Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Up and Over

April 21, 2010

Forgive me for my lack of blogging lately. I have had terrible luck getting quality internet access, plus have not had a lot of time to write. In the meantime, here is a quick update:

I now find myself in northern Chile in San Pedro de Atacama. I crossed over from Argentina at Paso de Jama two days ago and sent a new altitude record for the trip at 15,810-ft. I also set a new "descent record" on the other side, losing over 5,000-ft in less than 15-minutes- on a long straight road coming out of the sky. I thought I was landing a plane! It was a windy chilly up-and-down day, but the transition has introduced spectacular new landscapes. I did okay with the altitude, having taken the advice of a local before leaving and keeping a cheek full of coca leaves during the trip.

Since being in San Pedro, I have taken day trips on the bike to visit salt beds, lunar landscapes, and flamingo filled lakes. The air is dry and crisp and it is hard to stay hydrated, but nothing is unbearable, and the stars that pop out at night make it even that more special and worth it.

Today, I accomplished another proud first. I changed my front tire all by myself! (something Ewan never had to do.) The 100 degree heat probably helped soften the rubber, but it didn't do me any favors.

If the wheel stays on, I will be traveling north tomorrow continuing up on through the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on Earth, entering Bolivia in two days and apartment shopping in a week's time in Sucre. I am excited to stop for a while, and catch up on things. Life is good, not always easy, but good.

I hope you all are well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nancy's Cabin

Nancy’s cabin is not Nancy’s at all.

Nancy and I had met on the cruise to Antarctica and she invited me to come visit her at her home in the Cordoba province of Argentina while on my trip back up north. A month later I was knocking on her door.

She had lived much of her life in the United States born to an American mother and Argentine father, but her heart had always been in Argentina. So, when it was time to retire, she bought a house with some land in the foothills outside the small town of Villa de Los Rosas. It was a tranquil setting among olive trees and vineyards. Via email, I had accepted the generous offer of sharing Easter weekend with her and visiting family members. Because of her guests filling her house, I would be staying a small house owned by an out of town neighbor at the end of the secluded dirt road – a half-mile from her house.

I had thought that this time at her house would be a good time to get some work done. I wanted to schedule a conference call with the Write Around the World board members for a long overdue meeting, while also preparing plans for re-entering Bolivia. I had just changed the bike’s oil, swapped out a new rear tire, and had a crack in one of the aluminum panniers welded back in Mendoza, so the bike was ready to go. I was in TCB mode –takin’ care of business!

When I got to the cabin, I realized that there wasn’t going to be any conference call, or hot showers, or cooking. It was rustic. Prior to my arrival, Nancy had cleared the cobwebs, swept the floors, and hung a fresh towel. The place had been locked up for awhile, and needed some fresh air. The tall overgrown grass full surrounding the place was full of moths and other flying bugs. This was going to be quasi-camping – I would need to changed modes. I didn’t have any real food with me, so the plan was to have dinner at Nancy’s, and wake up and ride into town the following day to get some provisions.

The day ride from Mendoza to Cordoba had been hot…real hot. Four of my prior six days in Mendoza had broken 100F, and the ride here was seven hours on a mind-numbing stretch of linear asphalt. My body is no longer acclimated to that kind of heat. I was beat. After dinner at Nancy’s, I rode the bike back to the house and fell straight asleep on the made-up day bed, but woke hours later from a chill coming from the open window. I got up and closed the window and walked out onto the back porch to view the sky – clouds were coming in and lightening was flashing in the distance. The weather was changing.

The next morning I walked to Nancy’s for coffee in the waterproof jacket that I bought out of necessity in Punta Arenas. The road tunneled through a blanket of heavy fog that obscured the treetops. It was a Nick Drake kind of day, and that’s what I was listening to when a car stopped to pick me up. I was really enjoying the walk - the smells brought out by the dampness, the old church peering out of the haze, the emptiness of the road - I didn’t want to accept the ride, but did not want to seem rude by refusing a ride in the rain.

Nancy made some strong coffee and served fresh fruit, which was a welcome reprieve from the typical Argentine breakfast of bread and dulce de leche (a sweet caramel type spread). She offered up her car so that I could go into town but I declined, favoring to take the bike once I got back to the cabin.

Once I got back to the cabin the skies opened up, and they opened wide. The day had started moist, but now was soaking wet. Within minutes, the uphill portion of the dirt road became impassable and unwise to attempt, let known a mess of a trip. The trip to town was out of the question. Nancy had commented on how it always, without fail, rains on Easter weekend, and I returned with, “Yeah, like our 4th of July’s in Seattle”

(It’s not always easy to slow down, to smell the roses, to look up at the sky, to sit still. It takes a conscious effort, sometimes even a forced one. Since this trip began, the stopping has not always been the easiest part for me. Among other things, it requires you to contend with the loneliness. I avoid it when I can, but in situations like this I am forced to…uh, relax. (I am not expecting any sympathy here J)

I went through my bags and found a can of pressed “pork bits”, a can of tuna, and some tea bags. On the shelf in the open kitchen I found an unopened package of crackers. Going into town was no longer necessary. I set up my camp stove, made some tea out on the back porch, set up a lawn chair, and opened up my Kindle and started Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers. I can enjoy this I thought.

Later, in the afternoon, the rain slowed to a continuous drizzle. The hummingbirds resumed making their rounds, which prompted me to get out of the chair and move. I decided it was time to bury the dead fox that I had come across in the drained swimming pool while exploring the property the day before. I had also discovered some shovels and picks in the open shed attached to the house. Not a task that I was eager to tackle, but knowing that it was there, prodded me to get it over with. It turned into a proper ceremony, unknowingly at first, but the activity had taken on a special meaning for me. Earlier that week, I received news that Lisa had finally lost her battle with ovarian cancer. I would be burying a fox but saying good-bye to a friend.

The remaining five days at the cabin were more than enjoyable. The rain finally broke a couple days later, and I enjoyed more meals with Nancy, visited an olive oil production house, and attended the Saturday morning artisan market in the square. Nancy and I said goodbye and promised to stay in touch. I left feeling calm and rested.

Lisa Thompson