To Penguins

Two days had passed since we sat with thousands of Magellanic Penguins on the Cabo Vírgenes peninsula—an edge-of-the-world expanse that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. The passing joke that had turned into Portland to Penguins—and as much an end goal as any geographical point—was now behind us. We had seen our penguins. Like, 200,000 of them. We’d learned that if you stick your finger towards a curious chick, it will chomp said finger; and that penguins will basically waddle over your toes, should you stand still long enough near one of their major beach-to-nest commuting paths; and that a penguin pooping sounds a lot like a sharply squeezed mustard bottle. We also learned that a Magellanic Penguin’s regular diet of sardines—combined with many a squeezed mustard bottle—can cover an entire windswept peninsula in stank. Portland to Penguins was done, kind of. 

Our trip to the penguin colony came at a price. The wind in Southern Patagonia blows west to east. We had exhausted our favorable wind credit detouring clear across the continent to the Atlantic side. Now, we were headed back, against the wind, toward the remainder of our route south, and our other goal—the end of the world/bottom of South America—but more practically, the airport in Ushuaia.

The road to the Chilean border runs at a diaganol. The wind was howling from the west, simultaneously both slowing us down and pushing us into passing traffic. I kept tabs on the cars who passed too close, imagining fist-shaking confrontations once we caught them in the immigrations line. Upon arrival to the border, I lost my nerve, opting to buzz the open car doors and drivers-turned-parking-lot-pedestrians instead—a passive aggressive move that proved surprisingly satisfying. Besides, our mood had shifted. Concrete symbols of progress are always boosting. I reused one of my favorite trip quotes, yelling to Tara, “Any day we cross a border is a good day!” We were riding high, nothing could stop us.

The rub—crossing into Chile—is that immigrations is especially strict about imported foods. A huge portion of Chile’s economy relies on its agriculture, and apparently bringing an apple over the border is so threatening, border control officials insist on stripping you down to your non-perishables. In a car, this is a minor inconvenience as a restock is a mere 100 miles away in the next town. On a bike—however—with food strategically packed for a multi-day, multi-meal journey, it can be heartbreaking to hand over everything considered “real food.”

So, we smuggled. The height of our road-wearied confidence culminated in a single brazen moment: We lied to Chilean immigrations. It was a glorious deception. 

It wasn’t all lies. We started the process with honest intentions. When the immigration officer asked if we were carrying any fruits, vegetables, meats or cheeses, we answered . Our mistake: declaring the goods did not mean we could keep them. Although Tara assured the agent—sweetly—that the onion and two tomatoes were for dinner, nada mas, he still denied their entry. “But it’s pasta night,” she added nervously. It didn’t matter what night it was or that we were traveling by bicycle, we would have to give up the goods. If we preferred, he added, we could eat them right then and there.

“The onion?” I asked. “Como una manzana?” Like an apple?

“Si quieres.” He said. If you want, otherwise hand it over.

I tried to look past his aviator shades for any recognition of the humor in his suggestion, but Latin America isn’t big on irony and customs officials aren’t big on jokes.

We politely passed on the raw onion.

“And, do you have an apple?” He asked, surely triggered by my mentioning it.

We did. And with the evidence nearly poking out of Tara’s bag, we fessed up and ate both our last Granny Smith and the remaining tomatoes in the same way—like apples—wiping our dripping chins to the amused line of cars awaiting their own inspection.

Stripped of our only produce, we shared a nod that we would not be giving up anything else—border tax paid. I left my far bag closed and thus concealed its contents of our lone package of salami and the remaining quarter of a mushed block of cheese. Contraband, but we would be damned if we were going to keep entertaining the cars with our forced feeding. I did a faux search and pulled out all my best clueless items. Can of tuna, señor? His head shake said that I could keep it and that I was an idiot. Oatmeal? He asked a third time if there was anything else. He patted my pannier.

“Vegetables, carne, salami, cheese?”

Tough to play the translation card while he’s speaking English, but I stuck to my resting confused face, now well-honed.

Anyway, there would be no returning to the truth—it would have been awkward. At previous Chilean borders we had been required to remove all the bags and feed them through a conveyor, but we were betting on that not happening this time. The line of cars was too long and we were too sly. Tara handed over our uneaten onion and we pushed our bikes into Chile, back out into the wind.

We’d only made it fifty feet down the road before our border agent came running after us. He was irritated. Tara and I hadn’t decided on exactly what tact to take upon his arrival. We were hardly making a getaway. My helmet had been blown off my head and was floating in the drainage ditch behind me. Tara frantically dug through bags in search of her missing hat, careful to not lose anything else to a strong gust. All while I struggled to hold up a bike in each hand against the wind—offering suggestions as to where she should look by pointing with my hips. As he approached, we decided to stick with the increasingly convincing act of “hapless and confused.”

It turned out to be nothing. He just needed to confirm our exit stamps. We retrieved our passports and directed him to the proper page. There was actually a part of me that was hoping he would discover the salami—let’s get detained! Who cares?! Make this interesting! He grunted at our stamps and walked back to his post. We’d made it, again.

Seeing no need to flee the scene, we stopped at the border’s half-constructed “cafe” to regroup over a cup of coffee. Cheers to Chile, or something. A short five minutes later our immigration agent entered the cafe, aviators still on. A gust whipped open the door, revealing him standing in the doorway. It felt like an incredibly low stakes horror film. Here we go agaiiiii...it was his lunch break. He ignored us and sat at a nearby table. We made sure to closely monitor our conversation anyway, lest we give ourselves away.

Outside and back on the bikes, we were treated to a southeastern turn in the road. The wind was at our backs. The vast expanse of golden pampa grass now bent in our favor. Ahead, the Straights of Magellan marked a blue strip on the horizon, and beyond that, shimmered Tierra del Fuego—the long-sought promised land now within sight. Riding with a tailwind is almost silent—a feeling of quiet weightlessness like the apex on a playground swing. In the moment, it was lifting. So was the caffeine from the instant coffee we have grown to love. So was the feeling of being so near the official end of our trip. So was the elation of having damned the man. All of it rose in my chest. I let out a yowl that was pulled away by the wind. Tara beamed. What a rush. What rebels. What seasoned biking warriors. Our second to last border crossing of nearly two dozen. The afternoon’s picnic could not possibly have been sweeter, high on 150 grams of pure Argentinian salami.

Of course, no good buzz lasts forever. The road eventually curved back west. The wind came with it, all but stopping our progress. It was a reminder that our trip was not quite over. And that moments of reflective completion bliss will come in waves, not necessarily in one steady crescendo. We called it for the day and spent the night in a bus stop/refugio a few feet from the highway—drifting off to the rattling of passing semis and the absurdly long light of summer days at high latitudes. The next morning we made a go of riding directly into the wind, but only made it halfway through the day before eventually hitching with a farm truck bound for Punta Arenas. 

And here we are now, in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile. We have flights booked for mid-February out of Ushuaia and technically more time left than miles to ride. There is no hurry. All of the Patagonia mega attractions are behind us: Torres, Fitz Roy and the Perito Moreno glacier.  We have made it to our own mega attraction—the penguins. All that’s left to do now is enjoy the remaining miles, the desolation of Tierra Del Fuego, a few more penguins, and whatever delicious goods we’ll bravely carry over our last border into Argentina.

 A 3:45AM wake up had us cresting the last ridge just as the very top of Fitz Roy illuminated. The sunrise gradient grew—from the tip down—eventually painting the entire horizon. Much like other hike excursions on this trip, we ended up in the right place, at the right moment, without planning anything beyond T-bone’s early call time. 

A 3:45AM wake up had us cresting the last ridge just as the very top of Fitz Roy illuminated. The sunrise gradient grew—from the tip down—eventually painting the entire horizon. Much like other hike excursions on this trip, we ended up in the right place, at the right moment, without planning anything beyond T-bone’s early call time. 

 Laguna de Los Tres, Los Glaciares National Park. 

Laguna de Los Tres, Los Glaciares National Park. 

 Fitz Roy is a climbing mecca. Many climbers stay for months during Patagonia’s summer season, but spend much of their time in the backpacker haven village of El Chaltén awaiting weather windows. The “real climbers” look especially capable in their ice climbing boots, heavy bags and dangling gear paraphernalia. Here Aidan holds up an extra pair of socks—the only additional gear we brought on our hike. 

Fitz Roy is a climbing mecca. Many climbers stay for months during Patagonia’s summer season, but spend much of their time in the backpacker haven village of El Chaltén awaiting weather windows. The “real climbers” look especially capable in their ice climbing boots, heavy bags and dangling gear paraphernalia. Here Aidan holds up an extra pair of socks—the only additional gear we brought on our hike. 

 Neighboring lagunas foreground for the seven peaks comprising the Fitz Roy skyline. Fitz’s 5,000-foot granite fin is an impressive sight to behold. We later watched the film  A Line Across the Sky  documenting climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold’s quest to traverse all seven peaks in a single expedition—a feat that only seems more absurd having sat underneath them. 

Neighboring lagunas foreground for the seven peaks comprising the Fitz Roy skyline. Fitz’s 5,000-foot granite fin is an impressive sight to behold. We later watched the film A Line Across the Sky documenting climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold’s quest to traverse all seven peaks in a single expedition—a feat that only seems more absurd having sat underneath them. 

 Look out, people!

Look out, people!

 The only way to access the Cabo Vírgenes Pinguinera is on a looooong, dirt road in exceptionally bad shape. We’d initially planned to ride the route before learning that “looping” the peninsula was not possible, necessitating a 4 or 5-day out-and-back. There is nothing more than a massive oil refinery and a lot of sheep along the way, so when we learned—additionally—of the lack of potable water available, enthusiasm for riding really waned. All that is to rationalize the car we rented for the day. Although a nerve wracking 7-hour round trip—due to only half understanding the rental agreement and lack of anything we know to be insurance—the 250,000 mating pairs of Magellanic penguins were absolutely worth it. 

The only way to access the Cabo Vírgenes Pinguinera is on a looooong, dirt road in exceptionally bad shape. We’d initially planned to ride the route before learning that “looping” the peninsula was not possible, necessitating a 4 or 5-day out-and-back. There is nothing more than a massive oil refinery and a lot of sheep along the way, so when we learned—additionally—of the lack of potable water available, enthusiasm for riding really waned. All that is to rationalize the car we rented for the day. Although a nerve wracking 7-hour round trip—due to only half understanding the rental agreement and lack of anything we know to be insurance—the 250,000 mating pairs of Magellanic penguins were absolutely worth it. 

 March of the f*&^ing Penguins!!!!

March of the f*&^ing Penguins!!!!

 There are a few sandy superhighways connecting the beach to the penguins’ nests. They wander/waddle these routes in order to feed in the ocean before returning to share their catch with the kiddos. If you’re patient, they’ll happily go about their commute like any other day. 

There are a few sandy superhighways connecting the beach to the penguins’ nests. They wander/waddle these routes in order to feed in the ocean before returning to share their catch with the kiddos. If you’re patient, they’ll happily go about their commute like any other day. 

 Penguin chicks! A stationary bunch, these chicks spend a lot of time in the sun waiting for the fuzz to turn to fur, and mom and dad to come back with something to eat. 

Penguin chicks! A stationary bunch, these chicks spend a lot of time in the sun waiting for the fuzz to turn to fur, and mom and dad to come back with something to eat. 

 But they don’t discriminate as far testing out potential food sources...

But they don’t discriminate as far testing out potential food sources...

 Finger bitten, lesson learned.  

Finger bitten, lesson learned.  

 A sign warning drivers of the wind. The tree is being violently blown [by the wind.] There are hardly any trees here. Presumably this sign is depicting why, as well. 

A sign warning drivers of the wind. The tree is being violently blown [by the wind.] There are hardly any trees here. Presumably this sign is depicting why, as well. 

 Overnighting at one of a number of highway puestos—emergency roadside stops—in the Argentinian pampa. As some of the only vertical structures (read: wind blockers) around for miles, cyclists are welcome to camp on their leeward side. Miguelito was perfectly happy to have a few neighbors. 

Overnighting at one of a number of highway puestos—emergency roadside stops—in the Argentinian pampa. As some of the only vertical structures (read: wind blockers) around for miles, cyclists are welcome to camp on their leeward side. Miguelito was perfectly happy to have a few neighbors. 

 160 miles of the Ruta 40 lies between Puerto Natales, Chile and Rio Gallegos, Argentina. Essentially, the entire west to east span of South America, at this point. Though we had the wind at our backs, a long-abandoned paving project made for slow going. One of only a dozen buildings on the entire route, this puesto was a welcome sight. Luis, the caretaker, lives in a trailer out front with his Shih Tzu “Gordita” (little fatty). He was slightly suspicious of us at first but warmed to Tara’s Spanish (or just Tara) and ended up showing us to our very own trailer/room. He even fired up the water heaters for a round of showers. What a guy!  

160 miles of the Ruta 40 lies between Puerto Natales, Chile and Rio Gallegos, Argentina. Essentially, the entire west to east span of South America, at this point. Though we had the wind at our backs, a long-abandoned paving project made for slow going. One of only a dozen buildings on the entire route, this puesto was a welcome sight. Luis, the caretaker, lives in a trailer out front with his Shih Tzu “Gordita” (little fatty). He was slightly suspicious of us at first but warmed to Tara’s Spanish (or just Tara) and ended up showing us to our very own trailer/room. He even fired up the water heaters for a round of showers. What a guy!  

 Presumably, we will not sleep in separate twin beds nearly as often once we’re back in Portland. 

Presumably, we will not sleep in separate twin beds nearly as often once we’re back in Portland. 

 Roadside diner. 

Roadside diner. 

 Laguna Torre, Los Glaciares National Park. Cerro Torre Tower pulled the cloud covers over its head minutes before we arrived. We didn’t mind. The natural beauty of Patagonian mega attractions is often outshined by the world-class people watching. 

Laguna Torre, Los Glaciares National Park. Cerro Torre Tower pulled the cloud covers over its head minutes before we arrived. We didn’t mind. The natural beauty of Patagonian mega attractions is often outshined by the world-class people watching. 

 Torres del Paine National Park. Tara’s alarm sounded at 3:30AM. Thirty minutes later, we left our riverside campsite in the pitch black, navigating the road into the park with headlamps. We could see the Torres towers (back right) glowing against the then clear, dark sky. Savoring the windless moment, the last of the night’s stars seemed to slide behind the towers as our perspective changed at bicycle speed. Well worth the wake up. 

Torres del Paine National Park. Tara’s alarm sounded at 3:30AM. Thirty minutes later, we left our riverside campsite in the pitch black, navigating the road into the park with headlamps. We could see the Torres towers (back right) glowing against the then clear, dark sky. Savoring the windless moment, the last of the night’s stars seemed to slide behind the towers as our perspective changed at bicycle speed. Well worth the wake up. 

 Cuernos Del Paine. Cuernos means horns.   

Cuernos Del Paine. Cuernos means horns.   

 Borrowed a lightly-used cow field for the evening. The tent zippers have stopped working almost completely so the extent of our bug protection is a desperate prayer for no bugs. Prayers answered this evening. 

Borrowed a lightly-used cow field for the evening. The tent zippers have stopped working almost completely so the extent of our bug protection is a desperate prayer for no bugs. Prayers answered this evening. 

 Photo Drunk: When it’s all just too much and you can’t stop taking pictures/be bothered with your bicycle. 

Photo Drunk: When it’s all just too much and you can’t stop taking pictures/be bothered with your bicycle. 

 Patagonian Weather: you like it or not. 

Patagonian Weather: you like it or not. 

 Matchy matchy! 

Matchy matchy! 

 Wind protection for one. 

Wind protection for one. 

 The Torres del Paine Park is truly spectacular, although it’s hard to know how to best approach it on a bicycle trip. The crowds are absurd, as are the regulations surrounding the hiking and camping. We opted out of the famous multi-day treks and were very happy to have a few real good (real quiet-ish) moments to ourselves. Here Aidan is literally blown away. 

The Torres del Paine Park is truly spectacular, although it’s hard to know how to best approach it on a bicycle trip. The crowds are absurd, as are the regulations surrounding the hiking and camping. We opted out of the famous multi-day treks and were very happy to have a few real good (real quiet-ish) moments to ourselves. Here Aidan is literally blown away. 

 If we come back with Mom and Dad maybe we can stay at a hotel. This hotel. 

If we come back with Mom and Dad maybe we can stay at a hotel. This hotel. 

 Fisherman and the Pacific outside Puerto Natales. 

Fisherman and the Pacific outside Puerto Natales. 

 Another incredible Patagonian attraction. The Perito Moreno glacier delivers as a spectacle. Warm temps and flowing rivers meant the glacier was especially active. Platforms allow for easy up-close viewing as massive 100-foot tall chunks calve off on cue. Keep an eye out for footage from the 1000+ Gore-Texans pointing their wide angle GoPros at the glacier. Sound on for commentary.

Another incredible Patagonian attraction. The Perito Moreno glacier delivers as a spectacle. Warm temps and flowing rivers meant the glacier was especially active. Platforms allow for easy up-close viewing as massive 100-foot tall chunks calve off on cue. Keep an eye out for footage from the 1000+ Gore-Texans pointing their wide angle GoPros at the glacier. Sound on for commentary.

 Perito Moreno is the only glacier in Patagonia that’s actively advancing rather than disappearing. While, the exact reason for this is a matter of debate, it’s still nice to see a bright white glacier rather than the hundreds of muddy, melting piles we’ve seen elsewhere. 

Perito Moreno is the only glacier in Patagonia that’s actively advancing rather than disappearing. While, the exact reason for this is a matter of debate, it’s still nice to see a bright white glacier rather than the hundreds of muddy, melting piles we’ve seen elsewhere. 

 Going full tourist. Tough to poke fun at the busloads of noobs when we’re the ones who forgot to bring sunscreen to the world’s largest tanning bed, but we managed. 

Going full tourist. Tough to poke fun at the busloads of noobs when we’re the ones who forgot to bring sunscreen to the world’s largest tanning bed, but we managed. 

Carretera Austral

Two weeks until our second Christmas on the road and we were officially biking the Carretera Austral, an 800-mile stretch of gravel road [albeit increasingly paved] through Chilean Patagonia. A world-renowned destination for cycling tourists. Knowing we'd be in the company of many others, the section felt tame by comparison—a victory lap for all the hard-fought miles further north. We had even cased the first four hundred miles with Sam and Bina in their rental car in the weeks prior—in perfect weather—taking mental notes from the backseat. Assuming we were in for a beautifully uneventful time, there was no way to predict the impact this particular section of road would have on our trip.
 
“Summertime” [and the livin' is easy] played on the truck stereo. The cab windows completely fogged from the swampy exertion and soggy rain gear we’d brought with us into the backseat. Summertime in Patagonia, and the rain is torrential.
 
A couple sympathetic guys with an empty truckbed had just plucked us off the side of the road. We weren't actually hitchhiking, but they’d pulled over and insisted we load up for the ten miles remaining until the next closest village—Villa Santa Lucía.
 
"Vamanos!" They shouted.
Translated, "Don't be a hero [/idiot], get in!"
 
The driver was a hospedaje [hostel] owner from Chaitén—a village about fifty miles north that we'd passed through the day before—and the other, a journalist working on a story about the Carretera Austral’s construction. Because these days, the word most associated with the Carretera Austral—aside from cyclists—is construction.
 
We started with small talk, but eventually surrendered to the noisy rain and ironic song lyrics—staring in disbelief out the blurred windows as the livin’ seemed anything but easy.
 
In Villa Santa Lucía, the men dropped us off at Nachitos—a salon de té owned by a close friend of the driver. (Given Chaitén and Villa Santa Lucía’s proximity to one another in an otherwise remote stretch of road, many of the towns’ residents know one another.) We thanked the men as they drove away, shed drippy layers at the door and settled into the salon’s only folding table—doubling as the señora's dining room table. We positioned ourselves facing the television, as is custom in Latin American dining places, and asked for something hot. Just a cup to get us down the road, we told ourselves.
 
The quick cup morale booster quickly became an extended stay—a couple anxious hours of weather checks through the casita window. We put away multiple rounds of Nescafé and a belly's worth of sopapillas—fluffy fried bread presumably invented for days like these. We were effectively killing time, perfectly content to wait for the weather to do something—anything—different. Craning around the room in search of conversation starters, I took note of the intricate layers of clutter that result from inhabiting a place for a very long time. A herd of well-loved stuffed animals framed the television—playing a frantic, last-minute-Christmas-shopping-spree special beamed in from Santiago, seemingly worlds away. Instead of thinking about missing another family Christmas, Aidan kept it light, poked at the green fabric spewing from the nearest stuffed rabbit's mouth and asked, "Lettuce or the end of a carrot you think?" Poorly fabricated and thus indistinguishable. "Lettuce, I hope." I replied. And with increased concern, "You really think there's an entire carrot in that little guy's mouth?" 
 
The señora beamed when she noticed Aidan touching her bunny. Smiling, she simply said, "canejo"—rabbit. She had warmed up to us, which we appreciated immensely as the world outside seemed increasingly cold—rain falling by the bucketful.
 
When our ride-gifting saints dropped us off, we'd been told that we could stay the night at Nachitos. In their words, "You will stay here tonight with the señora. Don't go back outside." She either never knew that was the plan or changed her mind because when we asked about a place to stay the night, she directed us back outside to a hospedaje down the street. We thanked her for the refuge—and half joked about seeing her in the morning for more sopapillas—before sprinting a few blocks through standing water to the “official” hospedaje. An 8.5”x11” sheet of white paper was taped in the front window simply reading B Y B—bed and breakfast. Whatever reservations we had regarding the lack of official signage disappeared when we saw another touring bike already on the front porch and a wood fire ripping inside. We'd ended up in the right place after all. With our clothes draped over every available bit of fire-front real estate, we entertained the appealing prospect of doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.
 
The front porch bicycle count reached five by mid afternoon—others seeking shelter stacked their rigs next to ours. The initial bike belonged to an old Japanese man who'd been holed up at the hospedaje for three days already. We learned this when the owner shrugged, pointed at the man, and told us that he showed up three days ago and simply hasn't left. He doesn't like the rain. Striking cultural differences and an accompanying language barrier made the entire scenario very endearing. Every morning the Japanese man awakes and looks out the window—nope, not today—and returns to bed. We wondered if he'd ever leave given Patagonia's relentlessness.
 
The final two bikes belonged to a couple English gals "on holiday" who had been riding together for the past month—a blonde and a brunette. They'd taken their last pedal strokes [together] into Villa Santa Lucía with plans of splitting up in the morning—one headed north to return home, and the other—allotted more vacation time—continuing south down the Carretera Austral.
 
The rain did not let up until early the next morning. We’ve never seen weather like it and questioned how a place could possibly handle so much moisture. It seemed unsustainable—even for Patagonia. A suspicion that would prove fateful in time. Our evening excursion to the neighboring tienda was an instant soaking—and about all the excitement I could handle. Sprinting from one awning to the next, I shrieked dramatically. Nothing keeps us from our calories.
 
Stocked and re-cozied into our separate twin beds, I took pleasure in the window-thwapping, roof-rumbling rain as it validated our gluttonous Netflix and snacking behavior. Between episodes and rounds of maté [and sleeves of cookies], I finished my journal entry for that day with, "Intimidated by tomorrow."
 
I cracked the whip the next morning. Although Aidan will claim this as the usge, I was especially eager to get going before the lure of bottomless cups of coffee and wood stove warmth impaired my decision making.
 
It had started raining again as we bid farewell to the other cyclists. The English girls left first. We watched through the window as they embraced in a huge hug before riding in opposite directions. Blonde to the north, brunette to the south. I stepped outside and offered to take a commemorative photo. The Japanese man moved more slowly. Still in sweatpants and slippers, we were sure he was pretending to get ready—set to crawl back into bed after we pedaled away. As we packed our bikes and the rain really began to unleash, a moment of weakness had me envisioning a cozy day by the fireplace. Before Aidan could sense my hesitation, I stared down the road and employed the rally cry from the previous day,
 
“Vamanos!”
Translated, "Let's get gone before I change my mind!"
 
We'd only made it a few miles down the road when a truck towing a fishing boat—that had passed minutes before going the opposite direction—pulled up beside me. The men inside all talked at once. Although speaking in perfect English, their approach was disorienting—firing questions out of order—eventually confirming that I had, in fact, just left Villa Santa Lucía. The front passenger finally spelled it out, "The town you've just come from is gone. You are very lucky."
 
And then in no particular order used the words:

Landslide.
Explosions.
People buried.
Houses burning.
 
It seemed dramatized coming from a couple of gringos on a fishing excursion. Nothing they said made sense to me at the time. If it was truly an emergency, why weren't they helping instead of scaring cyclists down the road? Should we turn around and see if we can help? By the time I caught up with Aidan down the road, his facial expression communicated that the truck had stopped for him as well. Confused what to do with the information—or lack thereof—we just kept riding.
 
Over the next few hours, emergency vehicles tore past, helicopters flew overhead and eventually, a panicked Japanese man appeared on the horizon behind us. He used a lot of arm motions and a mix of English and Spanish to communicate the severity of the situation. That, in fact, much of the town had been destroyed and that we were lucky. Apparently as he ate his breakfast—the one he sat down to as we pedaled away—the landslide bulldozed town, causing gas explosions and enough horrific noise to send him running out of the hospedaje and down the street. According to his extended arms the mud stopped mere feet from the front door. After waiting patiently in front of the fireplace for three days [for the rain to stop], there he stood in front of us—not even in his rain gear yet—completely soaked and freaked out.
 
