, for two weeks later which he booked immediately.
Now we only had to get up to Buenos Aires within those two weeks. We wouldn’t be cycling. This part of the country is pampa with huge distances without any towns and known for the strong winds from the sea. A flight was outrageous expensive and they allowed only 15kg baggage per person and 100 Pesos (about 30$) per kg overweight. The bus wouldn’t take us either because of the bikes. The only few companies serving Tierra del Fuego allow not more than 30kg luggage per person.
We decided to try hitch hiking. Before we could try it out though, we had to get rid of a few things to make our baggage a bit lighter and easier to handle. Then we headed to the gas station at the entrance of Ushuaia early in the morning. We talked to truck drivers filling up on gas and tried to stop pick ups or vans on their way out, but without any luck. Then a car driver stopped his car and told us to go a bit further to the police control post where all cars had to stop anyway. So we tried that. The policemen were very nice and let us stay inside of their post, where it was warm, while one of us talked to the car drivers.
Then they had shift change. By now we had waited for five hours. The new crew checking headlights and engines of the passing cars took pity in us and finally asked a mail van to take us to Rio Grande, still on Tierra del Fuego. The driver gave us and another hitch hiker a ride and dropped us off at a supermarket in Rio Grande. We bought some food, though not too much, since we weren’t allowed to bring any fresh groceries over the border into Chile. Then we decided to ride out of the city and try for another ride up to the border. It was mid afternoon and we still got some time. But again we tried without luck, because we had too much luggage. Finally we started looking for a place for the night.
The owner of a shed at the beach sent us two kilometers up the road to a truck stop. But when we got there, there was no truck stop. But a little bit further we came to the buildings of the police school. We asked there and were sent just a few hundred meters further to a hostal. We couldn’t find it and when we asked at a house we were sent to another house, belonging to the police as well. The officer sent us to a back lane where the hostal was supposed to be. Though it was labeled with Government Hotel, the owner sent us away immediately in a unfriendly manner. What now? It was dark by now. Another policeman in training came along and was once more talking about a truck stop only a kilometer up the road, where we could camp. When we got to the building he had described to us the receptionist stopped us at the gate. He said that we could not stay there. We told him, that the police had sent us here and he explained that this was not a truck stop anymore. That he did in fact rent out rooms, but to another kind of customers. We understood that this was not a good place for us to spend the night and carried on. I was wearing gloves by now and we were freezing. A bit further again was a truck scale. There was someone in the house and we asked if we could camp there. The man let us stay and we could even use his kitchen.
From here we wanted to hitch hike again up to the border in the morning. We got up very early, before the sun was up. Our tent was frozen and we could not get warm, standing on the shoulder. Chan was bundled up in the trailer and we were using the hand warmers, which were a goodbye gift from the Velo Plus employees in Switzerland. But Chan and I were freezing. After a few hours at the roadside, I went inside again with Chan. We boiled water for a cup of hot tea and brought another cup out to Florian. We waited for another six hours, before finally a pick up stopped. It turned out to be a Swiss guy, second generation in Argentina. He originally wanted to drop us off about 15km before the border, but then decided to drive us all the way.
Argentinean customs was not a big deal and soon we were riding the 15km to the Chilean border. We passed immigration quickly and one officer was fond of Chan and brought us a kettle with boiling hot water for a tea and a hot chocolate for Chan while we had lunch in the shelter of the building. He asked us how far we wanted to go that day and we told him, that we would be trying to hitch a ride up to the next border with Argentina. He and another officer immediately helped us and asked everybody passing the border that had a pick up or a truck, if they had space to give us a ride. We waited for a long time. That particular officer played with Chan at his Schalter with matchbox cars in between serving people. Most truck drivers weren’t allowed to take people and the pick ups didn’t have space. I started to inquire about possible local busses and a place to spend the night, when finally a truck driver agreed to take us along. But we had to sit in the back outside. The border officers didn’t think this was a good idea since we would be driving in the dark and negotiated with another truck driver. He was agreeing to take me and Chan, while Flo got a ride with the other truck, which also took our bikes. We didn’t like to be separated, but this was our only chance on getting back into Argentina again, to the main land, from where we had more bus options to Buenos Aires. We agreed to meet up at the Chilean side of the border.
