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The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"Patience in one moment of anger will save 100 days of sorrow"
Chinese proverb

Chapter Five

North Eastern Argentina To Buenos Aires
and Up, Up And Away.

For the first six weeks of my trip I have been processing my drinking water by hand pumping it through a filter. Considering the amount of water I drink this can be a rather time consuming task. Luckily, throughout Argentina and Chile the tap water was good enough to drink straight and I didn't have any problems with the water again until I reached Bolivia and Peru. That meant that I had about 5 blissful months without any water hassles. One of the more difficult aspects of foreign travel, unfortunately is trying to find clean drinking water. Keep in mind, when you travel, that not only do you have to watch what you drink, but you also have to consider where the ice cubes come from and where they wash the food and dishes. It becomes very difficult to constantly be monitoring everything around you.

Crossing into Argentina was like crossing from Eastern into Western Europe. Modern houses and buildings, modern busses, a lot more private cars and unfortunately, a lot more traffic. Chile and Argentina are more like Europe than S. America with respect to lifestyle and standard of living. The currency in Argentina is the Peso, which is now equal to the Dollar and this means that things can be very expensive for the traveler. This of course translates to no more hotels or restaurants, which is fine because I prefer to cook my own food, and camp. Argentina is an example of the currency miracle. I have no idea how it works, but they've come a long way from the days of 2000% inflation and using a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread.

The northern part of Argentina is known as the Missions region because the Jesuit Missionaries settled there, however it doesn't seem to be any more religious here than in any other part of the country. The geography continues as it was in Paraguay - Green, green green, with gentle rolling hills and numerous small towns, but at least it is starting to get cooler.

I had tried to fly into Buenos Aires and out of Quito, Ecuador but as usual the airlines were most uncooperative. I'm a one-way ticket or an open return ticket kind a traveler. I can't tell you when I plan to return or from what country but at the same time, I have very little money and I refuse to pay more for an extended stay. For me the most difficult and time consuming aspect of my trip is trying to buy an acceptable, affordable air ticket. I must congratulate the airlines for they have scouted and searched and hired not one but a whole team of highly trained and skilled professionals. They are by far the best in the world at what they do. Their main objective is to come up with ways and policies that make life as inconvenient, difficult, frustrating and restrictive for the paying customer. Hats off to you all, I salute you for your excellent work.

We are anxious to get to Buenos Aires, so we are focussed on the direct path and avoiding the temptations of the many possible meandering detours we could take. We camped, cooked our own food, rode through the night when we had the light of the full moon and, on average, we managed to spend about 8 hours a day on the bike. Through this determined effort, we managed to cover the 625 miles from Encarnacion, Paraguay to Rosario, Argentina, in about 10 days.

Argentina for the most part has flat, straight paved roads and is quite monotonous. We weren't very interested in the geography of the land and since there is a lot of traffic between Rosario and Buenos Aires, we thought it would be prudent to take a bus into Buenos Aires, about 200 miles from Rosario.

Buenos Aires feels just like home. It is very much like New York and in fact they could be considered twin cities in terms of atmosphere and energy, with a definite twist of European flare thrown in. Stuart spent most of the time hanging out in the hotel but I spent three days cycling all over this beautiful city. I had worked as a bike messenger in New York city and it was just like being at home. Taxis were everywhere. One of the notable differences is that New York is filled with a mixture of races from all over the world while Buenos Aires tends to be more homogeneous. Unfortunately, when you are traveling by bike, most of your time in the bigger cities is spent tending to your administrative tasks such as laundry, bicycle maintenance, planning, shopping, reorganizing your supplies and, as time allows, trying to get some much needed rest. Other types of travelers get to focus their time on absorbing more of the city.

After a week in the modern cosmopolitan city we both felt it was time to head down to the end of the world. We thought that 2000 miles to Ushuaia over rough barren wind-swept terrain into the wind most of the way was awfully similar to what we would be cycling into as we headed northward through Patagonia. We surrendered ourselves to the idea of taking a flight! Say it isn't so!