It was clear at that point that something truly terrible had happened. Lingering questions as to what extent would be answered [that evening] once we reached the next town—La Junta—and bumped into BOTH the English gals. As we sorted through the tienda’s dismal cookie selection, the two appeared—together—causing a startling moment of confusion. Amy, the northbounder, stood with shaking hands and explained why she was there. She'd been stranded on a portion of the Carretera Austral with a few construction workers after witnessing the landslide tear past, swallow the road below, and eventually, most of town. The path of destruction was five miles long. Shaky YouTube videos show her teal coat and blonde hair in the middle of a lot of panicked Spanish shouting, and a river of mud and tree trunks sweeping through the background. If she had left town three minutes earlier or later, she wouldn't have made it. Caught in a section of preserved road cut off above and below, she and a few others were choppered to safety on the south end of town. Her bicycle never made it into the helicopter. She’d hitchhiked to La Junta with an arms full of panniers in search of alternate means of transportation. She never gave the bicycle a second thought—grateful to have sacrificed so little.
 
Aerial footage played on the news—truly an unbelievable disaster. 5 dead and 15 missing—a death toll that unfortunately would quadruple over the next few weeks as search efforts continued. It's been nearly a month and villagers remain unaccounted for—desaparecidos. The area had received over four inches of rain in twenty four hours—more than Santiago's annual rainfall.
 
The landslide made BBC [and countless other international news outlets] within 24 hours. A panicked note went out to our parents as a result. Aidan’s folks, Meg and Philip, are social media saavy—the scariest type of saavy amidst a developing disaster as news tends to break in those platforms. Although #’s and @‘s are not Donn and Dory’s strong suit, they are capable of out-researching us all when provided Googleables. Dory often replies to our whereabouts with lengthy, book report-style e-mails. All is to say that during our gluttonous, wifi-rich afternoon indoors, we had unintentionally provided all the necessary keywords to yield terrifying search results.
 
We fixated on the disaster for the next few days—weeks really. A lot of time on a quiet road led our minds to eerie places. Taking stock of our connection to the place and people. A lot of what ifs. The further we rode south, the more literal and figurative distance grew between us and the experience. Eventually it was no longer the focal point of all my thoughts, but I never stopped wondering about the fate of those in town and whether Nachitos and the sweet, stuffed animal-loving señora had survived.
 
Our time on the Carretera Austral ended on the afternoon of New Year's Eve in Villa O'Higgins—the road's official [dead] end. There's a cosmic cliche somewhere in there about endings and new beginnings. With daylight until 10:30PM, we stayed up late enough to properly celebrate NYE for the first time in years. Pisco on the rocks for all. The hostel owner ran glacier tours and had brought out a tray carrying a sizable chunk from which he chipped raw cubes of 3,000 year-old glacial ice. A craft cocktail Portland would love to hate. We sang dining room karaoke until 5:30 in the morning with the owners, a gaucho grandpa, an uncle (type) and the three other travelers also staying the night. In between songs, we ate hot dogs on toothpicks and got to know one another. An Austrian couple caught us off guard when—after learning that we were Americans on bicycles—exclaimed, "YOU are the two who have been riding for seventeen months." We hadn’t told them that yet. They sensed our confusion and added, "Villa Santa Lucía.” The Austrians had been staying in Chaitén at the truck driver’s hospedaje the morning of the landslide—the morning after he’d kindly delivered us to Nachitos. He poured his heart out to the Austrians, confessing his responsibility for dropping us off with the señora. After hearing their account, it was obvious that the man believed we hadn’t made it. He assumed the worst because the salon de té had been completely buried, and the señora had died the same morning—the morning we’d pedaled straight out of town without even stopping for a second round of sopapillas.
 
Hit with an unexpected small worldism and bizarre sense of closure, we took a moment to digest what all of it actually meant. Although warming to know we could send a message to the truck driver, it was chilling—of course—to learn about the señora. We felt connected—however passingly—to the deep tragedy that swept through that tiny town. Sobered, we felt lucky all over again. Our host pulled the room back together and everyone raised their glasses to the middle of the table, “Salud y feliz año nuevo a todos—Cheers and happy new year to everyone.” And then, we simply passed the microphone and platter of hot dogs to the next person.
 
The beautiful, famous Carretera Austral was unforgiving after all. In the end, there was nothing tame about it. Overwhelmingly full of experience, our victory lap was flipped on its head by freakish winter weather, tragedy and humanity.
 
Currently in El Calafaté—heading to the iconic Torres del Paine in the morning—we are learning how to navigate heavy-hitting attractions amidst Patagonia’s peak tourist season. There will be penguins.

 After boasting about weeks of unbelievable sunshine, we paid the karmic price with 20+ days of cold temps, wind and rain. Patagonia knows many moods. 

After boasting about weeks of unbelievable sunshine, we paid the karmic price with 20+ days of cold temps, wind and rain. Patagonia knows many moods. 

 The Río Baker is one of the largest undammed rivers on the planet. “Patagonia Sin Represas” (Without Dams) is scrawled on many a sign and wall. The allure of hydropower is understandable in a place overflowing with water but it would come at the destruction of some of the world’s few remaining great wild rivers. 

The Río Baker is one of the largest undammed rivers on the planet. “Patagonia Sin Represas” (Without Dams) is scrawled on many a sign and wall. The allure of hydropower is understandable in a place overflowing with water but it would come at the destruction of some of the world’s few remaining great wild rivers. 

 This three-walled refugio was a welcome discovery after the last ferry from Puerto Yungay left us searching for cover in the late evening rain. A little glass shard sweeping and we had ourselves a very cozy 3/4 cabin. 

This three-walled refugio was a welcome discovery after the last ferry from Puerto Yungay left us searching for cover in the late evening rain. A little glass shard sweeping and we had ourselves a very cozy 3/4 cabin. 

 Part of Chile’s shattered island coast line, this deep inlet reaches far enough in to cut through the Carretera Austral—requiring the road’s last mandatory ferry passage.

Part of Chile’s shattered island coast line, this deep inlet reaches far enough in to cut through the Carretera Austral—requiring the road’s last mandatory ferry passage.

 Resource rich from a well-stocked grocery store, we took the opportunity to reprise our veggie ramen soup. First developed in high-altitude Peru, it proved just as delicious in drizzly Patagonia.  

Resource rich from a well-stocked grocery store, we took the opportunity to reprise our veggie ramen soup. First developed in high-altitude Peru, it proved just as delicious in drizzly Patagonia.  

 Bamboo cross rigging—our addition—to maximize drying space. 

Bamboo cross rigging—our addition—to maximize drying space. 

 The Carretera Austral ends with a series of boat crossings and hike-a-bikes between Villa O’Higgins, Chile and El Chalten, Argentina. The boats are expensive and the technical singletrack route ranges from brilliant to hellish, depending on who you ask. There was a week-long waiting list for the single functioning boat by the time we arrived. The path felt beaten. Thanks to the stubbornness of the famous Davide Travelli, we opted for an alternate route—Paso Mayer. Crowd avoidance coming at the cost of an additional 250 miles of Argentinian pampa detouring. 

The Carretera Austral ends with a series of boat crossings and hike-a-bikes between Villa O’Higgins, Chile and El Chalten, Argentina. The boats are expensive and the technical singletrack route ranges from brilliant to hellish, depending on who you ask. There was a week-long waiting list for the single functioning boat by the time we arrived. The path felt beaten. Thanks to the stubbornness of the famous Davide Travelli, we opted for an alternate route—Paso Mayer. Crowd avoidance coming at the cost of an additional 250 miles of Argentinian pampa detouring. 

 Maoche showed us the way across a section of no man’s land between Chilean and Argentine border immigration posts. The route—meant for horses—utilizes a private sheep bridge and crosses various rivers. While we’re not actually sure of the spelling, given the pronunciation of his name, hopefully it’s a combination of the two famous communistas.  

Maoche showed us the way across a section of no man’s land between Chilean and Argentine border immigration posts. The route—meant for horses—utilizes a private sheep bridge and crosses various rivers. While we’re not actually sure of the spelling, given the pronunciation of his name, hopefully it’s a combination of the two famous communistas.  

 Maoche pointing out the road past where he’ll leave us. Pretty sure he’s saying that, “Everything the light touches is Argentina.” Davide listens so he can confidently tell us where to go later. (Davide left Alaska more than two years ago. He has no plans of quitting and mentioned the need for a boat to South Africa [to ride the continent north] several times. He’s an Italian madman with damn near perfect Spanish. We wouldn’t have been able to cross Paso Mayer without him.) 

Maoche pointing out the road past where he’ll leave us. Pretty sure he’s saying that, “Everything the light touches is Argentina.” Davide listens so he can confidently tell us where to go later. (Davide left Alaska more than two years ago. He has no plans of quitting and mentioned the need for a boat to South Africa [to ride the continent north] several times. He’s an Italian madman with damn near perfect Spanish. We wouldn’t have been able to cross Paso Mayer without him.) 

 Paso Mayer is technically a horse/pedestrian crossing due to the lack of any sort of official road. In the driest months, it is possible to pass through low rivers but most of the year the route requires the use of this privately-owned suspension bridge. Apparently the landowner built it to transfer sheep and doesn’t appreciate human traffic. We managed to pass unnoticed and definitely had plans to let Maoche do the talking if challenged.  

Paso Mayer is technically a horse/pedestrian crossing due to the lack of any sort of official road. In the driest months, it is possible to pass through low rivers but most of the year the route requires the use of this privately-owned suspension bridge. Apparently the landowner built it to transfer sheep and doesn’t appreciate human traffic. We managed to pass unnoticed and definitely had plans to let Maoche do the talking if challenged.  

 Built for sheep, it’s too narrow for a loaded bike and required three wobbly trips to ferry bags and bikes. 

Built for sheep, it’s too narrow for a loaded bike and required three wobbly trips to ferry bags and bikes. 

 When we arrived at Maoche’s the night before we learned that he had fifteen dogs. All but the very oldest and youngest came with us as he guided us through the border. A dozen dogs, a horse and three clumsy cyclists—quite the scene. 

When we arrived at Maoche’s the night before we learned that he had fifteen dogs. All but the very oldest and youngest came with us as he guided us through the border. A dozen dogs, a horse and three clumsy cyclists—quite the scene. 

 Davide scoping out another refugio near Paso Mayer. Inside—a fireplace, a few platforms for sitting or sleeping, and someone’s groceries. Free accessible places to sleep and trusting people make out-of-the-way Patagonia feel particularly special. 

Davide scoping out another refugio near Paso Mayer. Inside—a fireplace, a few platforms for sitting or sleeping, and someone’s groceries. Free accessible places to sleep and trusting people make out-of-the-way Patagonia feel particularly special. 

 A group of young gauchos went above and beyond when asked about an “out of the wind camping spot.” Four walls and our own wood stove! 

A group of young gauchos went above and beyond when asked about an “out of the wind camping spot.” Four walls and our own wood stove! 

 Hearing the 50 MPH insistent wind, in-and-out rain and the thwack of only partially secured corrugated roofing made this shack feel particularly cozy. Anything but being “out there.”

Hearing the 50 MPH insistent wind, in-and-out rain and the thwack of only partially secured corrugated roofing made this shack feel particularly cozy. Anything but being “out there.”

 Diligently following the dogs.  

Diligently following the dogs.  

 The Río Baker is an electric Kool-Aid blue before it joins with the glacial silt of the Río Neff a few miles up river from this valley. A sign promised that it (the color) stayed the same all the way to the sea so we postponed taking photos of its brilliance. Apparently our Spanish translations don’t yet cover color palette variations.

The Río Baker is an electric Kool-Aid blue before it joins with the glacial silt of the Río Neff a few miles up river from this valley. A sign promised that it (the color) stayed the same all the way to the sea so we postponed taking photos of its brilliance. Apparently our Spanish translations don’t yet cover color palette variations.

 Rest stop. Still on the bike seat. Saw an article on stationary bike desks—could be a game changer come time to return to the work force. (Is anyone hiring?) 

Rest stop. Still on the bike seat. Saw an article on stationary bike desks—could be a game changer come time to return to the work force. (Is anyone hiring?) 

 Christmas Day on Lago Carrera, Chile’s largest and seemingly bluest lake.

Christmas Day on Lago Carrera, Chile’s largest and seemingly bluest lake.

 A memorable Christmas outrunning a massive storm. It caught up to us and validated Aidan’s perpetual distrust of rain gear. 

A memorable Christmas outrunning a massive storm. It caught up to us and validated Aidan’s perpetual distrust of rain gear. 

 Almost a year and a half on the road and everything is falling apart. Tara has stitched the croch of her only pair of pants multiple times. Aidan’s all but duct taped his chain back together. Tent leaks and the zippers close, some of the time. Nothing is waterproof. Tara reinflates her air mattress a few times a night—awaking Aidan in the process—and ending up on the ground regardless. We don’t worry about our bicycles anymore, no one wants them. We’ve used the same kitchen ziploc bag since Portland. Our pots smell permanently of spaghetti and our mugs, of soured wine. The notion of an actual home seems so foreign, but we’re so ready. 

Almost a year and a half on the road and everything is falling apart. Tara has stitched the croch of her only pair of pants multiple times. Aidan’s all but duct taped his chain back together. Tent leaks and the zippers close, some of the time. Nothing is waterproof. Tara reinflates her air mattress a few times a night—awaking Aidan in the process—and ending up on the ground regardless. We don’t worry about our bicycles anymore, no one wants them. We’ve used the same kitchen ziploc bag since Portland. Our pots smell permanently of spaghetti and our mugs, of soured wine. The notion of an actual home seems so foreign, but we’re so ready. 

 When the weather finally breaks and you’re able to see what those clouds have been hiding. 

When the weather finally breaks and you’re able to see what those clouds have been hiding. 

 Lakeside lupin. 

Lakeside lupin. 

 We’ve a developed a deep appreciation for the indoors. Few things are more comforting than being inside (and dry) when it’s nasty outside. It doesn’t take much—couple sheets of plywood and a window/hole. The glass had been broken out of this three-walled refugio, but prevailing winds ensured our coziness. 

We’ve a developed a deep appreciation for the indoors. Few things are more comforting than being inside (and dry) when it’s nasty outside. It doesn’t take much—couple sheets of plywood and a window/hole. The glass had been broken out of this three-walled refugio, but prevailing winds ensured our coziness. 

 We spent sixteen hours in the tent Christmas night/Boxing Day morning. Leaks sprung left and right—our rain fly had met its match. Cooking an entire dinner and breakfast in the tent vestibule was an exercise in learning where your—and your tent mate’s—elbows end. 

We spent sixteen hours in the tent Christmas night/Boxing Day morning. Leaks sprung left and right—our rain fly had met its match. Cooking an entire dinner and breakfast in the tent vestibule was an exercise in learning where your—and your tent mate’s—elbows end. 

 The pants are, my friend, blowin’ in the wind. The pants are blowin’ in the wind. (Epic tailwind and a mostly failed attempt at adding a sail assist.) 

The pants are, my friend, blowin’ in the wind. The pants are blowin’ in the wind. (Epic tailwind and a mostly failed attempt at adding a sail assist.) 

 Leaving an estancia on the Argentina Pampa. The rain shadow effect is very real, which means Argentina is much, much drier than its latitudinally similar Chilean counterpart.  

Leaving an estancia on the Argentina Pampa. The rain shadow effect is very real, which means Argentina is much, much drier than its latitudinally similar Chilean counterpart.  

 Rusted out I-beams from an abandoned bridge project and we are out of the wind in time for lunch. 

Rusted out I-beams from an abandoned bridge project and we are out of the wind in time for lunch. 

 Different day, same menu, always delicious. 

Different day, same menu, always delicious. 

 “Two adorable duckfaces” got nixed for an Instagram caption, but here it is on the blog, because who reads all of these anyway?! 

“Two adorable duckfaces” got nixed for an Instagram caption, but here it is on the blog, because who reads all of these anyway?! 

 We’ve been struck by the generosity of others countless times on this trip. Assuming things would change once we reached busier sections of Patagonia, our hostel hosts in Villa O’Higgins proved to be as generous and enthusiastic as anybody so far. Countless cyclists pass through their quaint town, emptying grocery store shelves and looking for cheap places to pitch their tents—and their response—a warm invitation to join in the family New Year’s celebration. Drinks and eats on NYE and an asado on NYD. Here, grandpa seasons what’s left of the lamb and poses for the tourists. Thank you Marcus, Angelica and Las Ruedas fam!

We’ve been struck by the generosity of others countless times on this trip. Assuming things would change once we reached busier sections of Patagonia, our hostel hosts in Villa O’Higgins proved to be as generous and enthusiastic as anybody so far. Countless cyclists pass through their quaint town, emptying grocery store shelves and looking for cheap places to pitch their tents—and their response—a warm invitation to join in the family New Year’s celebration. Drinks and eats on NYE and an asado on NYD. Here, grandpa seasons what’s left of the lamb and poses for the tourists. Thank you Marcus, Angelica and Las Ruedas fam!

 Making new friends on the sly.  

Making new friends on the sly.  

 We make a number of poopin in the lupin jokes. This photo is unrelated.  

We make a number of poopin in the lupin jokes. This photo is unrelated.  

In Patagonia

In a particularly Patagonical scene, we are seated in a quaint coffee shop [on Chiloé Island]—watching the weather unleash outside. We've already bathed in the sink and overstayed our double espresso welcome—and our ferry doesn't leave for another twelve hours. The boat is bound for Chaiten—on the Carretera Austral—where we will embark on our eighth or ninth self-proclaimed "home stretch." Fitting as northern Patagonia feels a lot like home.
 
We are readjusting to the bike routine after some time off exploring with our dear friends—Sam and Bina. We had perfect weather for two weeks, uncharacteristic of both place and season as it is still technically Spring—a fact made clear by abundant lupin and empty parks. We camped, cooked, hiked and ferried, all from the beautifully cushioned seat of the fearless rental car. Their generosity and enthusiasm recharged us in ways we didn't know we needed. Big cheers and many thanks to the soon-to-be newlyweds.
 
More words to come. Soonish. For now, a necessary photo dump. Playtime devoured any and all "writing time." The Carretera Austral awaits. As do the glowing highlights of Southern Patagonia—more glaciers—more mountains—and, of course, (more) penguinos.

 Our formal welcome to Patagonia.  Argentina Lake District—outside Bariloche.

Our formal welcome to Patagonia. Argentina Lake District—outside Bariloche.

 Everyone will tell you the wind blows in Patagonia. Surfable waves on the lakes confirm.  

Everyone will tell you the wind blows in Patagonia. Surfable waves on the lakes confirm.  

 River valley outside Llifen, Futrono, Chile.

River valley outside Llifen, Futrono, Chile.

 Our very first ferry was preceded by a 20-hour wait for the day's only departure. Plan accordingly.  

Our very first ferry was preceded by a 20-hour wait for the day's only departure. Plan accordingly.  

 Wild camping is slightly more difficult when it's all private property with high-value lakefront views. More difficult when  someone  requests their own high-value lake view. An undeveloped lot and a bit of light landscaping and we're in.    

Wild camping is slightly more difficult when it's all private property with high-value lakefront views. More difficult when someone requests their own high-value lake view. An undeveloped lot and a bit of light landscaping and we're in. 

 

 Our picnic game has come a long way from the canned anchovies and saltine sleeves of Bolivia. 

Our picnic game has come a long way from the canned anchovies and saltine sleeves of Bolivia. 

 There's something especially good about sleeping in the bushes off the side of the road and still insisting on wine with dinner. 

There's something especially good about sleeping in the bushes off the side of the road and still insisting on wine with dinner. 

 Perhaps a consequence of growing up on the rocky coasts of Maine, Aidan is constantly and consistently entertained by a good rock throwin'.

Perhaps a consequence of growing up on the rocky coasts of Maine, Aidan is constantly and consistently entertained by a good rock throwin'.

 Lake country details.

Lake country details.

 Bike touring is significantly easier with an abundance of shockingly clear, fresh water.

Bike touring is significantly easier with an abundance of shockingly clear, fresh water.

 Campsites like these require many-a-goat path pursuit before finding one that does not end in either a house or dock—or whatever debauchery results in shorelines of empty beer cans.

Campsites like these require many-a-goat path pursuit before finding one that does not end in either a house or dock—or whatever debauchery results in shorelines of empty beer cans.

 "Si no te gusta el clima, espera quince minutos."  

"Si no te gusta el clima, espera quince minutos."  

 Argentina's municipal camp scene is excellent for the utilization of large flat surfaces and hot showers. But, between neighborhood dogs and instrument strumming all-nighters, sleeping is better done elsewhere.

Argentina's municipal camp scene is excellent for the utilization of large flat surfaces and hot showers. But, between neighborhood dogs and instrument strumming all-nighters, sleeping is better done elsewhere.

 When you both forget to hit the gas station on the way out of town...Aidan's scavenged rebar grill and fire pit fueled on desert scraps cooked our pasta in three times the normal time. A few minor burns and a lot of cookwear charring and again we are reminded how good we have it with the trusty MSR stove. 

When you both forget to hit the gas station on the way out of town...Aidan's scavenged rebar grill and fire pit fueled on desert scraps cooked our pasta in three times the normal time. A few minor burns and a lot of cookwear charring and again we are reminded how good we have it with the trusty MSR stove. 

 A watched pot boils, slowly.

A watched pot boils, slowly.

 Caught this meatball loitering outside the butcher shop. The owner/Señor kindly facilitated a photo shoot. 

Caught this meatball loitering outside the butcher shop. The owner/Señor kindly facilitated a photo shoot. 

 ....and then brought us other obscure pets to pose with. He got it.

....and then brought us other obscure pets to pose with. He got it.

 Volcan Osorno doing its best Mount Fuji.   

Volcan Osorno doing its best Mount Fuji.   

 Equal parts dangerous and disappointing.  

Equal parts dangerous and disappointing.  

 First customers of the season. As Patagonia's high summer season approaches, we are appreciating the last few weeks of quiet.

First customers of the season. As Patagonia's high summer season approaches, we are appreciating the last few weeks of quiet.

 Endless inlets along the Carretera Austral.  

Endless inlets along the Carretera Austral.  

 Mele kalikimaka. Our susperstar visitors—Sam and Bina.

Mele kalikimaka. Our susperstar visitors—Sam and Bina.

 Looking across at Isla Quinchao from Chiloé Island—letting out (what we imagine to be) convincing sea lion noises. The channel between Quinchao and Chiloé has many a' mussel farm and floating docks filled with massive, sunning Southern Sealions. They return our barks, but remain otherwise motionless. 

Looking across at Isla Quinchao from Chiloé Island—letting out (what we imagine to be) convincing sea lion noises. The channel between Quinchao and Chiloé has many a' mussel farm and floating docks filled with massive, sunning Southern Sealions. They return our barks, but remain otherwise motionless. 

 Kelp and koozy color coordination. Golden hour lasts about four hours these days—with light in the sky until well after ten o'clock. 

Kelp and koozy color coordination. Golden hour lasts about four hours these days—with light in the sky until well after ten o'clock. 

 A very frio rio outside Hornopiren, Carretera Austral.

A very frio rio outside Hornopiren, Carretera Austral.

 Band's back together and the tour bus is a 2WD Hyundai Creta. 

Band's back together and the tour bus is a 2WD Hyundai Creta. 

 Patagonian weather warnings be damned—two solid weeks with these guys and no one touched their rain gear. ¡Que suerte!

Patagonian weather warnings be damned—two solid weeks with these guys and no one touched their rain gear. ¡Que suerte!

 Sun worshipper. 

Sun worshipper. 

 There are numerous ferries along the Carretera Austral—the roads dead end/lead directly onto the boat ramp and then back off of it on the other side. An accident caused a road closure and the "detour" included a twenty minute boat ride. 

There are numerous ferries along the Carretera Austral—the roads dead end/lead directly onto the boat ramp and then back off of it on the other side. An accident caused a road closure and the "detour" included a twenty minute boat ride. 

 Fjord escort.  

Fjord escort.  

 The west side of Chiloé Island faces the open Pacific. It's windwhipped and wild and save for the sheep, largely unpopulated. 

The west side of Chiloé Island faces the open Pacific. It's windwhipped and wild and save for the sheep, largely unpopulated. 

 Wave check says: windy.  

Wave check says: windy.  

 Mountaintop picnic.

Mountaintop picnic.

 Cerro Castillo—the Torres del Paine of the north.  

Cerro Castillo—the Torres del Paine of the north.  

 Cerro Castillo and its half frozen laguna.  

Cerro Castillo and its half frozen laguna.  

 Hiking muscles and biking muscles  no son iguales .

Hiking muscles and biking muscles no son iguales.

 Cooler than a polar bear's toenails. 

Cooler than a polar bear's toenails. 

 'berg balancing took a turn for the cold. 

'berg balancing took a turn for the cold. 

 Before a cutthroat round of Hearts—when everyone was still smiling.  

Before a cutthroat round of Hearts—when everyone was still smiling.  

 Patagonian Lupin

Patagonian Lupin

 The 'ol post hike stream sock rinse.  

The 'ol post hike stream sock rinse.  

 Side excursion to the hanging glacier in Queulat National Park.