Our truck driver, Hugo, was a very gentle man. We chatted along and he seemed to enjoy our company. Chan slowly started to chat with him as well. The road through this part of Tierra del Fuego was extremely bad with washboard, wholes and bumps. For most of those 180km we were driving at 20km/h. I was glad to have such a careful driver. It was getting dark out and we still had most of the way ahead of us. By eleven at night we should reach the border. But we had a heavy load and the road was in worse condition than Hugo had thought it to be. Slowly we climbed hill after hill and the hours passed. Chan was still very excited but slowly getting tired. Finally he was laying down on the drivers bed behind the seats.
After what seemed an eternity we reached pavement again. Hugo stopped for me and Chan to go to the restroom. While we were away he prepared some mate for us with a gas stove right in the cabin! Then we drove the last 30km to the ferry to the main land. Here he thought, the other truck would have long caught up to us, but when the ferry took off, they weren’t on board with us. Chan was asleep by now. I started worrying, that maybe something had happened to the other truck. Hugo kept the mate going and reassured me, that the others might just be driving as slowly as us. On the other side we still had some 100km to go to reach the border but luckily it was all paved. We arrived at the border at midnight and it was already closed. There was nothing else we could do but waiting, since the other truck with Flo and the bikes wasn’t here yet. Hugo talked to all the other truck drivers arriving one after the other, but no one had seen Flo’s truck. We waited another hour, hoping that they wouldn’t miss the last ferry to the mainland. Then finally the last trucks for the night turned up at the parking lot and the third one was Flo’s!
Flo came over and we lifted a sleeping Chan out of the warmth of the truck into the cold night. Then we walked over to the immigration buildings where the door to the entrance room was not locked. Instead of putting up our tent in the darkness, we decided to just arrange our mattresses in the heated entrance room. The light was on the whole night, but we didn’t care, we were so tired that we soon fell into a light sleep.
Early in the morning I woke up. In an hour they would be opening the border, so I woke Flo and we ate our last crackers for breakfast. Just a few minutes before the border was opening we woke Chan and allowed him to stay in his sleeping bag. Then we had to line up for customs before driving on to the Argentinean immigration, where it was very chaotic. There were busloads of people in lines wound up in each other. Finally we managed to get into the right line for our entry stamps. From here to Rio Gallegos we could both ride with Flo’s truck driver, Lukas, who was fine with all of us plus another hitch hiker in his driver cabin for the remaining 70km. During the ride we were again sharing mate. It was here on those rides, that we really started to enjoy the mate. It connected us with the truck drivers and the land we were about to leave. Lukas dropped us off at the bus terminal.
We were starving. We hadn’t had a real meal for one and a half days. Next to the bus terminal was a supermarket and Chan and I went to buy a nice breakfast. After we had satisfied our stomachs we went to find out about the possibilities to get to Buenos Aires by bus. It was much cheaper than from Ushuaia and the luggage was no problem. But all companies couldn’t assure us that the bikes would be on the same bus. They might be put on another bus depending on the luggage of other passengers. One office was still closed and would be opening after the siesta hours around five. We started taking the bikes apart and rearrange our gear into less bags. Then we taped the pairs of panniers together to one big piece. At 5.30pm the last office was finally open and they gave us a much better deal on the tickets than the other companies and reassured us, that our entire luggage, including the bikes, would be on the same bus. We booked with them. When we had our luggage ready we still got some time to have something to eat. There wasn’t much to choose from at the bus terminal, but Chan and I came back with one portion of salad, French fries and a pizza. It must have looked pretty funny, when Chan grabbed the salad and wanted it all for himself!