Now for the monumental task of buying a plane ticket. Fortunately, in South America they were kind enough to sell a one way ticket, something which is unheard of anywhere else. A one-way ticket is only a true one-way ticket as long as it is half the cost of the cheapest return ticket available. Otherwise, I don't consider that a one-way ticket! The cheapest we could find was $250 from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. It was possible to go for $153 if you had a 15 day advance purchase which I think is stupid and unfair. How could I possibly know when I'm going to be here? If I'm not complaining, I'm simply just not happy. I always have a big fight with the airline people because when you purchase the ticket, they are quick to say no-problem with a bicycle, but when you go to check in at the airport with your non-refundable ticket on the day of your flight, that's when they have the audacity to say, with a straight face, that they don't take bikes. After quietly arguing and telling them what I was told when I bought the ticket, I realized I wasn't getting anywhere so I started to raise my voice to screaming level telling all the other passengers how bad this airline was and how they always have crashes. I jumped over the counter and went into the offices which were marked "No admittance" and I was yelling at everyone telling my stories to everyone I could see. I got on the phone without asking of course. I had no respect for anyone or anything at this point. I even thought about making a long distance call home just to piss them off. It felt like a scene out of Beverly Hills Cop. I was escorted back out front and told to wait and that someone would be right down to deal with me. I started telling everybody again and again how unsafe the airline was and before I knew it, a man in a 3-piece suit appeared, apologized for the situation and they took my bike with no problem. Two people came in from the baggage section and made the necessary adjustments. They even took the bikes, over 100 pounds each, complete with all the gear attached to them, and loaded them "as is" on the plane. When we landed in Ushuaia, the bikes arrived exactly as they were when we originally rode into the airport. Even the handlebars and the seat were untouched. This is particularly beneficial because the bags protect the wheels and the baggage handlers know what it is and treat it properly. When it's in a box it's tossed every which way and something is always broken. They also tell you to let the air out of the tires, but naturally I refuse because it's not necessary. Pumping 100 pounds of pressure into my tires at the airport is not my idea of fun. Just another average airplane boarding situation, at least when I'm the one traveling. The one good thing about doing it this way is that it avoids the hassle of packing everything up.

As a matter of fact, once in Europe I did what I was told and deflated my tires like a good little traveler. Turns out they wheeled the bike around without any air in the tire which left me with the wonderful surprise of dozens of holes in my tubes caused by the scrapes and gouges on the rims. I had to walk several miles and buy two new tubes all thanks to these people who the airlines hire to make policies that inconvenience the customer to the maximum. They scored big again - way to go guys. Don't deflate your tires and never do what you're told. Do what you feel and know is right and be as arrogant as possible - it's the only way to get anywhere successfully. Fighting for everything became a way of life on this trip.

As we took off I could see the whole city. It doesn't have as many skyscrapers as New York but it stretches out for quite a distance. As we circled out over the water we could see a huge fog bank just about to move in over the city. It's the beginning of summer so the water is still very cold while the air is about 80 degrees. I found it amazing that there wasn't a blanket of pollution hanging over the city. It's really true - Buenos Aires lives up to its name - Good Air. Of all the big cities I've visited in South America, this air was the best.

The flight path of our 757 plane traced the edge of the Atlantic coast of Argentina. Looking down you could see how rapidly the average annual precipitation drops off. All of a sudden it looked like the Nevada desert whereas just North of Buenos Aires it was lush greenery. We had the good fortune of making three stops on the way down so we got more travel time for our value. A lot of stops break up the trip. Three 90 minute trips is better than a 4.5 hour flight. We were allowed to get off at any of the stops for up to 5 days but couldn't possibly bear the hassle of trying to get back on the planes with bicycles. In addition to that we were too anxious and excited about getting down to the end of the world.

The stops on the flight were actually fun because there are no regulations and you're free to get out and walk around the runway. The first stop was 1.5 hours away and the temperature out on the tarmac was 49 degrees. Quite the drop from 105 degrees north of Buenos Aires. It was sunny and you could already feel the strong Patagonian winds blowing.

From the plane, I love looking at the topographical features and following the flight path on a map. It was looking very barren down there. Not much in the way of people or towns or anything. The road ran parallel to the coastline for 2000 miles with very few access routes down because the coast was mostly rocky cliffs. We were REALLY glad that we took the flight.