Side excursion to the hanging glacier in Queulat National Park.

 Admittedly guilty of rooting for nature to DO something, we were rewarded (?) when a sizable chunk calved and fell the length of the waterfall to the rocks below. Given the distance, the moment is a lot like a lightning strike where you see the moment and wait for the thunderous boom across the lake.

Admittedly guilty of rooting for nature to DO something, we were rewarded (?) when a sizable chunk calved and fell the length of the waterfall to the rocks below. Given the distance, the moment is a lot like a lightning strike where you see the moment and wait for the thunderous boom across the lake.

 Above snow line outside Coyhaique.  

Above snow line outside Coyhaique.  

 When you're supposed to be the ones in good shape, but spend most days chasing after the youngsters.  

When you're supposed to be the ones in good shape, but spend most days chasing after the youngsters.  

 We followed a sheep path to the edge of the bluff on the logic that sheep don't want to fall into the ocean either. 

We followed a sheep path to the edge of the bluff on the logic that sheep don't want to fall into the ocean either. 

 The rental car afforded countless side trips down loooong, steep gravel roads. Aidan and I exchanged plenty of "we do not need to come back here on the bikes" glances.  Pumalín Park, Carretera Austral .

The rental car afforded countless side trips down loooong, steep gravel roads. Aidan and I exchanged plenty of "we do not need to come back here on the bikes" glances. Pumalín Park, Carretera Austral.

 Camp cat, Pumpernickel.  

Camp cat, Pumpernickel.  

 Guinea Fowl (domestic) as captured by our resident amateur birder. AKA guy chasing chickens around the yard with the camera at his feet. 

Guinea Fowl (domestic) as captured by our resident amateur birder. AKA guy chasing chickens around the yard with the camera at his feet. 

 Teaser...

Teaser...

Just Deserts

Hunkered in our hostel with a frosty carton of rocky road wedged between us, Aidan and I cheers'd our camp spoons and dug into the celebratory half-gallon. We were in Chile. At last. Aside from intermittent mmm's, we sat facing the wall in dead, reflective silence. Our overpriced room serving its sunblock purpose well. The coolness of the tile floor preserved with tightly sealed curtains. Every bite accompanied by a contemplative gaze, thinking back on the sufferfest we'd just endured. Aidan eventually broke the calorie consumption silence to comment on our respective ice cream excavation techniques. My spoon, like a backhoe, dug from top to bottom, removing boulderous bites. A cavern of visible carton floor. While Aidan, the bite allocator, strategically skimmed the top inch or so, savoring, and making it look like he'd hardly put any of it away. Choosing not to read into our differing techniques as an analogy for anything more profound, I continued to race towards the bottom.
 
We both lost weight in Bolivia. Myself a few lbs, Aidan more than fifteen. Crossing into Chile via the remote Lagunas route, it was impossible to schlep enough food. Bolivia, in general, was not easy eating. Other cyclists warned us of the chicken and rice monotony, but our route choices made it difficult to find even those things in tandem. Mostly pecking from tienda shelves consisting of crackers and candy, meals were a bleak affair. Any opportunity for something hot was approached with foolish enthusiasm. The bar had dropped. And the sight of señoras pushing wheelbarrowed food carts through the blazing midday sun was seducing. A ratty blanket pulled back to reveal a smattering of potato pots, rice, noodles, sloppery soups, slippery slops and mystery meat. The ultimate dice roll. Aidan loves to charade a dice shake and release onto the table as if to say, "We're really doing it, see you on the other side." One lunch consisted of plain white rice, plain noodles and boiled potatoes. And not a morsel of flavor more. The vegetarian option. And another, conversely, panza—cow stomach. If Aidan is guilty of Boy Scout bullshit, then I, of language lies. While he confidently, yet falsely identifies bird species and wind direction, I've got a nasty habit of pretending to understand indecipherable Spanish mumbling. "She's super nice," I report back to Aidan after chatting with the fast-talking señora serving lunch. "Chicken. She's got chicken." It wasn't until a big pile of gamey, stomach-churning stomach was placed in front of us that I admitted to having no idea what she'd actually said. "But she was so nice," I insisted. Cue the dice roll.
 
When left to our own devices, Bolivian menu highlights included greyed anchovies, saltine crackers dipped in tubbed margarine, white bread sandwiched between saltines and when dessert rolled around, saltines dipped in strange, artificially sweetened jam. A creation we call jelly donuts. In my best school dance DJ voice, "Who's ready for a jelly D'eeeee?!" To which Aidan would respond, "Oh, is it time to eat again?" Condescending, but justified. Progress severely impaired many days by my incessant snack stop requests.
 
But who could (n)ever forget the great tuna meltdown of 2017? Aptly named by Aidan after feeling especially sorry for myself and choosing to salt the tuna with my tears. A long list of coinciding physical ailments make it less pathetic, but I'll confess a low point and digress.
 
It's not a well-kept secret that the timing of Bolivia, for me, was rough. Reflected in my tone of voice, family and friends began asking how we were really doing. Aidan's mother started to sign off her e-mails with "take care of each other." My brother Luke, a comic illustrator/aficionado—armed with fantasy/sci-fi references—wrote:
 
There's a point in all stories called the "all is lost" period. It's right before the climax of any given story. This is where either the mentor dies (like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Gandalf), and everything seems a little darker than it should in the exotic setting in which characters reside. Or things simply become a bit weary in their own way and the story characters have to persevere. You guys must be exhausted, but if the story pans out, you're in for the most glorious of third acts.
 
Bolivia was not all lost. It's just that nothing was easy. A place that required more work and planning than we had the energy for. Than I had the energy for. If Peru was one sick joke after another, as I told Aidan, then Bolivia was the punchline. Bolivia burnout. More likely, bike burnout. The process of packing and unpacking, perpetually searching for small comforts, was wearing me down. In between air mattress breaths, "Some day we'll sleep in a bed again." And while meticulously packing panniers, "Some day we'll just put a few things in our pockets and leave the house." A romanticized oversimplification of regular life. Classic case of wanting what you don't have. Pangs for home leave me feeling guilty. Disappointed that I am not better at "living in the moment." Easier said on a crafty coffee shop sign than done. I respect, but don't entirely trust other cyclists we encounter with excessively positive attitudes. I know that Bolivia is a beautiful country—now tell me something original, and honest. Something humanizing. There is comfort in commiseration.
 
Any time an airplane passes overhead, I fixate on the mesmerizing jetstream and whisper, "heeeelp." What began as a joke suited to particularly well-timed flights amidst challenging road sections became Every. Single. Plane.
 
I threw my bike in Bolivia, again.
 
And gave a scarecrow an impassioned piece of my mind. My eyesight hasn't been the same since corrective surgery and I just wanted the man on the hillside to stop fucking staring. Aidan has come to detect the fragility in these moments and sensitively resists jokes until the following morning.
 
Although not overly welcoming, I genuinely respect Bolivians for their ability to make it work. And the country for not taking it easy on us. Just challenging enough to redirect daydreams from good friends/fancy eats to drinking water and basic shelter. Bolivia really knows how to put things into perspective—to force you to live in the moment, for the moment cannot be ignored.
 
Our life exists almost entirely outdoors. Weeks pass and we've only gone inside to buy food. When again in our lives will we have the freedom (read lack of responsibility) to exist this way? What a shame it would be to allow such a strange series of surprises to pass unappreciated. Sometimes Aidan pauses in the middle of breakfast prep and exhales a heartfelt, "Ahhh, this is the best." Sorting through a big pour of cowboy coffee—and with a gritty grin—I nod in agreement.
 
I will miss the daily ambushings. Nothing is predictable. The frustrating, but colorful details in a place like Bolivia make for an endless roll of head shakes and good stories. No more brass band all-nighters. Or steaming piles of stomach. Pueblo-wide searches for a loaf of bread or a few bananas will soon be behind us. In Portland, we know how things operate. And where everything is. I only hope that as we stare at a sea of perfectly color-coordinated produce at the store that we take a moment to reflect on what obtaining veggies once entailed.
 
Estoy buscando verduras, nada mas.
"Hi, I'm here for the veggies."
 
Como estan?
"How's everyone doing?"
 
Met with a sea of blank stares, I made a nervous effort to meet the eyes of the ten or so women scattered around the mud courtyard. Craning around the clothesline to include everyone. An 8-year-old girl had guided me by the hand from the village plaza directly into her home after learning that I was looking for vegetables. Anything other than candy and crackers, really. Most of the villages along the route were "dry" and our dietary desperation was real. In classic Bolivia fashion, the women needed time to warm up to the idea of me. They stared in apprehension and I stared back, smiling stupidly, hoping they couldn't sense my discomfort.
 
"Muy malo," one of the woman doing laundry finally replied.
 
In all of my introductory Spanish, I've never actually heard anyone respond negatively. There is a formulaic conversational exchange that ensures you are fine, regardless of how you are actually doing. Entire phrase books are published on this premise. I asked if it was because of all the dirty clothes that needed washing and everyone broke into laughter.
 
Yeah, I guess that was pretty funny.
 
After letting me sweat through a few more minutes of interrogative small talk, I was handed a plastic bag and motioned to follow. From tattered potato sacks in the corner of the room, the woman scooped peas, potatoes and even an onion into my treat bag. I gasped with sincere excitement at each new addition while the young girl responsible for all of it, just giggled. It was amusing. A gringo, dressed weird, trick-or-treating for vegetables. After they refused payment, I assumed my sweet laundry joke was enough to cover the tab. A million thanks and a slow backwards walk towards the plaza where I'd left Aidan. Proudly holding a similarly-earned bag of carrots, we'd successfully navigated the remote Bolivian village vegetable challenge.
 
And now, after a brief dip into Chile, we are officially in Argentina. Our final country—though will cross back and forth between the two a few more times. The contrast between Bolivia and South America's wealthiest countries is jarring. There is money, and infrastructure and a lot of vegetables. A hell of a lot of space too. After ten days of desert camping, we're taking a timeout in wine country. Empty tinto boxes multiply on our hostel floor and show no sign of slowing down. The villages dotting our route from the border felt like another world—one in which stereotypes are the reality. Vino aplenty. Gauchos in character. Neighborhood butchers. Sunday barbecues. Six-hour siestas. Our meals now consist of fruit, cheese, salami and chocolate chip cookies. We are adjusting just fine. And are prepared for the most glorious of third acts.

 Descending Ruta 40's Abra Del Acay in Argentina. As the country's highest road, you can't help but think it's going to be easier from here. The kilometer signs tick away the remaining distance to Ushuaia/penguins at the end of Ruta 40...4623 is still a very big number.

Descending Ruta 40's Abra Del Acay in Argentina. As the country's highest road, you can't help but think it's going to be easier from here. The kilometer signs tick away the remaining distance to Ushuaia/penguins at the end of Ruta 40...4623 is still a very big number.

 From the Chilean border, we descended roughly 12,000' into Argentinian wine country—the landscape continually changing over the course of a few days. This was the last of the high, dry altiplano that we'd been riding since Bolivia. 

From the Chilean border, we descended roughly 12,000' into Argentinian wine country—the landscape continually changing over the course of a few days. This was the last of the high, dry altiplano that we'd been riding since Bolivia. 

 Not quite making it to the top of the pass has its advantages/consequences. Sun soaked/wind whipped campsite at 15,200'.

Not quite making it to the top of the pass has its advantages/consequences. Sun soaked/wind whipped campsite at 15,200'.

 Greenery—a welcome addition to the landscape. A vast river canyon lined with giant cacti and farmland offered up plenty of perfect camp spots. 

Greenery—a welcome addition to the landscape. A vast river canyon lined with giant cacti and farmland offered up plenty of perfect camp spots. 

 It's warm if you're out of the wind, but that place doesn't exist. 

It's warm if you're out of the wind, but that place doesn't exist. 

 Bandaid fix is no fix at all.

Bandaid fix is no fix at all.

 Much of Northern Argentina is reminiscent of the American Southwest. This church in El Trigal does its best Santa Fe.

Much of Northern Argentina is reminiscent of the American Southwest. This church in El Trigal does its best Santa Fe.

 The Valle De Las Rocas is an incredible array of wildly eroded sandstone. Like a Rorshach Test, what you see in the rocks is a telling insight into your psyche. 🐧

The Valle De Las Rocas is an incredible array of wildly eroded sandstone. Like a Rorshach Test, what you see in the rocks is a telling insight into your psyche. 🐧

 Camped in the wash. The wind is blowing, wild donkeys are braying and the sock tuck technique reduces ants in the pants.  

Camped in the wash. The wind is blowing, wild donkeys are braying and the sock tuck technique reduces ants in the pants.  

 "Doing the dishes" consists of splashing a tiny bit of water around and then rubbing off visible bits with your fingers. Flavor for later, we say. 

"Doing the dishes" consists of splashing a tiny bit of water around and then rubbing off visible bits with your fingers. Flavor for later, we say. 

 The view out the kitchen window.  

The view out the kitchen window.  

 Aidan celebrating the one morning of the trip that he was ready first. As I rushed to finish brushing my teeth he shouted "Time!" six inches from my face, like a drill sargearnt. It was all rock top dance moves until discovering his two flat tires moments later. There is justice. 

Aidan celebrating the one morning of the trip that he was ready first. As I rushed to finish brushing my teeth he shouted "Time!" six inches from my face, like a drill sargearnt. It was all rock top dance moves until discovering his two flat tires moments later. There is justice. 

 The fuzzy cacti of the upper Ruta 40.  

The fuzzy cacti of the upper Ruta 40.  

 Don't play with your food.  

Don't play with your food.  

 I'll catch up.

I'll catch up.

 Northern Argentina Viagriculture.

Northern Argentina Viagriculture.

 The long gaps between towns crossing the Chile/Argentina border meant inevitable supply shortages. The long gaps in anything but stupid oatmeal for breakfast mean you're-damn-right-we're-putting-the-cookies-in-there.

The long gaps between towns crossing the Chile/Argentina border meant inevitable supply shortages. The long gaps in anything but stupid oatmeal for breakfast mean you're-damn-right-we're-putting-the-cookies-in-there.

 It's the simple pleasures.  

It's the simple pleasures.  

 Dani Raúl and man disgusted at the photographer's request to say "queso." 

Dani Raúl and man disgusted at the photographer's request to say "queso." 

 Last of the remaining winter snow.  

Last of the remaining winter snow.  

 Made in the shade. When life squeezes lemons in your eye, crying is the best way to make lemonade.  

Made in the shade. When life squeezes lemons in your eye, crying is the best way to make lemonade.  

 Chile/Argentina border. Paso de Sico. 

Chile/Argentina border. Paso de Sico. 

 His and her gear sunning in an abandoned llama pen.  

His and her gear sunning in an abandoned llama pen.  

 Andean Flamingos poking around a freezing Bolivian laguna. Whatever keeps those pink flapper toes warm, we want it. 

Andean Flamingos poking around a freezing Bolivian laguna. Whatever keeps those pink flapper toes warm, we want it. 

 The Lagunas Route through Southwest Bolivia is famous/infamous among cyclists for its beauty and challenging roads. Looking out across a blood red lake filled with pink flamingos and icebergs is almost worth spending eight days pushing through half a foot of kitty litter.

The Lagunas Route through Southwest Bolivia is famous/infamous among cyclists for its beauty and challenging roads. Looking out across a blood red lake filled with pink flamingos and icebergs is almost worth spending eight days pushing through half a foot of kitty litter.

 Laguna Colorada is Spanish for colored laguna.

Laguna Colorada is Spanish for colored laguna.

 Even though things seem remote, hundreds (dozens?) of jeeps filled with adventure tourists tore past us every day. Their only redeeming quality being that sometimes they offer goodies. We asked for water and got the Bolivian equivalent—2 liters of cyclist motor oil. 

Even though things seem remote, hundreds (dozens?) of jeeps filled with adventure tourists tore past us every day. Their only redeeming quality being that sometimes they offer goodies. We asked for water and got the Bolivian equivalent—2 liters of cyclist motor oil. 

 A very cold campsite complete with a front yard's worth of penitentiary—ice stalagmytes that seem to grow upwards as they slowly melt down from their former snowdrift-selves.  

A very cold campsite complete with a front yard's worth of penitentiary—ice stalagmytes that seem to grow upwards as they slowly melt down from their former snowdrift-selves.  

 Lagunas come in all shapes and colors. 

Lagunas come in all shapes and colors. 

 Dusty alien landscape before the Argentinian border.  

Dusty alien landscape before the Argentinian border.  

 Not our best campsite. The slight rise behind the tent was the product of a half hour search for wind protection. The blowing grit comes from all sides but due to the tent's mesh, only the finest of sands coat you/your face in the night.  

Not our best campsite. The slight rise behind the tent was the product of a half hour search for wind protection. The blowing grit comes from all sides but due to the tent's mesh, only the finest of sands coat you/your face in the night.  

 Our big panniers double as cushy camp seats. Pretty sure this is sacrilege among the gear nerd cyclists of the world but, our butts hurt.  

Our big panniers double as cushy camp seats. Pretty sure this is sacrilege among the gear nerd cyclists of the world but, our butts hurt.  

 Brown desert gettin' greener.  

Brown desert gettin' greener.  

 Utopia! A campground in the process of being built up by two wonderful travelers Martina and Johan. They intercepted us on the road and invited us back to swap stories and sleep under the grape vines.  

Utopia! A campground in the process of being built up by two wonderful travelers Martina and Johan. They intercepted us on the road and invited us back to swap stories and sleep under the grape vines.  

 Wandering off towards a winery. 

Wandering off towards a winery. 

Bolivia

Cafe Del Mundo, tucked into the self-titled most touristy street in La Paz, is a glowing blue porchlight to the traveling gringo moth. Inside it is bright white with yellow and teal colored blankets on each chair. The walls are decorated in what Tara lightly termed, 'in-your-face Pinterest.' You can't buy happiness, but you can buy a cup of coffee and that's basically the same thing, reads the sign on the stairs. To prove it's worldliness, vinyl stickers label the various rooms different countries. We sit in America. So do the French couple and the Danes. I figure they must not have seen the sign or maybe they don't have their own rooms. We're here for the coffee as the food is way over our budget. So is the coffee, but it exists in its own category. A cappuccino is $5 back in Portland so it can be $3 in La Paz—even if that's what dinner will cost. We're here to escape. We're here to buy happiness.

On the table there are succulents that aren't native to high altitude La Paz. They're native to low maintenance restaurant aesthetics the hip world over. In each, there is a popsicle stick sign with a handwritten quote, reblogged way too many times to bother with attribution. Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. Totally, except the house we currently aren't buying. Collect memories, not things. Another says, on a collected thing. My favorite: Travel will leave you speechless and then turn you into a storyteller. I can't help but think of all the one-sided conversation's we've had and how often the breathless travel storyteller leaves you speechless/ unable to get a word in. Cringing at thinking back on moments when I've been that guy, I try out my own popsicle sign on Tara. Bike touring, first it will make you suffer, then it will make you insufferable.

The whole place feels self-congratulatory, like, "you're special, you're doing it!!" And, of course, we aren't above any of it. Maybe the opposite. It's like the bright red sports car of our mid-trip crisis—a place for a particular kind of recovery, a hub for softies looking for a taste of home, a respite from instant coffees and MSG laden lunch specials, a veggie port in the Bolivian meat storm, if you will. A place where it's apparently acceptable to answer the waitress's "buenos dias" with a "What's the wifi password?"

And why are we desperately seeking the comforts of home, exactly? Because Bolivia ripped the rug out a bit as far as trip discomfort. 14 months traveling, three months dialed in on life in Peru and all of the sudden we're regressing. The culture is different, the Spanish has changed, the landscape is harsh, and the food is terrifyingly bleak. You expect, in a way, to be getting better at travel—for it to require less energy than it has before—but Bolivia challenges that expectation. Not to say that it hasn't been worthy of the challenge, in fact, Bolivia has offered some of the best moments so far, it just requires summoning all sorts of effort to experience them. I can't help but think if we were to be simply living in a foreign city we'd have friends, a schedule, favorite hangouts. Instead, we're sitting in a borrowed coffee shop looking at each other over a succulent that insists To travel is to live wondering if either of us really has the energy for this shit.

It didn't make the adjustment to Bolivia any easier that the final weeks of our time in Peru were split between comfortable international tourist destinations. My dad came to visit us in Cusco where we enjoyed seriously good food, relaxation, more good coffee, and a subsidized hotel room with an included breakfast that we ate with conspicuous desperation. We were softened considerably. We spent idle days touring sites, navigating the Sacred Valley through the area's local combi vans and even made our way to the magical and entirely overwhelming Machu Picchu, checking off bucketlist boxes we didn't know existed. All said and done, after the three weeks we spent in Cusco and on the shore of Lake Titicaca, we had been in Peru since Memorial Day and found ourselves leaving just a couple days shy of Labor Day. A whole summer's worth of figuring a country out.

The one room, steel-sided Bolivian immigration office was closed when we arrived. We were worried about this crossing as Bolivia is notoriously particular with document requirements. They have what's called a reciprocity visa fee for Americans. 160 USD in clean, unfolded twenty dollar bills -- a friend called it retaliatory. Any bungled paperwork would have us on a 4-day ride all the way back around Lake Titicaca. The officer was at lunch, a two hour period during the middle of the day, we were told by the national police minding the gate. When he returned he was disappointed to learn we were from the States and had not yet secured our visas. He called his co-worker to see even IF they had US visas to give. He was very serious and unsure of the exact requirements. Under instructions from the phone, he opened a safe, pulled two stickers off a roll containing only three and applied them to our passports. A sticker, good for ten years stuck inside a passport set to expire in six. No computers touched. When he finally took our money he did so with great care. Apparently counterfeit bills are a major concern but he also said he didn't know American money. We watched with apprehension and amusement as he examined each bill, going as far as to hold them to his nose to smell them. He went looking for the passport stamp and set the correct date. At nearly three in the afternoon, we were the first to cross. We had spent over an hour with him when he finally smiled and asked for a photo of the two of us with our bikes to for his collection. He added us to the poster on the wall. This was Bolivia. We were in. Not necessarily outwardly nice, promising all sorts of inconvenience, but, if we stuck around long enough, maybe we'd eventually be friends.

From the border we rode two days toward La Paz. The road was flat and windy, we were fully on the Altiplano now. We passed through multiple bloqueos. Citizens protesting by blocking the road with tires, rocks, or full tent cities. In Santa Ana, they had been camped in the highway for over a month. They halt all vehicle traffic but are surprisingly warm to bicyclists. Still, we were careful to dismount and push through quietly, wishing them luck with their cause. The selfish benefit is that it makes for incredible bike riding, toll booths are abandoned, burnt out tires sit in the road at random intervals and there is zero traffic. And so, when we arrived in El Alto, the high suburb of La Paz, we assumed a bloqueo had stopped the traffic. The infamous congestion of the capital city was nowhere to be seen. In its place, hundreds and pretty soon thousands of people were in the roads walking, biking and playing. Dogs, too, on leashes even! We adjusted our theory to it being a market day, and therefore typical, but as we crested the ridge and looked down into the giant bowl of red-brick buildings that is La Paz, we realized that this was city-wide. Not a vehicle in sight. We descended alongside every conceivable wheeled conveyance: scooters, tricycles, bicycles, wobbling roller bladers, mobs of skater kids, strange metal wheeled go karts and the list rolled on. We were exceptionally well prepared guests. Cruising through La Paz's neighborhoods, any barrio that may have felt slightly dangerous on another occasion was tamed by a father pushing his daughter on a tiny bicycle with training wheels. It was, by complete chance, "Dia de los Peatones" (Day of the Pedestrians) the first Sunday of September, and the one day of the year where all cars are banned from driving in La Paz -- a day meant to encourage activity among Bolivianos. We later learned that air pollution levels fell drastically as a result of the holiday.

Despite our graceful entrance, it would be a bit before we found a fitting hostel. It was a long desperate search of either terribly expensive or terribly depressing, or both. Each apparently common in La Paz. Around the same moment we settled in, I realized I had been gifted the fried chicken flu from an oily meal the night before. Close blog readers will note that this isn't the first bout of illness on the trip. In fact, I had been taken down as recently as Cusco, when I went adventuring after an alpaca burger, which my dad graciously, and entirely too soon, dubbed the "unpaca burger." Bolivia comes with all sorts of food warnings and the thought of this illness repeating itself (which we cured with full Netflix seasons of Narcos, Thirteen Reasons Why and the Mexican tele-drama Ingobernable) was almost too much to bear.

The other task facing us in La Paz was to figure out where we were going. It's said by the more pious of bike travelers that typical tourers race out of La Paz, head to the salt flats and exit the bottom of Bolivia on the most well-worn of routes, missing many of the country's gems. However hard, we knew that we couldn't just blitz through. So, we did what any savvy 21st century traveler would do and hit up our quasi internet friend with the most dramatic Instagram pictures of Bolivia and asked us how he got there.

We met Ryan (@rmdub) for dinner, plied him with pizza and he was gracious enough to pass along a number of routes that he had ridden around La Paz that met the criteria.

Two days later, after waiting out rain in La Paz and snow in the hills, we boarded the teleferico just after dawn. Each of us with bikes inside our own private gondola hummed up and out of the city and over much of El Alto's snow covered roofs, again bypassing the supposed nightmarish congestion.