At 9pm we took off and were now riding for about 36 hours. The bus ride was nice though. We could just sit in our seats not worrying about getting a ride. We knew how long we had to wait until reaching Buenos Aires. There was no unknown anymore. But two nights in a bus is a lot of not sleeping in a bed and by the time we arrived at Retiro, the bus terminal in Buenos Aires, we were exhausted. Retiro is known for luggage robbing, not a very safe place. So we carried all our bags and bikes into a corner, where we only had to watch one side. Flo went to find out about taxis to our friends place, where we could stay. Our friends Silvia, Luis and their son Sebastian had invited us to their home immediately, when they read in our blog, that we were coming to Buenos Aires. We had met them on a campground near Salta, when arriving from the Altiplano. We had been chatting there a bit and exchanged addresses. Then we didn’t hear from them nor did we contact them again.
Preparing the jump into another world
We were really thankful to have a place to go to in Buenos Aires. We found a taxi and shortly after arrived in the quite street of our friends. Silvia was waiting for us outside. Silvia had bought heaps of meat for us. But when we were sitting at the kitchen table she asked me, if I wasn’t a vegetarian. I said yes without knowing, what kind of meals she had prepared for us. She said: “I thought you might be, but I bought all those nice milanesas (steak with a kind of flower around which has to be baked in the oven). Well never mind, let’s go to the shop.” I wanted to protest, but Silvia took me and Chan to the shop, where we bought two shopping carts full of food. I couldn’t stop her!
Silvia and Luis helped us find boxes for our luggage. We could clean the bikes at their place and take them apart. We had to get our luggage down to 6 pieces of 23kg, if we didn’t want to pay overweight kilograms (up to 100 $ US per kg!). That meant giving away many, many things which had come along with us the whole journey. Around the corner was a shop selling foam by the kilo. We bought some of it to protect the bikes and we could borrow their scale to weigh our boxes. Finally we managed all 6 boxes to be exactly 23kg, bikes and trailer and follow me included (15kg per bike, 9kg for Chan’s bike,15kg for the trailer and 5kg for the follow-me). It was like a puzzle, where each piece finds its place slowly.
Silvia and Luis brought us to a festival, the opening of the artisan market for the season. They had gaucho shows and lots of booths with local artisan artwork like pottery, paintings, cloths, mate cups and straws and leather work. We wandered around and enjoyed a beautiful warm day. There we also bought our only souvenir of our entire trip: a mate cup!
Then it was time to say good bye to our friends. A neighbour brought us to the airport with his small delivery truck. We were there very early to make sure, that all our boxes would be checked in. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 2 am and we were at the airport at 7pm. There wasn’t a nice waiting area before the check in so we sat on the floor waiting and eating empanadas until the check in finally opened. It was now 11pm.
At the gate we waited and waited. Chan was very excited and didn’t want to fall asleep. Then we got the information, that our flight was delayed two hours. That meant that we had to wait until 4 am! Chan fell asleep at least, but Flo and I couldn’t really sleep, we doze off once in a while. I was carrying Chan, and Flo our hand bags. We had already passed the usual security check with scanning luggage, but before entering the plane we had to go through another security check, they scanned everybody with a hand device once more. Then we had to wait again. We probably entered the plane around 4.30am. Sometime between 6 and 7am we were served dinner! We didn’t sleep well in the plane. Chan was the only one getting a good night’s sleep. The flight took about 19 hours. April 9th lasted about six hours.
We landed around 10am New Zealand time when we should have arrived at 7am. We had organized a place to stay with some warm shower hosts (www.warmshowers.org) and could take a taxi from the airport directly to their house. Helen and Richard welcomed us to the new country and had a room prepared for us to stay in. That first day we didn’t do much. We needed some time to arrive first. So we went to a park with a flying fox and then to a café to relax after that huge trip from one side of the world to the other.
Riding at the other right side of the road
Already the first step in this new country felt weird. Everything was extremely clean and organized. There were city maps before baggage claim, the immigration officers were very friendly and so were the customs officers, checking our boxes for organic material.