As I was following our path on the map, I noticed that we were flying over the Colorado River, although not the same one that flows through the Grand Canyon. For those not familiar with South American geography, the Colorado River is the northern most limit of the region known as Patagonia and is approximately 350 miles south of Buenos Aires. There is very little water in it, it's very silty and not very impressive considering that the source is over a thousand miles away high in the southern Andes. I could see the sediment from the river for quite a way up the coast as it contrasted with the clear blue Atlantic creating a beautiful swirling landscape as the silt mixed in with the ocean.

Shortly thereafter we flew over the famous Valdez Peninsula where there is said to be over a million penguins. There's a lot of different species of penguins and these are not the typical tuxedoed black and white stereotypical penguins. They look more like brown ducks waddling upright. As we pass over the Golf of San Matias, the whole peninsula comes into view and it was spectacular. At this point we were relatively low because we were about to land at Trelew, the city near the peninsula to drop off and pick up tourists. About half the people on the plane got off and were replaced by a fresh batch of tourists. It's on of the biggest tourist attractions in Argentina.

From the plane, the mass of penguins running along the beach looked like a swarm of killer bees. I wouldn't have traded anything for the view from the plane with the flight along the coast. The land itself looked very flat and monotonous and it would have been a tedious ride to cycle down this section of the trip. We are at the same latitude as Virginia beach in the north, but even in the summer, the Antarctic current keeps the water, and consequently the air, very cold. We were on the ground over an hour but it seemed like only five minutes to me because I had a chance to wander out of the plane and feel the winds and clean pure air and take in the atmosphere. It was so nice to not have to walk through the terminals and to have the freedom to just walk out on the runway. The surrounding geography looked like West Texas or Nebraska desert scrub. After an hour or so we took off again heading south. Even though we are over the Atlantic Ocean, I can look out on the horizon and see the snow capped peaks of the Andes Mountains which drop steeply down the into the Pacific Ocean on the western side of the continent. At this point, the Pacific is only 200 miles away from the Atlantic.

We descended down into Rio Gallegos for our second stop, which to me looked like an arctic community with isolated patches of snow. As we landed, I really had the feeling that we were at the end of the world. Although this city is 100 times bigger than the last one we stopped at only a handful of people got off at this point. As we were taking off again, the pilot announced that it was 35 degrees in Ushuaia. Keeping in mind that this was the middle of summer in Ushuaia, it's eye-opening to realize that it doesn't get any warmer than this. What a contrast from Northern Argentina. Another milestone in my life/trip - We are flying over the Straights of Magellan (magallenes). The straight of Magellan is the official border of the island of Tierra Del Fuego - Tierra Del Fuego was named the "Land Of Fire" because those sailing past it would see the entire land lit by the fires set by the natives to keep themselves warm.

Tierra Del Fuego is a place I have longed to visit all my life. The southern-most inhabited piece of land in the world. We had flown into some clouds for 20 minutes, but when we descended below them, I was astounded by the breathtaking view of the Beagle Channel.

Then a great thing happened - the pilot said that because the sky opened up and all the surrounding peaks had a fresh snow fall on them, we would circle around again for a better view and come in along the Beagle Channel. I wonder if any US airline would take the time to do that? This flight was filled with several of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen and this was definitely one of them. I could actually see where the Andes North/South mountain range comes to its end point. From here, the range bends eastward and the long spine of peaks mark the start of the ridge that can be traced all the way up to Alaska.

To me it's interesting to note that there's nothing all around the world but this tiny tip of land and this town of Ushuaia and water. It was obvious that the pilot went out of his way for us and it really enhanced our perception of the area. Quito, my final destination on this trip is only about 7000 miles north, or 5000 miles as the condor flies and we have yet to start the real cycling segment of the trip.

As usual, the bikes are the last things unloaded from the plane so we had to wait about 45 minutes but there were absolutely no problems and nothing was broken. We straightened out the handle bars, made a few last minute adjustments and we headed out the door of this brand spanking new airport! Apparently they expect a lot of tourism here in the future. The door opened, we took a few steps and were knocked on our butts by the sudden blast of freezing cold air. Back into the airport to put on a few more layers of clothing. After adding the wool sweater, the long insulating lycra pants and full rain suit, we stepped out into the intermittent sleet and drizzle which was quite a shock after a month of temperatures over a 100 degrees. It may take a while to get used to but I love it. After all it's just another day at the office.

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