We looped North, circling two of the mountains famous for La Paz trekking and then dropped down into the jungle. It being a loop, and there being bugs and heat and humidity down low, we opted for a van back into La Paz to reset and start again.

Our second trip out of La Paz wasn't a loop. We were on our way and again caught a van to take us out past city traffic. The best part of the combis is the camaraderie that is formed when you hop in. Vans depart when full, which means there is no set schedule and each additional passenger is a step closer to leaving. Being funny looking and hogging most of the roof rack space, we make for good broken conversation with our combi team. The more remote the destination, the closer the group seems to be. We left La Paz as a tight squad headed for the opposite side of the largest mountain that frames La Paz, Illimani, and the tiny village of Cohoni.

Though we started at roughly the same altitude as La Paz, we quickly dropped down again on romping banked dirt track that took us down a glorious ten thousand feet to the sandstone river valley below. Near the bottom, a stream crossing required a brave shoeless effort by Tara and me sacrificing my sneakers in order to shuttle the bikes. Recent rains flushed the rivers with silt and we opted not to fill our water bottles. A mistake we'd later regret. At this point we were down below five thousand feet—maybe the lowest we had been since the Peruvian coast. The sun was hot midday. There was a serious wind, which, because of the switchbacks, only nearly blew us off our bikes half the time.

We would climb for the next six hours, slowly running out of water and not making much progress. The only vehicles we saw were two motos with three young men split between them. The kid riding double on the back had a rifle slung on his shoulder. They disappeared down into the valley but came back sometime later. I could hear them buzzing up the switchbacks far below. Inevitably my mind went to worst case scenarios. I thought about how vulnerable we were, way out here on a road no one was using, obviously incapable of going anywhere quickly. When they passed, the guy on the first moto beamed a huge smile and the kid with the rifle had his phone out videoing us as they went by. So, still a drive by shooting.

When we made it up and over the first pass we were both almost completely out of water. I was channeling my inner Craig Childs and desperately searching for water in the desert -- scouring cracks and corners of the roadside for any visible sign. Finally, a stream. I told Tara it could be good, but it was important to note the salt encrusted rocks on either side. She may be starting to recognize this self-assured tone as something close to boyscout bullshit. I take a test swig and double over retching and have to use rest of my water to rinse the salty sulphuric taste out of my mouth.

We do finally make it to a campspot down by the river, outside the village of Huerta Grande. The site is not our best and more than a few villagers stop from the road on other side of the river to stare. We are exhausted. Completely worn out. There is a particularly stationary man standing in the opposite field staring our way. Tara, fed up, yells at him in frustration "Hi, we're here! Ok!!" I look again and recognize him as the jacket on a post scarecrow that he is, Tara did too, but it wouldn't be until the next day that I'd dare bring it up.

The next morning we pushed out of the river valley. We actually pushed most of our way that day. In what seems to be typical Bolivian fashion there were highs and lows. We met an older woman who absolutely shined. She was sweating as well, layered in wools, walking up the hill beside us. She was thrilled we were in her town. She leaves us with well wishes and cheek kisses. We feel better. We sit down to enjoy our lunch and realize the shopkeeper subbed anchovies for tuna so we eat what looks like grey cat food out of a can. A mile later the schoolyard boys throw rocks at us from above to try and get our attention.

For the next two days we continue to go up, back toward the last pass separating us from the flat of the Altiplano. We spend a night in a farm field outside of Cairoma. Illimani stands four days across the valley in perfect framed sunset. We feel justified in our excessive detour. The last part of the climb is, as is often the case, crowded with mines. Our beautiful imagined mountain laguna campsite ended up being a concrete decaying racquetball court at 16k'. We actually declined the miner's offer for accommodation as he showed us a bare room with a dozen straw mattresses on the floor. We would be sharing, he said, but only once the 20 or so miners returned around 8 o'clock that night. Racquetball court it is. I did use their baño the next morning. It consisted of a three corrugated steel walls and two holes above a mountain stream that lead into the perfect turquoise mountain lake below. I made a mental note regarding water filtering and aiming upstream of the mines.

We crossed the last pass at 16,869', definitely the highest of the trip so far. From there it was supposed to be all downhill to the Altiplano. It wasn't, of course, but we'd done the bulk of the work. It was also supposed to be a return to hot food after a few days of exclusively camp-cooked meals. What we found is that Bolivian towns seem to have a sort of reverse town pride. "No, nothing here, but the next town, everything!" Again and again. I suppose it's good motivation to keep going. We eventually hit the main road, the flat one, with an excessively wide shoulder that would have been one day out of La Paz had we gone straight through. We cruise comfortably to the dusty city of Oruro where we have a day's reset and rest.

So far, Bolivia has offered some of the most spectacular places and people, but definitely at a price. A price that, at this point in the trip, we have to get re-energized to pay. We've lucked out a bit, too. It could be much more difficult. From Oruro to our latest stop here in Uyuni, Bolivia has let us off easy, offering little concessions in some of its most beautiful places. Like, the perfect 100 mile asphalt road that leads (not so inexplicably) past presidente Evo Morales' tiny hometown. Relatively flat, unpopulated and no more than a car or two an hour, the road provided three days of tiny villages and remote easy camping en route to the world's largest salt flat, the Salar De Uyuni. The salars are famous for their excessive winds, flat and expansive with nothing to slow them down, but we lucked into a dead calm evening with a shocker sunset to match. And so, finally here in Uyuni, it feels like we're getting the hang of the place, enjoying the process of winning over the sometimes reserved people and taking greater pleasure when the difficult gets a tiny bit easier. Just in time, too, for one last challenging stretch and then a whole new country in Chile. Hopefully they have a Cafe Del Mundo.

 

 A mere day's ride from La Paz, Condoriri is situated in the Cordillera Real and is said to be primo condor-spotting territory. We didn't see any this particular morning, but were plenty content to sit and stare at those glistening giants. 

A mere day's ride from La Paz, Condoriri is situated in the Cordillera Real and is said to be primo condor-spotting territory. We didn't see any this particular morning, but were plenty content to sit and stare at those glistening giants. 

 We lingered around camp until almost noon—an uncharacteristic hour—before finally hitting the road. An extraordinary, peaceful place, the only people we encountered were a group of elder Norwegian men acclimatizing for an ambitious climb up Huayna Potosi (19,974') the following week. Enthusiastic and warm, they were a welcome reminder that the wacky adventures never really have to end. 

We lingered around camp until almost noon—an uncharacteristic hour—before finally hitting the road. An extraordinary, peaceful place, the only people we encountered were a group of elder Norwegian men acclimatizing for an ambitious climb up Huayna Potosi (19,974') the following week. Enthusiastic and warm, they were a welcome reminder that the wacky adventures never really have to end. 

 Laguna Chiar Khota, Condoriri Base Camp. 

Laguna Chiar Khota, Condoriri Base Camp. 

 Just enough snow to complicate the morning routine.  

Just enough snow to complicate the morning routine.  

 Blue steel cut oats. 

Blue steel cut oats. 

 With the bikes covered in snow down below, connecting high mountain lagunas on foot was a nice change of pace. 

With the bikes covered in snow down below, connecting high mountain lagunas on foot was a nice change of pace. 

 A fellow cyclist referred to alpacas as Andean long-necked teddy bears and now we can't see anything else. Unfortunately, they remain uncuddleable in their shyness.

A fellow cyclist referred to alpacas as Andean long-necked teddy bears and now we can't see anything else. Unfortunately, they remain uncuddleable in their shyness.

 That chilly, but dramatic moment when the sun disappears from camp for the evening and lingers only as a backdrop, on the tallest peaks.  

That chilly, but dramatic moment when the sun disappears from camp for the evening and lingers only as a backdrop, on the tallest peaks.  

 Demanding breakfast in bed. 

Demanding breakfast in bed. 

 Many locals were curious where we were headed this day. The road—what remained of it—was a freestyled version through high mountain clay ridges. And where one switchback crumbled, a new straighter track would cut directly over the hill. Given the untracked snow, we must have been the only people to use the road in at least a few days. 

Many locals were curious where we were headed this day. The road—what remained of it—was a freestyled version through high mountain clay ridges. And where one switchback crumbled, a new straighter track would cut directly over the hill. Given the untracked snow, we must have been the only people to use the road in at least a few days. 

 There's both pleasure and pain in not knowing exactly where you're going. It's nice to not spend too much time dreading what's to come, but when what's to come involves one of the highest passes of the trip, we felt foolish for ignoring the elevation profile.

There's both pleasure and pain in not knowing exactly where you're going. It's nice to not spend too much time dreading what's to come, but when what's to come involves one of the highest passes of the trip, we felt foolish for ignoring the elevation profile.

 You can see the road falling away on the right. At 16,000+ feet and miles from anywhere, it makes you wonder who is keeping tabs on whether or not the road remains passable for vehicles. Either way, great biking. 

You can see the road falling away on the right. At 16,000+ feet and miles from anywhere, it makes you wonder who is keeping tabs on whether or not the road remains passable for vehicles. Either way, great biking. 

 The windblown snow—although no more than three inches—combined with the mud layer underneath, refroze in the spokes, and then lodged in the fenders like fast-setting cement. We ended up dragging the bikes like two of the skinniest/heaviest toboggans through the home stretch. 

The windblown snow—although no more than three inches—combined with the mud layer underneath, refroze in the spokes, and then lodged in the fenders like fast-setting cement. We ended up dragging the bikes like two of the skinniest/heaviest toboggans through the home stretch. 

 Huayna Potosi and a laguna to match. Off to the right is a now-closed ski area that once boasted the world's highest chairlift, though apparently it regularly made people altitude sick. Anyway, now closed and a not-so-interesting tourist attraction from La Paz. 

Huayna Potosi and a laguna to match. Off to the right is a now-closed ski area that once boasted the world's highest chairlift, though apparently it regularly made people altitude sick. Anyway, now closed and a not-so-interesting tourist attraction from La Paz. 

 Having camped at 16,000' in a mine's decaying raquetball court on the shady side of the valley, the first patch of sun warranted a "I don't want to do this anymore" handlebar lean. 

Having camped at 16,000' in a mine's decaying raquetball court on the shady side of the valley, the first patch of sun warranted a "I don't want to do this anymore" handlebar lean. 

 Scenic warm up spot on the descent. 

Scenic warm up spot on the descent. 

 The ol' "where we gonna camp" neck crane. 

The ol' "where we gonna camp" neck crane. 

 On day two of a four-day climb out of the valley and back to the Altiplano, we stopped in the town of Cairoma for a potential meal and resupply. We usually make a tienda selection based on the owner's friendliness and these two were particularly warm and welcoming. The woman took the time to prepare us a plate of food outside of regular eating hours while the husband stood by patiently as we discussed, in detail, every item on their tienda shelves. Meal planning based on available goods results in indecipherable English between Aidan and I, and blank stares from behind the counter. By sheer coincidence, the same two smiling faces would discover our not-so-secret wild camp spot later in the evening...in their field. Surprised, yet delighted to find us, they insisted that Aidan take photos of their bulls while they inspected our campsite. The woman couldn't stop laughing at the sight of our tiny stove and the man giggled as he poked at our flimsy tent walls. He warned us of cold weather and bike-thieving chicos before snapping flip phone photos and disappearing into the setting sun. 

On day two of a four-day climb out of the valley and back to the Altiplano, we stopped in the town of Cairoma for a potential meal and resupply. We usually make a tienda selection based on the owner's friendliness and these two were particularly warm and welcoming. The woman took the time to prepare us a plate of food outside of regular eating hours while the husband stood by patiently as we discussed, in detail, every item on their tienda shelves. Meal planning based on available goods results in indecipherable English between Aidan and I, and blank stares from behind the counter. By sheer coincidence, the same two smiling faces would discover our not-so-secret wild camp spot later in the evening...in their field. Surprised, yet delighted to find us, they insisted that Aidan take photos of their bulls while they inspected our campsite. The woman couldn't stop laughing at the sight of our tiny stove and the man giggled as he poked at our flimsy tent walls. He warned us of cold weather and bike-thieving chicos before snapping flip phone photos and disappearing into the setting sun. 

 This little guy came to lunch with a group of four (humans) and was nibbling around long enough for Tara to politely ask to add another baby animal pic to the collection. 

This little guy came to lunch with a group of four (humans) and was nibbling around long enough for Tara to politely ask to add another baby animal pic to the collection. 

 Cuteness closeup.

Cuteness closeup.

 There's been discussion around getting a donkey. If we do, Aidan wants to name it O.D.—pronounced Odie. He can either be the Original Donkey or Donkey O.D. (Don Quixote) depending on his personality etc. This guy is all Original Donkey. 

There's been discussion around getting a donkey. If we do, Aidan wants to name it O.D.—pronounced Odie. He can either be the Original Donkey or Donkey O.D. (Don Quixote) depending on his personality etc. This guy is all Original Donkey. 

 A lot of Bolivia in a photo: wind-whipped altiplano, plenty of visible garbage, decaying old mud brick housing and the remnants of presidente Evo Morales's 2016 attempt to change the constitution and extend his term limits for a third time. Though not quite as visible, the "No" vote spreads their message by simply painting over the many pro Evo slogans. "No" won by the slimmest of margins in 2016. 

A lot of Bolivia in a photo: wind-whipped altiplano, plenty of visible garbage, decaying old mud brick housing and the remnants of presidente Evo Morales's 2016 attempt to change the constitution and extend his term limits for a third time. Though not quite as visible, the "No" vote spreads their message by simply painting over the many pro Evo slogans. "No" won by the slimmest of margins in 2016. 

 Lake Titicaca shoreside Gremlin?

Lake Titicaca shoreside Gremlin?

 Ombraylieveable. 

Ombraylieveable. 

 Lake Titicaca is really big as demonstrated by this fisherman who has paddled just out past the cold, early morning shade. 

Lake Titicaca is really big as demonstrated by this fisherman who has paddled just out past the cold, early morning shade. 

 All by my selffff.  Salar de Uyuni—world's largest salt flat.

All by my selffff. Salar de Uyuni—world's largest salt flat.

 Phil/Dad brought bad boy replacement tent stakes when he came to visit in Cusco. It took a (pre-packed) large rock and peristent force to penetrate the salty surface. And even then, they only made it an inch or so in which was just as well because it took a King-Arthur-effort to yank them out.  

Phil/Dad brought bad boy replacement tent stakes when he came to visit in Cusco. It took a (pre-packed) large rock and peristent force to penetrate the salty surface. And even then, they only made it an inch or so in which was just as well because it took a King-Arthur-effort to yank them out.  

 We couldn't ignore all the ingredients for a good Burning Man burn.  

We couldn't ignore all the ingredients for a good Burning Man burn.  

 But also something less flashy for the folks, because today is Dory's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. 

But also something less flashy for the folks, because today is Dory's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. 

 Salty.  

Salty.  

 Hopscotch till you drop. 

Hopscotch till you drop. 

 Our shortcut entering the Salar spat us out onto a (very) lightly traveled route. The infamous tour Jeeps were nonexistent, leaving us to pedal in a straight line in peace for two days. A tailwind both days and a dead calm camp heightened the salty surrealness. The sunset/rise/stars cooperated in sparkling, picture perfection. The world's largest glitter zen garden won us over.

Our shortcut entering the Salar spat us out onto a (very) lightly traveled route. The infamous tour Jeeps were nonexistent, leaving us to pedal in a straight line in peace for two days. A tailwind both days and a dead calm camp heightened the salty surrealness. The sunset/rise/stars cooperated in sparkling, picture perfection. The world's largest glitter zen garden won us over.

 Like bringing sand to the beach. 

Like bringing sand to the beach. 

 In Bolivia there are often  alojamientos  in place of anything recognizable as a hotel or hostal. Typically an unused room in someone's house, you are essentially paying a few bucks for four walls and access to the family toilet. The rooms are bleak—a tiny twin bed and nada más. This one, however, included unlimited puppy play time. 

In Bolivia there are often alojamientos in place of anything recognizable as a hotel or hostal. Typically an unused room in someone's house, you are essentially paying a few bucks for four walls and access to the family toilet. The rooms are bleak—a tiny twin bed and nada más. This one, however, included unlimited puppy play time. 

 Una tormenta on the horizon. 

Una tormenta on the horizon. 

 More in the way than on the horizon.

More in the way than on the horizon.

 Culvert operation. The ground-striking lightning got a little close. Then it started hailing. Then a souped up Nissan spun out above us and took out one of the white and yellow cement posts in the sloppy roads. Turned out to be a savvy solution after all.  

Culvert operation. The ground-striking lightning got a little close. Then it started hailing. Then a souped up Nissan spun out above us and took out one of the white and yellow cement posts in the sloppy roads. Turned out to be a savvy solution after all.  

 Illimani. Nearly 22,000' and the dramatic backdrop to La Paz. Here it is from the other side on this day's rare break in the clouds. Excellent campsite.

Illimani. Nearly 22,000' and the dramatic backdrop to La Paz. Here it is from the other side on this day's rare break in the clouds. Excellent campsite.

 We'll just hide behind this rock here. A not-as-hidden-as-we-thought type of spot, but worth the perfectly framed view of Illimani (behind.)

We'll just hide behind this rock here. A not-as-hidden-as-we-thought type of spot, but worth the perfectly framed view of Illimani (behind.)

 Every stinkin' day.  

Every stinkin' day.  

 Dinner prep: toasted quinoa, potsworth of veggies and a healthy dab of butter. 

Dinner prep: toasted quinoa, potsworth of veggies and a healthy dab of butter. 

 "The Death Road" so named for the hundreds of drivers whose lives it has claimed. Tara tempts fate with a highly acrobatic bike maneuver. Really though, with a new highway as an alt route to the city, it's a bunch of day-trippers from La Paz rattling down on mountain bike tours and a lot of brake squeezing. The real trial came as we rode up five steep miles of jarring cobblestone to the town on the other side of the valley.  

"The Death Road" so named for the hundreds of drivers whose lives it has claimed. Tara tempts fate with a highly acrobatic bike maneuver. Really though, with a new highway as an alt route to the city, it's a bunch of day-trippers from La Paz rattling down on mountain bike tours and a lot of brake squeezing. The real trial came as we rode up five steep miles of jarring cobblestone to the town on the other side of the valley.  

 Our initial descent into La Paz coincided with their annual Dia de los Peatones—or Pedestrian Appreciation Day. Every preconceived notion we held about the congested nightmare of a city was shattered by the completely car-less and surreal ride through nearly fifteen miles of the world's largest street fair. Superlative not fact checked.

Our initial descent into La Paz coincided with their annual Dia de los Peatones—or Pedestrian Appreciation Day. Every preconceived notion we held about the congested nightmare of a city was shattered by the completely car-less and surreal ride through nearly fifteen miles of the world's largest street fair. Superlative not fact checked.

 And on the way out, we opted for an early morning teleferico bump. A cold lift out of the city. Illimani frozen in the background. El Alto, the city's upper sprawling suburb waking up below.  

And on the way out, we opted for an early morning teleferico bump. A cold lift out of the city. Illimani frozen in the background. El Alto, the city's upper sprawling suburb waking up below.  

Peru's Great Divide

Note: It's been a while. The warnings we received regarding internet speed and availability in Peru were not exaggerated. It simply does not exist in many places. Large chunks of time pass without connecting. Unsettling, yet liberating. When nighttime temps are too frigid to write, the blog takes a backseat to hot liquid consumption, stargazing and sleeping bag cinching. You know it's cold when the only thing sticking out of Aidan's bag is a beautifully frosted beard.
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I was curled up on a lumpy potato sack of dried cow dung inside a shepherdess's countryside adobe abode when I realized that the trip was becoming everything I'd always envisioned. We'd pitched our tent upstream—on the campesina's property—and the encroaching dusk and smoke billowing from the hut signaled it was time for an obligatory drop by. The usual, "Hey how's it going? Cute sheep. Can we sleep here?" These interactions are typically warm, but indifferent. Campesinos living and working three miles above sea level don't view camping as recreational. There's confusion as to why we're asking permission to sleep outside, but they humor us.
 
We've been chugging along on Peru's Great Divide, a notoriously tough dirt route fluctuating between high and really high. 16,000 foot passes have become the usge and previously held beliefs of what constitutes progress, revised. At times, our efforts feel futile. A blue GPS dot frozen in time. Often literally frozen as we wait for the morning sun to do away with the thick layer of frost blanketing everything. Note: We are no longer referring to the sun as the hell ball. It was really hot when we wrote that. Remote mountainous travel is cold and tedious. We set a "record" crossing Pumacocha Pass—at 16,371 feet—when it took us nearly four hours to cover four miles. There's an equation involving that speed, multiplied by miles remaining, equaling an arrival date to penguins years down the road. For however unfathomable the scale of the Peruvian Andes seems, traversing the country's obscure high-mountain roads feels conversely intimate. All who live, work (or cycle) in similarly severe conditions are bound together by a shared sense of vulnerability. We're all just out here, at the mercy of Mother Nature. There's a sense of camaraderie between cyclists and campesinos with [human] interactions boasting more value than actual currency. Not much for sale out there anyway. Even if we wanted to—which I did—we weren't able to buy our way out of uncomfortable situations. It's this reality that often makes Peru feel incredibly far from home. Which, ultimately is the point. Food availability, medical assistance, accommodation, transportation, etc, is what it is. When there are "no services for four days," there's nothing written between the lines. No food translates to no food. The American Dollar will not make a tienda or steaming bowl of soup appear on the side of the road. The campesinos with makeshift shelters and hearty supplies of dung pucks and boiled potatoes are the richest in our eyes. I've gazed longily at many smoking mud huts and thought, "Sure looks cozy."
 
The countryside abode's conical straw ceiling hung like a crawl space's and the square footage equaled that of a queen-sized mattress. Not built to entertain. The shepherdess and I sat facing one another—engulfed in smoke—on separate Andean "beanbag chairs." My right side thawed on the crackling dung fire in the corner. Our hostel room stove-priming bum fires don't hold a candle to this campesina's living room rager. When asked about a chimney, she chuckled and gestured toward the aftermarket hole punched through the straw roof, seemingly by way of bare hands. I laughed to the point of tears. The smoke stung, and the woman's laugh, effectively contagious. Clunky conversation has its side-splitting moments. She howled from under a bowler hat whose brim concealed all her features except her gold-plated grin. We giggled like a couple girls. She humored basic questions about her animals, rattling off the names of all five dogs and the age of her youngest lamb—five days! When the dialogue dwindled, we simply passed my mug of tea back and forth and stared at the mesmerizing fecal-powered flames. It felt natural, comfortable even.
 
The interactions in this country, however bizarre, have felt increasingly more genuine. Salt of the earth country folk are enthusiastic and unpredictable beings. Wacky, but welcoming. They'll offer you a thick glass of milk on a hot climb. Or an entire chicken before 9:00AM. Or heaping portions of dusty jello. Or, at the very least, disorienting conversation. Peruvians are eager to share and we are, in turn, energized by the unpredictable nature of it all. Although more than a year into the trip, we remain clueless on any given day as to what will happen next. Relinquish control.
 
"Es costumbre!" proudly exclaimed the man holding the knife high above his head. Blood dripped from the blade, beading down his forearm. He'd just snuck up behind me and smeared sheep blood all over my face. Gotcha! Overheated and buzzed from the insistent rounds of Inca Kola and rum, the blood was enough to make my stomach turn. Buhhhht in the spirit of cultural exploration, I reminded myself to smile and keep an open mind.
 
A few hours earlier we'd tried to ride past the festivities discreetly, enroute to a (desperate) resupply point. We were head-down pedaling towards the next town's tienda with purpose when enthusiastic arms flagged us into the field. With only cracker crumbs and a rejected can of tuna left in our bags, I wasn't really in the mood to party. Unless that party was a private party with just me and a chocolate bar. Our "never say no" pact forced a sharp, left-handed detour directly into the action.
 
The food fantasies would have to wait because we were now official guests at a farmer's annual ear-tagging fiesta. Tasked with piercing hundreds of sheep and alpaca, the excessive alcohol intake made more sense as the afternoon unfolded. And when instructed that it was a woman's duty to do the piercing, I knocked back a few cocktails myself. Gender roles are nonnegotiable. The men wrestle the sheep to the ground, and once in a vulnerable position, on their backs, hooves hovering, the women drill through their adorable, velvety ears. I stared at the huge needle in my hand, glancing up at hundreds of woolen eyes silently pleading, and then back down at my weapon. Might as well have been a shotgun. Asking the rhetorical question aloud, "Soooo, I stick this in there?" Aidan commented on the lack of color in my face as I fought off a strong desire to collapse onto the ground below. Blood sugar and panic are a powerful combo.
 
"Fun party."
 
Although generous, we established that it was time to go after being handed a heaping serving of LAMB for lunch. Surrounded by little lambs, Aidan snuck both our portions of meat into his pocket, intended for a lucky dog down the road. We backed away, expressing a million thanks, praying for a clean exit. If the intoxicated man with the shears had discovered the shanks in Aidan's shorts, well I just don't know.
 
We pedaled frantically down the road and laughed at the absurdity of the afternoon. Sun blasted and uncomfortably buzzed. Aidan to me, "Your face is covered in blood." My comeback, "Yeah well the meat juice is sweating through your shorts."
 
Aidan made the heat of the moment observation that "Peru is one sick joke after another." The country has been our favorite in many ways, but there are countless moments substantiating that statement. Peru is a land of extremes—topography, poverty, climate, culture, music volume, etc. And nowhere do these highs and lows feel more extreme and the cultural differences more exaggerated than in the middle of high-mountain nowhere.