The taxi driver was very nice, chatting away on the ride into the city, explaining the surroundings. The city seemed very quiet and secure. We left the bikes at the gate, while bringing our boxes into the back yard of Helen and Richard without worrying about them getting stolen. The café close to our host’s house was serving good healthy quality food for a low prize and good real coffee. We seemed to be in paradise. Everything was very unreal! We were unbelievable tired. I was constantly cold wearing jackets, while the New Zealanders walked around in T-shirt and lots of them barefooted. In the park everybody started chatting with us and the children played with Chan.
When putting the bikes back together, we noticed that we needed to replace a few important parts, like two rims which were worn through, the break levers and all our cables. The rims took some time to order, so that we needed to stay longer in Auckland than planned. Helen and Richard were heading off on a bike trip themselves so that we changed our warm shower hosts.
With the old rims and breaks we rode through the city to Cynthia’s and Margot’s. How wired it felt to ride on the left. Every time I looked into the mirror there was on the other side of the handle bar and every time there was traffic on the other lane I was scared until I realized, that they were actually driving correctly.
A day after we arrived at our new host’s house, Chan woke up in the middle of the night with high fever. He was coughing and had some kind of a flu with ear aching. He stayed in bed for two days and inside for two more until he finally felt better. Cynthia and Margot were the most wonderful hosts, letting us stay, even though they had another visitor at their house. They also recommended very good bike shops to us and drove us around the city, so that we could get everything we needed. In a really good outdoor shop, we finally found good rain jackets 40% discounted.
After two weeks in Auckland our bikes and all of us were ready to explore this new country. To get out of the city, we took a ferry over to Pine Harbour, to miss the heavy traffic.
We only rode about 15km, but were exhausted when we arrived at the campground. People had told us, that we wouldn’t find any fresh groceries in New Zealand and if we were lucky it would be very expensive. Meat would be cheap. We found roadside stands with beautiful vegetables and fruits for very little money. A bag full of organic kiwis for just a few coins. Maybe we are just here at the right time, although the weather now changed. It had been lovely warm so far. But now the sky was clouded over and it rained every day. We were happy to have good rain jackets and didn’t ride very far per day. We still felt somewhat exhausted. 30 to 40km was just enough. The grades on those New Zealand roads are quite steep; they take you up to the top of the hill in very little distance. This was definitely different from the long straight Argentinean highways. Traffic is pretty heavy here too and I still get geese bumps frequently when cars are approaching on the right lane.
On our third day riding we bought a road atlas with all the small roads marked and looked for routes on those roads. So far it has been a relaxing riding country with lots of cafes on our way and campgrounds to stay over night. It is a bit more costly here than South America, but we never have to worry about water or shelter. The campgrounds usually provide a kitchen and lounge and hot showers! Since New Zealand is a volcanic island, there are many thermal areas. We discovered the hot thermal pools which are extra nice in the cold weather brought up to the North Island from the southern snow peaks.
We wanted to leave Taupo in the center of the North Island the day after I wrote the blog update. We had a nice breakfast in the campgrounds kitchen and rolled off. It was a beautiful day no clouds on the blue sky, just the wind was a bit cool. Eight kilometers out of town I was pedaling in neutral gear. I didn’t understand right away, but Flo of course just said: “Ups, that’s not good at all. That’s actually really bad. Your freewheel is broken. Flo rode back into town to look for a bike store which could have replacement and I was walking my bike back to town. We spent the afternoon waiting in front of the store. It was a tricky piece to replace, but in the end of the afternoon, the mechanic finally found a freewheel fitting my hub. We went back to the same campground for another night.
Because the weather turned really bad over the next days, we took it slow, riding in the mornings only, arriving at the next campground on the map in the afternoon where we could warm up in the kitchen with hot tea.
We are on our way to Palmerston North, where we will give a slide show on the 14th of may.