 ---
Currently: We are rolling out of Cusco in the morning, bound for the Bolivian border. Thanks to Aidan's dad, Philip, and the most extensive tourist infrastructure of the trip, Cusco was a treat. The anonymity granted by touristy towns is a breather we've grown to really appreciate from time to time. We'll miss the impressive selection of vegan food and espresso joints, but not the inflated prices or massage hawkers.

 The road switchbacking up to Punta Pumachocha topped out at 16,371', the highest (and most demanding) pass of the trip so far. 

The road switchbacking up to Punta Pumachocha topped out at 16,371', the highest (and most demanding) pass of the trip so far. 

 On the descent from Pumacocha Andean flamingos speckled the lake. An avid amateur birder, Aidan didn't get more than two steps off the road with his camera before they took off in fear. For those interested in a number of heavily zoomed, blurry flying flamingo photos, hit him up on WhatsApp.

On the descent from Pumacocha Andean flamingos speckled the lake. An avid amateur birder, Aidan didn't get more than two steps off the road with his camera before they took off in fear. For those interested in a number of heavily zoomed, blurry flying flamingo photos, hit him up on WhatsApp.

 Our one year anniversary on the road coincided with Peru's Independence Day—July 28th. Bikes adorned with tiny, yet patriotic Peruvian flags, we ventured out for a peaceful camp rather than endure another brass band all-nighter. 

Our one year anniversary on the road coincided with Peru's Independence Day—July 28th. Bikes adorned with tiny, yet patriotic Peruvian flags, we ventured out for a peaceful camp rather than endure another brass band all-nighter. 

 You don't have to go far to find a good camp pampa. Hidden by the subtle contours of surrounding hills, it's best to consider the sunrise locale when setting up as these fields are blanketed in a thick, morning frost. 

You don't have to go far to find a good camp pampa. Hidden by the subtle contours of surrounding hills, it's best to consider the sunrise locale when setting up as these fields are blanketed in a thick, morning frost. 

 Too cold to hold. 

Too cold to hold. 

 Frosted feces.

Frosted feces.

 Every morning and evening, the cooking process begins with a near-overflowing cup of tea. At over half a liter of hot liquid, the "tea challenge" effectively combats altitude while ensuring plenty of middle-of-the-night stargazing breaks. 

Every morning and evening, the cooking process begins with a near-overflowing cup of tea. At over half a liter of hot liquid, the "tea challenge" effectively combats altitude while ensuring plenty of middle-of-the-night stargazing breaks. 

 Current kitchen.  

Current kitchen.  

 On more than one occasion our long ascent into the seeming wilderness was interrupted by the existence of a multi-national mining operation scraping off the top of a mountain. Mina Raura is pictured, scarring an otherwise breathtaking landscape. 

On more than one occasion our long ascent into the seeming wilderness was interrupted by the existence of a multi-national mining operation scraping off the top of a mountain. Mina Raura is pictured, scarring an otherwise breathtaking landscape. 

 Two tone under the blue dome.  

Two tone under the blue dome.  

 When the view out does the lunch. Splitting a single can of tuna leaves something to be desired.  

When the view out does the lunch. Splitting a single can of tuna leaves something to be desired.  

 Our cheerful campesina host for the evening. Hut to the left is her bedroom and, to the right, the kitchen. 

Our cheerful campesina host for the evening. Hut to the left is her bedroom and, to the right, the kitchen. 

 Indulging a gawking gringo. 

Indulging a gawking gringo. 

 Whispering Portland relocation offers into its velvety little ears.

Whispering Portland relocation offers into its velvety little ears.

 It's strange to be in a place where the peaks of 17k' mountains aren't even referenced on your map. This scene copy and pasted to the horizon, mountains on mountains on mountains. Lagunas, too.  

It's strange to be in a place where the peaks of 17k' mountains aren't even referenced on your map. This scene copy and pasted to the horizon, mountains on mountains on mountains. Lagunas, too.  

 Sparkling cobalt lagunas and vaulting glaciers make for long lunch loiters.

Sparkling cobalt lagunas and vaulting glaciers make for long lunch loiters.

 High altitude headrush. 

High altitude headrush. 

 Waiting for the feeling to return to extremities.

Waiting for the feeling to return to extremities.

 In addition to being iconic to Peru, llamas—pronounced yah-ma's—are known for being stoic and independent creatures. They hold their ground on the side of the road and maintain uninterrupted eye contact as we ride by.

In addition to being iconic to Peru, llamas—pronounced yah-ma's—are known for being stoic and independent creatures. They hold their ground on the side of the road and maintain uninterrupted eye contact as we ride by.

 Conversely, alpacas are shy, timid creatures that never let us get too close. No amount of affected voice coaxing convinces them otherwise.

Conversely, alpacas are shy, timid creatures that never let us get too close. No amount of affected voice coaxing convinces them otherwise.

 Puya Raymondi is the world's largest Bromelid (pineapples are also Bromelids). They are both hardy and fickle, growing in the specific altitude range of 3000-4800 meters in Peru and Bolivia. Hardy, in the sense that they thrive in such a difficult environment. Fickle in that due to changes in climate these slow-growing, long-living plants are dying off at alarming rates. 

Puya Raymondi is the world's largest Bromelid (pineapples are also Bromelids). They are both hardy and fickle, growing in the specific altitude range of 3000-4800 meters in Peru and Bolivia. Hardy, in the sense that they thrive in such a difficult environment. Fickle in that due to changes in climate these slow-growing, long-living plants are dying off at alarming rates. 

 If you're into rocks, Peru's your place. You can admire their incredible morphing power to shape mountains, or spend what we imagine to be years piling them on top of eachother making stonewalled corrals.  

If you're into rocks, Peru's your place. You can admire their incredible morphing power to shape mountains, or spend what we imagine to be years piling them on top of eachother making stonewalled corrals.  

 After the sun arrives but before the wind. 

After the sun arrives but before the wind. 

 Like living on the side of the highway without an on-ramp.

Like living on the side of the highway without an on-ramp.

 The way, the truth and the life, we hear. 

The way, the truth and the life, we hear. 

 Empty promises. 

Empty promises. 

 Out with the old, in with the new...ear tags. Nervously awaiting their annual color update. Given the tedious nature of re-tagging hundreds of sheep and alpaca, it's no wonder the villagers make a day's fiesta of it.

Out with the old, in with the new...ear tags. Nervously awaiting their annual color update. Given the tedious nature of re-tagging hundreds of sheep and alpaca, it's no wonder the villagers make a day's fiesta of it.

 Sheep squad hard as flock.

Sheep squad hard as flock.

 Hooved peace sign. 

Hooved peace sign. 

 The sheep, on the whole, didn't seem too thrilled with the process, but look at this little lady! 

The sheep, on the whole, didn't seem too thrilled with the process, but look at this little lady! 

 Gender roles are strictly adhered to. Men wrangle and hold the sheep while the women pierce/thread tassels through the ears. Tara nervously prepares her oversized needle in the foreground while Aidan happily adheres to tradition, taskless.

Gender roles are strictly adhered to. Men wrangle and hold the sheep while the women pierce/thread tassels through the ears. Tara nervously prepares her oversized needle in the foreground while Aidan happily adheres to tradition, taskless.

 Resistance is futile.  

Resistance is futile.  

 The ringleader and master of ceremonies. He was the one to wave us over from the road. And put plastic cups of rum and Inca Kola in our hands. And ensure that we felt included. 

The ringleader and master of ceremonies. He was the one to wave us over from the road. And put plastic cups of rum and Inca Kola in our hands. And ensure that we felt included. 

 We felt included. 

We felt included. 

 Classic Great Divide landscape.

Classic Great Divide landscape.

 Roads closed for construction are among our favorites.

Roads closed for construction are among our favorites.

 Mounds of minerals.

Mounds of minerals.

 Roads are built for a purpose. Often, on the more remote roads, that purpose is to extract the resources that lie at their distant ends. When you dump-truck drive the same 20 miles for a lifetime, you think little of dusting lost gringos.

Roads are built for a purpose. Often, on the more remote roads, that purpose is to extract the resources that lie at their distant ends. When you dump-truck drive the same 20 miles for a lifetime, you think little of dusting lost gringos.

 These gentlemen pulled over for the requisite  from where  and  to where  line of questioning. When they hear a name they know, they inevitably gesture their hands towards the horizon proclaiming how close or far away we are. An underestimation every time, we've learned to double or triple what we're told. Tacoma is packed with alpaca hides headed for market.   

These gentlemen pulled over for the requisite from where and to where line of questioning. When they hear a name they know, they inevitably gesture their hands towards the horizon proclaiming how close or far away we are. An underestimation every time, we've learned to double or triple what we're told. Tacoma is packed with alpaca hides headed for market.   

 Most roadside interactions end with a smartphone-armed photo request. Everyone seems to have one. There's a photographer rotation that happens, ensuring everyone gets their photo with the gringos. New rule is that we always pull out our camera and ask the same.

Most roadside interactions end with a smartphone-armed photo request. Everyone seems to have one. There's a photographer rotation that happens, ensuring everyone gets their photo with the gringos. New rule is that we always pull out our camera and ask the same.

 We met Rodney in Huallanca during the 2017 Inca Divide Bike Race. He's holding up the sadistic ultra marathon course map/elevation profile. The race ultilizes the Incan road network from Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru and totals 208,000' of climbing over 2,000+ miles. The race is fully self-supported and absolutely the most savage thing we've heard of. Out of money and food when we met him, Rodney gladly accepted our (meager) emergency snack stash of almonds and raisins and a few big chugs from my water bottle. We were not surprised to hear that he'd won the race six days later. What an animal.

We met Rodney in Huallanca during the 2017 Inca Divide Bike Race. He's holding up the sadistic ultra marathon course map/elevation profile. The race ultilizes the Incan road network from Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru and totals 208,000' of climbing over 2,000+ miles. The race is fully self-supported and absolutely the most savage thing we've heard of. Out of money and food when we met him, Rodney gladly accepted our (meager) emergency snack stash of almonds and raisins and a few big chugs from my water bottle. We were not surprised to hear that he'd won the race six days later. What an animal.

 July 28th is Peru's Día de la Independencia and much of the population ventures out to celebrate in the countryside. Just like the States, this means all sorts of city folk ambitiously following Google maps directions far out into the mountains. Two wheel drive Carollas, packed with picnics and families of six, spun their wheels in the gravel. Lost Limeans asked US for directions as to what lay ahead. And due to the 15,000'+ roads, sea level-accustomed vacationers were actively tossing their altitude sickness cookies. We helped where we could and even ditched the bikes to help push a car over the last pitch of the pass. Nice to get knocked out of the "most out-of-your-element tourist" position, if only for a day. 

July 28th is Peru's Día de la Independencia and much of the population ventures out to celebrate in the countryside. Just like the States, this means all sorts of city folk ambitiously following Google maps directions far out into the mountains. Two wheel drive Carollas, packed with picnics and families of six, spun their wheels in the gravel. Lost Limeans asked US for directions as to what lay ahead. And due to the 15,000'+ roads, sea level-accustomed vacationers were actively tossing their altitude sickness cookies. We helped where we could and even ditched the bikes to help push a car over the last pitch of the pass. Nice to get knocked out of the "most out-of-your-element tourist" position, if only for a day. 

 One of the higher and harder passes of the trip. Hike a' biking on the steeper gravel sections made for slow progress, an inevitability of the Divide route.

One of the higher and harder passes of the trip. Hike a' biking on the steeper gravel sections made for slow progress, an inevitability of the Divide route.

 Horizontal miles are nearly irrelevant against incessant vertical gain.  

Horizontal miles are nearly irrelevant against incessant vertical gain.  

 Snack stops mandatory. 

Snack stops mandatory. 

 Peru-sual.  

Peru-sual.  

 Camping with new friends, Amanda and Andrew. Or "the Canadians." They've been riding since Alaska on a three year epic and have plenty of stories to share. In addition to carrying a violin and a guitar, they were also toting a liter of chocolate milk and a bladder of pisco. Commiserating together over a few stiff cocktails made it feel a little less frigid outside. 

Camping with new friends, Amanda and Andrew. Or "the Canadians." They've been riding since Alaska on a three year epic and have plenty of stories to share. In addition to carrying a violin and a guitar, they were also toting a liter of chocolate milk and a bladder of pisco. Commiserating together over a few stiff cocktails made it feel a little less frigid outside. 

 Andrew explaining the pisco to chocolate milk ratio. 50/50. 

Andrew explaining the pisco to chocolate milk ratio. 50/50. 

 At altitude, finding a strategic east-facing tent nook speeds up the morning thaw. Using his iPhone compass and mountain man instinct, Aidan has chosen many-a-early-sun spots. Or so he insists.

At altitude, finding a strategic east-facing tent nook speeds up the morning thaw. Using his iPhone compass and mountain man instinct, Aidan has chosen many-a-early-sun spots. Or so he insists.

 Dawn thaw.  

Dawn thaw.  

 Sometimes it's too damn cold to cook outside and we fire up the stove from the comfort of the bags.

Sometimes it's too damn cold to cook outside and we fire up the stove from the comfort of the bags.

 Kinkones, or sugar burgers as we call them, are a mysterious but delicious snack staple. Like a cookie-newton-muffin hybrid. Aidan warming his 'burg over the stove.  

Kinkones, or sugar burgers as we call them, are a mysterious but delicious snack staple. Like a cookie-newton-muffin hybrid. Aidan warming his 'burg over the stove.  

 Sugar burger meets savage beard + blades. 

Sugar burger meets savage beard + blades. 

 Day six, no shower. Aidan finally asks to borrow the deodorant. Lipstick on a pig?

Day six, no shower. Aidan finally asks to borrow the deodorant. Lipstick on a pig?

 Hood ornament.  

Hood ornament.  

 Miles outside of Huallay, on a desolate road, we were passed by a truck full of men in suits. When we rounded the corner, they were standing in the road waiting for us. What was surely a mafia assasination in the works turned out to be a group of local politicians looking to land some free gringo marketing. Here, Tara invites ALL fellow Americans to come to Huallay for the Independence Day celebration occurring in a few days. 

Miles outside of Huallay, on a desolate road, we were passed by a truck full of men in suits. When we rounded the corner, they were standing in the road waiting for us. What was surely a mafia assasination in the works turned out to be a group of local politicians looking to land some free gringo marketing. Here, Tara invites ALL fellow Americans to come to Huallay for the Independence Day celebration occurring in a few days. 

 Tara proved to be the better interviewee. I was asked to invite turistas to the town in Spanish for the camera, but, convinced they had just formally invited me to the festivities, I just repeated "muchas gracias" into the camera 2-3 times before they panned over to Tara. Muchas Gracias. 

Tara proved to be the better interviewee. I was asked to invite turistas to the town in Spanish for the camera, but, convinced they had just formally invited me to the festivities, I just repeated "muchas gracias" into the camera 2-3 times before they panned over to Tara. Muchas Gracias. 

 Aidan—in Diana's chair—adding scale to our kindergarten classroom campstite. 

Aidan—in Diana's chair—adding scale to our kindergarten classroom campstite. 

 And lastly, this.  

And lastly, this.  

Peru Part Deux

We're not even halfway through Peru. The scale of this place is, at times, unreasonable. Reading the signs along the road, the country claims to house the highest/longest/deepest features on the planet. The claims are not always accurate, but whether something is the third or thirteenth highest in the world, it's still a sight to behold. Peru has offered mythical-sized versions of mountain passes, switchback counts, waves, tunnels, waterfalls and even parties in pueblitos. The sheer size of this country is maxed and to traverse it on tiny bicycle has been humbling. Progress is slow, but it's all felt well worth the time and effort. Today we'll leave Huaraz, the trekking hub for the Cordillera Blanca, juiced up on a couple day's rest, excitement for the road ahead, and the fuzzy-headed remnants of a few bon voyage Pisco Sours shared with our friend Kate, a fellow cyclist working her way south on a homemade bamboo bicycle. 

 Nearly to the top of our third and final pass on a 5-day loop through Huascaran National Park's Cordillera Blanca. Easily one of the most anticipated sections of our trip. 

Nearly to the top of our third and final pass on a 5-day loop through Huascaran National Park's Cordillera Blanca. Easily one of the most anticipated sections of our trip. 

 Laguna 69 at first light. A campout and subsequently early start ensured we'd beat the busloads of tourists. The alarm sounded in the tent at 4:45AM after a restless night's sleep in a field. A crazy cow had kept us up most of the night with irrational behavior—grazing a tight circle around our tent, tearing into the garbage, chomping Aidan's helmet and knocking our bikes over countless times. At one point, Aidan lept from his sleeping bag and said, "No, no, no, not okay." The cow had pressed his snout into the triangular plastic window of our tent, fogging it up as he peeked inside. Each event involved chasing the cow off for a hundred yards or so, making convincing "heaw" noises hoping this time she would stay away. 4:45 came far too soon and we thought pretty seriously about "just another hour" inside our cozy sleeping bags. One glimpse outside at the shock-clear starry sky was all the motivation we needed to shake the ice from the tent, toss on a pot of coffee and start the hike.

Laguna 69 at first light. A campout and subsequently early start ensured we'd beat the busloads of tourists. The alarm sounded in the tent at 4:45AM after a restless night's sleep in a field. A crazy cow had kept us up most of the night with irrational behavior—grazing a tight circle around our tent, tearing into the garbage, chomping Aidan's helmet and knocking our bikes over countless times. At one point, Aidan lept from his sleeping bag and said, "No, no, no, not okay." The cow had pressed his snout into the triangular plastic window of our tent, fogging it up as he peeked inside. Each event involved chasing the cow off for a hundred yards or so, making convincing "heaw" noises hoping this time she would stay away. 4:45 came far too soon and we thought pretty seriously about "just another hour" inside our cozy sleeping bags. One glimpse outside at the shock-clear starry sky was all the motivation we needed to shake the ice from the tent, toss on a pot of coffee and start the hike.

 Andean Lupin produces an edible bean (chocho) that is claimed to be the next Andean superfood. It's been a good run, quinoa. Big mounds of beans line village street stalls, typically dressed up with onion, lime, cilantro, tomato, salt and something spicy. A perfect pannier snack.

Andean Lupin produces an edible bean (chocho) that is claimed to be the next Andean superfood. It's been a good run, quinoa. Big mounds of beans line village street stalls, typically dressed up with onion, lime, cilantro, tomato, salt and something spicy. A perfect pannier snack.

 Color-coordinated. 

Color-coordinated. 

 Sitting at roughly 15,000 feet, the Laguna 69 hike is surprisingly hard. Being one of the most popular tours booked from Huaraz, we had written it off as a serious challenge. The degrees of discomfort on the faces of the (unacclimatized) tourists making their way up confirmed that we were not alone in our surprise. 

Sitting at roughly 15,000 feet, the Laguna 69 hike is surprisingly hard. Being one of the most popular tours booked from Huaraz, we had written it off as a serious challenge. The degrees of discomfort on the faces of the (unacclimatized) tourists making their way up confirmed that we were not alone in our surprise. 

 Get in where you fit in.  

Get in where you fit in.  

 How insufferable are couples that dress alike?  

How insufferable are couples that dress alike?  

 We rode all but ten miles of the famed Huascaran Circuit. The ten miles we spent in the back of the truck, sharing chocolate bars and conversation, allowed us to skip a really nasty section of the road, littered with large rocks, countless holes and aggressive horseflies. The nice folks who dropped us here said that the state of the road was criminal and that the government officials responsible should be in jail. 

We rode all but ten miles of the famed Huascaran Circuit. The ten miles we spent in the back of the truck, sharing chocolate bars and conversation, allowed us to skip a really nasty section of the road, littered with large rocks, countless holes and aggressive horseflies. The nice folks who dropped us here said that the state of the road was criminal and that the government officials responsible should be in jail. 

 From the ridge where the pass cuts through you can see the valley floor directly below—maybe two miles away. All told, it takes 8+ miles of bumpy, dusty road wiggling to get down. Best to stay on the inside edge while peak gawking.  

From the ridge where the pass cuts through you can see the valley floor directly below—maybe two miles away. All told, it takes 8+ miles of bumpy, dusty road wiggling to get down. Best to stay on the inside edge while peak gawking.  

 Aidan snaking his way down.

Aidan snaking his way down.

 Pan de agua—bread made without butter, similar to a fluffy pizza crust—is an Andean snack staple. 1 sol ($.30) will get you a bagful. Lightweight and versatile, it's the energy/carb vehicle we've been searching for since the death of tortillas in southern Guatemala. Our very own banana bread pictured above. Recipe: one piece of pan torn in half with a banana shoved inside. The possibilities are endless. 

Pan de agua—bread made without butter, similar to a fluffy pizza crust—is an Andean snack staple. 1 sol ($.30) will get you a bagful. Lightweight and versatile, it's the energy/carb vehicle we've been searching for since the death of tortillas in southern Guatemala. Our very own banana bread pictured above. Recipe: one piece of pan torn in half with a banana shoved inside. The possibilities are endless. 

 Huascaran twin peaks—el Norte on the right—is the highest point in Peru. Worthy distraction on our laguna slog.

Huascaran twin peaks—el Norte on the right—is the highest point in Peru. Worthy distraction on our laguna slog.

 Huascaran Norte, on the right, has a tragic history. In 1970 during a 7.9 earthquake, the front portion of the mountain broke off and buried the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca in a wave of ice, rock and mud in less than five minutes, killing some 20,000 people. A beautiful, but ominous backdrop for those towns. 

Huascaran Norte, on the right, has a tragic history. In 1970 during a 7.9 earthquake, the front portion of the mountain broke off and buried the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca in a wave of ice, rock and mud in less than five minutes, killing some 20,000 people. A beautiful, but ominous backdrop for those towns. 

 Frosty color pops atop Punta Olimpica.  

Frosty color pops atop Punta Olimpica.  

 Falls like snow, soaks like rain

Falls like snow, soaks like rain

 The snow finally started to stick to the road a couple hundred feet from the top of the pass. We pushed the bikes through most of it to avoid any serious slip outs and were fortunate not to share any switchback corners with the 2-wheel drive tractionless Toyota Corollas that make up the majority of Peru's taxi fleet.  

The snow finally started to stick to the road a couple hundred feet from the top of the pass. We pushed the bikes through most of it to avoid any serious slip outs and were fortunate not to share any switchback corners with the 2-wheel drive tractionless Toyota Corollas that make up the majority of Peru's taxi fleet.  

 There's an unspoken agreement to pull the cameras out during the not-so-fun moments as well. Moody photos result. 

There's an unspoken agreement to pull the cameras out during the not-so-fun moments as well. Moody photos result. 

 Moody photo. 

Moody photo. 

 The original pass is the low point cleft in the far ridge, but is currently (largely) unused following the construction of the world's highest tunnel—15,525 feet. Many people cycling this loop go up and over, but the whiteout conditions and fresh snow sent us through the tunnel instead—one of the most surreal experiences of the trip. The tunnel is almost a mile long, downhill, and dripping with all kinds of down-the-back-of-the-neck surprise waterfalls. It is pitch black except for the blinding "light at the end of the tunnel." What nobody tells you about that "uplifting" phrase is that if the light at the end of tunnel is too bright, you can't see anything in between. Our spelunking style headlamps proved all but useless and we just rumbled through the dark waterfalls like moths to a flame until we eventually popped out the other side. 

The original pass is the low point cleft in the far ridge, but is currently (largely) unused following the construction of the world's highest tunnel—15,525 feet. Many people cycling this loop go up and over, but the whiteout conditions and fresh snow sent us through the tunnel instead—one of the most surreal experiences of the trip. The tunnel is almost a mile long, downhill, and dripping with all kinds of down-the-back-of-the-neck surprise waterfalls. It is pitch black except for the blinding "light at the end of the tunnel." What nobody tells you about that "uplifting" phrase is that if the light at the end of tunnel is too bright, you can't see anything in between. Our spelunking style headlamps proved all but useless and we just rumbled through the dark waterfalls like moths to a flame until we eventually popped out the other side. 

 The dryer side of the Punta Olimpica pass. We paused for a couple photos and numb-limbed jumping jacks.  

The dryer side of the Punta Olimpica pass. We paused for a couple photos and numb-limbed jumping jacks.  

 Heating up water for a night bottle—a sleeping bag essential at altitude—according to Tara.

Heating up water for a night bottle—a sleeping bag essential at altitude—according to Tara.

 All this + instant noodles + spices = delicious soup

All this + instant noodles + spices = delicious soup

 Pampa, a near perfect camping surface once kicked clear of rock and cow patty. 

Pampa, a near perfect camping surface once kicked clear of rock and cow patty. 

 High drama palette on the descent from Punta Olimpica to Chacas. After nearly 24 hours of rain and snow, we were pleasantly surprised by a great hostel in town and—thanks to a heavy Italian influence—the best pizza of the trip.

High drama palette on the descent from Punta Olimpica to Chacas. After nearly 24 hours of rain and snow, we were pleasantly surprised by a great hostel in town and—thanks to a heavy Italian influence—the best pizza of the trip.

 An absurd afternoon. 

An absurd afternoon. 

 No guardrail, single lane, and 15 miles into a 30 mile descent and someone decides they need to stick a sign in the dirt as an FYI. Peru is the best.  

No guardrail, single lane, and 15 miles into a 30 mile descent and someone decides they need to stick a sign in the dirt as an FYI. Peru is the best.  

 It was gusting 40+ miles an hour on our descent. The wind from the ocean coming up the canyon into the mountains. The disappointment of reaching the end of one of the longest downhills of the trip, made better by a soul-lifting tailwind ride up the river. 

It was gusting 40+ miles an hour on our descent. The wind from the ocean coming up the canyon into the mountains. The disappointment of reaching the end of one of the longest downhills of the trip, made better by a soul-lifting tailwind ride up the river. 

 From the internet: "  Espostoa lanata   (= Woolish Espostoa) is a species of cacti of the genus Espostoa. Its common names are : Peruvian old man cactus, cotton ball cactus, snowball cactus, snowball old man." So, yeah Old Peruvian Man Ball Cactus. 

From the internet: "Espostoa lanata (= Woolish Espostoa) is a species of cacti of the genus Espostoa. Its common names are : Peruvian old man cactus, cotton ball cactus, snowball cactus, snowball old man." So, yeah Old Peruvian Man Ball Cactus. 

 We don't often ride this late in the day. Because, the reality of magic hour is that sad, totally dark freezing hour is mere minutes away. 

We don't often ride this late in the day. Because, the reality of magic hour is that sad, totally dark freezing hour is mere minutes away. 

 Ricardo of Llapo has six daughters, fifteen grandchildren, is 80 years old and gifted us two avocados. We rule at asking questions with numbers as the answers.   

Ricardo of Llapo has six daughters, fifteen grandchildren, is 80 years old and gifted us two avocados. We rule at asking questions with numbers as the answers.   

 Every small town, or pueblito, has its welcoming party of plaza dwellers. We usually make friendly, brief conversation and then ask for the nearest food joint.

Every small town, or pueblito, has its welcoming party of plaza dwellers. We usually make friendly, brief conversation and then ask for the nearest food joint.

 Connecting Huamachuco to Angasmarca by way of some dirt and endless farmland. In these surrounding hills there are numerous unexcavated ruins with signs that, when roughly translated say: "There is important archealogical stuff here, we just haven't gotten around to digging it up and making a big deal of it yet."

Connecting Huamachuco to Angasmarca by way of some dirt and endless farmland. In these surrounding hills there are numerous unexcavated ruins with signs that, when roughly translated say: "There is important archealogical stuff here, we just haven't gotten around to digging it up and making a big deal of it yet."

 Some campsites seem more discreet when set up in the dark. Part of the fun of wild camping is the hiding out, which on this morning meant ducking for trucks. 

Some campsites seem more discreet when set up in the dark. Part of the fun of wild camping is the hiding out, which on this morning meant ducking for trucks. 

 Really though, Peru's camping potential is endless. 

Really though, Peru's camping potential is endless. 

 We made fast friends with a French couple sharing campsites, meals and stretching techniques over a couple days in Northern Peru. 

We made fast friends with a French couple sharing campsites, meals and stretching techniques over a couple days in Northern Peru. 

 Timeout amidst a 14-hour stint of nonstop Spanish conversation over the sound of brass bands, braying bulls and constant fireworks (bombas). A nice gentleman gifted Tara this kerchief so she could blend in better with the caballeros. 

Timeout amidst a 14-hour stint of nonstop Spanish conversation over the sound of brass bands, braying bulls and constant fireworks (bombas). A nice gentleman gifted Tara this kerchief so she could blend in better with the caballeros. 

 Fateful timing to hit the final night of Pallasca's annual blowout celebration honoring San Juan Bautista Eight brass bands rotated nonstop. Fireworks exploded from 10AM to 6AM. Barely controlled lassoed  bulls charged crowds of people. Beer sprayed. Bottles broke. A night to remember, but probably not repeat. 

Fateful timing to hit the final night of Pallasca's annual blowout celebration honoring San Juan Bautista Eight brass bands rotated nonstop. Fireworks exploded from 10AM to 6AM. Barely controlled lassoed  bulls charged crowds of people. Beer sprayed. Bottles broke. A night to remember, but probably not repeat. 

 The guys played from sunrise to sunrise, with at least two bands playing different songs, simultaneously, at all times.

The guys played from sunrise to sunrise, with at least two bands playing different songs, simultaneously, at all times.

 T-bone and the trombones. 

T-bone and the trombones. 

 And when the conversation dwindles, pose for photos. We posed for a lot of photos. 

And when the conversation dwindles, pose for photos. We posed for a lot of photos. 

 From mountain green to desert brown, all in a big day descending. 

From mountain green to desert brown, all in a big day descending. 

 Peruvians love to tell you about the diversity of landscape and climate in their country. And it's true. On this day we left green mountains for sand stone hills and colorful, mineral rich streams. 

Peruvians love to tell you about the diversity of landscape and climate in their country. And it's true. On this day we left green mountains for sand stone hills and colorful, mineral rich streams. 

 With lines extending far beyond the photo frame, the sheer magnitude of Peruvian landscapes is mind blowing. 

With lines extending far beyond the photo frame, the sheer magnitude of Peruvian landscapes is mind blowing. 

 Blown minding.  

Blown minding.  

 Sister cactus to the man ball.  

Sister cactus to the man ball.  

 The Canon del Pato's 35 one-lane tunnels are exhilarating on a bicycle. 

The Canon del Pato's 35 one-lane tunnels are exhilarating on a bicycle. 

 The stretched out version of the switchback.  

The stretched out version of the switchback.  

 Burros help with treks in the Cordillera Blanca. Their indifference to schlepping serious weight around is an inspiration.  

Burros help with treks in the Cordillera Blanca. Their indifference to schlepping serious weight around is an inspiration.  

 The French—Aymeric and Valentine.

The French—Aymeric and Valentine.

 A trip milestone and nice moment atop the pass where we caught our first glimpse of the Cordillera Blanca.  XO, A+T

A trip milestone and nice moment atop the pass where we caught our first glimpse of the Cordillera Blanca.  XO, A+T

First Leg of Peru

Although only in Peru for five days when it happened, we had adjusted to a new country remarkably different from those before/north of it. Atop Calla Calla Pass—the high point of a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon—we paused to appreciate our progress, briefly. Sentiment quickly replaced by a desperate dig for more layers. A whipping, foggy wind blew our nice moment down the road a ways. My chicken-skinned stems trembled, unaccustomed to the cold after a trip's worth of hot weather. These legs have undergone a lot in the past ten months, but in that moment—although chilled—they felt strong, and capable, and ready for the highly anticipated snowy passes in our near future.
 
But take whatever mental picture of toughness and bulging thighs you've conjured and replace it with the continued comedy of errors that is reality. We're still figuring out how to properly take care of ourselves, as well as iron out some important details of remote travel—clambering south by an unforgiving means of transportation. The window of opportunity to miscalculate is wide open.
 
We had not packed enough food for the Grand Canyon-dwarfing endeavor, departing our campsite a few hours earlier with four mandarin oranges and a handful each of raisins in our bags, meant to sustain a lot of climbing, and even more descending. Those snacks would not provide adequate nourishment for an hour at my old desk job, let alone a few of Andean exertion. Somewhere along the way, after a desperate food inquiry to a group of women on the side of a road, one of them led me into a locked mud closet lined with mostly empty shelves—with the exception of some crackers and second-rate chocolates. Sixty cents later, we sat on the side of the road and tore into his and hers packages of animal crackers, silently devouring until all that remained were crumbs at our feet and a few assorted appendages in the bottom corner of my bag. Couple a' hooves and a trunk down the hatch. Our water situation was grim, but the few remaining chugs should suffice until the town at the bottom of the canyon. Logic that fell apart as the temperature rose with each switchback descended. Our 30-mile descent would be the longest of the entire trip, so far. It was nearly effortless, and relaxing—the winding road, absence of traffic, colorful swirling leaves, mind-blowing views. With the exception of a van of workers stringing high voltage power lines, there was almost no one on the road. Which is presumably why I felt uncharacteristically social at the sight of a woman braiding her daughter's hair, waiting for a ride.
 
"Buenas tardes, awww qué lindo pelo."
 
The braid was nothing special, but I stretched the truth for an excuse to say hello. No different than when people pretend like someone's baby is much cuter than it actually is. As I put on the brakes for an obligatory smalltalk time-out, a dog—the dog—came out of nowhere, skipping predictable intimidation measures—barking, chasing, growling—and sunk his filthy mouth into my leg. One of his fangs went directly into my calf muscle, prompting a dramatic exit over the opposite side of my bike, into the ditch. He held firm for a second or two before fleeing my leg, and the scene altogether. The blood streaming from a pair of deep punctures confirmed he'd broken the skin.
 
"Fuck, fuck, fuck."
 
We've gotten pretty good at playing it cool on the road. Things are constantly changing, but we're working towards being less phased by adverse conditions—myself in particular. Thinking of complications more as welcome challenges and accepting inevitable doses of humility, because it seems saavy to be able to take things in stride. Albeit a clammy fumble to figure out which coin is which under the pressure of an impatient stare—or a campsite snake sighting—or yet another raw chicken foot bobbing in the soup bowl to navigate—or the guinea pig cartoon-wheel-o-feeting from the kitchen to the nearest exit, presumably aware of its fate as one of Peru's most beloved national dishes. Equal parts darling and delicious, some 65 million guinea pigs—or cuy as they're known here—are consumed annually in Peru. We had a similar pet growing up, and to see MC Hamster skewered on the street takes some getting used to, but we're down with cultural differences. We cool.
 
And once out of the ditch, I played it pretty cool, casually interrogating the hairdressing witness about the dog's current health status, trying to exhaust a responsible line of questioning. She insisted it didn't belong to her, but humored me and recited what she thought I wanted to hear. El no es peligroso. The dog is not dangerous. I dunno, he seems like at least a little bit of a liability. Wasn't worth challenging her though as she didn't have the specifics I was after. There was a hut within sight that the dog was probably just protecting, but I couldn't ignore the stench of potential rabies and/or blatant racism. Peruvian dogs are not above either. Ignoring my growing thirst, I cleaned the wounds as best I could with the last remaining squirts in my water bottle. Trying a few more times to trick details out of the woman, the language barrier and unreceptive audience would ultimately cut the formalities short. It was a strange moment to share with an indifferent stranger. There weren't services—a generous term—for thirty miles in either direction, leaving me no choice but to keep moving. Aidan was a ways down the road anyhow, probably getting nervous at this point. Although I knew the recommended protocol was to closely monitor offending dog for a minimum of ten days, it seemed like an unrealistic course of action.
 
I remembered this protocol from a fellow cyclist's story he'd told us over beers and tacos in Oaxaca, Mexico. No one can live with rabies and the dog will therefore die within ten days if he/she is infected. Alex—the cyclist—had hosted us in Oaxaca in the same neighborhood he'd been bitten a few months prior. The exact circumstances around the bite I don't remember, but since the dog lived on the same block, he was able to follow instructions and keep an eye on it. Alex stalked the dog for nine whole days before, on day ten, the little bastard disappeared. Assuming the dog had wandered off to die, the last day of observation was stressful for Alex as his mind went to a dark, rabid place. I can't shake the mental picture of him peeking through fence cracks and collecting secret DNA samples. Only later did Alex uncover the truth that the dog's owners had put their beloved pet into hiding for fear that Alex would actually kill it. Although Aidan joked that we should have brought a blood sample baggie to the hospital, no extraction procedures were performed on [my] dog. We'd later learn that the only way to effectively test a dog is by removing brain tissue. In lieu of anything surgical, I chucked a rock at the beast as I rode away, marking the end of the official observation period—lasting all of ten minutes.

There's a fine line between playing it cool and putting yourself in legitimate danger. The facts are that rabies exists in Peru and the dog that bit me was a bully with a goopy eye. Whether the two are correlated, I have no idea. Rabies is fatal, almost always. Aidan and I listened to a Radiolab back in Portland about a girl who had been bit by a bat, in a church, and took no action until hospitalized for scary symptoms. I remember my frustration. How could you not do something sooner? Well, I get it now. Doing something, in this case, meant tearing ourselves out of the wild Peruvian dream that had finally materialized—snoozing under the stars, eating chocolate bars in our sleeping bags, appreciating the disconnect. I hesitated whether a silly dog bite was worth a trip-interrupting pause/fast forward to the nearest city. But, doing nothing felt foolish—a gut feeling later legitimized by a terrifying Google search.
 
Given our remote location, the decision to pursue medical attention would result in an exhaustive scavenger hunt, beginning with a raucous back-of-the-truck ride up the opposite side of the vast Peruvian canyon we'd just descended. A rough, partially paved road. We bounced around next to our bicycles for a few hours, growing more nauseous with every switchback until Aidan eventually hung off the tailgate, "Yeah, I think I'm actually going to puke." He didn't, but not for lack of a mouth-wateringly close call. We abandoned any effort to stay clean and composed, arriving disheveled rather than disinfected. My bandages were saturated, dripping with blood, and our faces, grayed by forty miles worth of exhaust. We checked into a hotel in the town's plaza and burst into maniacal laughter when we saw our state in the mirror. "I can't believe they let us in here." A couple diesel dust handlebar mustaches staring back at us. It was good timing for the best shower of our entire trip.
 
I'll spare the map-necessitating details, but our search for the vaccine would lead us through a maze of multiple towns, hospitals, medical centers and pharmacies. At each stop we'd receive a clue for the next stop, naively believing it would be our last. We employed buses, collectivos, moto taxis, regular taxis, and our own two feet to pinball from clue to clue before finally landing into a couple creaky chairs inside a dingy room of Cajamarca's Centro Antirrabico. I'd been unsure initially whether to be relieved or alarmed that such a place existed. It wasn't until we arrived to the crumbling, unmarked building, and crouched through the locked gate's tiny kennel-like opening that I felt justified in my alarm. The place was in a serious state of neglect. The only person around shouted down to us from the roof, obviously not expecting rabid traffic. His building-maintenance-man-vibe left me wondering where all the white coats at? A few curled-cornered [rabies] awareness posters hung around the premises, as did a wall calendar from 2009. And a chart identifying different types of terriers.
 
In clunky Spanish—and with blatant skepticism—I recounted to the janitor exactly what had led us to him. Stumbling through my vaccination history while absorbing our seedy surroundings, I scanned the room for a drop of soap, or any indication of sanitation. The third world dysfunction that we've grown accustomed to on bicycles suddenly seemed especially dismal. Or more likely, just personal. My unsuccessful attempt at hiding tears of defeat resulted in immediate action from the man, growing visibly more flustered with each tear. Aidan later contributed his observation that "Latin men really don't like tears." The man frantically flipped through a tiny blue journal in search of his boss's phone number. At an obvious loss, I wondered when the last time was he had actually called the guy. 2009? When no one answered—shocking—he tried to distract me with unnecessary paperwork and a fun fingerprinting session. Firming up a theory that the place used to be a kindergarten. As he guided my index finger from the ink pad onto the signature line of the xeroxed form he'd dug out from the depths of the desk drawer, I could actually feel Aidan trying not to laugh.
 
Other basic questions followed:

What is your name?
Tara.

Do you know the dog?
No.

Male or female?
Me or the dog?

What color hair?
How is this relevant?

Was the dog big or small?
All I can do is confirm that it was not a terrier.
 

Wiping the excess blue ink from my finger, I inquired as to why my paw prints were necessary. Rather than answering my question, the man held his index finger into the air in demonstration of having an end-all idea.
 
I have a friend.
She is a veterinarian.
You will go see her.
The vaccine is the same.
 

The prospect of sharing a waiting room with magical highland creatures—flanked by a German Shepard and a goat with an alpaca across the way—made me smile, remembering my mom's career change suggestion in her last e-mail to become a veterinarian. And although the animal bonding time sounded like a dream, I had lingering questions. Questions lost to the deafening commotion of dogs barking just outside—irony not lost. Realizing there was really nothing else the man could do for us, I surrendered any further fight and accepted my fate as Dr. Dolittle's afternoon appointment.
 
The vaccine for dogs and humans is not the same. And although there was a cute puppy in the street on the way to the vet, there were only human beings in the waiting room. The veterinarian was a smart, personable woman with an office buried deep within the hallways of what was actually the public hospital, hence all the humans. She chuckled when I asked if I'd be getting the same shot as the dogs. Confused by her lack of equipment to treat animals, I left assuming her job consisted mostly of research, although I never actually asked. She guided me through loopholes and past unnecessary long lines. With obvious preferential treatment, I had become the vet's pet project. I would never question the credentials of Peruvian doctors, but the facilities themselves are unnerving. People overcrowded the dark hallways, awaiting attention. Kids ran amuk. Sounds of sickness echoed. And I, feeling incredibly fortunate that all I needed were a few shots, made a mental note to avoid getting seriously ill in Peru.
 
After completing a couple vaccinations and a course of antibiotics, my mental state is restored. It seems appropriate to thank my former employer for covering the cost of the seriously spendy preexposure shots back in Portland—a very unusual insurance benefit—especially since I'd already put in my notice. For future reference, the vaccine costs zero dollars and zero cents in Peru, but it does not come without a web of wacky interactions. Should you find yourself in Cajamarca though, I know a guy...
 
Currently.
 
We are taking a time out in Pacasmayo—on the northern coast—while I nurse a few things and Aidan surfs some of Peru's most famous waves. My exercise envy is not subtle, but am ultimately happy one of us can get out there. Pacasmayo is our first glimpse of the Pacific since Panama. It's an interesting town that I'm enjoying lapping in my downtime. The waterfront is scattered with feral cats, fishing gear and ample ice cream carts. The town moves slowly. From our rooftop you can check the waves and take in a bird's eye view of an endless maze of crumbling brick, Peru's second largest concrete plant, and a stark-white, open-armed Jesus statue blessing the bus salvage yard below. Due to all the dust, there's a permanent filter casting a warm glow over town. When Aidan opened our window the other morning to the sound of howling dogs and the smell of fish feed production, the magenta sun rose through the pollution particles, illuminating the decay, and he said, "Looks like Afghanistan out there."
 
I'm trying to keep my train of thought as a hammer wails into the floor above us, our ceiling. Getting better at zen'ing out. Once everything heals and Aidan's gotten his fix, we'll pick up where we left off—in the northern Peruvian highlands—for more peace and quiet, tent chocolate and pop quizzes testing our ability to play it cool.

 Somewhere along the 30-mile descent from Calla Calla Pass to the canyon floor. 

Somewhere along the 30-mile descent from Calla Calla Pass to the canyon floor. 

 Although land-mined with cow shit and air mattress-popping twigs, an excellent campsite overall.

Although land-mined with cow shit and air mattress-popping twigs, an excellent campsite overall.

 Let your freak flag fly. Also, your rain fly dry.  

Let your freak flag fly. Also, your rain fly dry.  

 Camp kitchen explosion.  

Camp kitchen explosion.  

 Flat surfaces are hard to come by. Diligently preparing an onion/beet/sweet potato/quinoa one-potter.

Flat surfaces are hard to come by. Diligently preparing an onion/beet/sweet potato/quinoa one-potter.

 Freshly dewed mud/manure made for a slippery push back to the road from camp.

Freshly dewed mud/manure made for a slippery push back to the road from camp.

 The mellowed road grades of Peru are a welcome change from Ecuador's sawblade-like elevation profiles. ^^^^^^ The climbs here, although not as steep, are really, really long. We like to think the patience of Peruvian road builders has larger cultural implications, but that's entirely imagined and the type of place your mind wanders to amidst a [really, really] long climb. 

The mellowed road grades of Peru are a welcome change from Ecuador's sawblade-like elevation profiles. ^^^^^^ The climbs here, although not as steep, are really, really long. We like to think the patience of Peruvian road builders has larger cultural implications, but that's entirely imagined and the type of place your mind wanders to amidst a [really, really] long climb. 

 Cultural detour in Nuevo Tingo. We rode the newly-opened teleferico to the ruins of Kuelap. Seen by Peru's tourism board as a future rival to Machu Picchu, the shining infrastructure will be well-suited to mega crowds, eventually. Until then, the formalities are overkill, and the gondola attendants, very bored. 

Cultural detour in Nuevo Tingo. We rode the newly-opened teleferico to the ruins of Kuelap. Seen by Peru's tourism board as a future rival to Machu Picchu, the shining infrastructure will be well-suited to mega crowds, eventually. Until then, the formalities are overkill, and the gondola attendants, very bored. 

 Kuelap is a fortified city built sometime in the 6th century. Aside from a knee-buckling hike, that road on the other side of the valley used to be the only way to access the ruins.

Kuelap is a fortified city built sometime in the 6th century. Aside from a knee-buckling hike, that road on the other side of the valley used to be the only way to access the ruins.

 Security entrance.  

Security entrance.  

 There are over 550 circular structures on site, home to some 3,000 inhabitants back in the day.

There are over 550 circular structures on site, home to some 3,000 inhabitants back in the day.

 Downtown Kuelap. 

Downtown Kuelap. 

 Very different from the highly-manicured Machu Picchu, this place has been overgrown with tree roots and foliage. 

Very different from the highly-manicured Machu Picchu, this place has been overgrown with tree roots and foliage. 

 Some 9,000 feet below Calla Calla Pass flows the Marañón River, the largest source to the Amazon River. Peru loves its superlatives, deeming this canyon the "Deepest in the world." Our legs believe it. 

Some 9,000 feet below Calla Calla Pass flows the Marañón River, the largest source to the Amazon River. Peru loves its superlatives, deeming this canyon the "Deepest in the world." Our legs believe it. 

 It's amazing the power of the American Dollar.  

It's amazing the power of the American Dollar.  

 Translation: Don't hate me just try to forget me. [Rambo break] I am guilty of your tears.

Translation: Don't hate me just try to forget me. [Rambo break] I am guilty of your tears.

 Please don't let the dogs out.  

Please don't let the dogs out.  

 Lust in translation. Namballe, Peru.  

Lust in translation. Namballe, Peru.  

 Peru's iconic mode of transport.

Peru's iconic mode of transport.

 Love the I-do-what-I-want paint jobs of Latin America. 

Love the I-do-what-I-want paint jobs of Latin America. 

 Mid-morning snack. Humitas are a tamale-like dream made from fresh corn and lard, typically served with a bowl of fresh ají—homemade hot sauce. 

Mid-morning snack. Humitas are a tamale-like dream made from fresh corn and lard, typically served with a bowl of fresh ají—homemade hot sauce. 

 Most tiendas are just named after whoever's front porch you're sitting on.

Most tiendas are just named after whoever's front porch you're sitting on.

 Amazonas Departmento river crossing, en route to Bagua Grande.

Amazonas Departmento river crossing, en route to Bagua Grande.

 Moments after rolling out of camp. 

Moments after rolling out of camp. 

 Kickstands. 

Kickstands. 

 Riverside campsite thanks to a pin dropped from a fellow Portlander. 

Riverside campsite thanks to a pin dropped from a fellow Portlander. 

 More of a mountain person. 

More of a mountain person. 

 Pacasmayo pier. Those boats are delivering the goods to cevicherias all over town.

Pacasmayo pier. Those boats are delivering the goods to cevicherias all over town.

 Like Baja but further South. 

Like Baja but further South. 

 Fishing fleet. Puemape. 

Fishing fleet. Puemape. 

 Fisherman. Puemape.  

Fisherman. Puemape.  

 Evidence of busier beachfront times. 

Evidence of busier beachfront times. 

 Van rides down the road to better surf. Back in wetsuit waters.  

Van rides down the road to better surf. Back in wetsuit waters.  

 Sore-shouldered and happy. 

Sore-shouldered and happy. 

 From the pier to the point is about forty minutes on foot, or four on a surfboard when the SW swell stars align.

From the pier to the point is about forty minutes on foot, or four on a surfboard when the SW swell stars align.

 And lastly, tricked. Get on that and I'll take your photo...

And lastly, tricked. Get on that and I'll take your photo...

Evacuador

 All sorts of photos after the words.

-Aidan 

 
When I finally realized we were sharing this trip with other people we were kneeling on an area-rug sized map of South America on the floor of the Casa De Ciclistas in Medellin, pointing to our expected routes in a sort of weird version of Twister for the bike-stiffened inflexible. 60 cent beers retrieved from the tienda stood at each corner. Notes from past bicycle travelers dated sections of the room's walls. Our host's voice came from the next room, tirelessly chatting up a fellow Colombian, who, after 3+ years on the road was a few days from returning home to Bogota. From under the house, in the makeshift workspace, the tinkering of another cyclist doing his best to make a tandem beach cruiser Andean ready. All with Colombian radio reggaeton competing over top. A Brit, a Belgian, and the two of us framed in perfect movie montage cliché, following the Sharpied path that someone had carefully traced in a caffeinated zig-zag along the continent's Western edge.

It's true we have met other cyclists on the trip already, though nearly all of them headed North, a consequence of intersecting paths. We also follow a number of others online who are at different points in their travels. But, sitting in a hillside cabin of bike kitsch, built as a guest house solely for the benefit of those traveling South America by bicycle, sharing similar timelines and itineraries, you realize that your long bike trip isn't in and of itself unique. There are a good number of other people on a similar trek. And there is community. It's both encouraging and humbling. There are resources to share and read, routes to follow, friends to follow, challenges to seek out etc. Where it becomes more unique, is deciding where your line zigs or zags. What kind of experiences you're looking for. Choose your own adventure and endure whatever consequences may come. Our choice in Ecuador -- as it has been throughout -- mountains. Volcanos, mostly. As for consequences, in keeping with the hundreds of government mandated warning signs that surround Ecuador's volcanoes: evacuation routes - literal, figurative and bodily.

We began Ecuador on the heals of another couple we had previously only known through their posts online. Brandy and Lewis, via Wisconsin, Brooklyn and 3 years on and off riding Southward. The introduction was long overdue, given we had been picking up their odd blogged breadcrumbs since hiking the volcano Acatenango in Guatemala. Putting faces to Facebooking, we knew we appreciated their taste in route selection so it made sense that we both chose to start Ecuador by way of a dirt track through a mountain reserve, opting for climbing and cobble stones in place of the PanAm.

It's surprising how often a country's border marks a drastic change in actual geography. In 10 miles the landscape changed from the lush green mountains of Colombia, some two month's familiar, to a near alien landscape of high altitude grassland, complete with cacti, new wildlife and the looming spectre of 20k foot snow-capped volcanos. As if on cue, Ecuador was offering a basic course in altitudinal zonation, where climate is determined almost wholly by altitude. The El Angel Reserve itself is a section land called paramo, a saturated bushy grassland, too cold and too high to farm, but not quite to the tundra and snow line.

For the first time riding in 9 months we were a group of four rather than two. The immediate benefits being commiseration and comic relief. We took the opportunity to work back through past pains, steep sections, odd characters and all the suffering endured from the familiar places between Mexico and Colombia.

This particular road had its own challenges. The surrounding paramo, especially soaked by this season's neverending rains, was funneling into the road making puddle navigating a sporting challenge. Lewis took more than a few bootfulls of water as opaque brown puddles proved deeper than initial inspection all for the "good of the group". Much appreciated.

We shared dinner that night in a frigid gazebo at 12k feet next to the park's ranger station. It was great to see another couple work through meal dynamics, taking notes on how they do things "better." A more comprehensive spice collection, being one takeaway. We learned that they planned to fly home in a couple of weeks. They would be the third couple from our vicarious internet friends to stop for one reason or another. Rattling, in a way, as I think the two of us are guilty of rolling along with a feeling of inevitability, guaranteed penguins, when in reality anything can happen. Here we are in Ecuador feeling like, in a way, we're just getting started.

That feeling of just starting South America is probably why, when the ranger buzzed up on his moto and opened the other side of the lodge for us to sleep in, we insisted on staying in our tent. Even as near-freezing saturated clouds whipped over top. It was cold, but all of the sudden so recognizably the Andes, both of us wanted to see how we would do. So it was through the mouth sized hole of my cinched sleeping bag that I managed to fully fall victim to the slight cold I had picked up in Colombia. A gift I would later pass on to Tara for her birthday.

The next morning, wearing every layer we had been carrying since Portland, we bailed as soon as we could pack up our dripping wet pride/tent. 10 miles of cobblestone into the quaint town of El Angel and another lesson in Andean altitude as we added some 30 degrees during the descent. We were seated eating second breakfast in a little over an hour, drinking hot coffee and eyeing the frequent buses that would expedite our arrival into Quito, just in time to meet up with some surprise visitors.

As far as trip evacuation options, getting a peek into Ecuadorian bus systems was a dangerous prospect. With Tara's friends Caitlin and Alicia already on the ground in Quito, we had to cover 120+ miles as quickly as possible. Buses leave every hour, it would cost us $2 each and they are happy to open the spacious back compartment for the exclusive storage of bags and bicycles. Painfully easy. They even played a movie. The poor man's Armageddon, "Deep Impact" or Impacto Profundo.

It was at some point during Deep Impact that we crossed the equator on our way into Quito. Though I'd been watching latitude numbers decrease for weeks looking forward to crossing the line, our trip has not been big on traditional symbolic moments and I was sort of proud to be shirking this one. Besides, I think Deep Impact's Spanish speaking Morgan Freeman would be honored.

The bus dropped us off at Quito's North station and though we still had 15 miles of city traffic to sort through, by middafternoon we were wheeling our bikes into an elevator and towards the posh-AirBnB Caitlin and Alicia had rented. It was surreal and amazing. Good friends somehow instantly and easily there. Credit to the power ladies for pulling the trigger on a whim.

Quito meant more mountains as well. We took the tram and hiked along the rim outside the city. South America's first World UNESCO Heritage Site, a city of 8 million, and the bustling capital of Ecuador and we were walking around in clouded, blustery mountains. Painfully similar to the time we came out of spending two weeks in the Colombian jungle and our first city tour stop was Medellin's Arboretum and an anemic approximation of the landscape we'd already seen. A fact which Tara took great pleasure in pointing out... We also toured basicallas, restaurants with Portland familiar ingredients, and even a brewery with ex-pat owners, formerly of Oregon themselves. Better still, we celebrated Tara's birthday cooking in a kitchen of our own, in a complete removal from trip life.

We parted ways with Caitlin and Alicia as they did a bit of Ecuadorian sightseeing further South. We spent the next 3 days hunkered in Quito as Tara's sinuses had their own evacuation plans. Knowing that I had likely handed it off, I ignored the fact that she had somehow staved off the worst of it through a kind of red-wine-rally while the friends visited and we would share the mucus meltdown just the two of us.

Mostly recovered, and a blog post launched, we left Quito toward the next volcano. Cotopaxi was a rain soaked, steep cobblestone ascent, with the hack wheeze soundtrack of Tara's cold, and totally worth it.

Though not technically permitted we found our own spot hidden from the road and the available camping's absurdly high fees. Fortunate, because without early morning access we would have missed our only chance at a non-clouded view. It didn't take long for the clouds to move in, so very soon we were dropping back down all of the previous day's climb.

The reason for the all of the evacuation route signage is that Ecuador's history has been repreatedly scarred by the eruptions of it's many volcanos. Active as recently as 2016, Cotopaxi, is due for another big one. Apparently the ash and debris from recent activity has driven out a lot of those who live around the volcano. The message to those who choose to remain nearby seems to be "get ready," Though you can't help but wonder what a line of evacuation signs will do for a person without a place to go or a vehicle to carry them.

From Cotopaxi, we spent two days crossing the valley, staying in heavily trafficked hostels. As in other moments when our paths overlap with a different traveler set, there seems to grow a long list of what you must "do". Trips to craters, waterfalls, etc. It all ends up feeling a little overwhelming. We ended up following the route of another cycling pair and again headed toward a volcano called Chimborazo. Chimborazo is notable, in that, due to the equatorial bulge, it is the highest point on the planet when measured from the Earth's center. Of course, it's hard to notice any sort of equatorial bulge, and although we did end up riding to over 14k feet, clouds kept things pretty well capped.

We did have a few clear moments and again the haunting lunar high-altitude landscape made the detour well worth the trouble. The long ascent took us through a sandstone river valley, smelling of eucalyptus, before climbing through indigenous farming communities full of rosy cheeked women in bright shawls and fedoras. Further up still, were herds of Vicuña, orange and white downsized llamas who chirped and bleated at the wheezing bicyclists passing them by. We arrived at the visitors center at 4:45to downparka'd guards saying that we were 45 minutes late and there was no where to camp. Tara, being quick on her feet, made her eyes water pretty seriously and within moments we were ushered to a nice sheltered spot next to the water spigot.

Of course, no story would be complete without some digestive woes and the climb to Chimborazo was just the beginning. Operating along the same principle as an inflating potato chip bag on an airplane, my insides seemed to disagree with the climbing. I did manage to at least warn Tara and send her on ahead, and although I apologized both times, that tree may never forgive me.

We didn't get our clear moment the morning waking up on Chimborazo. I did feel fine at this point, but being fully socked in with fog with no real reason to head up to the refugios above, we opted to escape again down the mountain to warmer weather and bit more recovery time.

I should have known when we checked in but the room was $10 and nice enough. We even sprung for the private bathroom. In general, I would venture to say that it's a bad sign when there is any kind of text on bedsheets, but maybe worse when it reads "Happy Surprise Tonight". Someone's bad translation, I'm sure, but seriously unfortunate foreshadowing. I felt fine going to bed. It wouldn't be until after midnight that I woke up and had to make a move for the bathroom. I'll spare you what few details remain, but I found myself unhappily surprised to be gripping a toilet that flushed poorly while employing ALL available evacuation routes.

We ended up switching hostels the next day and spent the following day in Riobamba in the shadow of Chimborazo, watching it rain while I, and my insides, tried desperately to shelter in place. It's a tough balance between enjoying all sorts of wonderful food and paying the price. At this point, like choosing a route that climbs mountains, it seems like it might just be a thing that makes our trip, if not special, at least memorable.

Since leaving Riobamba we have logged more than a few long days on the PanAm, another couple layover days in the beautiful city of Cuenca and climbed what feels like an absurd number of hills as we make our way through Southern Ecuador. The experience of connecting valley villages feeling a bit like a sadistic game of Chutes & Ladders.

We're currently a couple days from crossing into Peru. The rain seems to be stopping and we're enjoying some time in Vilcabamba. A town known for the longevity of its citizens and, as an unfortunate result, attracting a glut of zany foreigners seeking immortality. Seeing as how most of the foreigners we've seen seem to be drinking and smoking with abandon, it may actually be that their just looking to level the field. In the meantime, the coffee is good and we're avoiding surprises.

 Our first official visitors came all the way to Quito to help Tara celebrate her big day.

Our first official visitors came all the way to Quito to help Tara celebrate her big day.

 Sea level energy at 13,500+ feet. 

Sea level energy at 13,500+ feet. 

 It's an honor when friends use their valuable time off to come and visit...IN THE SOUTHERN FREAKIN' HEMISPHERE.

It's an honor when friends use their valuable time off to come and visit...IN THE SOUTHERN FREAKIN' HEMISPHERE.

 Quito down below. In proper tourist fashion, we only had one bottle of water and a sleeve of crappy crackers between the four of us, ruling out the option to summit Volcan Pinchincha, topping out at almost 16,000 feet. 

Quito down below. In proper tourist fashion, we only had one bottle of water and a sleeve of crappy crackers between the four of us, ruling out the option to summit Volcan Pinchincha, topping out at almost 16,000 feet. 

 The bizarre Frailejones of El Angel Ecological Reserve.

The bizarre Frailejones of El Angel Ecological Reserve.

 Only a few miles from the Colombian border, up past the farmlands, the landscape completely changes to something close to a cactus'd Wyoming. 

Only a few miles from the Colombian border, up past the farmlands, the landscape completely changes to something close to a cactus'd Wyoming. 

 All the layers for the early morning descent.  

All the layers for the early morning descent.  

 Verdict: Need more layers.  

Verdict: Need more layers.  

 Fried frailejon stump.  

Fried frailejon stump.  

 Breakfast with Lewis and Brandy in the ranger station's not-so-windproof gazebo. (El Angel Reserve)  

Breakfast with Lewis and Brandy in the ranger station's not-so-windproof gazebo. (El Angel Reserve)  

 Puddle navigating requires one brave soul and some steady-handed followers. 

Puddle navigating requires one brave soul and some steady-handed followers. 

 Frailejons are the Muppets of the cactus world.  

Frailejons are the Muppets of the cactus world.  

 Proof of life, wedding greeting, token foggy photo. All good reasons to hand over the camera and get one of the both of us.  

Proof of life, wedding greeting, token foggy photo. All good reasons to hand over the camera and get one of the both of us.  

 The velvet leaves of the frailejon are perfectly evolved to capture the moisture in the clouds that constantly blow through the high-altitude paramo. Sort of like eyebrows on a bicycle ride, say.  

The velvet leaves of the frailejon are perfectly evolved to capture the moisture in the clouds that constantly blow through the high-altitude paramo. Sort of like eyebrows on a bicycle ride, say.  

 Literally footsteps (and a tram ride) outside of Quito.  

Literally footsteps (and a tram ride) outside of Quito.  

 We're technically at the tail end of Ecuador's rainy season, which is little consolation when it's actually raining. 

We're technically at the tail end of Ecuador's rainy season, which is little consolation when it's actually raining. 

 With swaths of South American countries existing at high, and very high elevations, altitudinal zonation (and not really latitude) determines an area's climate. Above the cloud forest, above the tierra fria, is the páramo. Beginning around 12k feet, it's perpetually wet, grassy, and basically looks like aliens. 

With swaths of South American countries existing at high, and very high elevations, altitudinal zonation (and not really latitude) determines an area's climate. Above the cloud forest, above the tierra fria, is the páramo. Beginning around 12k feet, it's perpetually wet, grassy, and basically looks like aliens. 

 She takes hydration really seriously...

She takes hydration really seriously...

 Our totally incredible friend sent along new, decidedly un-destroyed sunglasses to replace the ones Tara ran over with her front tire. And the ones Aidan scratched solid. Thank you, Cale. - Dale Earnhardt on a bicycle

Our totally incredible friend sent along new, decidedly un-destroyed sunglasses to replace the ones Tara ran over with her front tire. And the ones Aidan scratched solid. Thank you, Cale. - Dale Earnhardt on a bicycle

 Early morning romp about on the volcano.  

Early morning romp about on the volcano.  

 Volcano Cotopaxi in 3/4 of its glory. 

Volcano Cotopaxi in 3/4 of its glory. 

 Cotopaxi's last major eruption was some 138 years ago, but it's been active as recently as 2016. A mere 30 miles from Quito, it's apparently the most monitored volcano in South America. The excessive evacuation route signage had us calculating if a fully-loaded bicycle could Dante's Peak its way to safety. 

Cotopaxi's last major eruption was some 138 years ago, but it's been active as recently as 2016. A mere 30 miles from Quito, it's apparently the most monitored volcano in South America. The excessive evacuation route signage had us calculating if a fully-loaded bicycle could Dante's Peak its way to safety. 

 The highland hearty few.  

The highland hearty few.  

 Oatmeal again, huh?

Oatmeal again, huh?

 Stealth campsite bike cleaning. The rain vs. lube struggle is real.   

Stealth campsite bike cleaning. The rain vs. lube struggle is real.   

 Tundra, erosion paths and eruption blasted boulders. Cotopaxi is otherworldly cool.  

Tundra, erosion paths and eruption blasted boulders. Cotopaxi is otherworldly cool.  

 Are leggings pants?  

Are leggings pants?  

 Andean Lupine

Andean Lupine

 Google: Do donkeys bite?  

Google: Do donkeys bite?  

 Like your typical patchwork quilted agricultural landscape, if that quilt were laid over someone especially lumpy.  

Like your typical patchwork quilted agricultural landscape, if that quilt were laid over someone especially lumpy.  

 Hostel takeover: Laundry, coffee, charge, shoe de-stink, etc. We're getting our dollars' worth.  

Hostel takeover: Laundry, coffee, charge, shoe de-stink, etc. We're getting our dollars' worth.  

 To be clear, we've got one gas can propping the log, the other firing the blowtorch and a roaring gas-fed wood fire cooking god only knows what.  

To be clear, we've got one gas can propping the log, the other firing the blowtorch and a roaring gas-fed wood fire cooking god only knows what.  

 God only knows what.  

God only knows what.  

 B's at the basilica.  

B's at the basilica.  

 She said no to the birthday tiara.

She said no to the birthday tiara.

 Important to note: The fedora'd gentleman (center) staged us with instruments and insisted on taking our picture for Facebook (or "face" as it is referred to here.) 

Important to note: The fedora'd gentleman (center) staged us with instruments and insisted on taking our picture for Facebook (or "face" as it is referred to here.) 

A Longish Day

Last of the Colombia photos after the text.
Currently in Quito, Ecuador, SOUTH OF THE EQUATOR.

 
Colombia, by and large, shattered my preconceived notion of a long day. Long days in Portland were usually defined by unremarkable qualifiers—number of hours spent in my desk chair or amount of money thrown at the handful of office-adjacent coffee shops. Because an americano was an out, if only for a lap around the block. And although I long for that quality coffee, I don't miss the crushing sense of sedentation exhaustion it was dutifully dulling. On the road, exhaustion remains a very real inhibitor, but in a different sense. Less due to desperate clock watching, and more a result of jamming a freakin' lifetime into each day. Our days are a combination of random and routine—like when a host's personal recounts of drug addiction, sicario murders and family estrangement accompany our otherwise mundane breakfast routine. He casually re-ups our coffee/chorizo mid-story as if satisfying our morning munchies actually matters in that vulnerable moment. It's not even nine in the morning by the time the conversation ends and my brain already hurts from two hours of desperate translation. Not to mention, although we've just met, I feel like I've known the guy for years. On the road, the potential for human connection, cultural immersion, bodily wear and tear and breakfasts consumed in a single day is absurd.

This particular longish day started like any other, different from every other. And unreasonably early, according to Aidan. We bid our WarmShowers hosts farewell after sharing a disproportionate amount of our lives for having known each other less than a day. We bunked together the night before and spent the evening hours passing a bottle of Aguardiente—Colombia's sugarcane-distilled swill—from one twin bed to the next, swapping stories from the road. Aidan and I shared a single twin bed, and our hosts, a couple of equally slight size, the other. The floors were dirt and the roof a patchwork of corrugated metal, with missing sections, allowing the rain to pour outside, as well as in. In place of doors, rooms were provided privacy with repurposed, thick vinyl banners from a family member's political campaign. Every time I pushed aside the left-side crop of Uncle Armando's face to take a pee, I couldn't help but feel judged for my small bladder. He was always there, always watching. The house was rustic, but cozy due to the friendly faces inside. A behind-the-scenes glimpse into rural Colombian poverty. Although the gap between urban and rural living conditions is astounding, hospitality remains a priority in many of the countryside towns we've ridden through. Those with less give more. Profound realizations to accompany a morning-after teeth brushing. We scrubbed the swill sweater from our mouths, packed up and said a million thank you's as we rolled our rigs outside, insisting on getting the last muchas gracias in just before our hosts closed the door.

Out in the world again, on our own, the crisp morning air reminds me why I insist on setting the alarm so early. It will thicken by mid-morning and my gung ho, pre-dawn energy will slowly fade, only spiking when administered food or ample shade.

We push our bikes through the tiny mountain town, met with a thousand morning stares, in search of breakfast. Breakfast takes on many forms, but is always accompanied by coffee, a memorable interaction and, of course, is eaten more than once a day. The place we finally park outside of is unrecognizable as a legitimate food establishment aside from the men sipping coffee and nibbling something bready on the sidewalk. The decor inside suggests a number of other potential businesses—crucifix knick knack distributor, glam family portrait collector or maybe simply a seller of shitty packaged snacks. Our bikes parked within sight, as always, we belly up and order "the usual." The usual entailing heads nodded with enthusiasm while the owner lists off all the options in what seems to be the single longest word in the Spanish culinary dictionary. Sure, that. Con todo. With everything. And then we wait with bated breath to see what arrangement of typical breakfast fare arrives.

Due to a habitual, frantic, morning wipe n' lube (of the bikes) I'll inevitably leave chain grease paw prints on whatever white diner mugs our coffees are served in. Smudgy hands, don't care. One morning I held out a hand in front of Aidan and, very seriously, but rhetorically asked, "Is that grease or Oreo?" A bold taste test ruled it the latter.

When the food arrives, we'll feast silently. I'll eat too quickly while Aidan will approach his plate a bit more strategically, exercising what he refers to as "bite allocation." There will be the perfect amount of each plated item, in every bite, down to the last bite. My jealously during the final few, gorgeously arranged forkfuls is palpable, following his utensil's movements with puppy dog eyes. "Looks good," I'll say as if I didn't just inhale the same exact plate. Aidan does not sympathize.

This particular morning, a man joined us mid-meal, practicing his English while Aidan prepared flavor combos and I shoveled recklessly. We nodded in response—mouths full—when appropriate. My consumption abruptly slowed due to the man's smartphone that he'd shoved in front of me, unknowingly obstructing the shortest distance between two important points—the plate and my mouth. People (in Latin America) do this often. What begins as excitement to share a single photo of a particular place (or their own bicycle) turns into an impromptu selfie slideshow or nonsensical Facebook wall navigation, lasting uncomfortably long. An endearing cultural difference. Rather than an assortment of unflattering angles or non-mutual friend listings, this man opted to share a six-minute YouTube of a white, Christian guy delivering a female-empowering address, to females, in English, in a patronizing "HE's got your back" tone, with Spanish subtitles and bad stock motion graphics overlaid. No amount of tacky transitions could distract from the uncomfortable amount of direct eye contact he made with the camera. It really felt like he was talking to ME. The man holding the phone, watched me watching HIM, and anticipated my reactions to heavy-hitting lines. After lots of oh wows and que buenos, the video finally ended, as did my obligation to provide ongoing commentary, and I thanked the man for the morning inspiration. He, pleased with himself for spreading the good word, shouted to the woman behind the counter to pack us up a few fried goodies for the road before hitting the road himself. Disappointingly no less atheist than when we arrived, we slipped the greasy treats into our bags and set off, like so many other Colombian mornings, stumbling over a million thank you's, to begin a mammoth day of climbing.

The climbing hasn't gotten easier. Our bikes are heavy AF. And seemingly no amount of newly-acquired muscle fiber makes driving them up mountainsides any less grueling. We rationalize a lot of bad food decisions with these taxing climbs—the body wants what it wants. On this particular day, technically our first true Andean climb, we stopped at a roadside tienda for a sugary beverage to accompany the buñuelos bought for us during our morning conversion, sorry conversation. The fried treats, having thoroughly soaked through their to-go baggie, were looking particularly unhealthy and delicious.
 
Buñuelo sidenote. It is difficult to adequately emphasize how much I adore these deep fried doughy balls. Consisting of finely ground corn flour, spices and cheese, they're everything I'd avoid in real life. When fried masterfully, a delicate crispy exterior gives way to a steaming pillow of light, fluffy, flavorful goodness inside. Like an impossibly delicate, savory donut hole. 
 
Staring off onto the hillside, as the buñuelo/Gatorade combo systematically worked its way through my bloodstream, I felt capable again. Leveled temperament, post-snack Tara is a phenomenon. Like a magical timelapse of a recently-watered, wilty houseplant. Lifeless to alive right before your eyes. Ready to hit the road and antsy knowing that the worst of the climbing lie ahead, I sprung to my feet, tossing a few post-snack air punches in Aidan's direction, and said, "Okay!" Every time I say that word with specific inflection he knows I'm really ready.
 
As we futzed with our bikes and buckled our helmets, a young gal, encircled by a squad of wagging tails, approached us confidently. She skipped the small talk and invited us directly up to her house for lunch. It was 10:15AM and our stomachs were mid buñuelo expansion, but we graciously accepted the offer to overeat, without hesitation. After a steep push up the hillside I'd been staring blankly at moments earlier, we reached her house, out of breath and re-reminded of how much weight we're lugging through the longest mountain range in the world. An entire family of warm, smiling faces awaited—grandma, grandpa, mom, aunt, other aunt, three brothers, or maybe cousins, a couple other cousins, the neighbor, the neighbor's kid, three dogs, seven cats and an assortment of other farm animals. What followed was a three-plus hour kindnapping complete with confusing conversations, lots of dog petting, bottomless pours of aguapanela (Colombia's most popular drink, made by adding panela—an unrefined whole cane sugar with a slightly smoky flavor—to water. So, basically sugar water), a massive multi-course lunch featuring the best soup of the trip and two whopping bricks of rice, plantains and chicken for the road, wrapped tightly in banana leaves and finished with a couple cute bows.
 
Mom had braces, making her equal parts adorable and hard to understand. She stayed in her cartoon character jammies for the duration of our visit until, post banana leaf package offering, I requested a photo for the road. Suddenly horrified at her appearance, she disappeared only to reemerge wearing floral stretch pants and a top featuring a different cartoon character. After a few photos and another round of competitive thank you'ing, we pushed our bikes back down the hill, further heavied by the ridiculously generous amount of food they'd packed us, overcome by a pressing sense of responsibility to set the record straight on what was shaping up to be the most hospitable country in the world.
 
Initially buzzing from the kindness and potent sugar water, morale took a hit when we realized the repercussions of our lovely lunch date—reaching our goal for the day was a serious longshot. The afternoon hours were sluggish and the climbing even tougher than anticipated due to heavy rain, road construction and an accompanying couple miles of black tar that would later require a rag and a bottle of gasoline to remove from our bags, bicycles, and bodies. Riding into a dusky, torrential cloud forest made for grim late afternoon tent site scouting. A few huts scattered the side of the road, but none all that promising. Both completely drenched, cold, and hungry, for the first time on the trip, I was legitimately nervous it just wasn't going to work out. Our cozy morning with new friends felt a long ways off. And our six-minute dose of Christian guilt and chummy soup slurping atop the hill felt like different days entirely. Are we being punished for making fun of that guy's insulting video? I disguised tears of discouragement behind the torrential rain, and we just kept pedaling.
 
Until.
 
Out of nowhere, almost thirty miles short of our original destination and fifteen minutes shy of total darkness, we pulled into a strange truck stop asking about a room. The nearby roadwork and late hour had them at capacity, so we turned out onto the road, again, convinced a wet, ditch camp was inevitable. Not five minutes up the hill a friendly face on a motorbike came wrangling. They either found a room, or someone was politely relocated, because within minutes we were back down at the truck stop, moving into their last room while pushing another man's (forgotten?) sandals under the bed. I pried my mind out of worst case scenarios and into a set of warm, dry clothes. As we sat huddled on the bed, wrapped in blankets, passing a bowl of hot chocolate back and forth, attacking the banana leaf bundles, mesmerized by a reality TV show about Russian brides, dubbed in Spanish, I broke into bizarre, adrenaline-fueled laughter, "Jesus, what a long day."
 
Pass the faux-reos, please.

 It's a long way to the top, if you want to get to Ecuador. 

It's a long way to the top, if you want to get to Ecuador. 

 Looking back to check the progress. An inevitability of mountain river crossings is the trip alllllll the way down to the bridge at the bottom of the valley.

Looking back to check the progress. An inevitability of mountain river crossings is the trip alllllll the way down to the bridge at the bottom of the valley.

 Avoiding the PanAm en route to Pasto and staring down the "peaceful road tax" as it looms large up ahead.   

Avoiding the PanAm en route to Pasto and staring down the "peaceful road tax" as it looms large up ahead.   

 La Carbonera: The more bristled sister valley to the famous Valle de Cocora. Where the Cocora Valley hosts some manicured 900 palms, La Carbonera is estimated to hold over 2 million. 

La Carbonera: The more bristled sister valley to the famous Valle de Cocora. Where the Cocora Valley hosts some manicured 900 palms, La Carbonera is estimated to hold over 2 million. 

 A few hundred meters below "La Linea", the divide separating the Cordilleria Central between Salento and Toché. Limited company, plenty of good eating.  

A few hundred meters below "La Linea", the divide separating the Cordilleria Central between Salento and Toché. Limited company, plenty of good eating.  

 There's a restaurant in the backpacker enclave town of Salento called "Brunch." It is, as it should be, owned by a guy from Portland. At the register, there is a money trap in the form of homemade jars of peanut butter. We bought several.

There's a restaurant in the backpacker enclave town of Salento called "Brunch." It is, as it should be, owned by a guy from Portland. At the register, there is a money trap in the form of homemade jars of peanut butter. We bought several.

 The wax palms host tillandsias on their long trunks that end up looking like odd knuckles joining sections of the impossibly tall trees.

The wax palms host tillandsias on their long trunks that end up looking like odd knuckles joining sections of the impossibly tall trees.

 When you eat so many Oreo's that you start to match the packaging.  

When you eat so many Oreo's that you start to match the packaging.  

 The most scenic road to date. A bold statement that we stand by.

The most scenic road to date. A bold statement that we stand by.

 The variety of fresh produce in the mountains is typically pretty limited. This well-stocked fruit stand came as a pleasant surprise. 

The variety of fresh produce in the mountains is typically pretty limited. This well-stocked fruit stand came as a pleasant surprise. 

 Our last day of Colombian riding. She put on quite a show. 

Our last day of Colombian riding. She put on quite a show. 

 Full Spring 2017 puppy palette.  

Full Spring 2017 puppy palette.  

 Good choice.  

Good choice.  

 You didn't call fives.  

You didn't call fives.  

 WarmShowers host, and owner of dog who has a new hairdress from the hairdresser, Andres Felipe! 

WarmShowers host, and owner of dog who has a new hairdress from the hairdresser, Andres Felipe! 

 Fruit stand slurp.  

Fruit stand slurp.  

 ¿Que son esos?  

¿Que son esos?  

 Like how you think they smell.  

Like how you think they smell.  

 Long Haul Truckers

Long Haul Truckers

 This is an accurate visual representation of the ice cream vendors to people ratio in Colombia.  

This is an accurate visual representation of the ice cream vendors to people ratio in Colombia.  

 Our Neiva WarmShowers hosts took us on a walking tour to taste the street sweets and see the mighty Río Magdalena. Scooby came even though he was asked not to. The dog, not the kid. 

Our Neiva WarmShowers hosts took us on a walking tour to taste the street sweets and see the mighty Río Magdalena. Scooby came even though he was asked not to. The dog, not the kid. 

 We take turns being super unenthusiastic. Aidan in the morning, pre-coffee...

We take turns being super unenthusiastic. Aidan in the morning, pre-coffee...

 ...and Tara at the end of most days. 

...and Tara at the end of most days. 

 Although the same expression can be spotted during a myriad of unfavorable situations.

Although the same expression can be spotted during a myriad of unfavorable situations.

 Right smack in the midst of Colombia's second rainy season, mudslides are a scary and constant reality in the mountains. A tough, post-storm push.  

Right smack in the midst of Colombia's second rainy season, mudslides are a scary and constant reality in the mountains. A tough, post-storm push.  

 Location tag. 

Location tag. 

 Sure, it may seem a little unnatural, but you try leaving them hanging on the thumbs up. 

Sure, it may seem a little unnatural, but you try leaving them hanging on the thumbs up. 

Charmed in Colombia

Colombia has completely swept us off our feet. The unwavering enthusiasm of Colombianos for a couple grimy, wandering thirty-somethings fuels our fatigued bodies and minds. The Andes are equal parts punishing and invigorating, and we've hardly made a dent in the range we'll ride the rest of the way to the bottom. Our keyboarding cannot keep up with our cameras, and thus, a necessary photo dump below. More words, and stories of South American splendor to follow, shortlyish.  

 Colombia's coffee triangle, the Eje Cafetero, is a stunning configuration of breathtaking topography, agricultural abundance and the impossibly charming colonial pueblos that always seem to be located at either the veryyyyy top or veryyyyy bottom of any given valley. 

Colombia's coffee triangle, the Eje Cafetero, is a stunning configuration of breathtaking topography, agricultural abundance and the impossibly charming colonial pueblos that always seem to be located at either the veryyyyy top or veryyyyy bottom of any given valley. 

 Coffee with a view. 

Coffee with a view. 

 ....Andes spent.  

....Andes spent.  

 While the wax palms of the Cocora Valley are natural, the surreal scene along the valley floor is not. Grazing cattle have kept all aspiring palm seedlings at bay while the existing trees continue to grow to almost two hundred feet tall. The resulting landscape is one of those bittersweet beautiful accidents, where the contrasting trees are actually the last remnants of a once healthy forest. Of course, in the meantime, the grey trunks against the impossible green make for some incredible photos. That, or a super challenging frisbee golf course.  

While the wax palms of the Cocora Valley are natural, the surreal scene along the valley floor is not. Grazing cattle have kept all aspiring palm seedlings at bay while the existing trees continue to grow to almost two hundred feet tall. The resulting landscape is one of those bittersweet beautiful accidents, where the contrasting trees are actually the last remnants of a once healthy forest. Of course, in the meantime, the grey trunks against the impossible green make for some incredible photos. That, or a super challenging frisbee golf course.  

 If you want the tree to look taller, trim the bushes around it. They don't call 'em wax palms for nothing. 

If you want the tree to look taller, trim the bushes around it. They don't call 'em wax palms for nothing. 

 As the last few backpacker-toting Jeeps descended for the evening, we set up camp to palm/stargaze, armed with a couple beers and an emergency ration of instant noodles.

As the last few backpacker-toting Jeeps descended for the evening, we set up camp to palm/stargaze, armed with a couple beers and an emergency ration of instant noodles.

 Coupla' beanpoles.  

Coupla' beanpoles.  

 An absurd place worth the sweaty detour.  

An absurd place worth the sweaty detour.  

 Though Colombia's dark history has contributed to its dangerous reputation, our experience has been anything but. At times, it seems individual Colombianos take it upon themselves to singlehandedly reverse foreign perceptions. Another cyclist used the term "kindnapping" in reference to the phenomenon and it's too fitting not to repurpose. This lovely family did just that, holding us hostage for an afternoon with a beautiful lunch, conversation and bundles of food to go. 

Though Colombia's dark history has contributed to its dangerous reputation, our experience has been anything but. At times, it seems individual Colombianos take it upon themselves to singlehandedly reverse foreign perceptions. Another cyclist used the term "kindnapping" in reference to the phenomenon and it's too fitting not to repurpose. This lovely family did just that, holding us hostage for an afternoon with a beautiful lunch, conversation and bundles of food to go. 

 When you realize you're all just waiting for the food to show. 

When you realize you're all just waiting for the food to show. 

 Never say no to an invitation, even if you have just eaten a huge breakfast. 

Never say no to an invitation, even if you have just eaten a huge breakfast. 

 Animals are loved as pets by Colombianos, but these critters also fend for themselves in a way that would weed out many of those domesticated in the States.

Animals are loved as pets by Colombianos, but these critters also fend for themselves in a way that would weed out many of those domesticated in the States.

 Simple roadside snack of tinto, eggs and fried potatoes. More green in the decor than our diets these days.  

Simple roadside snack of tinto, eggs and fried potatoes. More green in the decor than our diets these days.  

 Cute until he tried to unclip our bags. 

Cute until he tried to unclip our bags. 

 Tinto is the working class's coffee, made from beans not fit for exportation, served in tiny plastic cups, usually from street vendors with carts full of mismatched thermoses. Tinto translates to inky water and is made palatable by adding a lot of sugar. Aidan's face says it all.

Tinto is the working class's coffee, made from beans not fit for exportation, served in tiny plastic cups, usually from street vendors with carts full of mismatched thermoses. Tinto translates to inky water and is made palatable by adding a lot of sugar. Aidan's face says it all.

 Cowlombia

Cowlombia

 Yer buñuelos are showing.  

Yer buñuelos are showing.  

 Available at nearly every tienda, these deep-fried dough balls have become a go-to snack. 

Available at nearly every tienda, these deep-fried dough balls have become a go-to snack. 

 Descending from our first Andean climb of the trip.

Descending from our first Andean climb of the trip.

 Things that protect you from the world above.  

Things that protect you from the world above.  

 Hills of felted gold, or so they seemed after a rainy night and excitement to descend.

Hills of felted gold, or so they seemed after a rainy night and excitement to descend.

 We flailed our way through a "live" Facebook interview (in Spanish) and were treated to ice cream disproportional to our performance. 

We flailed our way through a "live" Facebook interview (in Spanish) and were treated to ice cream disproportional to our performance. 

 In retrospect, sharing may have prevented the inevitable stomach ache to follow.   

In retrospect, sharing may have prevented the inevitable stomach ache to follow.   

 Cowboys and fresh fruit in Jericó. 

Cowboys and fresh fruit in Jericó. 

 Marketplace papaya. 

Marketplace papaya. 

 Getting backroadsy en route to the coastal road from Cartagena to Medellín.  

Getting backroadsy en route to the coastal road from Cartagena to Medellín.  

 The Andes split into three separate mountain ranges in Colombia. The Cordillera Occidental, Central and Oriental. Our track has us eventually going up and over all three.  

The Andes split into three separate mountain ranges in Colombia. The Cordillera Occidental, Central and Oriental. Our track has us eventually going up and over all three.  

 Daniela and Lili - Quite possibly our most gracious WarmShowers hosts to date. We arrived soaking wet and they welcomed us into their home with good food, conversation and even a little Salsa 101. 

Daniela and Lili - Quite possibly our most gracious WarmShowers hosts to date. We arrived soaking wet and they welcomed us into their home with good food, conversation and even a little Salsa 101. 

 Cars like a well-propped period piece.  

Cars like a well-propped period piece.  

 The bright colonial villages of the Colombia cafetero. Note the grade and the smile.  

The bright colonial villages of the Colombia cafetero. Note the grade and the smile.  

 It was a gamble on whether or not the barber would get a kick out sorting out this particular challenge.  

It was a gamble on whether or not the barber would get a kick out sorting out this particular challenge.  

 Luis has been on the road in Colombia for 48 years, as he put it. His pride of country is proportional to the flag he chooses to fly.  

Luis has been on the road in Colombia for 48 years, as he put it. His pride of country is proportional to the flag he chooses to fly.  

 Simon of Taxi Tandem Tour is riding [a tandem] with an empty seat, picking up passengers as he makes his way south to Argentina. 

Simon of Taxi Tandem Tour is riding [a tandem] with an empty seat, picking up passengers as he makes his way south to Argentina. 

 "It looks as if it were at a school playground amongst other bikes it would get bullied to shit" - Simon in reference to his locally sourced rig. 

"It looks as if it were at a school playground amongst other bikes it would get bullied to shit" - Simon in reference to his locally sourced rig. 

 The Casa de Ciclistas outside Medellín is a guest house built entirely for traveling cyclists by the magnanimous Manuel and Marta. A cozy place to wait out the rain and compare notes with other nutty cyclists. 

The Casa de Ciclistas outside Medellín is a guest house built entirely for traveling cyclists by the magnanimous Manuel and Marta. A cozy place to wait out the rain and compare notes with other nutty cyclists. 

 Couples' suite. 

Couples' suite. 

 Taking the scenic route in Colombia comes at a seriously steep price. 

Taking the scenic route in Colombia comes at a seriously steep price. 

 Habitat includes tall camouflaging roadside pee break grass. 

Habitat includes tall camouflaging roadside pee break grass. 

 A man invited himself to our breakfast table while he drank his. He shared boozy breath, stories of the Illuminati and, eventually, this massive bag of guacamole, which completely excused his behavior. We love the guac.

A man invited himself to our breakfast table while he drank his. He shared boozy breath, stories of the Illuminati and, eventually, this massive bag of guacamole, which completely excused his behavior. We love the guac.

 The photo that single-handedly convinced Aidan it was time for a haircut. 

The photo that single-handedly convinced Aidan it was time for a haircut. 

 Fellow bike traveler Kate staring down at the navigational bare essentials: roads and verbs. 

Fellow bike traveler Kate staring down at the navigational bare essentials: roads and verbs. 

 A particularly relaxing evening at Steel Horse Filandia, a hostel-in-the-making in the hills outside Filandia.  

A particularly relaxing evening at Steel Horse Filandia, a hostel-in-the-making in the hills outside Filandia.  

 Dreaming about our future farm. Someday, right?

Dreaming about our future farm. Someday, right?

 Roadside and completely wrecked, a generous Colombian family offered us space in this long-since-closed restaurant. Easily one of our most colorful campsites.

Roadside and completely wrecked, a generous Colombian family offered us space in this long-since-closed restaurant. Easily one of our most colorful campsites.

 Bros. 

Bros. 

 Fredonia fire station pup, Toby. The Bomberos (firemen) are notorious for opening their doors throughout Central and South America to traveling cyclists. 

Fredonia fire station pup, Toby. The Bomberos (firemen) are notorious for opening their doors throughout Central and South America to traveling cyclists. 

 Around every corner, more freakin' mountains. 

Around every corner, more freakin' mountains. 

 At roughly 12,000 feet of climbing, one of our toughest days yet.

At roughly 12,000 feet of climbing, one of our toughest days yet.

 Tough enough to justify one of these bad jammas. 

Tough enough to justify one of these bad jammas. 

 Thousand yard stare...down. 

Thousand yard stare...down. 

 HeyyyYyy. 

HeyyyYyy. 

 And lastly, this.  

And lastly, this.  

San Blas'ted

The Darien Gap is a 100ish-mile stretch of impassible jungle, occupying the easternmost portion of Panama, overlapping into Colombia, and is technically the only break in the Pan-American Highway (a road otherwise spanning the entire length of the Americas from Alaska to Argentina, or rather Portland to Penguins.) There are no roads within the Darien Gap, let alone a highway. One is required to use their own two feet to get around. I've always envisioned a continuously swinging machete an essential tool in making painfully slow progress through the thick, unforgiving foliage. Probably an exaggerated mental picture, but since the area is described as a lawless swath of jungle ridden with deadly wildlife species and drug-smugglers, we opted to explore alternative routes from North to South America. Like so many other notoriously dicey places, the real danger is likely concentrated within established "don't go there" areas. Convenient in theory, but given we're still working through how to successfully navigate across town with mumbled Spanish directions, it felt ambitious to rely on our elementary level of comprehension to stay safe rather than just locate the bakery. Did the member of FARC, covered in head-to-toe camo, toting an automatic weapon, say to go straight or right at the third big rock in order to avoid risking life and limb? Ohhhh shoot, I can't remember. Maybe he said that we're supposed to take three rocks with us, for protection. No, that doesn't make sense. Let's just go straight, take a couple pebbles with us, and hope for the best. In the end, between indigenous settlements, anti-governmental activity and a steady flow of desperate migrants, pushing our penguin-bound bicycles not-so-stealthily through the jungle seemed bold. Is bold the right word?
 
With overland travel eliminated, two options remained. By air or sea.
 
Flying, although the cheapest option, is dismissed by many as boring or unadventurous. I understand, but also largely disagree. Flying is not only functional, it's exciting. I love to fly. Flying is THE form of transportation mentally reserved for our one-way journey home. Post longish bicycle ride. Post penguin selfie. End of the world. When people ask what our plan is once we reach the bottom, I don't even let them finish their suggestion to bike all the way home before exploding into a "oh helllllll no" chuckle. We takin' a damn plane, period. Envisioning the entire process is fun: An Argentinian pup under the seat in front of us, whatever electronics have survived shoved into a shared carry on and not much else. A fresh start, again. Happily strapped into an overactive bladder-friendly aisle seat, I'll make eye contact and enthusiastically nod as the flight attendant delivers her safety spiel. It will be in Spanish and I'll be damned if I don't understand every word by then. My obnoxious head movement will let her know that I know what to do in case of an emergency. Essential belongings (2 liters of water, chapstick, backup chapstick, snacks, backup snacks) will all be neatly arranged and equally accessible in the seat back pocket in front of me. Complementary, celebratory glass of wine in hand, staring at Aidan in excitement, I'll ask wide-eyed, "What do you want to talk about?!" As if we haven't had every day for the past five-hundred or so to chit chat. He'll lift an eyelid, smirk, and, "Shhhhh." He can't last more than two minutes once the engine is running. Like a newborn in the car. Lights out. "Ok, I'll just read," in a whisper after he's already drifted back to sleep, because by the time he wakes up, we'll be home.
 
Flying symbolizes the return. And signals the end. I grow a little flustered when we pedal past an airport or hear a jet fly overhead. "Was that a...a plane?" Marvelous. "Oh wow, a runway," I'll subsequently observe as we ride closer. "It's beautiful." The planes take off from right there, incredible. It's not that I want to go home, but after eight months on a bicycle, out in the elements, every single day, you can understand the likelihood of dirty thoughts to run through a woman's mind. Until we've completed what we set out to do, I simply cannot be trusted to make good choices at an airport kiosk. It'd be like someone on a strict diet walking into an ice cream shop and ordering a glass of water. I can't pretend like I don't smell the waffle cones. Ya know?
 
Due to a lack of self control, flying was out of the question.
 
Alas, by sea.
 
Most people we talked to deemed their sailboat crossing a the highlight of their travels and/or one of the best things they'd ever done. The boat trips stop over in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, home to the indigenous Kuna people for the past five hundred years or so. The islands are postcard idyllic with brilliant turquoise waters, white sand beaches and scattered palm trees. Picture perfect to outsiders. Outsiders who anchor off shore for a day to snorkel and sunbathe. The harsh reality is that most of the islands are only a few feet above sea level and it's predicted that many will disappear in the next 20-30 years. The ones that are inhabited are overcrowded, with a perpetually dwindling supply of resources. Although the Kunas technically survive off tourism, it's also sadly the industry that's contributing to their demise. Our presence on the islands felt contrived, and at times, transactional. The issue is that these sailing trips are sold as booze cruises through the islands, with marketing materials featuring over-saturated photos of young, attractive travelers joyfully jumping off pristine boats in unison, feasting on fresh seafood and wading in turquoise water. Admittedly skeptical, I swallowed my cynicism and agreed that sailing seemed the best option (of the three.) We forked over the painful price tag (subsidized by x-mas funds), disassembled and thoroughly wrapped our bicycles in plastic wrap until they resembled chrysalis formations beginning their continental metamorphosis.
 
We did a nauseating amount of research before choosing a boat. The horror stories are pretty horrific. Drunk captains, drug smuggling and filthy accommodation. I really wanted to believe that reading up ahead of time would ensure that none of these worst case scenarios transpired. Naively, I clung to an expectation that everyone else on the boat would be on roughly the same page. No spring breakers, just a sensible group of adults looking for a little wind in their hair, water in their snorkel, and something cold in their hand. Some light socializing and, of course, sleep. When one guy showed up with eight cases of beer, I had a gut feeling he wasn't going to want to sip some wine and stargaze. Neither would his friend probably who was hauling a couple handles of cheap rum and a bottle of Bacardi. How quickly the sailboat full of sober, sunshiney faces shriveled into a dark, claustrophobic dungeon. By day two (of six) all the beer on board had evaporated and a handful of those blacked out had officially decided that the boat shall be their personal party vessel rather than a confined space shared by everyone. Boat parts were broken, puke splayed the deck and a homemade fishing spear fashioned from a mop handle (the same mop presumably reserved for cleaning up said puke) rolled around precariously. The weapon constructed after specific instructions not to fish the Kuna's livelihood. No fish were harmed, but a perfectly good Swiss Army knife destroyed, as well as all the coral it was violently stabbed into.
 
The trip was pretty chaotic. Sixteen people on board. One accessible bathroom. Room for maybe six people in the shade, leaving everyone else to roast, provided occasional slivers of shade by the boat's mast and other tall features, resulting in a lot of strange sunburns.
 
Things were off to raucous start and we hadn't even hit open water yet. OPEN WATER. It makes sense now why there were no open water photos featured in the boat brochures, or on the websites, or anywhere. A collage of those images would make for one fucked up brochure. A lot of fetal position, cold sweats, pill popping, puking and horizon line stares. Party was officially over. The seas were absolutely massive. Someone told us after the crossing that he'd tied himself to his bed. Another who was tossed from a top bunk wished he'd thought of that. The few times my stomach felt strong enough for a trip to the deck, the bow of the boat looked like it had been green screened onto computer-generated waves, my own Perfect Storm. Aidan and I lived in a semi-conscious Dramamined state for the next three days. Awaking usually to eat lying down and/or use the bathroom. The latter not lying down. A trip to the bathroom was a violent human pinballing from one side of the boat to the other. And once in the broom closet-sized bathroom, the stench alone was enough to turn the strongest sailor green. I'd pull my shorts down with one hand, the other clinging to the wall for support, only to be rudely slammed into the opposite side, bare cheek suctioned against the wall that so many others' had before me. Buhhhhh. When the German guy entered the bathroom with a packet of wet wipes under his arm, there was a "I wouldn't go in there" window of at least an hour. And when gagging noises echoed out from the closet amidst body-slamming seas, it was pretty apparent that something was being expelled out of target toilet range. A hot, humid, bodily fluid-laden chamber.
 
Of course, it wasn't all nightmarish. There were some really beautiful moments. And lovely people. Especially the crew who put up with SO much shit. And smiled the entire time. There were rare morning moments when most were sleeping and a steaming cup of coffee was handed up from below deck to accompany the sunrise that I felt like I had all to myself. A relaxing moment typically interrupted by our Colombian captain who always greeted me with a Joey from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. "How YOU doin?" and a set of knuckles patiently awaiting a return dap. And when the French guys aboard puffed their cigs adorned in accent-accentuating snorkel masks, tiny briefs and fedoras, it made smile at the endless cultural differences existing in this world. And when our talented cook made an absolutely breathtaking meal of red snapper accompanied by five different colorful sides, there was a temporary moment of peace while everyone devoured the masterpiece she'd created for sixteen people on two tiny cabin stove burners. Until, of course, a couple plates ended all over the deck because those tasked with eating the meal were too drunk to manage. Rice ended up in my hair. IN MY HAIR. I've been present for the feeding of small children and ended up with less food on myself. A third guy appeared from another area of the deck and exclaimed, without joking, that "the chicken was fucking delicious." He had no idea what he'd just eaten. All that fresh-caught hard work wasted. I laughed, I did. In a sadistic way, it was funny. Aidan was probably relieved to see a smile on my face that particular night. He's got an enviable way of recognizing when a situation is miserable and refusing to let it affect his mood. He spent an entire day crafting a kite from found materials (read garbage) that would successfully fly a GoPro high above the boat. A Castaway'd drone. The sense of accomplishment visible on his face was enough to make my day. And although the aerial shots look an awful lot like "yet another drone angle" we know that he made that thing fly with shitty fishing line, packing wrap and a couple of sticks. The epitome of making lemonade.
 
All pooh-poohing aside, I'm glad we did the boat trip. It's taken a few weeks of accruing perspective to admit that, but I mean it. The pleasure to pain ratio has leveled off as we've ridden further away. But for those wondering if I'd recommend this trip to anyone on a meager budget, or anyone I cared about at all for that matter? Probably not. Ask me again in a month or two.
 
Really whats important is that we made it to Colombia safely. And it's everything I thought it would be. Dramatic, challenging, insanely hospitable. The people are not defined by their violent past anymore than we are by our Dumpy present. Everyone in the world just wants to be understood. My energy has renewed and I feel enthusiastic about pedaling again. And although our timeline, once again, seems too short for the incredible undertaking that is the Andes, we're ready to try. Currently in Medellín resting after a couple weeks of Colombian riding, we're set to get moving again anyyyy day now. Expect Colombia's writeup to be overflowing with positivity.

 We watched all three hours of Castaway in preparation for this trip. 

We watched all three hours of Castaway in preparation for this trip. 

 I take my coffee with peace and quiet. 

I take my coffee with peace and quiet. 

 Just like the postcards.  

Just like the postcards.  

 Self-proclaimed inventor of the selfie stick strikes again. 

Self-proclaimed inventor of the selfie stick strikes again.